Some notes on the technical side of things

I’m Keith Bennett and here’s the story of how I became involved with the Grange since our theatre’s inception. As I begin compiling what I fondly thought would be a perhaps brief overview of the Grange Theatre’s technical side of things it quickly became apparent there was a vast number of memories just waiting to be aired. This page is therefore rather lengthy, so apologies if I bore you!

Where to begin?  Fred was one of my teachers at Easington Modern Secondary Boys’ School (EMS) in Banbury. I attended during the early 1960s and rapidly realised that its philosophy of organised sports was definitely not for me. Happily I discovered that the few boys who joined the small “stage club” were excused games, mainly because as actors they would need extra time to learn lines and rehearse. But nobody was caring for the stage equipment, and the lights especially were in a woefully dusty condition. I offered to learn and was accepted.  Oh joy…

Taken from the playing fields bordering Salt Way to the west, this view shows the principal classroom block (now demolished) with, in the distance, the auditorium. The stage itself lies out of view to the right.

The school was a recent build (c. 1953) and the architects perhaps optimistically provided a large, well-equipped stage and a hall which doubled as the auditorium when needed. In my memory, not many productions occurred but those that did often needed the practical set-building help of the metalwork teachers Fred (metal) and Ernest Pitcher (wood). Sets were painted by the art master Chris Philips while science master John Hancock looked after any special effects. (So far as memory allows, I believe costumes fell to the actors’ parents to supply.)

The dark arts of stagecraft were not so much taught to us few lads by these teachers who had sufficient interest in producing the occasional show (there was no specific drama course at the school) but rather we picked things up along the way. On occasion we also dropped them – general electrical tuition and stage lighting was the preserve of one ferocious rugby-playing teacher called Christopher Farwell. Perhaps understandably he was a stickler for what these days comes under the reviled term of “health & safety”. I’d been working off a perilously tall pair of wooden steps – big and not especially stable beasts about fifteen feet high – and had inadvertently left on their top platform a pair of pliers I’d been using to tighten a light’s suspension clamp.

Mister F. needed to move them and, as he tugged, down came the pliers. They missed his head by inches; his corrective slipper (“Matilda”) didn’t miss my bum by one inch… I still tingle at that memory.

A Nottingham-based engineering company called Furse sold their basic (but sturdy – and they needed to be) stage lights into many schools. EMS was no exception. Three types were installed: batten rows containing a series of 100 watt lamps wired into three circuits and capable of having coloured gels fitted to each lamp; a bulbous 1000 watt flood (which we called “Big Bertha”); and spot lights whose steel bodies were painted in a flat brown finish, and carried 500 watt tungsten bulbs sitting in front of a pitifully small concave reflector perched on an adjustable stalk. A rudimentary container allowed coloured “gels” (heat-resistant plastic sheets) to be held in front of the lens.

An illustration abstracted from a 1950s Furse catalogue. The Strand Electric patt. 23 spots were much the same size but considerably more versatile and powerful.

The whole up-stage area behind the proscenium arch was lit mainly by the battens: EMS had three sets, one suspended a little way behind the pros. arch (“front battens”), one near the backcloth (“back battens”) and a set resting on the ground at its base (“ground row”).

Mid-stage was looked after by “Big Bertha” whose powerful flood of light illumed the general acting area.

The apron area (in front of the pros. arch, which itself carried the main curtains/main tabs) was lit by the front-of-house spotlights and a few of them also hung from a stage-wide steel tube (“number one bar”) just behind the pros. arch where they could light more specific mid-stage areas. There was no provision for footlights; the seating on the flat auditorium floor brought the audience’s eye level beneath that of the stage and so “foots” would have proved visually intrusive.

Number one bar and front battens, with “Big Bertha” installed on the bridge along with a Patt. 23 adapted as use as a follow spot. Sharp eyes will see that two stage-left flats are cunningly turned to allow the spot more sweep of the acting area. Top right is an original Furse spot.

