All things considered, being born in 1941 during WWII, and requiring major surgery to save my life, I was fortunate to have survived. My mother had three children in three years. I was born in King Oswald’s Twistle (A twistle is a neck of land between two rivers and thats how Oswaldtwistle got its name) in the north of England. Cobbled streets, no electricity, outdoor toilet and coconut matting for carpeting…aside from skinned knees and in spite of it all, I was a happy child. The moors of Oswaldtwistle were not far from where we lived and we would spend lots of time exploring them. The barrage balloons setup to snag the German V1 flying bombs were nothing more than big toys for us to play around.
At three years old I walked through the doors of Saint Mary’s Catholic school, which was almost a one room schoolhouse. I finished school one week before my fifteenth birthday and I went straight to work in the cotton mills of Lancashire. My mother started me in dancing classes at the age of three and I have to say that I was real charmer. At that time, I was convinced that I was going to be a tap dancer, but breaking my foot ended that dream. So the chorus line wasn’t for me, but, as I discovered I had a voice and I could sing. The first time I sang at the church hall, had I not been holding onto a table I would have collapsed. I was taking lessons with the local Sunday school teacher Mrs. Greenwood. She could not help the break in my voice here. The first review I received was for the part of Josephine in HMS Pinafore, which stated, “Irene has a sweet voice which unfortunately lacks range.” Well, I’m pleased to report that over the years I have proved them wrong.