On 10 December 2019 the Grand Theatre celebrates its 125th Anniversary. Over the next 12 months we’ll be sharing 125 memories, we’ll post the first on our 124th Anniversary this year, and the last on the theatres 125th Anniversary next year.
As well as famous faces and past and present staff members, we’re also asking members of the public to submit their memories for the project. Memories can be provided in writing, as a short video (maximum of 45 seconds) or a photograph with a memory attached. Memories should be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to;
125 Memories Project
c/o Stage Door
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
It’s our 124th Birthday today! To celebrate our 125th next year, over the next twelve months we’re going to be sharing #125Memories of the Grand Theatre. Our first is a pantomime themed memory from Alison Norton and her son Alastair. Here they are at this year’s pantomime and at Cinderella in 2009!
If you have a memory, send it to us at email@example.com and it may be featured!
Our second memory comes from Tom Campbell who worked at Signal 107 before moving to the North East to work for Heart FM. Here he tells us about his part in Happy Days The Musical and his love for the Grand Theatre.
Our third memory surrounds the infamous story of the real lions used in a pantomime production of Robinson Crusoe. In a letter recently donated to us from a contact at the Victoria & Albert Museum, theatre Manager and pantomime producer Humphrey Stanbury recalls a conversation with the circus proprietor…
Ross said “My mom used to work at the Grand Theatre and she’d bring us to see the pantomime every year as kids. One year in particular stood out for me and that was the year I went on stage with Richard Cadell and Sooty – Frank Bruno was in that panto too. Every year mom would try to get us to go up on stage and in 2001 it was my turn! I got a signed photo of Richard, Sooty and Sweep, which I still have to this day. It’s lovely to be working Front Of House at the theatre now and great to have Richard and Sooty back! Even now with the children that Richard gets up on stage, he says “you’ll remember this moment for the rest of your life” and he’s not wrong!”
Our sixth memory comes from a letter sent in by David Mackie. David was a former member of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company who are famous here for giving the opening performance in 1894. David was répétiteur from 1975 – 76 and Chorus Master/Associate Conductor from 1976 – 1982. He recalls an incident during ‘The Yeoman Of The Guard’ where the lights went off in the orchestra pit!
“During the Act 1 finale, all of the lights in the orchestra pit went out. The orchestra, who had played the piece many times, managed to keep going for a while but as they couldn’t see properly, the music gradually began to sound more like Schonberg than Sullivan! … Eventually, just as I thought the music would grind to a halt completely the lights in the pit came on again, one by one, and the performance finished more or less normally.”
Here’s what Kid’s Stand-up Comic, Children’s Author and Poet Ian Billings recalls about writing a pantomime for the Grand Theatre in 1997.
“Imagine within months of moving into a new town the local theatre ask you to write their pantomime. Well, that’s what happened to me and it wasn’t just any local theatre it was the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. I’d written pantomimes before but this was one of the biggest I’d written. Cannon and Ball, John Altman from EastEnders, Sinitta and, for me, more exciting – Brain Cant. Brian was a hero from childhood – Playschool and it’s sequel Playaway and the voice behind Chigley, Trumpton and Camberwick Green. Those soft gentle tones had enchanted and delighted me through my early years and here he was speaking my words. He played Widow Twankey with the same fun and delight as he brought to all his children’s work and made the character all his own. I wrote two other Aladdins that year but that’s the one I’ll remember most…”
#125memories | 8 of 125
Our latest memory comes from Sally Stole who recalls her numerous visits to see Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company at the Grand 60 years ago.
“From the age of about 10 to probably 16 (I am now 76) my father would take me once a year to The Grand to see the Ballet. I still remember the excitement and the feeling when the orchestra began to tune up and the lights went down. I had never been to a theatre before. He knew about ballet and would explain the story and gestures to me so I could understand them. The performances were during the week and I was only allowed to go if I promised I would go to sleep lying out on the back seat of the car with a rug over me on the way home. The experience instilled a love of ballet in me for life and I later went on to work in the arts.
That is why it’s so important for young people to have the opportunity to experience the arts – it lasts a lifetime.”
Today’s memory of the Grand Theatre comes from Nigel Plaskitt. He is the puppet coach on the UK Tour of Avenue Q here from 11 – 15 June. He’s worked with the Muppets, on Sesame Street and even the cult film Little Shop of Horrors! Before he found puppets, Nigel was an actor in a touring production which played at Wolverhampton Grand; “I was at the Wolverhampton Grand in 1971. I was working on a play called Conduct Unbecoming playing the 2nd Lt. Simon Boulton, and I remember that the Grand was in a much sorrier state than it is now. I see it’s had many refurbishments since then, one quite recently, and I look forward to Avenue Q being able to play there later this year.”