The lights themselves were controlled by 12  mechanical sliding resistance dimmers installed on the lighting bridge which was situated in the stage-left corner immediately behind the pros. arch. From that lofty perch the operator had a fine view of the stage. Each dimmer was capable of controlling two circuits but, as there was no master dimmer, a full fade meant developing an octopus-like set of arms in order to bring them all down to a relatively synchronised blackout. (In dire circumstances a sudden blackout could be achieved simply by throwing the main switch – subtle but effective.) The bridge itself was illuminated by a dim 60 watt blue bulb (the “working light”) which came into its own only during periods of low light levels on stage.

Okay, the passage of years hasn’t been kind to this 35mm slide but the general appearance of the lighting bridge can be seen. During any show the heat from the resistance dimmers and the lights themselves would produce quite a cozy atmosphere.
Bigger shows = more lights = more cabling. This rats’ nest was the usual temporary lash-up which, rather like real rats’ nests, could occasionally give a nasty bite. Happily never fatal although during my tenure I had the dubious privilege of twice being thrown bodily off the bridge by an unexpected electric shock.

This gentle existence was suddenly accelerated when in 1961 some of the more musically-inclined teachers decided to form the Banbury Amateur Operatic Society (BAOS –  which was to be – and still is – based at the school. Bigger shows required more lights but the county authorities were reluctant to invest in extra cabling and so for every show many yards of temporary lines would snake away from the bridge and above the stage to additional lighting positions. The new society sort of inherited me along with the stage and I was with them for the next 25 years. Why not visit this enthusiastic and friendly company at

Pattern 23 spots on the Grange’s front-of-house perch. These beautiful little lights allowed for precise areas to be illumed; some boasted four integral shutters to better control the beam; some had clear lenses, some frezels; but all were able to be focussed thanks to the sliding turret holding the lens. The gobo slot can be seen at the top where the lens turret meets the body of the light, and the second light has a gobo inserted.
And here’s a patt. 23 with its follow spot lens. In actual fact, it was never used in that role but, rather, as a tight-focussed long spot reaching from the back of the auditorium right up-stage if a precise area needed illuming. On most occasions it came into play (excuse the pun!) if a show’s set was so large that the main tabs were removed to allow the set to spill onto the apron. Our Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its riot of greenery (real of course) was one such instance.
Left is the cardboard guide needed to make a gobo which would fit the patt. 23 and guarantee the actual effect would be cut out of the tinfoil in precisely the right place to sit directly behind the lens.  (The actual gobo now looks rather the worse for wear – I cut it from a thin sheet of aluminium and, when the light was finally removed from its perch, the gobo fell out and was accidentally trodden on. ) Although it now looks rather scruffy it would still, if projected correctly, be very effective… Professionally-cut gobos could be purchased but opportunities for using them at the Grange were limited. Over the years I’ve cut clouds (they’d alter the painted skyscape on a backcloth so that it would be subtly altered in subsequent Acts); for one show (Memory of Spring?), a tiny country house which had to magically appear within a rolling English landscape; and for Under Milk Wood just a very small square pinprick to denote a distant bedroom window on the backcloth’s painted village being lit from “within”.

BAOS started purchasing their own lights and by now the Rank Strand Electric 500 watt series had become very popular indeed. These beautifully made and compact lights were physically smaller than the Furse equivalents: the pattern 23 spotlight in particular produced a superb beam courtesy of a prefocussed lamp which was entirely surrounded by highly-polished reflectors. The body also provided a slot between the bulb and the lens into which a thin steel sheet into which patterns would be cut (called a “gobo”) could be inserted: when the lens was focussed onto the desired area the pattern would be projected.

…and here’s the actual patt. 23 with that gobo in place and pointing to the up-stage left corner from its perch on number one bar, right by the side of the battens. Note the freznel lens – most 23s had a clear one but there were sometimes occasions when a soft-edged area of light was necessary. In this case, the gobo wasn’t cut with precise accuracy and had it been projected through a standard lens the result would have looked, franky, amateurish (gosh, what am I saying?? )
That carefully cut gobo in action, projecting a gentle image of sun shining through the window on the set (whose outside view is illumed by a 500 watt flood). Of interest is the glimpse through the house’s kitchen door up-stage left of a set erected – and supported by – the Aga behind it. Those half-stairs were a masterpiece of carpentry by Fred and gives the illusion of great space in a minute area. It has to be admitted that actors passing through that door often banged their heads during rehearsals until they learned the hard way that it was less painful if they ducked…
A very versatile little flood capable of being hidden behind – for example – a window on set where a backcloth depicting an external view would require lighting. This particular photo is of one hanging above the up-stage right entrance at the Grange.

