News:
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Author Topic: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955  (Read 6052 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Patricia Edwards

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 1
  • Appreciation 0
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2016, 19:56:25 »
I am trying to track down any information of a pantomime I was in around 1953-4 at the Chatham Empire.  I was born in Wiltshire in 1941, but moved to Chatham when 6 months old.  After a bout of pneumonia when about 6. I joined the Medway School of Dancing (run by a Miss Kimber) and when 13 or 14 I took part in the Pantomime  "Dick Whittington" as 1 of 12 tiny tappers.  Arthur English was in it and Monsieur Eddie Gray.  I left Chatham 2 years later but did have an autograph book with photos and signatures of most of the people in the pantomime.  Unfortunately when I was in hospital after our 6th child was a toddler, she ripped the autograph book up and I only had 2 pictures left (both slightly damaged).  Don't know if I'll be able to attach them here. Sorry, only 1 picture here (can't track down the only one I have of Arthur English, the Fairy Queen one from the "Theatre Royal"  I would dearly love to know what happened to the Theatre when it closed down and if anyone has any programmes or information about this pantomime.   The following year I was in a Pantomime at The Theatre Royal which was a mixture of a lot of fairy tales mixed up, in this one I was the Fairy Queen, but have no information on this production either.  I gave all the dancing up once married with children and concentrated on office work instead. At that time my surname was Butler.  Hope there is somebody here who remembers this pantomime. 

Offline pr1uk

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 166
  • Appreciation 8
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2013, 08:46:07 »
What a good story, and thank you for sharing ray lawrence. I remember the theatre and the cinema but could not have contributed such an interesting story.
To be contented in life you must learn the difference between what you want and what you need
-Peter

Offline Signals99

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 470
  • Appreciation 37
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2013, 20:22:29 »
I well recall the Empire Theatre of that time, one show I think was called 'hells a popin 'some form of aerial roadway went from the 'gods' to the stage and during the show someone dressed as a monkey slid down it. Best remembered show was a demonstration by the Royal Navy divers in a huge glass tank. Any one recall the two ex Fair mile "c"class gun boats, pretty much hulks, that they used as dressing rooms, moored just behind the back stage area ?

Offline Bryn Clinch

  • Established Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 935
  • Appreciation 72
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2013, 20:10:00 »
Ray Lawrence, I`ve just had a thought. Were you at the Empire when a roller skating act invited the audience to come on stage and be spun round at a colossal speed? All were unable to walk afterwards and had to be helped to a chair. One chap`s trousers fell off whilst he was being spun, revealing his white shorts with large green spots. At the time, everybody thought this was hilarious, not realising that he was a stooge. That stooge was the actor Derek Nimmo, early in his career.

Offline smiffy

  • Established Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 931
  • Appreciation 60
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2013, 19:26:47 »
Glad that you finally managed to get this posted Ray, as there are some great memories here that I'm sure will be of interest to many other members.

Offline Bryn Clinch

  • Established Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 935
  • Appreciation 72
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2013, 19:12:36 »
Welcome Ray Lawrence. :)

A very interest post, thank you.

Regarding not being able to post your photo.  When you are in the posting section there is a section at the bottom of the page that says `Attachments and other options', and if you click on that it gives you an option to `Attach'.  Click on that and then `browse' to search for your photo. When you find it, click on it and it will attach it to the post.  You cannot see it if you preview however, you would have to Post and keep fingers crossed! :)  If it doesn't work, it could be that you photo is over 800 x 600 which is the limit that can normally be posted.  If so you would need to reduce the size and try again.

Hope that helps. :)

I`d like to add a little more if you don`t mind, busyglen. I nearly always use 640 x 480, but lately it`s not working for me at that size and have been forced to reduce to 500 x whatever. This size always works for me.

Offline busyglen

  • Established Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1050
  • Appreciation 69
    • Westminster Village
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2013, 18:40:34 »
Welcome Ray Lawrence. :)

A very interesting post, thank you.

