Something unique in the British theatre
I AM a Bristolian, having lived in Henleaze/Stoke Bishop all my life, until we decided to uproot and move over to south-west France some nine years ago; not many people emigrate in their 70s!
I did a lot of piano playing in Bristol and the West in the 60s, 70s and 80s, via the Bristol Arts Centre, various restaurants, clubs and especially OTMH (Old Tim Music Hall) with my group The Penny Farthings.
From 1965-1979 I served on the committee of the Dawn James Annual Festival for the old folk of Bristol being vice-chairman for a number of years.
The festival was for the old folk of Bristol and in the spring each year, anyone 70 years or older and being permanent residents of the City of Bristol were invited to one coach tour from a list of six and to see the all-star show at the Hippodrome, all completely free.
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The Hippodrome show ran twice daily for one week, and some 20,000 saw it each year.
My involvement each year was thrilling in that it was my job to find and to book the show which was a fully-professional show, and often one which would go on to be the resident summer show at one of the seaside resorts.
I think it was something unique in the British theatre, that a charity would take over a No.1 theatre and put on a big show. From the artists' point of view they had a superb week working to two packed houses each day for the week.
Obviously over these years I met so many wonderful (and famous) artists and over the years they included Tommy Trinder, Sandy Powell, Kathy Kirby, Frankie Howerd, Ray Allen (and Lord Charles), Arthur Askey, Joan Regan, Hetty King, Walter Landauer (the surviving partner of the pianists Rawicz & Landauer), Dai Francis and John Boulter (both from the Black & White Minstrels), Billy Dainty, Adelaide Hall and Cyril Fletcher.
People in the variety business were fantastic, always so professional and so friendly. Several of them became personal friends over the years. I have a complete album of personally signed photos of everyone who was in the show each year.
I have so many other recollections of this great theatre, going back to seeing the pantomimes of the 40s and 50s to which my parents always took me, usually on Christmas Eve. Especially I remember the opening night after the rebuilding, following the 1948 stage fire. After the interval the safety curtain jammed some 4ft off the ground and Ted Ray ad libbed for some 20 minutes until it could be released and raised. A fantastic evening.
I also remember seeing George Robey, Guy Mitchell, Laurel & Hardy, Marlene Dietrich, and Frank Sinatra, who was accompanied by Billy Ternent and his orchestra.
I was also at the first night of the European premieres of the American musicals, Guys & Dolls with Vivien Blaine, in 1953; and The Music Man with Van Johnson in the 60s.
I was very friendly with two of the managers John Christie and Brian Matheson, also that wonderful stage manager Jack Marriot. They all had such a fund of anecdotes and reminiscences. They don't make them like that these days!
One other fact is that the family have had a long association with BLOC. I was thrilled when in 1974 my first wife played the lead of Anna in The King and I at the Hippodrome for two weeks, and when my youngest daughter had a solo dance role in Show Boat in 1975.
South West France