The Grange Theatre was situated in the delightfully pretty village of Little Tew in north Oxfordshire. Two wonderful people, Fred and Val Temlett, had acquired it in 1958 and it was their home, a Victorian mansion set in five acres of garden and woodland. In June 1971 was the first performance of many plays and events which would span the next 40 years. The show was called Memory of Spring a sentimental, romantic story written by Valarie (Val) herself.
At that time Fred was a metalwork teacher at Easington Modern Secondary Boys’ School following service in the RAF during WW2. Val was a trained dancer and both had originated in Wales. The Grange had a buttery that Fred converted into a small theatre holding around 70 people. He had bought seats from a derelict cinema, constructed a stage with access on one side to the kitchen and the other to the rear of the house via a short corridor. At the rear of the auditorium he built a place for the lighting and sound crew with two windows so they could see the events on the stage as they occurred. Plays or events were put on about every six months, one in the winter and one for spring or summer. The frequency did increase from time to time with pantomimes around Christmas or the New Year and I confess my memories of the shows’ chronology may occasionally be a little ‘out’.
Lorna Doone and Madame Butterfly
I first got involved in late 1973 as a stagehand, shifting scenery for Lorna Doone, adapted for the stage by Val and produced in the following April. I remember it well since one of the main cast was a guy called Simon McCall who worked as a market researcher at General Foods and with whom I had a lot of contact at work. He was pacing up and down and, when I tried to chat with him, he told me there was no prompt and so getting it word perfect was crucial. It was a long play, too long and very ambitious, but that was Tew! It was during that run I mentioned to Fred that I wouldn’t mind trying the acting bit. It was a casual chat and I thought nothing of it. My wife Carol and I were then part of the audience of a private production there of Madame Butterfly by the Kinecroft Theatre Company (1974) consisting of professional and amateur singers and very good they were too. The Company was to put on other operas at the Grange over the coming years.
Around July 1974 I got a phone call from Fred asking me if I’d like to play the part of a Polish Count in Flarepath by Terence Rattigan and a date was agreed for the first read-through – this was the way Fred and Val operated. Fred would always phone and ask if one was interested in taking a part; in that sense it was like a professional theatre.
Fred suggested that Carol come along as well just for the experience and so it happened. Among the cast were two well-known local amateur actors, Richard and Anne Wescott. Both played in the Banbury Cross Players and we had met them whilst performing in Banbury Lions annual Music Hall. Both were very talented and it made me realise that these productions were not village hall stuff but serious performances. They hadn’t cast the part of Patricia Graham but asked Carol if she would read it, which she did. Simon Mc Call was also one of the cast along with Andrew Jenner, whose parents we knew very well, particularly Roger who stage managed almost all the Grange events for many years. Richard and Anne Wescott had the lead roles. Overall, there were eleven in the cast. The play was set in WW2 at a hotel called the “Falcon” near an airfield at Milchester in Lincolnshire, with a love interest between Peter Kyle and Patricia Graham, with the rest of us playing parts of airmen or hotel staff. The play ran for four nights in September 1974. My Polish accent left a lot to be desired as one friendly member of the audience told me in the bar after a performance. He was Polish!
In one rehearsal, I was watching Carol in a scene where she kissed the leading man and as she did so she raised one of her legs at the knee. This prompted me to say to the Stage Manager sitting next to me, “I’d be worried if she had both legs off the ground.” Our laughter was loud enough for Val to turn round and give us a stern look.
There were sound effects of bombs falling and aircraft taking off or landing. The man who was in charge of these never seemed to get it right and it got to the point where he insisted that we guess when they would occur and fitting our lines in accord with him, rather than the other way around. However, it seemed to work. On the first night my nervousness took over and instead of replying “No” to a question, I said “Yes” in my pseudo Polish accent. Richard Wescott out of the corner of his mouth said, “That’s the most sensible thing you’ve said all night.” Another event occurred when the script had led the rest of the cast and audience to believe I was dead, having been shot down in a raid. As the cast were in general conversation, I crept onto the stage to cries from one of the audience “Oh! Look he’s alive after all” well before my cue line.
