Barbara Kathleen Emary (1908-1995) started life in Streatham, the daughter of a “second-class clerk” working for the borough education department. She left school intending to go into welfare work but before long got a job as a shorthand-typist at Shepperton Studios where she found the people were “a bit Eton and Oxford”. Undaunted she took any opportunity, moving on to continuity secretary, scriptwriter, production manager and associate producer, working with the director John Baxter on the Old Mother Riley films, and classics such as The Common Touch (1941), Love on the Dole (1941) and Let the People Sing (1942), as well as with Lance Comfort on When We Are Married (1943).
In 1988 Bob Allen interviewed Barbara, then 79, about her career for The British Entertainment History Project. She mentioned that she had worked in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service during the war, joining in 1939. At first she was on duty full-time but after 3 months was sent back to her daytime job as nothing was happening – it was the Phoney War. For the rest of the war, through the Blitz and beyond, she was part-time in the service, attached to an ambulance station in Kensington (she lived at Chelsea Cloisters).
Barbara described driving in her little Morris Minor convertible through a rain of bombs on the journey from Elstree Studios to her shifts “I felt absolutely all right driving as long as I had the hood up and it was only canvas, and there was shrapnel and all sorts of bombs falling but you felt quite different if you had the hood up, it was all right so long as you didn’t break down. I did once and had to stop in the middle of all this chaos in Hendon Central and try and change a wheel in the black out. We couldn’t have any torches or anything much to see what you were doing. It all passed off, just a bit of experience.”
Looking back on her life in film, Barbara said, “It was a wonderful career and how very very lucky I was to have the opportunity.” She had had to retire in 1968 to look after her aged mother but was not regretful. Her flexibility, able to turn her hand to anything asked, had helped her. “I had a finger in all the pies,” she said.