A WOMAN who spent time with Hollywood legend Vivien Leigh on a boat from Australia to the UK has died, aged 87.

Alongside husband, and partner of four decades, Eric, Gateshead-born Audrey Ross had enjoyed the world of theatre during its golden heyday.

Born and raised in Eighton Banks, Gateshead, in the early 1930s to Isabella and Michael Cullen, Audrey’s family was already steeped in history, that of a military kind – her grandfather (William Potts) having been a private in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, and her uncle was captured by the Germans during the Second World War.

It would be a prompt for a young Audrey, as a late teenager, to enlist and she joined the RAF Auxiliary in 1950, and in turn met her future husband before forging a long and successful career in accountants with the Ford Motor Company, after studying psychology, mathematics and accountancy.

Living in Chester-le-Street, Audrey would become a regular theatre-goer at City Hall and Theatre Royal in Newcastle, before heading to Australia for four years, between 1959 and 1963, returning on the same ship as Hollywood legend, Vivien Leigh.

The Northern Echo:

Looking back on her mother’s long and fruitful life, Audrey’s daughter, award-winning jazz artist and journalist Fiona Ross, said that, although Audrey, and her brother, Bill, were born in the North-East, her mum did not have a Geordie accent because she had had elocution lessons.

Growing up in a working-class family, Audrey’s brother said of his sister, “although at one time, when she was nine-years-old, found a boy who broke her younger brother’s bike and punched him in the face, but she was just being a tinker,” an early indication as to how she would take on life as a whole.

Wishing to start a family themselves prompted the Ross’s return to Northern England in the early 1960s and, on that return voyage, over the six weeks it took then, was when they shared some time with Ms Leigh.

The Northern Echo:

The decades from the 1950s onwards would see the newlyweds venture out often, and not just locally, but across the globe. Audrey loved travel, the silver screen, theatre and opera and collected the programmes as keepsakes of their adventures.

Taking early retirement, Audrey and Eric headed to North Devon, in 1990, but Eric died six months later.

During retirement, Audrey released a book of poems called Reflections in Blue, and learnt to play the piano, achieving a 100 per cent Grade 1 at the age of 56, on daughter Fiona’s piano.

Audrey soon become a significant figure in the community, and met the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her voluntary work.

Audrey wrote for the North Devon Journal, became chairwoman for the Chulmleigh Society, area chairwoman for the Abbeyfield charity, which provides sheltered housing for the elderly, and treasurer at St Mary Magdalene Church.

Fiona said: “Mum was certainly a fierce and non-compliant woman and nothing stood in her way of doing things when she put her mind to them.

“She was your old school, stage mum and I was brought up that way; highly disciplined and I have things that I say and do now that came from mum.”

Audrey’s funeral took place at St Mary Magdalene Church in Chumleigh, North Devon, on Friday, April 24.

She is survived by her son Martin, daughter Fiona, and four grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned in her native North-East at a later date.