Carol, too, played her part in covering up for Ann Wescott when Ann came on half a page too soon. Coolly, Carol picked up a future line and made the whole scene seamless. Audiences can be distracting! In this play, as I was speaking, I heard in the darkness of the auditorium “Which chocolates have the hard centres?” with the reply “Those ones I think.” This was a fun closely-knit cast and at the end of run party, we exchanged small gifts The Westcotts presented me with a plaque on which was written “Dead Sea Water Board – don’t keep walking on the water.”
Private Lives, The Hollow Crown and The Man Most Likely To . . .
About six months later, I got a Fred-type call asking if I’d like to audition for a part in Noel Coward’s Private Lives. I said ‘yes’ and a date was fixed for the audition. It was to be produced and directed by a keen Banbury Cross director called Gerry Steer. He seemed to take on the airs of one of the old actor-managers and was quite pompous. However, I did my bit with his girlfriend Dorothy, asked if I wanted to do it and I agreed. But within the week, I was asked to become Assistant to the European Director of Research at General Foods for a year working in Brussels starting within the month. I could do no more than reject my role in the play.
Following this, Tew put on The Hollow Crown (1976), a play based on Shakespeare’s ‘King’ plays. Therefore, I didn’t do anything at Tew for almost a year but later that year, another call from Fred. This time to take the lead in The Man Most Likely To by Joyce Rayburn, a comedy – nay almost a farce – set around the sexual exploits of Victor Cadwallader and a young woman, Shirley Hughes. The play was scheduled for four nights starting 9th June. The other players were Andrew Jenner (son of Roger); a husband and wife – Lu and John Williams (who both worked for me in the Research labs at General Foods); Pat James, a local primary school head and Barrie Tabraham.
Leslie Philips had had a success with the play in London and therefore people kept referring to it during rehearsals. I tried to ignore them. The play was essentially about a father (me) trying to seduce his son’s girlfriend (Lu Williams) on a visit to their country cottage. As the play proceeds, it is revealed that Victor’s wife (Pat James) has had an affair with an old family friend (Barrie Tabraham). In one scene, I am eating a sandwich then the lights fade to suggest the passing of time and when they come up again I am supposed to be sleeping next to my son’s girlfriend on the couch. In rehearsals it became a problem, as I tried to eat the sandwich during the black-out, but as the lights came up I always seemed to have crumbs on my dressing gown and my mouth was still chewing. Very unconvincing! The solution, after a number of pow-wows, was for me to be reading a book that had had the centre removed so I could put the sandwich in it before the lights returned and look as if I’d been sleeping. It worked all four nights.
The big scene for me was the ‘seduction,’ where I was supposed to be slouched on the back of the settee with my son’s girlfriend lying full length on it. Then I was to roll off on top of her and then the kissing and cuddling commenced. The problem for me was that the settee was about 3 feet 6 inches high and meant I had to rest my crotch on the edge and then as I tumbled onto Lu, I would knock my testicles on the edge. I guess I didn’t look much like the sophisticated Lothario.
Little gifts to fellow actors seemed to be the ‘thing’ at the end of a run. I brought Lu a pair of pink panties with the message “My wife always looks good in pink” – a line from the play. Affairs between actors sometimes seemed to be normal and this play was no exception. The prompter, Tony Johnson (another GF employee), flirted all the time with Lu Williams and it was rumoured that they had had a liaison. The guy who helped behind the bar had lent me a green velvet smoking jacket but asked me not to mention it to anybody else since it was his mistress who had bought it for him. It was a happy cast and crew.
Ghost of Summer
It was Carol who had the next role in Ghost of Summer, (August 6th–9th 1975). It was a play around a middle class couple and the gardener. The man who played the gardener was supposed to come on stage with a dead rabbit. In one performance he decided that the rabbit was worth a twirl and he swung it round his wrist to the delight of the audience. (I don’t think he appeared in anything else at Tew!) I realised after this that Val’s direction seemed to concentrate on the appearance of the set, the actors and the niceties of the action, rather than the meaning of the roles and the play as whole. Even so, it did allow me to add some improvisations of my own.
