A blue plaque has been unveiled in Budleigh Salterton in honour of the 1950s film star Belinda Lee, who was born in the town on June 15 1935.

She made 32 films in just seven years and was voted the 10th-most popular British film star at the box office in 1957, but was killed in a car crash aged just 25.

(Image: Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter University)

Her tumultuous private life – which included a much-publicised extra-marital affair with an Italian aristocrat - scandalised the British press of the 1950s. Today she is seen as a fascinating and multi-faceted character who could have gone on to even greater fame and success.

The blue plaque was unveiled on Saturday, June 15 at Cliff House, 10 Cliff Terrace, Budleigh Salterton, by television and radio presenter Judi Spiers and the chairman of Fairlynch Museum, Trevor Waddington OBE.

(Image: Peter Bowler)

Also in attendance were Professor Helen Hanson (Associate Professor in Film History at the University of Exeter, and Academic Director of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum), Dr Phil Wickham (Curator of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter), Professor Steve Chibnall (Professor of British Cinema and Director of the Cinema and Television History Centre (CATH), De Montfort University, Leicester, author of forthcoming book about Belinda Lee), and actor Michael Terry who lives locally.   

At the unveiling Judi Spiers spoke of Belinda Lee as an iconic figure and talented actress whose life and career were tragically cut short. 

(Image: Peter Bowler)

Michael Terry made a speech outlining Lee’s early years in Budleigh Salterton, where her father Robert Lee ran the Rosemullion Hotel and her mother Stella Mary Graham was a florist. She won a scholarship to RADA and rose to fame with the Rank Film Organisation after being spotted in a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan. She appeared alongside stars including Norman Wisdom, Benny Hill, Donald Sinden, Ian Carmichael and John Gregson, playing the juvenile female lead, and was quoted saying that being a film star was ‘really 90 percent luck and only 10 percent ability’.

He described how she later went to Rome to film, and met the great love of her life, prince Filippo Orsini, with whom she had the ‘scandalous’ affair. In 1958 she left Rank and moved to Europe and made numerous films, including one opposite Charles Aznavour.

She continued filming in Germany, France and her beloved Italy before moving to the States in early 1961. In March that year the car she was being driven in had a tyre blow-out on Highway 91 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and she was killed. Her ashes are interred in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. Lee left her estate to the Rome Centre of Experimental Cinematography to be used to establishing scholarships for promising students of the Motion Film Academy of Rome.

Michael Terry ended by saying: “I can’t help reflecting that had she lived she may have become one of the greats of British theatre and film, in obituaries she is often referred to as having the potential to have been another Betty Crawford or Sophia Loren.”

Following the unveiling, a signed photo of Belinda Lee was presented to The Feathers Hotel. Italian dishes lasagne and tiramisu were on the menu for lunch as reminders of Belinda Lee's love for Italy.  

Meanwhile, long-term residents of Budleigh Salterton have been posting their memories of Belinda Lee on social media.

Lynda Stacey said: "My dad Dennis Drew was the local window cleaner, cleaning the shops every Monday morning. Every time Belinda was in Budleigh she would always stop to talk to dad. He said she was very down to earth and loved Budleigh."

Helen Madell said: "The film stars used to come down and stay at the Rosemullion when she was there. Diana Dors had a huge pink car."

Lesley Tapper said: "I was only a little girl when Belinda used to come in the shop - she was gorgeous."

Other comments included: "I met her when I was working at the Rosemullion, she was very nice to talk to."

"She was a lovely person. Those of us who lived in Rolle Road, Queen Street and Cliff Road played with her often."

"I was born in Budleigh Salterton in 1955 and was named after her. It’s been very interesting reading all about her. Thank you."