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Gladys and Mabel: Radio Celebrities

12 July 2019

The artist Andy Warhol once highlighted the transience of fame when he spoke of people being famous for 15 minutes. Gladys Young and Mabel Tilling were certainly much more long-lasting than that; today we would call them celebrities, in their day they were called personalities. Yet, their fame has receded in the mists of time.

Gladys and Mabel were alumnae of Sutton High School; Mabel was here for just two years from 1888-1890, Gladys and three sisters transferred from Newcastle High School in 1897 and Gladys stayed for five years. Both Gladys and Mabel maintained their contact with the school across the years and news of their life on the stage, in film and especially in the new medium of radio, appear in a number of the magazines. Both were also members of the Sutton Amateur Dramatic Society where they acted alongside Leslie Howard who later starred as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind and Jack Warner who found fame as Dixon of Dock Green. 

Mabel is more commonly known by her married name of Constanduros. A comedienne and comic script-writer, she devised the first radio family, the Buggins, the ancestors of the Archers and of modern sitcoms.   Her radio family, whose adventures were played out over a period of twenty years from 1928-1948, was immensely popular and Mabel acted as Mrs Buggins as well as being the writer of the 250 scripts.

Gladys was an exceptional student at RADA in the years prior to the Great War, gaining a scholarship, a silver medal and a gold medal. During the war Gladys starred in a very popular stage play at the Royalty Theatre, ‘The Man Who Stayed At Home’. Mabel enticed her into working in radio in the post-war world and Gladys became one of the most famous female figures in radio drama in the 1940s and 50s. She was referred to as the Queen of the BBC and was named radio personality for three years, 1949, 1950 and 1952, gaining an OBE for her services to radio during that time. 

Now, the school pays tribute to Gladys through the Gladys Young drama prize. Her skills as a versatile character actor as well as her noted dependability and unflappability make her a worthy choice.