Posted February 7th, 2016

Local personality, historian and stalwart of the Friends, Edward Thomas, welcomed a hundred-strong audience of fellow Friends to the Langham Hotel on Sunday 7 February to listen to his conversation with Vicki Goodwin, the latest in a long line of celebrities from stage and variety to make their homes in Eastbourne.  Some of these, including Jan Lynton, Olivia Breeze and Beryl Plummer, were there to support their friend.

Vicki Goodwin and Edward Thomas

Despite the afternoon being dubbed ‘Settle Down Now’ in memory of comedian Ken Goodwin, Vicki – his widow – who moved to Polegate in May 2015, is a formidable singer, dancer and choreographer in her own right.  Born in Abingdon near Oxford, Vicki Lane moved with her parents to Southampton when she was a child.  Performing – particularly dance – was always important to her and she was just fifteen when she was auditioned for the Tiller Girls.  Being the shortest in the line-up was always going to be a challenge for Vicki and realising that ballet was important to her she went on to study at the Southampton School of Ballet and Movement.

Vicki Goodwin in conversation with Edward Thomas

Reminiscences of Vicki’s career read like a veritable Who’s Who of variety:  in 1955 she appeared with one of the country’s best known clowns, Charlie Cairoli, in Little Miss Muffet at the Oxford New Theatre; her first appearance in Eastbourne was with the Fol de Rols in 1957 – at the Winter Garden as, of course, the Congress Theatre was yet to be built!  Here she appeared alongside the likes of Jack Trip and Allen Christie and there followed a Scottish tour with Lesley Crowther and Kathleen West.  These were heady days for variety: Vicki recalled how Lex McLean (probably the last of Scotland’s great Music Hall comedians) packed Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre with record twenty-four week seasons from May to October.  His shows played twice-nightly (curiously at 6.25 and 8.25!) with a regular change of programme.

Vicki married for the first time on 23 November 1963 – an auspicious day remembered for the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas and for the first broadcast of Dr Who!  Vicki and her husband Dougie Charlton performed in floor shows at London venues, such as the Café Royal, Quaglinos and The Dorchester.  Vicki also appeared with Bruce Forsyth and Adam Faith in Aladdin in Bournemouth; with Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson in a David Croft produced show in Hastings; and in 1973 she played Dandini in pantomime in Birmingham alongside Dickie Henderson (as Buttons) and Arthur Askey (the Dame).  There were also lean times and Vicki recalls making costumes in an attic in Chiswick for 7s 6d an hour – those were the days!  She and Dougie were divorced in 1975 after twelve years of marriage.

She first met Ken Goodwin in Sleeping Beauty at Lewisham Theatre.  Despite his having made it big in The Comedians, Ken had never appeared in pantomime before and Vicki recalls his looking haunted and terrified!  They met again in 1977, shortly after the death of Ken’s first wife, and were married in 1978.  Vicki has many fond memories of performing with Ken – including several times in Eastbourne – and the on-stage antics of his alsation dog, Crosby (named after Bing), and their happy years of marriage.

Scrapbook reminiscences

Ken taught her to ride when she was forty – and at one time they owned seven horses.  When she was 50 he taught her to play tennis, a pastime that she still enjoys.  Sadly their professional life together was to be curtailed in 1993 when Ken was taken ill.  He had been struggling for some time to remember his lines – writing them on his ukulele and the back of his hands.  They retired to their villa in Spain and lived there until 2008 when alzheimers forced their move back to the UK.  The Spanish property was sold and Ken moved into a home in North Wales where he lived for three and a half years before his death in 2012.

 

A life full of stories and interesting anecdotes and the audience were grateful Edward and Vicki for sharing their conversation! The Friends wish her many years of happy life here in Eastbourne.

 

The raffle held raised a profit of £146.

Posted January 24th, 2016

What a better way to spend a dreary Sunday afternoon in January – than to meet up with eighty like-minded people in the Gold Room for a Fun Quiz followed by sandwiches and cake!

Once again Steve and Carol White provided a varied – if at times frustrating – quiz for the ten competing teams to get their collective heads around.  With subjects ranging from history and geography to TV and film and current affairs, with all the usual categories in between, it became quite a tactical affair – when do you play your Joker?  Are you sure the questions are not getting more obscure and trivial as the rounds go on: who had picked up that Frank Bruno had paid £50k for a static caravan on the Isle of Sheppey?  Readers of the Daily Mail!