The pattern 123 “freznel” soft-edged flood had the same lens/reflector set-up but could also benefit from “barn doors”, an adjustable set of four flaps in front of the lens which could cut off unwanted stray peripheral light spill. (In later years Rank Strand’s magnificent pattern 223 soft-edged 1000 watt floods were so efficient and capable of tight-focussing that, in many situations, they could do the job of close-up spotlights.) The ‘Operatic’ also invested in a little six-way dimmer board constructed using the new-fangled electronic thyristor dimmers which supplemented the school’s traditional resistance dimmers. While incapable of being patched into the hard-wired dimmer circuits it did become an effective side-kick for extra lights. It still didn’t have a master dimmer though…

I left Easington Modern in 1966 but of course returned there to light the BAOS shows once or twice per annum. But it still came as something of a surprise when, a couple of years later, Fred approached me to ask if I would visit him and his wife Val at their home, in which they were thinking of building a theatre. Specifically they needed advice on whether the proposed tiny stage area could be effectively lit.

A 35mm slide from an early visit to Fred and Val sometime in the 1970s showing my current transport back then – a 1958 Austin A40 Farina saloon which I’d bought in 1966. She was quickly put to work, coming in useful conveying the lights and cabling from the BAOS stores for use on our first few shows. We were always so grateful for their generous help, freely given.
(Jump forward 45-odd years and here she is, still in regular use and photographed on her very sad last day at the house as she makes her way down the drive for the final time. Almost 400,000 miles under her wheels and quite a few of those travelling back and forth to the theatre!)

I still recall my utter astonishment at turning up to the Grange (I had a vague idea that Fred, like most people, lived in a cozy semi somewhere; his announcement of installing a theatre – a theatre, for goodness sake – was totally surreal) and wondering what I’d let myself in for.

When Fred and Val proudly took me to that part of the house they had in mind, I couldn’t but help smile: the stage and auditorium would both have fitted into just the stage area back at school. And as for lighting; well, yes, such a small area could easily be lit – but to light it well would be quite another thing.

I explained the manner in which a stage is primarily rigged (see above!!) but expressed some alarm at the close proximity of the audience to the apron, and the exceptionally shallow depth of the stage which would allow shadows to fall on the backcloth. (Val always dreamed of traditional footlights in her theatre but I had to deny her – their presence would have created even more shadows on the back cloth.)

Eventually I adopted a miniaturized version of the EMS rig but with some additional lighting perches. Front-of-house eventually sported six patt. 23 spots plus one other carrying a long lens which could be used as a follow spot (it never was, but it did come in very useful when I needed a very, very tight area lit from f-o-h. On-stage were the familiar front battens zwith a number one bar tight by them. Behind a mid-fly (itself hiding a rolled mid-cloth) came the back battens; two sets of perches sat either side of them (a sort of split number two bar).

Number one bar and front battens. Quite a squeeze especially as they were within just a few feet of the actors’ heads. Front-of-house spots can be glimpsed beyond the pros. arch. It may by now be appreciated just what a tiny stage we had to light, and how vital the control of shadows was. I would sometimes yearn for the wide open spaces of my old school’s stage and lighting rig! Like the mid-fly cloth, the bottom edge of the pros. arch was also calculated such that the bottom of number one bar lights could never be glimpsed by audience sitting in row one – some five feet from the apron’s down-stage edge. The small flood tucked between the two sets of battens is carrying a set of barn doors: being the lowest-hung light on the stage its beam needed to be tightly controlled to avoid spill. Unlike all the other lights, the battens used standard 100 watt household bulbs and, between productions, became a source of bulbs for use within the house. Fred would raid the stage and it would only be when the lights were turned on for the first stage rehearsal of a forthcoming show that I’d realise “I wuz robbed”.

People would sometimes express surprise at so many lights above such a tiny stage. Those dreaded backcloth shadows thrown from actors and mid-stage scenery items ruin the impression of distance on a painted landscape so in some respects I had to light from the back wall forward. The battens each had three circuits filtered amber, gold and blue. Combinations and levels of those colours would wash the entire area in the required light (mixes of amber and blue gave the pearlescence of dawn; amber and gold with a touch of blue gave daylight; while a slow fade taking out gold and then amber would leave cold moonlight). With the back battens set slightly brighter that the fronts, shadows could be almost negated. The f.o.h. spots would pick up actors coming downstage to the apron and their angle meant no shadow fell upstage to compromise the backcloth. (Slightly problematic when the mid-cloth was called into use, though.) Tight-focussed spots on numbers one and two bars would illume specifics like the warmth of a fireplace, a particular chair, an area of acting when Val needed attention drawn to one part of the stage, or to highlight say a table upon which stood a lamp. Two small floods on number 2 bar faced downstage; they were there to give a slight back-lighting to actors – this provided a touch of three-dimensionality because otherwise faces lit only from the front/sides could look rather ‘flat’ despite the cunning artifices of the actors’ makeup skills.

The tiny stage area precluded the use of a ground row and this was to cause several headaches when having to light that pesky backcloth. The useable height of the stage roof was considerably lower than desirable; the lights themselves hung barely three feet above the actors’ heads (the major problem with the number one bar spots always arose when particularly tall actors passed beneath them – the tops of their heads could suddenly and distractingly become much brighter and I had to be constantly on the watch to dim the lamp when danger beckoned!) and so the necessity of cancelling shadows meant carefully positioned wing floods on the number 2 bars to help boost the back battens, along with equally careful lighting levels coming from the down-stage lamps.

Back battens, hard agains the rolled-up mid-cloth, and keeping company with up-stage effects speakers and the divided number two bar lanterns. That horizontal black fly drape was hung at exactly the correct depth to ensure no light spill from the number one bar lights would hit the backcloth and create unwanted shadows..

A unique problem with the Grange’s acting area was the fact that part of the ground floor of the house had to be incorporated into some shows and that, of course, meant installing lights therein. The original building’s entrance door now opened into the up-stage right area, as did the (later) kitchen door to up-stage left (the auditorium was once part of the Grange’s garden!). Stage-right had a doorway leading to the Stage Manager’s prompt corner and a corridor leading to other parts of the building.

** A digression: is it by now too late to explain these stage terms? Early stages sloped from back to front in order to give the audience on their flat floor a better view of the acting area – hence to “upstage” someone was for a person to appear literally above the heads of actors standing down-stage. The scenery had to be carefully constructed and painted in order to preserve an illusion of perspective where necessary. Back stage is the non-acting area behind the scenes. Usually, heavy curtains (“main tabs”, or “main drapes”) separated the acting area from the audience and the stretch of stage in front of the main tabs – where “business” could be acted out in front of the closed tabs during, say, on-stage scene changes – is called the apron. Early aprons had candle-powered footlights across their front edge but, with the advent of electric lights and thus stronger f-o-h spotlights, they became redundant. Pub-quiz fact: these candles were borne upon tiny rafts anchored into a water-filled trough – to effect a fade-out water would be partly drained thus lowering the candles’ wicks below stage level. Early foots were thus called “floats”…

Rarely seen view along the number one bar. Compared to the equivalent position above the EMS stage, these lights were jam-packed but each one had a specific acting area to illume. Keeping them dust-free was a tedious and very cramped – but necessary – job.

In taller stages, scenery could be flown up out of sight into the “flies” or off into the side “wings”. (Fred would always do his best not to need major scene shifting during a show because the only way off the stage was through one of three standard-width doors.) Stage-left is to the left of an actor as they face the audience and it’s here that traditionally the prompter sat out of sight.