Regarding not being able to post your photo.  When you are in the posting section there is a section at the bottom of the page that says `Attachments and other options', and if you click on that it gives you an option to `Attach'.  Click on that and then `browse' to search for your photo. When you find it, click on it and it will attach it to the post.  You cannot see it if you preview however, you would have to Post and keep fingers crossed! :)  If it doesn't work, it could be that you photo is over 800 x 600 which is the limit that can normally be posted.  If so you would need to reduce the size and try again.

Hope that helps. :)
A smile is a curve that straightens things out.

Offline Lutonman

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 253
  • Appreciation 42
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2013, 16:59:34 »
Welcome, and a great first post, thank you.

Offline Bryn Clinch

  • Established Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 935
  • Appreciation 72
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2013, 14:36:13 »
Welcome to the Forum, Ray Lawrence!

I too enjoyed your post as I must have been at many of the performances you mentioned. I clearly remember the Goon Show as I was at the first night and, as you say, they appeared to be improvising. They weren`t getting many laughs so Peter Sellers turned to the audience and said "I know what you lot want" and proceeded to tell a risque joke which brought the house down. The highlight of the evening was Spike Milligan playing the trumpet. We were disappointed when Harry Secombe didn`t appear.

Offline Lyn L

  • Established Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1127
  • Appreciation 84
Re: New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2013, 12:17:34 »
Welcome to the forum Ray Lawrence  :)
That was a very interesting first contribution, I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life tryi

