A Knight’s Tale (14: Julie Andrews)

By 1939, just a few months before the start of the Second World War, Mabel returned to England. We have no record of her wartime activities, but my brother Chris was keen to point out that with English, German, French, Russian, and, no doubt, a few other languages behind her, she must have been doing something. After the war she continued tutoring pupils from schools in Wimbledon, including Wimbledon College, which I and my two brothers would all attend later in turn. This was followed by bringing up a bright and intelligent little girl in Gloucester whose mother was dead and whose father was away at sea.

Aged 65 in 1946 Mabel became tutor to twelve year old Julie Andrews – a post in which she would continue for the next four years. Her tasks included going down to the star’s home at Walton-on-Thames; travelling up to London to teach her between the matinees and evening shows in her dressing-room at the back of the stage; accompanying her on her tours in the provinces to places such as Sunderland, Peterborough, Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Blackpool, and even Jersey. Wherever they went the Education authorities sent someone to their hotel to check that Julie was being regularly taught. During these enquiries Mabel acted as her chaperone.

The following is an extract from Dame Julie’s autobiography:

“My first tutor was a young, pretty, ineffectual woman, whose name I don’t recall. I walked all over her, claiming that I was far too busy to do homework. Within two months she was gone and a new tutor, much older [65], by the name of Miss Gladys (sic!) Knight was hired – and she brooked no excuses. She was a disciplinarian, a darling, and a good teacher. We worked together for four hours every day and I finally began to get the education I should have had all along.”

Until 1960 Mabel continued to teach schoolboys; German lessons to adults; and, lastly, English to an Italian girl. Just before Christmas she had a fall on the stairs and her teaching days were over. After a further fall two years later, with memory failing, and concentration difficult, she died on 2nd October 1962 and bequeathed 18 Bernard Gardens to my father.

This was a truly tragic end for a really remarkable woman. I have recorded in https://derrickjknight.com/2021/07/30/a-knights-tale-7-world-war-i/ that my great aunt, without possessing a record player included

a number of Dame Julie Andrews’s recordings in her effects.


  1. I suspect that your brother Chris may be right in thinking that Mabel “must have been doing something” to support the British wartime activities. I imagine that she remained silent to protect the families that she had worked with. My father was a fan of Julie Andrews, so I grew up listening to her early songs before her Hollywood fame.

  2. Your aunt had such an incredible life, and it is a shame the way it ended. I wonder what work she might have done during the war, and perhaps was not permitted to reveal. I didn’t realize Julie Andrews was performing so much at age 12.

  3. What a life your Great Aunt Mabel led! And to have tutored Julie Andrews too! I imagine it would have been very interesting to chat with her and hear all her stories.

  4. What a remarkable woman Mabel was! It would be interesting to locate her diary. Still, it is quite possible she would not have let slip even there if she had been “doing something” useful with her knowledge of so many languages during the war.

  5. How wonderful! Mabel, an amazing woman, had a part in molding/influencing a girl who became an amazing women! Julie Andrews is such a joy! 🙂 I remember the first time I heard Julie Andrews sing…in the movie Mary Poppins…I was a wee little girl and enthralled by her singing and characters. I’ve enjoyed so many of her movies in my lifetime. 🙂

    I’m so sad to hear about Mabel’s falls. 🙁 Often those are the beginning of the end for a well- seasoned person. 🙁 If I remember correctly…Mabel was born in 1881???

    1. Yes – you are right about her birth date. That makes her two years older than me when she died – a sobering thought – although that was a different age. thanks very much Carolyn X

  6. What a crazy story! I know we aren’t hearing the full of it. I love her.

    I grew up listening to the Sound of Music album at my grandmother’s house. I can sing every song and know the dialog around it. I’ve heard that Julie Andrews is a pisser. Sounds like she was born that way, and that Mabs showed her what’s what. Love it!

    I’m sad to hear of her fall. I’ll miss her.

  7. This is fascinating, though so sorry Mabel’s life had a difficult end. Losing mental faculties is tragic, particularly for someone of high intelligence, who lives and sees life through it.
    Now Julie Adrews’ biography is one I’d like to read, such an interesting life during the war and post-ward years, from being a child star.

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