Wednesday, May 22, 2024

My Life in ... Theatre Programmes: The School Years

The seventeenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office"

Recap: “Over the years, I have kept just about every theatre programme for every play, dance, performance. The bankers’ box full of programs has grown over the years into two boxes and travelled with me from home to home. The vinyl collection mostly went as part of the downsize, the theatre programs were next on the list. I looked at selling them on eBay, as many other people have done, but the effort involved and the prices they would fetch meant it just was not worth the effort. So what I did was scan them, mostly just cover page and cast list . Then off they went to the recycling bin. Exceptions were programs where I knew one of the performers or they were particularly significant productions.

Scanning old theatre programmes is like watching your life flash before your eyes but v-e-r-y slowly.

I have seen things you people wouldn't believe...”

The School Years.

As a child / teenager my theatre and concert going was very much down to the beneficence of my parents, Dad specifically as the sole breadwinner growing up. I received a modest amount of pocket money just sufficient to buy myself some treats down at the sweetshop, a jamboree bag or sherbet dab. Once I reached 16 I started earning money over the summer as an archaeological digger which expanded my options.

Looking back my dad was a pretty cool dad. 

Toad of Toad Hall at the Belgrade Theatre (1961, age 9). The very first ever performance I went to as a child, age 9, was Toad of Toad Hall at the newly built Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, which made an impression on a young child not least because of the vertiginous aisles. What I did not know until many years later, when we went to see an evening with Ian McKellen was that I had seen him right at the start of his career in his role as chief weasel

Startime at The London Palladium (1964, age 11). I also discovered a programme from a visit to London where I saw Tommy Cooper and Cilla Black at the London Palladium in 1964. As I was 11 that must have been thanks to my dad and a trip to the big city. I remembered nothing of that trip so this programme came as a complete surprise! 

Maybe that is why I am now a big fan of Tommy Copper. 'Spoon, Jar, Jar, Spoon'.

Cilla would have been in the charts with "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and headliner Frankie Vaughan with "Hello Dolly".

The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary (1966, age 13). I was keen on archaeology and history in my teens. I was a regular visitor to the castle as local residents got in for free. The 700 year anniversary celebrations were right up my street. I had the original souvenir programme and recently unearthed a forgotten set of photos

Caesar And Cleopatra at the Belgrade Theatre (1967, age 14). My first ever Bernard Shaw play but certainly not the last. 

Mother Courage and Her Children at the Belgrade Theatre (1967, age 15). My first ever Bertolt Brecht play and not one I'd care to repeat. I remember it as tediously long and boring but then I was only 15 and probably failed to appreciate it fully.

Roy Liechtenstein at the Tate (1968, age 15). This was another trip to London to see an extensive retrospective of one of the greats of Pop Art. It made a big impression on me.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, age 15). Not theatre or music but a memorable outing nonetheless. Dad took the whole family down to London, from Kenilworth, in order to see 2001 in CinemaScope in Leicester Square. It was the IMAX of its day, with full stereophonic surround sound. I still remember the sound of the apes behind me as they ran off and the unsettling effect on the inner ear as the stewardess walked upside down.

The Magistrate at The Chichester Theatre / Moon Landing (1969, age 16). This was part of a father and son weekend away, just me and dad. We stayed in a B&B near Chichester the weekend of the first moon landing. During the day we went to see Fishbourne Roman Palace and that night stayed up late to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing live. Looking back I realise it must have been as thrilling for my dad as he was a lifelong reader of science fiction and this was history in the making. The next day we went to The Chichester Theatre to see this production starring, amongst others, Tamara Ustinov (Peter's daughter) and Alastair Sim.

Midsummer Night’s Dream at RSC Stratford (1970, age 17). Peter Brook’s production of The Dream was simply magical: the white stage set, the primary colours of the costumes, the eerie whistling noise made by the fairies whirling wind pipes.

Now we enter the zone where I had money from my summer job as an archaeological labourer and could buy my own tickets.

Isle of Wight Festival (1970, age 17). I saw some of the most famous and influential bands and acts in musical history including Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Miles Davis, the list goes on. Sadly I remember very little. I think much of this was due to my musical illiteracy at 17. If they hadn't appeared on Top of the Pops I wouldn't know who they were and so did not appreciate who I was listening to. Full blog post: Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at "Castle Rock" (Saturday, June 5th 1970, age 17). My first ever T.Rex gig. Full write up at Castle Rock feat. Tyrannosaurus Rex. At least I think it was my first ever Tyrannosaurus Rex concert. There was an earlier gig at Birmingham Town Hall but I have no ticket stub nor diary entry so I may have imagined being there.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at Birmingham Town Hall (Wednesday, 14th October 1970, age 18). The tickets were a very modest 10/- (ten shillings or 50p in decimal).

Incredible String Band at Birmingham Town Hall (1970?, age 18). I have no record of the exact date but it featured Licorice Mckecknie on bass. The internet suggests several possible dates but Saturday, 31 Oct 1970 is the most plausible.

Lancaster Polytechnic Arts Festival (January 1971, age 18). Curved Air featuring the lovely Sonia Christina followed by Monty Python live. A full write-up in this post: Lanchester Arts Festival 1971.

T.Rex at Birmingham Town Hall (Tuesday, 16th February 1971, age 18). I was in the orchestra gallery, unreserved seats behind the stage, so really close to the band. Also pretty close to the speakers so it was really loud.

Edgar Broughton Band, Pink Fairies, et al at Warwick University Arts Festival (March 1971, age 18). I went to the performance of Stravinsky's Mass followed by some drummer who did a 25 minute long drum solo. Later the same evening it was the turn of local group the Edgar Broughton Band featuring their hit single Out Demons Out. On the Sunday I went to see the Pink Fairies. There was no seating so the audience sat on the floor. The music was painfully loud, so much so that I had to lie flat on the floor to get some shielding from the people in front of me. 

Image courtesy of Trev Teasdel.

Then I went up to college and a whole new chapter began.

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