THE TIMES – APRIL 3rd 1930
GIRL’S DEATH FROM FIRE IN FILM STUDIO
Miss Nita Foy was burned to death when her clothing caught fire at the Twickenham Film Studio. Miss Foy was one of several chorus girls appearing in “Here Comes The Bride” at the Piccadilly Theatre who were to take part in a ballet scene in a film. The girls were wearing crinoline dresses and in a way not yet explained Miss Foy’s dress caught fire.
We don’t know very much about Nita Foy. Her real name was Annie Foy Tipping. She was a dancer and actress. She lived with her aunt and uncle in Maida Vale and she was described in the ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’ as “a pretty, laughing, golden-haired girl of but twenty summers.” She wanted to be a star.
At the time of her death Nita was appearing as a chorus girl in “Here Comes The Bride”, a popular musical that had opened on February 20th 1930 at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End. It would run for 175 performances – but as events were to prove, without the charms of Miss Foy. That night, Tuesday 1st April 1930, she and five other dancers from the show had been hired by Twickenham Film Studios to appear in a ballet scene in “Spanish Eyes”, a film musical starring Donald Calthrop. The film was being shot at night to allow other productions into the studios during the day. For Nita Foy this small film part offered her a possible step from the anonymity of the chorus line to the glamour of film stardom. It was the last day of a two week schedule – and there was only one sequence left to shoot – the ballet scene. It was just after midnight – and Miss Foy, weary after her performance that evening at the Piccadilly Theatre, was already made up, dressed in a crinoline and ready to go when she caught the eye of Donald Calthrop, the star of the film…
"He said, “Oh you look tired,” and she said, “Yes, bored” as they all felt at that hour of the night. He said “Would you like a brandy and soda?” and took her along to his dressing room, which was a few yards away. (This was strictly against studio rules. No women were allowed into male dressing rooms.)
“She came in,” he continued, "and sat down on the sofa, which is beside an electric radiator, and I pulled out a small bottle of brandy… and poured a little out and said, “Would you like soda, or water, or plain?” Mr Coote, the assistant director, then put his head in the door and said, “All ladies are wanted on the set.” Miss Tipping (a.k.a Nita Foy) was then standing and I noticed that her eyelashes were white with powder. I said to her, “Surely you cannot go on. We always darken our eyelashes – it is better for the camera.” She said, “Oh, have you got any wet black?” and I pointed at a little red tin on a shelf over the radiator. I remember turning to the door… There was a flash behind me… I turned round and saw that Miss Tipping was a sheet of flame."
THE TIMES April 7th 1930 – a report from the inquest at Richmond Coroners Court
It was revealed at the inquest that in reaching for the ‘wet black mascara’ Nita Foy’s crinoline dress had caught against the unguarded elements of the electric radiator and instantly caught fire. Donald Calthorp and others rushed to her aid…
“He pulled off his dressing gown and flung it around her in a desperate effort to smother the flames, but part of her dress kept burning. The girl was very plucky and stood still while he jerked his overcoat from behind the door and wrapped it also around her.”
RICHMOND AND TWICKENHAM TIMES – 5 April 1930
“By this time nearly every stitch of clothing on her had been burned, but even so she kept consciousness, and said ”I hope my face is not burned.“ Donald Calthrop told her that it was not. Then an ambulance came, but the poor girl was in such terrible pain that I felt that she could not live…”
RICHMOND HERALD — 5 April 1930
And sadly Nita Foy, did not live. When her aunt, Mrs Edlestone, came to see her in Richmond Hospital at 11.00am the following morning Nita said, “Don’t worry, auntie,” – but thirty minutes later she died.
It was revealed at the inquest that none of the electric radiators in the men’s dressing rooms were guarded. The Inspector of Factories, Mr Joseph Owner, asked the studio manager, Mr James Carter, why this was…
MR CARTER: That I cannot possibly tell you because I do not know.
INSPECTOR: You are the manager, are you not?
MR CARTER: That is so but with regard to all this kind of thing – lighting and heating – while I am responsible, I leave matters to the electricians. The last time the fire inspector came round he passed it.
INSPECTOR: Are you putting the responsibility for the maintenance of your equipment upon the fire inspector?
MR CARTER: If there had been anything wrong with it I take it I should have been told.
Mr. Carter agreed that there should have been some guard, and in future there would be.
THE TIMES – 7 April 1930 – a report from the inquest at Richmond Coroners Court
The jury retired to consider its verdict and when they returned the foreman said, “Our verdict is unanimous. It is ‘Accidental Death’, without any rider or censure.” The coroner, Mr. M.H Taylor closed the case by saying that everybody concerned had done their best at the time.
Although some claimed that Donald Calthrop’s marriage, sobriety and career were permanently damaged by what the papers described as the “Film Studio Horror” he did go on to make a further 23 films before his death in 1940. And what more do we know of Miss Nita Foy? Her real name was Annie Foy Tipping. She was a dancer and actress. She lived with her aunt and uncle in Maida Vale and she was described in the ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’ as “a pretty, laughing, golden-haired girl of but twenty summers.” She wanted to be a star. Now she is buried in Paddington Cemetery.
“Anita was always full of pluck. She was the life of the company wherever she went…”
MISS ROSIE YOUNG – Ballet Mistress
— from Martyn Day