The Little Mermaid
Then, for the pantomime in January 1977, Val wrote and produced The Little Mermaid, a fairy tale starting off in the fictitious town of Venetia with its Siren’s Rock and Mermaid’s Cave with the transformation of the mermaid, in the end, into a human (very Hans Christian Anderson). Carol played the Queen along with the local dancing school kids who ran riot around the house, much to Fred’s tearing of his receding hair.
In November 1977, Val allowed Pat James, the local primary school head, the chance to direct Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. As far as I know, this was the first time Val and Fred had allowed someone else to direct a play other than Val. Pat asked me to play a cameo role as Dr Bradman and we were joined by a lady who was local to Tew and came with a history of acting at the BBC – a ‘professional’. This gave the rest of us some apprehensions, especially me since I was still very new to this acting lark. However, when we met at the reading she seemed very nice, her accent was very BBC and her looks made her right for the part of Ruth, the leading lady. The rest of the cast consisted of Gayna Lee (one of our social friends and another primary school teacher) playing the maid Edith; James Harper, a veteran amateur performer as both an actor and opera singer for local societies played Charles the leading man; Vera Raby, another veteran, played my wife Mrs Bradman; the famous part of Madam Arcarti was awarded to Lavinia (Vinnie) Jenner the wife of the stage manager Roger. Finally, there was Elvira, the ghost of Charles’ first wife, played by Sue Anker.
It was a neat, tightly-cast team and the reading confirmed that. However, the first rehearsal produced a portent of things to come as Pat dictated the terms of the rehearsals stating that all parts were to be word perfect by rehearsal three and that everyone knew their parts and moves to perfection by rehearsal five. This wasn’t how it had been with Val where calmness and gentle persuasion were the order of rehearsals. We all nodded in agreement but the looks on the faces of Vinnie and the BBC lady showed that this was going to be tough, and so it turned out. By time of the fifth rehearsal, after tough prompts from Pat, the BBC lady resigned to no surprise by any of us. She hadn’t learnt many of her lines or moves and each rehearsal was one of constant interruptions of prompts that destroyed the rhythm. The dilemma was who could Pat get at such notice with only two weeks to go before the opening night? No doubt some sleepless nights by both Pat as well as Val and Fred followed. The resolution was for Pat to take the part and Val to take over as director. But another problem was looming, Vinnie!
The choice as her playing Madam Acarti was an inspiration. She had the voice, the looks and the mannerisms. Unfortunately, she had a problem learning the lines.
She was never as bad as the BBC lady but clearly she was struggling. It ended at one rehearsal by her breaking down in tears at Pat’s bullying about the insistence of being word perfect. Interventions by Vinnie’s husband, Roger added fuel to the situation. Since he was also to be the stage manager, the resignation of two leading actors and the stage manager would be a catastrophe. This is where Val and Fred’s intervention brought things back to normal. Val then proceeded to take over direction whilst Pat, in a superhuman effort, learned Ruth’s lines. Whilst she was cast as the devil incarnate, it wasn’t all her fault. For my part it didn’t make much difference as mine was a small part but it did give me an insight into the difficulties than occur in amateur productions and I suppose to an extent in professional ones too.
Anyway, the play went down well with audiences, Vinnie triumphed, and the last scene when the ghosts of Charles, Elvira and Ruth become poltergeists, with books falling off the shelves, lights flashing, doors slamming and vases tumbling made a spectacular finish as the curtains closed; that was down to Andrew Jenner, the son of Vinnie and Roger. He was later to show his talents as an actor, set designer and costumier in both amateur and professional shows.
January 1978 saw Carol and I appearing in our first musical. Whilst we had both performed in the Lions Old Time Music Halls, a full musical was a new experience. It was Bitter Sweet by Noel Coward, a story about an elderly Lady Shayne in the 1920s re-living her time in Austria in 1866, with many well-known tunes and dialogue. It was a big cast – thirty-three – and meant that part of the cast remained in the back rooms whilst those about to go on stage stayed in the corridor on stage-right and the kitchen, stage-left. And so actors would shift round, not always quietly, back stage as their turn came to appear. I was given the part of the Marquis of Shayne and Carol that of Honor one of the chorus of many girls. Singers from the Banbury Operatic Society took the major parts and anybody else who had any connection with Tew. When we were all onstage it became crowded to say the least and a bit of pushing and shoving resulted.
