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West Wickham restaurant pays homage to Beckenham's trailblazing movie producer Betty Box

PUBLISHED: 07:53 12 December 2013 | UPDATED: 15:44 12 December 2013

Andreea Burlacu, duty manager, with Sinna Sivatheesan, pizzaiolo chef, throwing dough.

Andreea Burlacu, duty manager, with Sinna Sivatheesan, pizzaiolo chef, throwing dough.

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PizzaExpress in West Wickham has paid tribute to the prolific Beckenham film producer Betty Box.

A tribute to Betty can be found on the walls of the West Wickham restaurant.A tribute to Betty can be found on the walls of the West Wickham restaurant.

The store’s makeover has been inspired by her work using curved text, fret cut screens and pendants to reference her style.

Also, hanging on the walls of the restaurant in High Street are two rare photographs of Box on set with the stars from her films.

A spokesman for the company, said: “It’s not just the bog standard design, it’s paying something back to the community.

“It’s becoming a terrific talking point for the people who have visited.”

Betty Box at the edit station. Picture: PizzaExpressBetty Box at the edit station. Picture: PizzaExpress

At just 31 years old Betty Box was Britain’s leading female film producer.

In fact she, was Britain’s only female film producer.

Born in Beckenham on September 25, 1915, she lived a maverick life propelling herself to vast success with many box-office smashes.

Her career began in 1942 after she joined her brother Sidney’s film company, where she worked on training and propaganda films, later claiming in three years there she did 10 years’ hard work.

Her film-making continued when the Second World War was over.

During her career, which spanned more than 30 years, she produced about 50 films including Doctor in Love (one of a seven-film series) and Conspiracy of Hearts.

In 1960 those two films, along with Carry On Constable (produced by her husband Peter Rogers), were the three top box-office films in the UK.

Despite these accolades, many people may not have heard of Box – but that might be changing.

Dr Justine Ashby, lecturer in the media department at the University of Huddersfield, is an expert on the film-maker, and said: “I used to talk to people at parties about her, they would say ‘who?’ Now I don’t get that so much. It’s wonderful.

“Box was a populist. She wasn’t just trying to be a woman producer, she was trying to be a successful British film producer – gender didn’t come into it.”

She also gave French star Brigitte Bardot her first English-speaking role and propelled actor Sir Dirk Bogarde to fame in the Doctor series.

Furthermore, she ran the Islington operation of Gainsborough Pictures from 1946 to 1950 and in 1958, she was appointed an OBE but, ever the hard worker, was too busy to collect it.

It was surely a remarkable feat to be a pioneering woman in the male-dominated industry. How did she manage it?

Dr Ashby said: “She assimilated herself; she made herself more acceptable to the men. She was a pretty blonde but also very good at being a producer.”

Box, who died in 1999 aged 83, described the role as “housekeeping” and following the Second World War many women were taking roles which were previously male. She explored this within many of her films.

The Doctor series are often dismissed as formulaic comedies but in fact tackled issues of gender and class.

And while her 1954 comedy To Dorothy a Son may appear cheaply made, it in fact reflected the worries of the time that marriage as an institution was in trouble.

Maybe Box’s life showed this too. Despite her marriage to her second husband she had a widely acknowledged affair with Ralph Thomas, the director who she collaborated with on more than 30 films.

“She often looked much more glamorous than the actors,” Dr Ashby added.

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