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Essex and Oscar

By This is Essex  |  Posted: February 17, 2011

Leigh-on-Sea girl Helen Mirren with the award for Best Actress for The Queen at the 79th Academy Awards

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E ssex is known for many things; for its Roman heritage, for Marconi's first broadcast, as the birthplace of Robert the Bruce and more latterly home to the Essex man, Blur and the V festival

Less well known is Essex's place in the history of the Academy Awards.

Essex can boast three Oscar winning actresses with roots in the county.

First up is 'Mrs Miniver' herself, Greer Garson, who was born in Manor Park which was then classed as Essex. Then there's Dame Maggie Smith who was born in Ilford and Dame Helen Mirren, who was brought up on the Essex coast in Leigh-on-Sea.

Ingatestone-born Sarah Miles came close to winning Oscar gold in 1970 for David Lean's Ryan's Daughter, but the award went to Glenda Jackson, for Women in Love.

Our thespian Essex boys, thus far, have been absent from the podium.

Dagenham-born, Dudley Moore, was Oscar nominated for the role for which perhaps he is best remembered, that of the drunken Arthur Bach in Arthur (1981), ultimately losing out to Hollywood veteran Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond.

Ian Holm, born in Goodmayes, was nominated by his peers for his portrayal of Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire (1981) eventually losing out to fellow Brit, Sir John Gielgud, who played Moore's sarcastic valet Hobson, in Arthur.

Success has also come to Essex residents for their work in the art of designing the films we love.

Included is art director, Carmen Dillon, educated at New Hall School, Chelmsford, was the only female art director working in the British film industry for some time. Collaborating with Roger Furse, she won her Oscar for designing Hamlet starring Sir Laurence in 1948.

Some fifty years later, set decorator Stephenie McMillan, was to emulate this feat winning an Oscar for her work alongside Norwich-born production designer Stuart Craig on The English Patient (1996).

Stephenie, who was born in Ilford like Dame Maggie Smith, told me she was proud of her Essex heritage.

Colchester-raised costume designer James Acheson, now living in New Zealand, remembered his childhood in Essex and spoke fondly of attending the grammar school when I interviewed him.

He has enjoyed a glittering career designing the costumes for Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies and winning three Oscars for his sumptuous costumes on The Last Emperor (1986), Dangerous Liaisons (1987) and Restoration (1995).

Bob Godfrey of Roobarb and Custard fame, also raised in Ilford, won an Animated Short Oscar for his tongue-in-cheek film Great (1975), chronicling the engineering feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There is a link forming here... move to Ilford and you can win an Oscar!

Another Colchester-raised resident is animator Jan Pinkava who attended the town's Boys School. Such was his admiration for Bob Godfrey's work that he pursued a career in animation which saw him join Pixar Animation studios in the US and win an Animated Short for Geri's Game (1997) and also a further nomination 10 years later for Original Screenplay for the animated feature, Ratatouille.

For fans of Toy Story, Jan's character from Geri's Game features as the toy cleaner in Toy Story 2 (1999).

The Academy also honours those technicians whose progressive innovations have enhanced the movie industry.

Top of that tree is Leigh-on-Sea born Ioan Allen, head of Dolby, who has won five awards, including an Oscar statuette.

So our county has had its Oscar glory and who's to say we won't enjoy more in the coming years!

10 Best British Leading Actress Performances

We want to hear your favourite performance from the list below. Send it to go@essexchronicle.co.uk

Vivien Leigh – Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind

Joan Fontaine – Lina McLaidlaw in Suspicion

Kate Winslet – Hanna Schmitz in The Reader

Glenda Jackson – Gundrun Brangwen in Women in Love

Maggie Smith – Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Emma Thompson – Margaret J. 'Meg' Schlegel in Howards End

Olivia de Havilland – Catherine Sloper in The Heiress

Elizabeth Taylor – Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?

Julie Christie – Diana Scott in Darling

Julie Andrews – as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins

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