January 2, 2017


Renee Houston (1902-1980) b. Johnstone, Scotland.

Renee Houston

Actress Renee Houston was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, daughter of a spirit salesman and his wife. Her parents became a well-known touring variety act combining comedy and song; the children lived with their grandmother in the small farming community of Carntyne, near Glasgow, where Renee attended the local convent school. By 1914 she had developed her own act, filling in for an absent comedian in the Fyfe and Fyfe Company. When her parents become ill on tour Renee replaced them with a double act she invented with her sister Billie. The Houston Sisters established themselves with comedy grounded in sibling rivalry. In 1926 they appeared at the royal command performance, and they were still successful when Billie retired owing to ill health in 1935. After the retirement of her sister, Houston subsequently developed an act with Donald Stewart.

Her film career took off after the war and she played in several distinguished British films, in comedies such as The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954), Watch it, Sailor (1961), and Twice Round the Daffodils (1962), and in dramas such as The Horse’s Mouth (1958), A Town Like Alice (1956), and Time without Pity (1957). She also worked several times with the director Roman Polanski, notably on the experimental Repulsion (1965), and was an occasional member of the informal company of British comic actors who appeared in the Carry On series, in Carry on Cabby (1963), Carry on Spying (1964), and the strike-breaking mother who spanks her shop steward son in The Carry on at your Convenience (1971).

It was not surprising that Houston continued working until her death from pneumonia at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, on 9 February 1980. She published her autobiography, Don’t Fence me in, in 1974. In 1923 Houston was married for the first time, her husband being George Balharrie; they adopted two sons but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1932 she married actor Patrick Aherne, they had a son and a daughter but that marriage, too, ended in divorce, in 1948. That year she married the actor Donald Stewart.

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