One of the scenes I had to play was with the leading man, Ian Preece, who played Carl Lindeon. I had to challenge him with the result that we have duel. This had to be rehearsed especially as Fred had made real metal sabres. I had to kill Lindeon and to do this I was to plunge the sword under Ian’s arm, blindside to the audience, so that it looked as if I had stabbed him in the chest. However, since the blade was curved, as I plunged it under his arm it caught the sleeve of his jacket and ripped it. It was a suede jacket that he had recently bought but he was extremely calm about it refusing my offer to buy a new one. Another significant aspect was Andrew Jenner, as Mr Proutic, heading the ‘Green Carnation’ group. He was so good, it established him as an accomplished actor.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Six months later in June 1977 I was in my first Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played the part of Lysander, the lover of Hermia, played by Gayna Lee. We were part of the young people in the forest in which Oberon and Titania – the King and Queen of the fairies – lived along with their fairy helpers. My male companion, Demetrius, was played by Peter Buckman, whom I was to get to know over the coming years as we both appeared in quite a few productions. Among some of the other cast who were to feature in later productions were Margaret Baldwin (née Moon) who played Helena; Fred Cross as Oberon; and Mike and Louise Davies. Louise was an American married to a chap who was a supermarket manager (playing Bottom.) They were a lovely couple and passionate about theatre. They finally moved to the USA. The outstanding star was Andrew Jenner playing Puck. Each night he smothered most of his torso with green dye and dressed in a leaf-covered swimming shorts and a green wig. He looked and acted it spectacularly and his final speech he played standing on his head! The whole production was a success and on the Saturday night during the interval the audience were treated to a meal as a Gala event. Again a crowded cast of twenty seven plus kids from the local dancing school as the fairies. The Rustics provided just the right amount of comedy led by Mike Davies.
Beauty and the Beast
The pantomime in the following January was Beauty and the Beast written and produced by Val. The key players were John Waterer as the Merchant, Sue Anker as the Beauty and Mike Davies as the Beast. Peter Buckman and I played the merchant’s daughters – the ugly sisters – with Ian Harris as P.C. Pinchum. Ian was long standing actor and behind scenes participant in the theatre. We three were there to provide the comedy whilst the lovely-dovey stuff was provided by Beauty and the Beast. I remember buying a pair of very high heeled, chrome yellow shoes from Oxfam for my part together with the inevitable women’s make-up, dresses and wig; Peter and I certainly looked the part. Our rehearsals with Ian had to be in the bar as we made each other laugh too much on-stage.
On the first night Peter and I came off after several ‘hilarious’ scenes with very little laughter from the audience and to comments from Fred “that we were supposed to make them laugh.” That helped a lot, but was typical of Fred, who skills at diplomacy were a bit (!) lacking. Peter mentioned that the following night one of his old friends would be in the audience. This was an actor and had recently appeared in a BBC costume drama on the television. This was a bit worrying, especially when I thought if this audience reacted like the first night we were in danger of being booed off the stage. My fears were unfounded because his friend roared with laughter at Peter’s and my antics and he brought the rest of the audience along with him, so we came off stage to lots of applause. It was a really fun production and one Peter and I remember to this day. The kids from the dancing school caused the usual chaos running about, screaming and chattering during performances much to Fred’s annoyance as he swore under his breath about never having children at the Theatre again. I don’t think they ever did.
The 1979 production was to be Othello and I was asked to play Iago with Fred Cross as Othello and a young girl, Julia Trump, whose parents were well known amateurs actors in Banbury, as Desdemona. The other main characters were played by Stephen Gillian, Mike Davies and Margaret Baldwin. It was cast of twenty one.
The play was to run over two weeks, four nights a week. I knew Iago was one of the largest roles in Shakespeare but not that the script was in blank verse. I had assumed that it would be like The Dream which I found easy to learn.
