Friday 7 August 2015

Whatever Happened To ... Renee Houston?

Renee Houston was a very recognisable face in British film. The infamous Scottish character actress appeared in five films for Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas during a long and varied career in film, television, radio and on the stage.

Renee's first film for Rogers and Thomas was Twice Round the Daffodils, released in 1962. Here Renee played Matron to Juliet Mills' nurse in this sanatarium comedy drama which also featured the likes of Ronald Lewis, Kenneth Williams, Donald Sinden, Nanette Newman and Joan Sims. Renee was probably cast in this film as a result of her appearance the previous year in No, My Darling Daughter, a Michael Redgrave vehicle directed by Gerald's brother Ralph Thomas and produced by Peter's wife, Betty Box.

Renee was back at Pinewood the following year, co-starring again with Juliet Mills in the district nurse comedy Nurse On Wheels. In this film, she played the nagging, strong-willed wife of George Woodbridge. These two "not quite" Carry On appearances resulted in Renee eventually being cast in a fully-fledged Carry On, Cabby, which came out later in 1963. Houston played Molly, the cab driver's cafe owner and shared several scenes with the likes of Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Kenneth Connor. Renee returned the following year for a brief appearance as a Madame in Carry On Spying, appearing in the scene where Eric Pohlmann's The Fat Man chooses from his hareem! 

It would then be a further seven years before Renee Houston would rejoin the fun at Pinewood Studios. In 1971, she was cast as Kenneth Cope's domineering mother, Agatha Spanner, in Carry On At Your Convenience. Her performance is a cracker! She treats her son like dirt, puts on her posh landlady voice for Charles Hawtrey's Mr Coote and indulges in her favourite past time of strip poker! Agatha eventually plays a pivotal role in bringing the strike at Boggs toilet factory to an end in dramatic style! 

Sadly this was Renee's last appearance in a Carry On film. She was cast in the supporting role of Mrs Dukes in 1973's Carry On Girls, however ill health meant Joan Hickson was drafted in at short notice to replace her. So what else did Renee Houston do in her long acting career?

Renee Houston's first screen appearance came way back in 1927 in the film Blighty, in which she appeared as a typist along with her sister Billie. Houston's long career on screen continued until her last appearance in 1975 in Legend of the Werewolf which co-starred Peter Cushing, Ron Moody and Roy Castle. Other films included two pictures for Roman Polanski, Repulsion starring Catherine Deneuve in 1965 and Cul De Sac, starring Deneuve's sister Francoise Dorleac the following year. 

She also played supporting roles in The Spy With A Cold Nose, Secrets Of A Windmill Girl, Tomorrow At Ten and The Rescue Squad. On television, Renee Houston popped up in numerous popular shows of the 1950s and 1960s. They included guest appearances in Maigret, Taxi (with Sid James), Z Cars, The Saint, Dixon Of Dock Green, Doctor Finlay's Casebook and Special Branch. 

Renee Houston began her career in music hall and revues, co-starring with her sister Billie as "The Houston Sisters". They even made a short film together in 1926, which featured a musical score - the year before The Jazz Singer was made. Born in Johnstone in Scotland in  1902, Renee Houston married three times. Her second husband was the actor Patrick Aherne and together they had four children. 

Renee Houston published her autobiography, Don't Fence Me In, in 1974. If anyone has read this, please let me know as I've never heard of it before and would love to check it out! Sadly ill health prevented her making many acting appearances in the 1970s. Renee Houston died in February 1980 at the age of 77.

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  1. A new book has been published by publisher Tempest Time about Renée Houston. It is called:

    Renée Houston: Spirit of the Irresistibles

  2. Her performance in Convenience is one of the best in the series history