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Page updated - 22 August 2011


Penny Thewlis


Penny Thewlis was born in Kensington, London at the beginning of the Second World War, the elder of two girls.  Penny’s father was Ellis Keeler, Professor of Singing at the Guildhall School of Music in the City of London. She was baptised at two months then, because of the situation in London, was taken by her Mother to enjoy a delightful infancy in Hampshire beside the River Itchen.


At the age of two Penny returned to London but continued to spend the summers back in Hampshire. Aged three she was diagnosed with ‘pigeon toes’ and sent to remedial ballet classes, she can clearly remember her personal audition with Dame Marie Rambert.


She started her education at the Nursery run to train Norland Nannies. When Penny was four she was sent away from the London bombing on her own for a year to Barry, Wales, where her request to start school was granted (she thought they drank milk through real straws and was very disappointed to discover they were made of paper actually). When she returned to London she spent another term at Norland Nursery and then started her convent education at Our Lady of Sion, Bayswater. When a young child, a friend had requested permission to take her to church, which started a lifelong journey as a Christian. So, weekdays were Roman Catholic and weekends were Anglian – not forgetting a spot of Chapel whilst she had been in Wales.


At the age of twelve she was considered too young for her class (something to do with GCE exams) and she was sent to a sister convent in France, living with the delightful family of a surgeon in Le Mans. After two terms she returned to England in time for The Coronation.


Her musical education started at age 5 at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, then privately until joining the Royal College of Music as a Junior Exhibitioner.


On leaving school she had hoped to take up the position of Nursery Governess with a family in Monaco but their family plans changed and her holiday job of Assistant Orchestral Manager to London’s Youth Orchestra became a part-time job, working the other half with a firm of Civil Engineers. The job of PA to London’s Chief Music Adviser grew to a full-time position and she had eight happy years working with London’s musicians; junior, senior and some of the famous.


She went to college as a Mature Student and continued her music studies. She had kept up her voice training with her father and a North London singing teacher, Maude Evans, who was great supporter of the London Music Festivals at which many of her pupils performed and won medals.


Penny started her teaching career in London, moving to Cornwall where she met and married her husband and where she lived in a picturesque old house dating from the 12th century. They moved to The Midlands where she taught in Nottingham and Lincolnshire and where her daughter Jo was born. The next move was to Suffolk and she has lived in Great Cornard now for 29 years – longer than anywhere else in her life! Her daughter now lives in Bury St Edmunds and works as a reporter for the East Anglian Daily Times.


After a lifetime of full association with the local Anglican Church she trained and was licensed as a Reader in 1999 and enjoys being a part of the Ministry Team at St. Andrews.


Penny stopped teaching last summer and is now trying to catch up with the care of her house and garden. She loves her cats and is hoping to find a new rescue dog in the near future. Music is still a great love in her life also travelling with her sister, reading and walking and she hopes to have more time for home crafts in the future.


An altogether talented and confident lady who is content with her life and happy to contribute whatever she can for the benefit of those she encounters. A pleasure to interview, may I say.


Interview by Doris Rowland (Cornard News) – 12 August 2011