At the reading, Fred T. commented that it all sounded so dreary and we needed to liven it up a bit. He was right, it was boring and dull. Rehearsals allowed us all to improve upon the reading and to add our own improvisations. I was having real difficulty in learning the words, partly due to work pressures. The opening night loomed and the week before the last rehearsal Fred called a halt and asked if I was likely to have learnt my part by the opening night. I was taken aback as much because Fred Cross also seemed to be having the same problem and that this was on stage in front of all the cast. I said I wasn’t sure and added that Fred Cross also didn’t know all his words. Fred T. said that Fred C. was usually like this and would know his by the opening night. I felt trapped and embarrassed. I had to admit that it was unlikely. Fred T. then decided that the opening night would have to be postponed for a week, and thus cancelling all the first weeks’ performances. It meant that he would have to contact all the ticket holders and return their money. I then spent the next week also taking time off work to concentrate on learning the words.
The first dress rehearsal went quite well with nearly all of having to be prompted to a small degree. The second dress, two days later, was difficult for me. I was sent to Germany to negotiate with GF’s Germany Company. It meant that I would return on the evening of the second dress. I warned Fred T. that it would be tight. It was . . .
By the time the plane landed, I drove straight up to the Theatre to be greeted by Fred T. who had forgotten I would be late. Anyway it went well and the next night we opened and I was word-perfect whilst one or two others weren’t. I felt enraptured and on a real high as the adrenaline flowed through my veins. One of the audience commented afterwards that it was the best Iago she had ever seen. I was flattered, but then that’s show business!!
Absurd Person Singular
At the end of 1979 in the December, Tew put on Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular. Neither Carol nor I appeared in it but the programme has me down as part of the ‘set’ crew, so I suppose I helped change scenery.
How Green Was My Valley
In the spring of 1980, Val produced How Green Was My Valley having adapted the novel by Richard Llewellyn. It was a bit like Under Milk Wood with a narrator filling in between the actions. The narrator, who had recorded his part previously, had a wonderful deep Welsh accent that added gravitas and believability to the play. It was a serious piece taking place in the late 19th century in South Wales and the consequences of a coal mining accident and the relationships and actions of the community with romance and pathos high on the agenda. Again it was a large cast, this time twenty-six, with Fred himself playing two cameo parts. I played the Rev. Merddyn Gruffyd a smallish part but significant, as the peace-maker in this mining community. The lead man was a newcomer to Tew, Neil Richardson playing Huw, a young man in love with Angharard played by another newcomer, Vivienne Mumby. Fred Cross and Jill Edwards played the heads of the family. It was a lovely cast and with a happy outcome, scenery and costumes, even if the show was a bit too long.
Marriage of Figaro
The next production was at the end of May 1980, a production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. This was one of many events over the years where professional bodies used the stage to perform. This time it was the Mycroft Players. The singers would often be ringing their agents to see if there was any work going during rehearsals. The scenery which had been provided by Fred and Val among which where several columns. One of the lead singers swung his cloak and one of the columns rocked back and forth with the audience holding its breath but the singer rescued the situation by catching it on one of its rocks.
See How they Run and On Approval
My appearances at Tew became less and less as I had taken a new role at General Foods which required me to travel around Europe and the USA for the next five years. It didn’t stop me from taking small parts or helping back stage but any hopes of taking large parts went out the window. For example, I was assistant stage manager in Philip King’s See How they Run (1983) another Val production. Similarly, Frederick Lonsdale’s On Approval (1986) where I am in the programme as a stage assistant. Carol played one of the leading roles as Helen Haye. The play was only a four-hander but went down well with the audiences.
Val and Fred were never scared to put on modern as well as classical plays. The Grange also became well known and on three occasions, the BBC’s radio programme ‘With Great Pleasure’ was recorded there in 1979, ’80 and ’86. Many of our friends and acquaintances asked both of us to get them tickets for almost anything that was being produced. It had become an exclusive and highly professional theatre.
Ten Times Table and Flarepath
Comedies were always appreciated by the Tew fans and it became ‘the place to go to.’ One such play was Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table (1981). This was different in that Mike Davies directed it and jolly good he was too. The play was faultless, with Mike taking the part of Max Kirkov as well. A second production of Flarepath was also put on (2003) and it was interesting for Carol and I to sit in the audience and re-run our parts and the play as a whole bringing back memories of past years. It was a good production.
