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SUZANNE ATWILL DIES (article first published : 2000-11-4)

Well-known Durban soprano Suzanne Atwill died on November 1, 2000, after a brave, dignified and courageous fight against cancer.

She was born in England in 1940 and came to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) with her parents in 1947. Her father worked in the diplomatic service and Suzanne and her brother were one-time Rhodesian Junior Ballroom champions. She started her career in show business at the age of 11, performing in numerous plays, pantomimes, musicals and variety shows. She won a best actress award for her performance in William Inge’s Bus Stop in a national drama festival and had two six-week television half-hour musical series of her own on RTV (Rhodesian Television). Her professional attitude to her work was always impeccable.

After she moved to South Africa, she married radio producer Henry Diffenthal in 1968 and they had two sons, Nicholas and Jason. Together Suzanne and Henry ran Olympia Recording Film Studios, a Durban radio production house responsible for many plays, serials and series including the highly popular High Adventure which ran for 18 years. Suzanne appeared in and adapted many of these radio programmes which were broadcast on Springbok Radio.

She sang in numerous concerts, variety shows and lunch-hour concerts at the City Hall, appeared on the In Person SABC television series and recorded a transcription record. She also performed in a number of variety shows with local entertainer Colin Penn.

“She was a musical encyclopaedia and I was constantly asking for verification of this, the words of that and whether she had the music,” says Colin Penn. ”She was probably the best singer of Ivor Novello, if not in the country - most definitely in Natal. She was my Vera Lynn for VE Day and VJ Day celebrations and did many concerts with me.“

In the latter part of her life, she started a popular programme titled An ABC of Song with pianist Norman Hesom. These went on to include B My Guest and C You There. They were working on the “D”s when ill-health forced her to withdraw.

“We had such fun working together on each programme,” says Norman Hesom. “It was so easy to accompany her because she was extremely musical and knew instinctively what interpretation to put into every song she sang - whether it be opera, operetta, ballad or just a fun comic song. Her voice was so clear and pure and her very high notes put a chill up your spine.”

Over the past five years, family and friends were constantly amazed by the logical and positive way in which Suzanne handled the cancer that beset her. She was a shining example of courage, faith and fortitude. Apart from her immediate family, she leaves three step-children and an older brother.

Her memorial service will be held at 12h00 on Wednesday, November 8, 2000, at the Durban North Methodist Church, Broadway. No flowers by request - donations to Highway Hospice. Phone (031) 208-6110.




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