The stage manager’s desk as seen by actors approaching the stage’s entrance (to the left, behind the curtain). Above the sloping prompt desk can be seen the cue board and an off-stage flood supplemented lights up-stage right (whose spill can be seen on the wall opposite the stage entrance). The curtain facing the camera blocked from view the audience’s entrance hall leading to the auditorium itself.

Just to be awkward, the Grange’s prompt corner was at stage-right and incorporated the area inhabited by God – a.k.a the Stage Manager and his cue board. It could be a tight fit when prompter Val joined him “on the book” at curtain-up.

End of digression…  **

In our theatre’s early days we relied heavily on the good offices of BAOS for the use of their lights, cabling and their little six-way electronic dimmer board but we always had to plan our shows well clear of the Operatic’s to ensure availability of their equipment. Later, as funds grew, we installed permanent wiring and gradually purchased our own lighting rig.

There was, of course, one huge problem: a suitable power supply. The usual supply to residential premises is sufficient for the inhabitants’ needs, and over the years Fred had laboriously added extra ring mains to various areas in the house without actually having the supply increased. No particular problem there; at any given time there were never more than, say, half-a-dozen folk in the place (there was a self-contained flat on the first floor) and demand was reasonably constant. But with the advent of the theatre all that was to change.

If all the lights were on at once, the draw could theoretically exceed the load carried by the “company fuse” (that fuse common to all buildings; it sits next to the meter and protects the entire circuits. Only an electrician from the supply company is allowed to work on it). Careful loading calculations thus had to be made, especially in the early years, to avoid such a calamity.

Oh dear, like Topsy the meters and isolating switches “just grew” as more circuits were needed within the house. Tracing a fault, especially in a hurry during a complete black-out, was no easy feat.

We owned 24 dimmers rated at 1000 watts each and then we had to take into account all the appliances which might be also drawing power – room lighting, electric heaters etc. The analogy to our predicament can be neatly illustrated by the fact that most people could support with their heads an armchair if it was very gently lowered upon them. If one such was suddenly dropped though, the result would be “collapse of stout party” or, in our case, collapse of company fuse. But despite bringing the lights up gently at the beginning of a show, local villagers on the supply would often notice their own lights dim a little and know the Grange was once again in business!

(Another digression! A separate story – “The Boys in the Box” is being written to limit the size of this current one: inevitably some details are duplicated but I hope it will still prove interesting and broaden the glimpse into the technical side of our theatre.)

So, to continue: the techies lived in a small control room which we built on to the back wall of the auditorium, utilising two existing windows which once gave daylight to the house’s servants’ area. Here the lighting and sound operators sat. We double-glazed the windows simply because the auditorium’s back row was situated immediately in front of them but during a show we were still obliged to converse in whispers and work by the dim blue bulbs of two “working lights”. Telephone and cue-light systems connected us with the stage manager.

A quick look at the lights’ side of the control room. The auditorium “house lights” can be seen through the window. Note the, um, temporary 240 volt inspection lamp slung just above the dimmer racks. It lasted there for over thirty years and was needed on bigger shows to let the operator see which lighting circuits he might have to re-patch onto different dimmers. We had 24 dimmers and a choice of 30-odd stage cables feeding in to them. If any particular circuit wasn’t needed later in the show, it could be removed and another one patched in. During quick action this operation had to be done at frantic speed whilst being ultra-careful not to pull out a live circuit (which would, of course, result in that light suddenly extinguishing – oh, it happened from time to time…)

Perhaps inevitably, the interior was never finished (ie decorated) beyond the installation of thick sound insulating fibreboard on the three external walls and the ceiling. It was painted a cheerful matt black in order to render the inhabitants almost invisible to the audience. Rather like the school board, the control room eventually sported its own rats’ nest of cabling, switches, tape racks, cupboards; also work surfaces upon which the necessary equipment stood. Spacious it wasn’t.

Another rare survivor from the early 1970s is a working sketch indicating the main components of the control room (a.k.a “the office” or “the box”. Before the acquisition of hard-wired emergency lights in the auditorium we relied on a 12 volt car battery (bottom left corner) which powered vehicle lamps set at various locations around the auditorium. Also of note is the new-fangled reel-to-reel tape recorder which superceded the electric turntable used before it. Note too the, um, comfortable stools the techies perched upon!