The runaway winners were Team 5 on table E who finished nearly a round’s worth of points ahead of their nearest rivals.  The eight clever team members are pictured below.

The winning team

The raffle held raised £115.

 

 

Posted December 15th, 2015

This year’s panto, Peter Pan, has something for everyone and Chris Jordan has certainly worked his wonders with this classic J M Barrie story.  Panto traditionalists will be delighted that there is still a place for the good old “dame”  and welcomed back Martyn Knight – this year as Mrs Smee – part of the crew of evil pirate Captain Hook, played by who else than arch-villain Brian Capron!   Then there is the Britain’s Got Talent runners-up Twist and Pulse and add to the mix the flying Peter Pan and Tinkerbell  – plus the Darling children, of course.  No Eastbourne panto would now be complete without Tucker’s brilliantly timed humour in his interaction with the audience and no surprise that he has the children eating out of the palm of his hand, as always!  The depth and variety of talent in this year’s production is amazing. There is so much to take in that seeing it once is probably not enough!   There are also a few surprises along the way, but no spoilers here!

After such an entertaining evening, the Friends were delighted to play host at an after-show get-together for the cast and company in the Winter Garden Bistro.  This has become a traditional part of the Panto each year and one which the many Friends who attend look forward to.  It is always good to see familiar panto faces – such as Tucker and Martyn Knight, and also those who have starred at the DPT in other roles – notably Brian Capron and Peter Pan himself, Ewan Goddard, who has appeared in at least three other productions here in 2015!  But it is also a delight to welcome Ashleigh Drew and Ashley Glazebrook and Glen Murphy (aka Twist & Pulse) and other members of the cast who mingled and chatted with the Friends  – as shown in the pictures below.

Posted December 6th, 2015

More than 100 Friends gathered in the Garden Room at the Hydro Hotel on Sunday 6 December to celebrate Christmas with a traditional lunch of turkey and all the trimmings (alas minus the roast potatoes!).  The afternoon was rounded off by carol singing led by the “Friends’ Choir”.

The Choir

A good afternoon was enjoyed by all, as the pictures below bear testament, and a debt of gratitude is owed to the Social Committee for all their hard work in organising this and all the other social events throughout the year!

 

The raffle held raised £155.

Posted November 18th, 2015

Clive Francis certainly did not disappoint!  A near-packed house was enthralled by Clive’s masterful performance of his own adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Where does he get the energy from; how on earth does he remember all those lines?  These were just some of the questions from the audience as he re-appeared on stage following his solo seventy-minute performance to face a short question and answer session.

Clive answering questions

A long-time patron of this organisation, Clive is no stranger to the stage in Eastbourne.  He grew up in the town and worked as an Assistant Stage Manager at the Devonshire Park before going on to RADA and, of course, there were many of his friends in the audience – delighted to be there to support him.  Equally, there were those who had not seen this show before and they could not fail to be impressed with what unfolded on the stage as he brought to life a whole host of Dickensian characters in this skilful and evocative production.  How pleased were the Friends to be able to sponsor this performance so that a large proportion of the proceeds from ticket sales could be used by them on improvements to this theatre that clearly means so much to Clive.

For around 100 members of the audience the afternoon had started with lunch at nearby Pomodoro e Mozzarella Restaurant.  A record of nearly seventy friends joined in the lunch organised by the Friends and their numbers were boosted by another party of WI ladies organised by one of our members.

Thank you Clive for giving us the chance to experience this and for being so willing to chat and reminisce with the audience after what must have been a really gruelling afternoon on stage.

Posted November 14th, 2015

Once more, The Friends had good cause to thank the people of Eastbourne for their support at the Autumn Fair held recently at the Congress Theatre.  Despite it being a wet and blustery Saturday morning a pleasing crowd turned out to help raise around £1,200 which will be put to good use in the coming months on improvement works inside the theatre.   Cakes and refreshments were again the stars of the show, contributing nearly £500 towards the total but there was good support for all the stalls and games.

Certainly one little boy was thrilled to learn that the very cuddly and pretty teddy bear (pictured below) would be joining his family – he had correctly named her, Lola!