ray lawrence

  • Guest
New boy behind stage Empire Theatre Chatham 1955
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2013, 10:23:28 »
•   Posted by Ray Lawrence. G"day from OZ, my first post.
•   
I wonder if anyone is interested in my contribution to the Empire Theatre in Chatham from the tender age of 15 – 16 ½ years  1954- late 1955
•   
 I lived at 50 High Street, Chatham, above Clement Clarke Opticians from about 1948 until 1953; this was opposite the Empire Theatre & Cinema, and The Royal Exchange Pub.  Next door to us at no 48 was a Tobacconists run by Bert & Gladys Bodkin, the other side, no 52 was a café run by Mrs. Ellis who had two children Malcolm & Daphne. My father Albert Arthur Lawrence was Manager at Clement Clarkes (opticians) there untill 1953 which, strangely, was opposite the Empire. He became very unwell and retired. We then moved to a council house at Walderslade in 1953. I went to Highfield Secondary school until August 1954 [age 15].  I left school and got a job as a stagehand at the old Theatre Royal, Chatham High Street for 2 weeks, then from memory, friends of my mother [Lily Lawrence) said there was a vacancy at the Empire Theatre as an Assistant Electrician which I took in Sept 1954.  Here then began my short but interesting career there which was nearly 2 years.  My wage at that time was 17s/6d a week, the Electrician's name was Joe [don’t remember his surname]. The stage manager I think was Jock Campbell and a Stan was his assistant, and  Harry in the fly’s [above the stage]. My job at this time at age 15 was usually opening up the theatre at 10am from Monday morning through till Saturday, after riding my bike from Walderslade or catching a bus [if raining]. switch theatre & house lights on, checking all lights also the secondary gas lighting [mantels] replacing if needed, this included orchestra pit, dressing rooms, bar’s, café etc., also operating Main switchboard back stage for rehearsals if Joe wanted me to. We would stop for a break about 1.30pm. There were 2 evening shows 6.00pm & 8.15pm Mon to Sat, so after I had been there about 3 months Joe decided we would do week about, I would start at 5.30-8.30 one week, Joe 8.00- 11.00pm approx, then swop round. By then my wage were £3/10s plus overtime.  I didn't have any previous experience as an electrician but Joe taught me everything I needed to know. Here comes the interesting part as I was coerced into being a stage stooge, at one time for comedian Freddy Sales. I had to dress up as a young schoolboy with short trousers in school uniform, and was called (supposedly unwittingly) out of the audience to be on stage to share his strawberry jam sandwiches, which used to get placed somehow on the seat he made me sit on much to the audiences' amusement, a bit of slapstick comedy, and I always used to get covered literally in strawberry jam, for this I got an extra £1.  Another time I would be a stooge in the audience for the Great Levant, an American  magician,  I would be at the back of the stalls and my role was to make caustic remarks, ie." I can still see her feet" when he was supposedly putting swords through a woman in a cupboard on stage, and when he opened the door,  all that was there were a pair of shoes!  During the 1954 Xmas Pantomime of Cinderella on Ice, it so happened they were short of a dancer to be the back end of the cow - yes you guessed it, I had the dubious honour of being on stage on ice in shoes as the back end of the cow!  I just had to hang on as the front end, skated around the stage, dragging me behind him. That happened on two Saturday afternoon matinees. Some of the many stars appearing during my time were The Goon Show with Spike Milligan, Max Geldray etc. performing 2 shows a night, for 6 nights, and every show they did was different, obviously not performing to a strict script.  One night Spike Milligan brought in ½ dozen white raincoats and fedora hats and roped in several of the stage hands, including myself, to walk on and stand behind Max Geldray whilst he was playing the theme from the 3rd Man on his harmonica -  in order to put him off playing.  However, he was a real professional and took no notice, although the audience found it hilarious. Spike Milligan and co. often played practical jokes on each other whilst on stage. Then there was a show starring   Max Miller [comedian].  He would tell jokes for hours. On this particular Saturday night he was the star of the show and last on stage, the theatre was packed, the stalls, circle & the Gods [1shilling each up there].  At 11 30pm Jock[ stage manager] decided the main curtain had to come down, however,  Max carried on telling jokes, and 15 minutes later the safety & fire curtain came down, Max was standing, still talking in the footlights unfazed. As I still was on the control board & had control of microphones & speakers Max could still be heard. Jock then told me he was going home & to make sure everyone left safely; that left me with Max on stage [nobody could see me].  Max finally finished at 1.30 am, and thus the Show ended! I then I had just 30 minutes to clear the theatre and lock up. Another problem was how to get home, so I phoned for a taxi who would charge it to the theatre, and eventually got home at 2.30 in the morning, much to the relief of my worried parents.
Also over the period of time I was there, I worked with such stars as Morecambe & Wise [I actually received a telegram at the front office one morning, took it to Ernie Wise, informing him that his first child, a boy I think, had been born; he tore off to London in a taxi & was back in time for the 6.00 pm show.)  Then there was Alma Cogan, Lita Rosa, a very young Ken Dodd, Mike & Bernie Winters, te Billy Cotton Band Show, and certainly I couldn't  forget Jane of the Daily Mirror who posed in the altogether [nearly] also Phyllis Dixie who did the same thing. At one time appearing at the Empire were about 3 different all Male Revues which I won`t say much about, just that us fella’s had to be very careful how we walked about backstage, [making sure not to  bend down to pick anything up, without looking round first!!]. Upon reflection this was possibly not a good environment for a 15 year old.  Maybe this prompted my parents to move to Ashford near Staines, so I left the Empire in late 1955 when I was 16 1/2, and moved to Ashford, thus that was the end of my career. I was told in later years they thought I might have got into bad company!!. However I still travelled by train down to Chatham on weekends & stayed with friends in George St. On Saturday nights we went to the Pavilion dance hall in Gillingham then walked back across the Lines. I know the Empire closed down for a while and re-opened as a sort of night club. We went to the Chinese restaurant at the Empire quite a lot.

I’m enclosing a photo of part of the Entertainments Page from the Chatham Observer Dec 1954. which does advertise Cinderella on Ice!-
They certainly were the happy days and I often wonder if I missed my vocation!
For those who may be interested, I married in 1961 and emigrated to South Australia in 1965.  Sorry about the non-inclusion of my Cinderella on Ice advert, maybe someone can put me right!!
 




   

 

BloQcs design by Bloc
SMF 2.0.11 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines