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Programmed to Receive: Part One

by on 13 May 2020

Culture and Sophistication, Neatly Packaged

Programmed to Receive

(Part One)

by Eleanor Lewis

Theatre programmes, a variety of uses:

• Finding out who that actually is that you’ve been staring at on stage and wondering “who is that?”
• Letting you know that there is, at least, an interval (which occasionally is something to live for).
• Providing interesting rehearsal shots to divert your attention from the phone screen of the woman in front of you.
• Leaving casually around the house for guests, neighbours and the man from Ocado to see and conclude that you are cultured and sophisticated.

Then again. A few years ago I inherited a lot of programmes from a relative and, this being lockdown, I’ve just got around to looking through them. My relative was an academic, he loved the theatre and he loved travelling, particularly to America so he spent a lot of time at the theatre both in the West End and on (and off) Broadway.

16890854-398A-4FF4-AA49-010DA75B1A9A_1_201_aThe programme collection runs from 1948 until 2000-ish. When he first discovered the theatre he discovered autographs too and it was these that I noticed. I’d recently gritted my teeth and recycled some of our own collection of programmes but it hadn’t been easy. You would have to drag the 1999 Old Vic programme for Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell starring Peter O’Toole from my cold, dead hands. Several others – the 2004 National production of The History Boys springs to mind – will only be disposed of during the house clearance when we finally shuffle off to bingo in the care home. So the idea of taking on another 100 or so of someone else’s collection wasn’t immediately attractive until I caught a glimpse of Dora Bryan’s clear signature across the front of something called The Lyric Revue (1951). Then others, in ageing ink but still legible, sometimes on the front, sometimes on the cast list page: Sarah Churchill, Sybil Thorndike, Donald Sinden, Richard Wattis and many more. And this is before we get to Sylvia Sim, Richard Attenborough, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Donald Wolfit but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Looking through the pile of brown-round-the-edges booklets, the autographs are just part of the whole experience, fifty years of theatregoing spills out of their pages. There are biographies of actors who went on to towering fame; programmes for first productions of plays that became major pieces of British Theatre; the advertising is fascinating and the Forthcoming Events are breathtaking. A 1953 production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Princes Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, featured Michael Redgrave, Marius Goring, Donald Pleasance, Tony Britton, Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Kempson. Forthcoming attractions then were: The Crazy Gang with Bud Flanagan; a “new musical” Paint Your Wagon, and London Laughs with Jimmy Edwards, Vera Lynn and Tommy Cooper.

Programmed sarah-churchill-5

Sarah Churchill

Sarah Churchill appeared in House on the Sand (Roland Pertwee) at The Grand Theatre Blackpool in 1949 when she signed the programme. Sarah was Winston Churchill’s second daughter, she worked on photo reconnaissance during the war and was apparently quite good at it. She went on to have a successful acting career before marrying into the aristocracy. The back of this this flimsy, one sheet programme advertises a “magnificent dramatization” of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as a forthcoming attraction.

Programmed Frankie-Howerd-in-Up-Pompeii-1024x576

Frankie Howerd

Forthcoming attractions in the 1963 programme for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Manchester Opera House with Frankie Howerd, Jon Pertwee, Kenneth Connor, Linda Gray and Isla Blair were: Black Chiffon with Evelyn Laye, My Fair Lady, and the less well known but fabulously titled There’s a Yank Close Behind Me (about which Google knows nothing!) Yvonne Arnaud’s autograph appears on the programme for Dear Charles by Alan Melville at the New Theatre, St Martin’s Lane (now the Noël Coward). This programme also informs readers that the RADA annual reunion dance in aid of the theatre rebuilding fund will be held at the Lyceum, Strand. Tickets, including buffet, one guinea each.

A small, red, very straightforward programme provides information about a new play by Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons at the Globe Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue (now the Gielgud). It is 1960 it stars Paul Scofield and Leo McKern and you must not miss West Side Story coming up at Her Majesty’s Theatre “with the New York cast”. Similarly there is a small orange and white programme for the English Stage Company’s production of The Entertainer at the Royal Court Theatre for the first time in 1957, starring Dorothy Tutin and Laurence Olivier, and directed by Tony Richardson. The programme contains a biography of John Osborne at the beginning of his career, “When he heard of the newly formed ESC in 1955 he sent the script of Look Back in Anger to them and within two weeks it was accepted. He joined the company as an actor in April 1956 and then appeared in Don Juan”.

Prog Richard Attenborough

Richmond’s Own Richard Attenborough

The signatures of Sheila Sim and Richard Attenborough appear on the front of the Manchester Opera House programme for The Mousetrap in October 1952, on its pre-West End tour.

My mind wanders off following Richard Attenborough’s career path: 10 Rillington Place, Oh! What a Lovely War, Ghandi to name but a few. And with Oh! What a Lovely War in mind, there is a 1963 Wyndhams Theatre programme for that very play including extracts from The Wipers Times (which Nick Newman and Ian Hislop recently turned into another play), and author’s notes from Charles Chilton.

Shortly after this I found Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and then Donald Wolfit. I am less than halfway through the pile, I think it’s time for an interval … …

Eleanor Lewis
May 2020

Photography by Peter Scarfe, Robert Vass and Frederick Prince

From → Cabaret, Drama, Musicals, Revue

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