Harlequinade and Sweet Echo
Harlequinade by Terence Rattigan was another where I recall being a stage manager along with Chris Hayes and Steve Gillian. This was a two play production (1984), the other being Sweet Echo by Freda Kelsall. The play had recently been on TV and Val had adapted it for the stage and it showed how versatile she was as a writer, scene painter, designer, producer and director, whilst Fred was the work-horse. Again this was another first for Tew. Harlequinade had a cast of regulars like Jackie Finlay, amounting to fifteen, whilst Sweet Echo had only four.
Close To Home
Ayckbourn was a popular dramatist in the 1980s and so another of his works was bound to go down well with Tew audiences. So Close To Home, described as ‘An Entertainment on Marriage’ was directed by Jill Edwards who had played in a number of Tew productions and now given permission to try her hand at this. I was assistant stage manager again. It was a series of short pieces by an number of authors. It started with ‘The Vicar’ by George Melley (a monologue played by Cliff Denton), then ‘Shelter’ by Alun Owen; ‘A Talk in the Park’ by Ayckbourn with five actors then, after the interval, ‘The Bank Manager’ again by George Melley (another monologue played by David Hoad); ‘Score’ by Lyndon Brook; ‘Resting Place’ by David Campton and finally ‘The Head Master’ by George Melley (another monologue played by Bill Trumper). I don’t remember much about it but assume it must have been pretty chaotic backstage.
It’s noticeable at this point that the front covers of the programmes also changed with time from pale blue when I first started with a pencilled sketch of the house drawn by Andrew Jenner, then to a golden colour on textured paper, with a revised sketch of the house drawn by Keith Bennett, whose history at Tew was from the start to the finish and beyond. (A truly remarkable person.) The final programmes were dark red with the same sketch of the house.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Night of the Iguana
It’s about this time that my and Carol’s involvement in The Grange lessened but only as players. We still went to many of the performances with what was now a newer set of actors. Then came the second version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1989) with Peter Burley taking my old part of Lysander and Neil Canning as Oberon and Jackie Finlay as Titania. Neil was a professional artist just starting his career and Val and Fred used one of their outbuildings later called the ‘Gallery’ to exhibit some of his work. We bought two of his pictures both local landscapes. He was to go on to be, I think, a member of the RA. Jackie had become one of the regulars alongside Peter Burley who also wrote some of his own plays which were performed at Tew
The first time we saw them was in The Night of the Iguana (1986) by Tennessee Williams and very fine performances they were too. Some of the ‘old’ regulars still performed including Norman Pearce, George Moon, Ian Harris, and Mike Davies. I see I was listed as a stage manager alongside Fred. The backstage crews are often omitted but there too it was the old faithfuls who continued to serve the Grange like Keith Bennett; Peter Wroe; Beryl Pearce; Paula Mitchell and many others, all of whom had been at Tew in different capacities over many years.
The Eden Tapes and Skittles
I have two programmes of Peter Burley’s plays. They are The Eden Tapes (1988) and Skittles (1992); I think was the latter that was later performed at The Old Fire Station Theatre in Oxford. Skittles is described as “A dead man writes in his will.. ‘Why did I live and why did I stop living?’ – the same – all for love in its different guises”. It was a play in three acts set in a hotel by the Mediterranean with a cast of ten led by Jackie Finlay, Rob Gorton and Adam Hurst (two fine young prospects at Tew). The Eden Tapes centered around two men, Dr Waspean (played by David Hoad), and Eden Black (played by the playwright). Yet again I seem to have managed to get myself in the programme , this time as stage manager (can’t remember that!)
My first play was by Terence Rattigan and his style of writing suited The Grange perfectly. By the time of the 1990s Val produced another Separate Tables (1987) set in the mid 1950s in a hotel in Bournemouth during winter. This was a period when some of the adult cast involved their children to take part like Caroline Finlay, Iona Stubbs and Linzi Jacques. It had a cast of eleven with many of the regulars but at a time when some of the younger actors were moving away from the area leaving Fred to scout round for more local talent and the programme made that appeal to the audience.
Frederick Lonsdale’s On Approval (2003) appeared again in the Tew repertoire but this time the four-hander starred Peter Burley, Neil Canning, Jackie Finlay and Linzi Jacques. Again it was an audience favourite.