The Busy Fair

The Friends were especially delighted to welcome Graham Cole, who was starring in the two-hander  with Diane Keen in You’re Never too Old at the Devonshire Park Theatre.  Graham, who was appearing for the first time in Eastbourne, and who is a great supporter of regional theatres – keen to ensure they remain part of their local community – had promised to come along during the bar reception on Tuesday and he was true to his word.  He gave generously of his time mingling and chatting with the crowd and stallholders alike.

 

Even our own local celebrities got in on the act: the Theatres’ Artistic Director, the ever-competitive Chris Jordan, won the shuffle-board competition – some compensation perhaps for his just missing out on the prize for the golf game at the Summer Fete!

Thank you everyone for your support!

Posted October 25th, 2015

In an age when we have all become accustomed to a plethora of radio and television stations broadcasting 24/7, it was refreshing to sit back and listen to fellow Friend and excellent raconteur, Peter Harwood, reminisce about his thirty-five year career with the BBC.   How different things were in those early days with BBC radio – only three programmes: the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme!  It was not until the mid-sixties that these were going to morph into Radios 4, 2 and 3 and be joined later by many other stations vying for airwaves.

Peter with balloons in his old school coloursTo many of the ninety-four Friends gathered in the Gold Room at the Wintergarden – bedecked with balloons in Peter’s old school colours of blue and gold (although truth be told we can take no credit for this as they had been left by the revellers of the previous night!), what they were going to hear would bring back many memories of a bygone era when families would indeed gather to listen to the radio.

Although born in Ruislip in north-west London, Peter spent his formative years in South Africa where his family had moved following the war.  They lived in Cape Town where his father, who worked for Courtaulds, had been sent to set up an underwear factory under the Gossard brand name.  He spoke Afrikaans well, and after attending junior school (where he met his future wife, Vicky), he won a scholarship to Rondebosch Boys’ School in Cape Town.  This is a school which boasts many illustrious alumni (besides Peter) including playwright and former Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Wright and the late Peter Rutherford, the actor who died prematurely aged 58 in West Sussex twenty years ago.

Always interested in ‘sound’, Peter began his career in broadcasting with the South African Broadcasting Corporation but he and Vicky did not want to bring up their family under Apartheid so decided to return to London.   Keen to continue working in broadcasting, Peter successfully applied to the BBC and hence began the career which was to span more than thirty years.  Initially he was sent on a six-week Studio Managers’ Training Course and spent three months at Bush House with the Overseas Services.

The first music that Peter asked his audience to identify was the five-minute long Radio 4 theme tune compiled by Fritz Spiegl.  Unbelievably, this was played at the start of every morning between 1978 and 2006!

Peter in full flight

It was truly a trip down memory lane for many as the audience racked their brains to come up with the programme associated with a series of clips played by Peter. Who remembers Housewife’s Choice (“In Party Mood” by Jack Strachey), Music While You Work, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Children’s Favourites, Sing Something Simple and Semprini Serenade – which pianist Alberto Semprini always introduced with the words, “Old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones”.

Peter shared many amusing anecdotes from his interesting and varied career.  For instance, the BBC’s love of acronyms or abbreviations; how they always strive to be accurate with sound effects – trains and birds pose particular problems as there is always some ‘expert’ out there to point out errors; and how bagpipes apparently cause all sorts of sound balance issues!

Everyone was truly grateful to Peter for giving up his Sunday afternoon to entertain the assembled Friends and jog so many memories!

Peter sharing a joke with Chairman, Lesley Raven,and Social Chairman,  Jackie Knights

After an enjoyable tea the afternoon’s raffle was drawn which raised  £136.45.

Posted October 6th, 2015

Those in the large first night audience who had recently been captivated by the adaptation of the Father Brown stories depicted on our television screens, were in for something of a shock.  Still, the nice, cuddly, be-cassocked Father Brown with his trade-mark hat using his sleuthing skills to solve the crime, but the fact that the music was taken from the score of Hitchcock’s terrifying thriller Psycho should have been a clue to this altogether  more sombre and black whodunnit!

The script – a marriage of two G K Chesterson short stories The Invisible Man and the Curse of the Golden Cross – was written by John Goodrum, who also co-directed the play and took the part of Angus Turnbull.  The plot, featuring the whereabouts of five ancient daggers associated with the Holy Roman Empire of the early Middle Ages, cryptic Latin inscriptions, mummified bodies and countless murders on the way, was complex.

It was a mentally exhausted group of Friends who gathered in the bar to welcome the four-strong cast and members of the company for a gathering after their first night.

