WRIGHT, Wynona “Noni” Hope
Film producer and director.
Wynona “Noni” Hope Wright was born at Auckland on 8 September 1913 and educated at Auckland Girls' Grammar School and, for her final secondary year, at the Auckland Diocesan Girls' High School. Before long Noni Wright was making frequent appearances in dramatic productions, particularly those of the Auckland Little Theatre Society. With this background, she left New Zealand for London in 1935 for the purpose of broadening her theatrical experience. Within six weeks of her arrival she was touring England as understudy to Ursula Jeans in a company which included such notable actresses as Marie Tempest and Dame Sybil Thorndike. Her artistic talent, however, was to find its first sustained expression in radio work. Noni Wright began this new venture first as a free lance writing and broadcasting her own scripts; later, she joined the staff of the BBC. Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, she obtained a position in the then Empire Section as Talks Producer for the Pacific Overseas Programmes. Meeting the exigencies of wartime needs, she arranged the sessions Anzacs calling home; she also conducted Hello children. The Anzacs programme was produced both in the studios and in hospitals, in particular those where there were New Zealand personnel serving with the RAF. During this time Noni Wright was twice featured on the cover and her work described in the New Zealand Listener. Her dramatic talent was by no means wholly overlooked during her service with the BBC which concluded in 1946. She played the leading feminine role in the BBC radio production of the thriller Sorry wrong number. After the war she went to Malaya under contract to the newly formed service Radio Malaya as feature producer and programme organiser, accompanied by her husband, Francis Norman Lloyd Williams, whom she had married in 1937. Williams, who was in the BBC, was appointed Deputy Director of the Service. By 1952 Noni Wright was engaged in journalism, becoming feature writer on the Straits Times, Singapore. At the end of the year she and her husband returned to England but, as the marriage showed signs of breaking up (it was dissolved in 1953 when Williams remarried), she went to Kuala Lumpur as a script writer in the Malayan film unit and was responsible for a number of prize-winning films produced by the unit.
In 1958 she joined the Singapore-based Cathay Organisation as a film director and producer. Her finest work in the field of documentary and feature films was done in the years during which she worked for two subsidiaries of this huge organisation headed by Dato Loke Wan Tho; Cathay Film Services, and Cathay-Keris. Her success was marked particularly by the awards her films gained at Asian Film Festivals held annually in many capitals including Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Seoul, and Taipei. At Hong Kong in 1961 her films won four out of eight best documentary awards, five of eight best planning awards, and three special awards. Her work also won awards at film festivals in Venice, the United Kingdom, and Berlin. During these years she was also commissioned to produce films for the British Foreign and War Offices, the governments of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei, and Hong Kong.
From 1953 until her death at the conclusion of the Eleventh Asian Film Festival in Taipei, in an aircraft accident near Taichung, Formosa, on 20 June 1964, she had won 10 first prizes at Asian Film Festivals. Among her many successes was This is Hong Kong which received in 1961 the oscar award for the best documentary film.
Just one hour before she died in the crash of the CAT airliner on a flight from Taichung to Taipei, she had gained the top award of the Festival in Taipei with her film Happy Homes. This depicted the work of the Singapore Housing and Development Board in providing housing and recreational areas for the resettlement of a large proportion of the population which comprises 1·75 million people embracing Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Eurasian, and a relatively small proportion of Europeans, principally of English origin. Happy Homes made in colour (as was This is Hong Kong) was shown throughout Malaysia in four different language versions, a common practice with Noni Wright's films of this character. Over a hundred copies were produced for overseas screening in 15 languages. In these productions Noni Wright showed that her sympathies were with the people of South-East Asia and that she felt a deep concern for those less fortunate in life. And her best work revealed a genuine poetic quality.
Slightly built and of very attractive appearance, Noni Wright had exceptional moral and physical courage. Working continuously in London throughout the blitz, she confessed to taking refuge in a bomb shelter once only and then “feeling thoroughly ashamed” of doing so. During the period of Emergency in Northern Malaya she accompanied troops to the battle zones. Throughout this crowded period she retained an alert interest in the land of her birth, particularly in its cultural progress. Such were her local ties, however, that from the time of her leaving New Zealand in 1935, she was able to fit in only three short return visits.
After the fatal aircrash, Noni Wright's body was cremated in Taipei and her ashes flown to Singapore where they were received by her son, Stephen Lloyd Williams (born 1939), an engineer with a major British oil company, who flew in from London. Subsequently they were brought back to Auckland by her father. The memorial service in her honour was conducted by Dean Shield at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore. At least 80 per cent of the congregation which overflowed on to the lawn surrounding the cathedral was Asian. Many were deeply moved and characteristically not ashamed to show their grief at the loss of one whom they had taken so closely to their hearts.
by John Reece Cole, B.A., DIP.JOURN., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Chief Librarian, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
N.Z. Listener, 24–30 Aug 1964.