New look at Sunderland’s post-war sex symbol star

Christine Norden.
Christine Norden.
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The life and times of Sunderland screen idol Christine Norden are remembered in a new film biography.

Often described as Britain’s first postwar sex symbol, actress Christine Norden got her big break into films in August 1945, in a Sunday afternoon cinema queue in London, when she was spotted by friends of film producer Alexander Korda.

She was given a seven-year contract, a new name, and an invented biography as the daughter of a Norwegian sea captain.

Her life appears in the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, released tomorrow, in which film historian Professor Robert Murphy traces her life and showbusiness career.

Christine was born Mary Lydia Thornton, in Mowbray Terrace, Sunderland, in 1924, the daughter of a bus driver.

She made her radio debut singing on BBC radio in 1938. During the Second World War she had first-hand experience of the Normandy landings, recalling her terror in making the Channel crossing shortly after D-day, to entertain the troops in a wartime review.

As Christine Norden, she played femme fatale roles in Korda films until 1951. She was offered Hollywood roles, and topped the bill at the London Palladium in 1950.

But by 1952 she left for the USA where, abandoning film, she developed a stage career in controversial roles. A succession of husbands and romantic attachments attracted continuing publicity.

Norden returned to England in 1979 where she married a mathematician and at last found peace and stability.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of men and women who shaped all walks of British life.