This first control room was a wooden affair constructed from a series of pine panels we removed from what was to become the stage area. It had previously formed a passageway between the services and the family side of the Grange. To keep costs down we didn’t add any new wood to the affair and so it was remarkably narrow -only one person at a time could squeeze through its doorway and the two techies had perforce to be good friends.

A very rare survivor – a snap of the original ‘box’. Constructed of Victorian pine panels (probably worth a fortune these days) the edifice was only a door’s width (because we had one!). In daylight it was quite apparent the thing wasn’t hinged – unlike the inmates, who were most definitely unhinged – and the entrance was at the other end. On a dark night, however, any visitors hoping to see the show “from the back” would often scrabble ineffectually at this door hoping for admittance.

After several years the amount of equipment needed for shows meant we’d outgrown this office and so it was demolished; we dug foundations, and a proper, stone building erected complete with a concrete floor. At last draughts were a thing of the past and we could actually keep the place slightly more tidy.

A long-forgotten glimpse at the early equipment – the BAOS six-way grey dimmer can just be seen behind the reel-to-reel tape deck and its amplifier. On the floor – there was no other space – lie odd bits of lighting equipment. We would carefully position the legs of our stools to avoid damaging anything. It may be noticed that the entrance was much narrower than a standard doorway, necessitating careful choreography if more than one person tried getting in at the same time…
Early inmates of the control room – at the lighting end, yours truly while in front, on sound, is Lt. Col. Gordon Bowen, a person of infinite charm and patience but really scarey nonetheless! So narrow was the office that once I was in, there was no way out until Gordon exited. Stacked on the desk can be seen the hired dimmers and their associated patchwork. (By now, early ‘seventies, with more ambitious shows, we needed more dimmers and these came from an Oxford lighting hire company called Lancelyn Lighting). That tin roof used to produce condensation, not a good idea when surrounded by electrics…

The small size of the original control room used to discourage visitors during shows (some productions required actors to enter via the auditorium lobby through which members of the audience would pass on their way to the toilets). The layout of the Grange obliged these peripatetic souls to leave the house by its side door, pass behind our control room and enter the lobby round the corner.

Once the (relatively) more spacious room was built the door might stealthily open and a ‘passing’ member of cast slide gently in so they could watch part of the show from the audience’s viewpoint, before their approaching entry cue obliged them to quietly withdraw and continue on their way round to the lobby.

A view from the lighting side of the control room across to “sound” who in this case is Graham Rousell, the talented and oh-so-patient webmaster of this very site! The photo must have been taken during a rehearsal break because the office is lit not only by the low-wattage blue working lights (which in the photo have burned out to white) but by the glare of the standard household bulb used when we needed full illumination. The very temporary (for so many years!) nature of the installations can be judged from the tangled bell-wire lead from which Graham’s pendant blue light hangs. To its left is the sound relay speaker whose mic was suspended in the auditorium (don’t forget, our windows were double-glazed) and below the speaker is the relay amplifier and controls. Below that is where the ever-growing collection of empty Guinness (mine) and Hooky (Graham’s) bottles lived. That room could become mighty warm especially on a summers’ evening and so adequate ways of slaking our thirst were in constant use!

Now, the room might have been larger, but it wasn’t that large and so our nocturnal visitors had to squeeze behind the techies in order to gain the view through the windows. During the shows the room was, of course, very dark – lit only by two dim blue working lights and the wash from the stage. It was also warm and cozy and after so many years I feel safe in admitting us techies really, really looked forward to any nubile young female actresses pressing themselves against our backs…

We did, however, have a couple of surprises for some folk: one was a large and hairy rubber spider which could be lowered from the darkness in the ceiling and on to the head of an unsuspecting aforementioned nubile; mean, I know, but entertaining . . .

One large spider capable of causing squeaks of alarm in susceptible young ladies.

