She was born 75 years ago, became a star of the big screen and, by 1960, was the highest dollar-earning actress in Britain. She was Janet Munro who acted alongside such heart-throbs as Sean Connery and Dirk Bogarde and went on to marry British TV actor Ian Hendry. And Craven can claim some credit in helping forge her brilliant but brief career. Here Clive White tells the story.

As war raged in Europe in 1944, a 10-year-old little girl, still missing her mum who had died in her thirties two years earlier, came to live in Embsay. She was later recalled by villagers as “mischievous, lively and likeable” when she lived with her aunt and uncle, the Macefields, at 20 Brackenley Drive.

She made a great impression on local folk and, even at that early age, it was apparent that she was a very imaginative child and had a good sense of drama.

Her name was Janet Horsborough, later to become Janet Munro – a star whose glittering career was tragically snuffed-out when, like her mother, she suffered an early death.

After taking a break from acting in 1964 to bring up her two daughters, Janet never managed to regain her career.

She had two miscarriages and a series of medical problems, then she suffered a heart attack and died, aged 38, in 1972. The diagnosis was chronic ischaemic heart disease.

But in 1959, at the height of her career, Janet’s latest movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a Walt Disney production, came to the Odeon, now Strata nightclub, in Skipton.

And to mark the occasion a special midnight matinee was arranged by the manager that November. Invited along as special guests were Mr and Mrs Macefield. They were presented with a matchbox cover and a cigarette case cover, both engraved in enamel. Mrs Macefield also received a photograph album of her niece.

The Craven Herald at the time reported the special showing of Darby O’Gill: “The manager of the Odeon Cinema, Mr RC Cockburn, arranged a midnight matinee of the film, after the regular programme. Councillor EP Rowley, chairman of the Skipton Urban District Council, and Mrs Rowley were present, the vice chairman, Mr JD McNeil and Mrs McNeil, as well as other members of the council and Skipton people.

“Mr and Mrs Macefield were presented with a matchbox cover and a cigarette case cover, both engraved in enamel with a motif of King Brian Conners, chief of all the Leprechauns, with whom the film is largely concerned, and Mrs Macefield received an album of photographs of Janet.”

Janet was a member of a family which had long associations with the stage. Her father, Alec Horsborough, was once a member of the Horsborough Brothers, an acrobatic team. He then adopted the name of Munro and had some success as a Scots comedian.

His daughter, in the true style of the theatre, was “born in a trunk” and, from the age of a month, travelled the country from one town to the next with her father’s act.

It was inevitable, then, that show business – the stage – would guide her life and, even after tragically losing her mother and moving to Embsay, she was intent on becoming an actress.

Unlike her father, however, variety performance was not for her and she left school and got a job in a shoe shop.

But by the time she was 17 she had found her way into the theatre and was performing in repertory, eventually working in Preston, Oldham and Hull.

Her wage at the time was just £8 a week and the work was tough, learning new parts every week and honing her skills.

But it was not long before her looks and talent projected her to the London stage and soon into television and cinema.

It was one of these films that brought her fame, as it was seen by Walt Disney himself. Disney was looking for a girl for one of his productions and sent for Janet.

Janet went to Hollywood and so impressed was Disney with her screen tests that, in 1958, he gave her a five-year contact – it was the first time he had ever made such a deal with a star.

Janet would now appear in a series of Hollywood movies, including Darby O’Gill. Her salary sky-rocketed to £13,000 a year – a fortune in those days – and the movies followed thick and fast.

From Embsay, her new career took her all round the world – to Switzerland for The Third Man on the Mountain, to Spain for Tommy the Toreador and to Tobago in the West Indies for The Swiss Family Robinson. The same year as the celebrations in Skipton, Janet won a Golden Globe Award as the most promising newcomer.

Her career with Disney was mysteriously cut short, but it also heralded a significant change in her work, seeing her mature from those roles as a pig-tailed teenager into more dramatic and adult parts.

Perhaps two of her most memorable performances came first in the apocalyptic – and now cult – movie, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which also starred Leo McKern and then Bitter Harvest, made in 1963 and based on the novel, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, by Patrick Hamilton.

In 1962, her performance in Life of Ruth, which also starred Patrick McGoohan, was described as awesome.

The film was provocative at the time in its exploration of the clash between religion and medical ethics. It won her a nomination as Best British Actress in the 1962 BAFTAs.

But fans – who in 1958 dubbed her Miss Television – believe her best performance of all was as the washed-up alcoholic pop star, Carol Fancy, in the 1968 spy thriller, Sebastian, with Dirk Bogarde.

Her list of movies also includes Tommy the Toreador, with Tommy Steele, Swiss Family Robinson and her other sci-fi hit, The Trollenberg Terror.

Janet married twice, first to Tony “Beefcake” Wright, a Rank Organisation star of the 1950s whose career faded into obscurity as hers rose to stardom.

Her second husband was the British television star of the 1960s and 70s, Ian Hendry. They married in 1963, divorcing in 1971. By then she had “retired” from the stage and was suffering medical problems.

She was to live only a few more months, dying of a heart attack in Whittington Hospital, North London, on December 6, 1972, aged 38.

Janet Munro still has a big fan base of people who are fascinated by her career and tragically short life.

But her screen presence, looks and genuine talent can still be seen as many of her movies are now on DVD. There is also a website dedicated to her memory, at www.janetmunro. com