Cheltenham Literature Festival: Virginia McKenna

16 10 2009

Wednesday 14th October 2009

This is a Crackerjack review of Cheltenham Literature Festival: Virginia McKenna. Do you agree? Rate and review this event.

The name Virginia McKenna means one thing to most people – Born Free and her role as Joy Adamson with Elsa the lioness.

Since those heady days of fame, she has largely left the glamour of the film world behind to concentrate on conservation work  and the plight of wild animals in captivity.

And it was this that occupied much of her discussion, although the audience would surely have loved more tittle-tattle about famous names and  more of a flavour of her life in Africa, filming with the big cats and the Adamsons.

There were a few glimpses to satisfy those of us who grew up reading the Adamson books and reliving them on the big screen, with the glamorous Virginia and husband Bill Travers in the lead roles.

She recalled how they went to talk to the producer about filming.

“Don’t worry, the lions are fine,” he told us. “They are just pussy cats and come up to you to be stroked. So we took our three children to Africa by boat and read books about lions.”

After filming, the couple campaigned for the lions used to be released back into the wild, succeeding with just three out of 20.

“The others went to Longleat, Whipsnade and a zoo in America. We went to visit some and they recognised us – that was terrible.”

As an actress, she starred with some of the best names in the business – Sir John Gielgud was a great giggler, she revealed, while Kirk Douglas made a point of helping her go through her lines, although she had only a cameo role.

A few more anecdotes like these would have livened up what was an earnest and mostly serious event.

Joyce Matthews

Books by Virginia McKenna

Books by Virginia McKenna

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