A renowned playwright, actress and broadcaster, Esther was educated at Central Newcastle High School where she was, among other things, a regular winner of the annual cricket ball throwing competition. Despite refusing to allow herself to be overburdened with academic work (vowing that she wouldn’t let her examinations interfere with her tennis) Esther was a very talented actress and writer.
Described as small, red-headed and full of spirit, she acted with the Newcastle Repertory Company from 1924 until 1937. Her first play The Willing Spirit was produced in 1936, but it was with Quiet Wedding in 1938 that her reputation as a writer of comedy was made. It took her to London and ran for over 1,000 performances. It was later filmed by the leading English film director Anthony Asquith in 1941. She wrote more serious plays in her later career, including Living Room in 1943, No Medals in 1944, and Cry Liberty in 1950. She was the first British woman playwright to achieve this level of success and her written works were most recently republished in 2017.
During WWII Esther contributed significantly to the BBC Home Service, the British national radio station set up to broadcast from London, preventing enemy aircraft from using differentiated output from Regional Programme’s transmitters as navigational beacons (the service was later replaced by Radio 4). Esther is best remembered forWot Cheor Geordi, a radio variety programme that began in the 1940s and was a great success into the mid 1950’s.
Esther’s first husband, Lieutenant Colonel Angus McCracken of the Medical Corps whom she married in 1936 was killed in action in Naples in 1943. The following year, she married Mungo Campbell who was described as having the face of a very attractive Highland bull. Campbell was a wealthy shipping magnate and it is thanks to he and Esther that Newcastle boasts the landmark building, MEA House in Ellison Place.
MEA House was the first of its kind in Britain. It was designed specifically to provide purpose built, high quality, fully accessible office accommodation to house multiple charitable organisations under a single roof at rents below market rate. The building was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 1st July 1974 and re-opened following refurbishment in 2000 by HRH Princess Royal and is still frequently visited by other members of the Royal family through their patronage of tenant charity organisations. Today MEA House continues to help charitable organisations thrive and over 50,000 people pass through its doors ever year.
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