The second was the surreptitious use of a feature  used but rarely  since it was a small square hole originally intended to allow sound cables to pass into the auditorium until a sophisticated ‘patch panel’ was developed and the hole infilled with a  square of foam padding.

That small square hole (top left) was originally intended to allow sound cables to pass into the auditorium, the patch panel I’m holding rendered it obsolete. A slender hand could just – just – fit quietly through and ‘liberate’ a few sweets left on the windowsill in front of the window.

This hole led directly onto the back windowsill by the back row of the audience. If any visitor innocently left, say, a box of choccies unattended, sometimes a stealthy hand would emerge behind them, snaffle a couple of sweets and, equally stealthily, withdraw into the gloom! From our thieving point of view, the drawback  was that we could hardly fossick around the selection in order to find our favourite flavours! At this distant remove, may I offer apologies to those members of the audience who unwittingly fed us?

Here’s Gordon relaxing at home in Oregon. He was very pleased to see this website begin to take shape and gave much encouragement , but very sadly he died in the autumn of 2016. Lt Col. G.H. Bowen (Ret.) was buried with full military honours and rests in the Arlington National Cemetery.  RIP old friend.

Whether we hadn’t dug foundations deep enough or tied the new building in to the existing one I’m not sure, but after a few years a widening crack appeared in the join and the control room began a gentle lean. Which meant rainwater started penetrating and dripping on our equipment. Not good, not good at all. So with heavy hearts we propped the roof up, pulled the walls down, carefully cleaned the stone for re-use, and rebuilt it properly.

As this reconstructive surgery took some time (we had ‘proper’ day jobs to hold down!) it meant that all the power cabling and the sound wires had to be wrapped in polythene bags to keep the weather out, and hung up as close to the inside of the roof as we could. However, once the building was finished, we didn’t waste much time refitting them all very tidily but simply tacked them in their conduits against the wall. And that ‘temporary’ fit-up served us well enough right through to the final show. That door used to open inwards, making the small room more crowded as people entered. We had the bright idea of making it open outwards. Surprisingly, Fred forgot that and one dark night was in with us watching part of a show before having to leave ready for the interval. Without thinking, he leaned against the door (which promptly opened) and he soundlessly fell backwards into the arms of the waiting hedge. Quite a moment!

And here’s the finished result. Not bad for amateurs; we never did get that bulkhead lamp on the corner to work again, though . . .
Left to right: foreman Fred, Peter Wroe and Ian Bushrod. The rust-ridden scaff poles holding the roof up were a force to be reckoned with as we never did fully trust their ability to support that weight!

We never did complete the fitting-out to the intended plan; by this stage (excuse the pun) most of the patrons knew very well that we were in there, and so why bother overmuch with camouflage?  I myself would sometimes salute an audience member as they entered the auditorium before a show, by bringing up number 3 dimmer (it controlled the two front-of-house spotlights aimed on the downstage right area and through which patrons would have to pass on their way to the seats – which just showed how very tightly the lights had to be shuttered; once seated, the first and second rows of the audience’s  heads were just below the f-o-h lights’ beams, whereas if they were standing, they were well illuminated).  This personal ‘salute’ wasn’t accorded to just anyone – only those who I considered deserved it. And on occasions, if I was busy preparing for the start of the show and I missed someone who was watching for that brief flash of lights, they would often come round to see us during the interval and complain bitterly. Honestly, some people were just never satisfied!

That rebuild – though we weren’t aware of it at the time – marked the end of the theatre’s technical growth. In hindsight I can see that by then its development was finished; no more innovation or refinement – from that moment on we were simply coasting along towards the end. Happily we still had a few years in which to enjoy our precious and unique ‘toy’.

Here’s Bar at an aftershow party in company with Justina and Liam Sebag-Montefiore, two of many staunch players in our little theatre.

For the better part of this story I’ve enjoyed the faithful and ever-patient support of my wife Barbara, whom I married in 1972.

The poor girl suffered my many absences from our home when I was “over at Tew”, whether during the early stages of creating the theatre or for those countless times when I was running the lighting for almost all the shows we presented over the years. Bar, I salute you.