Back (l-r): Fran Buxey (Stage Manager), Karen Henson, John Goodrum Front: David Gilbrook (Co-Director), Anna Mitcham, John Lyons

Back (l-r): Fran Buxey (Stage Manager), Karen Henson, John Goodrum
Front: David Gilbrook (Co-Director), Anna Mitcham, John Lyons

The chat was lively and it was a delight to welcome back so many old friends among the cast – and indeed John Hester who was attending his first Bar Reception as a Friend rather than a member of the cast!  It was also lovely to have the chance to chat with Ann, John Lyons wife of over fifty years and hear about their exploits around the world on cruise ships in recent years when John has appeared as a guest speaker recounting his experiences throughout his long and varied career.

The party could have gone on for hours – and it did.  Our apologies to the staff at the DPT who were waiting to return to their beds but everyone was having such a good time!

Posted October 5th, 2015

Come along to the Congress Theatre on the morning of Saturday 14 November where the Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre are holding their Autumn Fair in the Foyer and Congress Suite.

2015 Autumn Fair Poster landscape

Lots of stalls and fun things to do – not forgetting our now famous cake and produce stall!  An opportunity do some early Christmas shopping, or try to win some festive cheer in the wine raffle, or perhaps chance your luck on the tombola or the instant raffle.

 

Then sit down and relax with a drink accompanied by tempting homemade goodies.

Please do come along to support us in our quest to raise funds to help preserve our wonderful theatre.  The Fair will be open from 10.00am until 12.30pm and admission is free.

Posted September 27th, 2015

The Rattonians have come a long way since their first production of The Boyfriend in 1984!  Fair to say they are now a treasured Eastbourne institution and one that the town is very fortunate to have.  It was therefore with great delight that some 90 Friends gathered in the Congress Suite on the last Sunday in September to listen to founder Rattonians, Mark and Melanie Adams recall some of the highs and lows of the past thirty years.

Mark & Melanie Adams

Ever the teacher, Mark started by guiding the audience through a brief history of theatre: charting it though its legendary beginnings in Greece of the 6th Century BC – when around twenty thousand people would crowd into an amphitheatre to watch the revelry surrounding the God of Fertility and Wine, Dionisos (the son of Zeus from a human mother) and his priest, Thespis.  The latter – by engaging in dialogue with the chorus – effectively became the first ‘actor’ and hence the term Thespian widely used to describe members of the acting fraternity today.  He explained how the Greek theatre was governed by strict rules, especially on the number of actors (all wearing elaborate masks) allowed on stage at any one time (usually 3, but a maximum of 5).    Fast forward then to London in 1500 AD and the first theatre in Shoreditch built by James Burbage and, with Shakespeare and his contempories, the birth of theatre as we now know it.

Mark explaining the history of the theatre

Fast forward again to 1984.  It was then that Mark and a group of ex-Ratton school pupils decided to put on a show – funding it by staging a 24-hour play read.  This was The Boyfriend  performed at Eastbourne’s Tivoli theatre.   It was a success and subsequent years saw productions at the Royal Hippodrome and then the Devonshire Park theatres before they moved to The Congress Theatre with Kiss Me Kate in 1990.  2007 saw a milestone in the Rattonians’ story when Mark received a telephone call from David de Silva (the ‘Father of Fame’) inviting them to put on his new musical Fame Forever.  In the end, Fame and Fame Forever were presented in back to back productions and for both shows to be performed one after the other was seen as an extraordinary event and a real theatrical landmark.  The YouTube clip of the finales received 100,000 hits!

Both Melanie and Mark paid tribute to Jan Lynton, who has worked with them since 1986 and choreographed more than thirty of their shows, and to Melanie’s mother,  the Rattonians’ costume supremo.

Mark and Melanie still have their challenges.  Staging these elaborate productions is very costly and it is often difficult to cover costs, although their successful Christmas Shows have helped in this.  Choosing which musical to put on next is ever a challenge: copyright charges can be prohibitive and there are frequently restrictions over what can be performed, when and where – often governed by current (or future) activities in the West End.  The audience were particularly surprised to hear that amateur companies are precluded from staging Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.  Whatever is chosen has to resonate with its audience; it has to be familiar or the public will not support it.

As  Melanie said, “We can’t please all the people all of the time, but we will give it our best shot!”

Melanie and Mark then joined the Friends for tea.  The raffle raised £130.