Tickets for the plays had become precious and unless you booked well ahead then the chances of getting them were slim, since almost without failure all nights were fully booked. Fred and Val had recognised this situation and extended some performances across two weeks – four nights each week. This gave the actors a break but it was necessary to revitalise oneself at the start of the second week and re-remember bits of the script.
A Touch of Spring
Denise Glazer started to make regular appearances. For instance she was in A Touch of Spring (1990) by Samuel Taylor. The action takes place in an apartment in an old hotel in Rome. Besides the acting it was also renown for the stage settings with a courtyard and working fountain.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
It would have been remiss of Val to have bypassed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1983). It had had its success on film starring Maggie Smith and was well known to the ‘Tew’ devotees. So, it was bound to be a success at The Grange and so it was with Jackie Finlay playing the star role and so ably supported by eighteen other cast members including the two daughters of Peter Buckman and Jill Edwards’ daughter Sian and Jackie’s daughter, Caroline.
Key For Two
By Autumn 1993 Key For Two by John Chapman and Dave Freeman was produced. It takes place in the flat of the main protagonist Harriet in Brighton in the mid 1980s. With a cast of seven it was very funny and each member played an important part in its success.
Romeo and Juliet
Also, May 1993 saw the return of Romeo and Juliet a firm favourite with Val. With its cast of ‘thousands’ it relived the traditional costumes and settings associated with Shakespeare’s work. That was the thing about ‘Tew,’ it was traditional to a play’s settings and time period. There was nothing experimental about productions. That’s what Val and Fred wanted and since it was their theatre and her productions – why not? and the audiences loved it. This was an acting return to Tew for me. Fred had asked me to play two parts that of Count Paris (engaged to Juliet) and Peter the manservant to the Capulets. The main parts were Robert Gorton (Romeo) and Marion Barker (Juliet) with a supporting cast of Peter Burley, James Harper, Adam Hurst, Denise Glazer, etc. Peter Buckman reappeared as Friar Lawrence and he was at his best, a truly great performance. My role as Peter provided a chance to be silly, especially at rehearsals, as he was a yokel and I remember at one rehearsal I overdid the ‘country yokel’ accent which Peter Buckman diplomatically told me I was hamming it up too much.
As Paris, I was killed by Romeo in a sword fight towards the end of the play which meant that I had to lie to the side of the stage for many minutes. It was very uncomfortable lying there in view of the audience and trying not to breath too heavily and destroy the belief of death. It was also an occasion when tights came into effect. As was sometimes the situation at Tew when there wasn’t enough costume bits and this was one of those times. I had to provide my own and the only ones available were a pair of Carol’s. Whilst they blotted out most of my legs, a friend who saw the performance remarked to me afterwards that a ‘few more denier were needed’! I was given some photos of me and Buckman and one of the cast in costume, as a present.
Who Goes Home, The Ghost of Summer and The Shell Seekers
In 1994 came Who Goes Home, the life of Disraeli, researched, written and produced by Val. It told the story of the former Prime Minister to Queen Victoria and had been performed ten years earlier. I played Gladstone and was told by Peter Burley that the man was a pervert since he was well known to associate with prostitutes claiming he was rescuing them from evil. Peter was a psychologist and said jokingly he’d met men like that before.
Like lots of Val’s plays, it went on a bit but was despite that it was well received. That was my last appearance as an actor at The Grange even though I got the odd telephone call from Fred asking if I would like to do a cameo role in one play or another. I refused because I felt I was getting too old for this sort of thing and had other interests. However, Carol carried on playing in a re-run of The Ghost of Summer (1992) and finally the last play at Tew – The Shell Seekers (2009) – an adaptation by Val of the book by Rosamund Pilcher.
I remember on the Sunday following the last night of The Shell Seekers we were helping to clear the theatre and clean it up when Fred announced that it was probably the last play they would do. Both Val and Fred were well into their 80s by then and so it wasn’t so much of a surprise.
The Grange has been a significant period in our lives and when Fred died we wept as we saw Val for the first time for a few years; the sorrow at her losing her lifelong companion, lover, friend and greatest supporter was almost unbearable. Their final parting has left a lot of people with great memories that will remain forever.