By Maureen Storey
This article was published in the December 2021 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
Albert Ernest Soall was born in Islington, London, in 1892. His father George was a plasterer who struggled to earn enough to support his wife Alice and their large and ever-growing family. Albert joined the Royal Welch Regiment shortly after leaving school to escape from the family’s grinding poverty. Albert did well in the army and rose to the rank of quartermaster sergeant and then in 1917 he received a field commission while in France and became 2nd Lt Albert Soall. Albert had intended to make the army his career but in about 1919 he was discharged to the reserve due to repeated bouts of malaria. He and his wife Mary (née Giggle) returned to North London and set up home in Tottenham, where they had five sons. Albert continued to be plagued by malaria often being unable to work during attacks and so once again found himself battling poverty. It was no doubt this that led to him and Mary becoming heavily involved in the local Labour Party and to Albert being elected to the local council.
Of Albert and Mary’s five sons, Neville and Jack died of TB (aged 17 and 18 respectively), Gerald joined the RAF during World War II and retired as a Flight Lieutenant Navigator in 1976, and Norman served in the Essex Regiment from 1943 to 1956, married a German girl and remained in Germany after leaving the Army. Their fifth son Terence Vivian Soall became, if not quite a household name, a face that often featured on UK television sets.
Born in 1920 Terence’s first passion was journalism. He joined International News Service, an American news agency based in Fleet Street when he was just 16. His reports for them included stories about George Bernard Shaw and on the background behind the abdication. But it was during World War II while serving in the RAF in Gibraltar that Terence found his true vocation when he co-founded a repertory company called The Front Players. At the end of the war, instead of returning to journalism, he decided to make acting his career and found a job in repertory, initially with The West Riding Theatre Company. His progress in the theatre was rapid and he made his West End debut in 1947 when he appeared in J B Priestly’s The Linden Tree starring Dame Sybil Thorndyke and Sir Lewis Casson, with whom he struck up a lasting friendship. From there he moved on to the Malvern (1949) and Edinburgh (1950-51) Festivals, and although never a ‘star’ he thereafter appeared in many other productions including playing the Rabbi in the original London production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Although the theatre remained Terence’s main focus during a career that lasted more than 50 years, he regularly appeared in television dramas such as Dixon of Dock Green, The Avengers, Coronation Street and Porridge to name just a few. He also appeared in more than 100 films including Darling, Georgy Girl, Orlando and many of the Hammer horror films.
Between 1975 and 1983, while still performing, Terence also taught acting, particularly comedy at what was then the Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art (now part of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire).
Outside acting Terence’s main interests lay in politics and art. Like his parents he was a member of the Labour Party and never forgot the hardships suffered by his family, nor the insecurity felt by his mother when his father’s union activism caused him to lose yet another job. For relaxation he liked to paint, particularly watercolours of London.
Terence died in London on 10 August 2006, having spent his last years feeding squirrels and directing tourists in St James’s Park and doing The Guardian crossword.
Genealogical note: Terence’s family have been traced back to William Soall and Clementina Benson who married in Shoreditch, London, in 1775. After the marriage they moved to Edmonton in North London where their nine children were born. Neither William’s nor Clementina’s birth family has been identified.
Ed: you can find photos and videos of Terence Soall on the internet. We are unable to reproduce any photos of him for copyright reasons.