A very nice Jewish girl” is how Bruce Copp described Rosa J. Norda McPherson. He met her when he ran the Players Supper Room (it was attached to the famous theatre club) in Villiers Street in the West End after the war (Norda ran the snack bar). The Players Theatre, then in a cramped basement in Albemarle Street, entertained audiences with 19th-century burlesque/music hall. Leonard Sachs (remember him from The Good Old Days?) was a co-founder. Like The Windmill, it stayed open throughout the war.
In 1939 Norda was a volunteer ambulance driver in Chelsea and estranged from her family who, according to Cobb, rejected her for marrying a non-Jew (a doctor, Duncan McPherson, who served with the RAF). I don’t know which Chelsea ambulance station Norda served at, but she may well have known my diarist June who, incidentally, went often to the Players, where she saw Peter Ustinov in one of his first performances (picture is 19-year-old Ustinov as an Austrian prima donna, from The Tatler, 3 Apr 1940). June wrote in her diary that she was pestered by Ustinov’s lecherous father ‘Klop’.
Back to Norda. Bruce Cobb gives us a glimpse of her exuberant love of style. “She used to come in the most wonderful clothes, and I would say to her, ‘Oh Norda, not another expensive new dress!’ She would reply, “It cost me £5, 11 and thruppence from C&A!’ But you could clearly see it came from Dior. I loved Norda… Anyway, I took a great trayful of these prawn canapés down to her and I told her to have one herself so she knew what she was selling. I went down after the interval, and Norda told me that they had all gone. I asked her, ‘Did you have one yourself?’ She replied, ‘Oh yes. I don’t keep kosher. It was delicious… like God going down my throat in velvet trousers!'”
In 1954 Norda made a second marriage (I am not sure whether she was divorced or widowed) and became Mrs North – Norda North!