Today’s memory comes from Malcolm Palmer, whose dad was a regular on the Grand Theatre stage.
“My thoughts go back to my childhood in the early 50s when a visit to the Grand Theatre, even with less luxurious surroundings then, was considered a special treat.
I probably had a closer relationship than most as my dad, Fred Palmer, was a member of South Staffs Operatic Society from mid-forties to mid-fifties.
I shall never forget sitting in the upper circle with my cousin Terry and our mums in December 1950 watching The Desert Song. My dad was playing Mindar and he had a very important solo to deliver in that show. During the performance Terry’s concentration drifted from the stage to the seats in the front row of the upper circle where he had spotted the one and only Billy Wright. He leapt to his feet and ran down the nearest aisle shouting ‘Billy, Billy’. Fortunately, this distraction did not occur during the all-important solo.
Another snippet I recall was of my dad telling me of the occasion during Waltz Time in December 1951. He was waiting in the wings to go on stage and was joined by someone praising the show, saying that it would be a hard act to follow. It was none other than Norman Wisdom who was to appear in the Grand’s pantomime Cinderella that year.
Dad would have loved to have been a regular visitor to the Grand to see the fabulous shows that are staged, alas he died in 1988.”
Christopher Biggins in fine voice as he sings us a “Happy Anniversary”!
In 1960, Geoff Blower (front left) was just 17 years old when the company he worked for, Patent Process Cleaning, were asked to clean the ceiling of the theatre.
“We used cream cleaner and powder to clean paintwork, it was cheaper, quicker and didn’t have a smell. It was better than repainting. We were told that after the last show at 10pm on the Saturday we had until 1pm on the Monday to complete the job.
On the Saturday evening, scaffolders were at the back of the Theatre ready to bring in the poles as guests were leaving out of the front door. The chandelier had to be lowered to get the scaffolding close enough for us to work on the ceiling.
We were told to have a break and a couple of hours sleep when we needed. I was ok until the Sunday night when I got my head down on a settee in the dress circle.
The surround of the stage had to be painted guilt and blue, my brother did that. Fortunately for everyone involved, the job was completed on time!
It was an experience that I still look back and reflect on to this day.
Stephen Clifton used to be Head of Performing Arts at Coppice Performing Arts School in Wolverhampton. He was also the Producer and Director of the annual musicals that were put on at the school, including a very special production of Les Miserable that was performed here.
“In March 2005 Coppice were one of the first schools to perform Les Misérables – School Edition. It was so well received that someone wrote to Peter Cutchie, who was in charge of The Grand Theatre at that time, suggesting that he allow us to put the show on at the theatre. Peter got in contact with me and following several meetings and special licences being granted by Cameron Mackintosh’s theatre company, Coppice Performing Arts School did present its version of Les Misérables at The Grand on Sunday 24th September 2006!”
Were you in this production of Les Miserables – School Edition?
If you have a memory you’d like to submit, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Today’s memory comes from Brendan Cole who tells us about his time at the Grand and why he loves to play our venue. Brendan first came to the Grand with his professional tour in 2014 and has danced to sell-out audiences every year since!
Mario Kombou has been performing his tribute to Elvis for over twenty years and has notched up over 6,000 performances to date. Some of these performances have been to sell-out shows at the Grand. Mario recalls the time he performed at the theatre a couple of years ago on his birthday and the entire audience sang Happy Birthday to him!
Soprano singer Paula Sides has been to the Grand Theatre on more than one occasion with English Touring Opera. Here she tell’s us about why she loves our theatre and audiences so much! If you haven’t seen Paula perform, she’ll be playing Elettra in Idomeneo on Tuesday 26 March.
The lovely Anita Dobson is playing Miss Hannigan in Annie at the Grand until Saturday. We caught up with her to chat about when she was in Hello, Dolly! at the theatre and her fond memories of Wolverhampton and the Grand.
Su Pollard is thrilled to be able to not be quite as old as the Grand Theatre! A beautiful theatre for both the audiences and the artists! We can’t wait to welcome Su back to the theatre as Queen Rat in our pantomime Dick Whittington from 7 December!
Nuala O’Kane’s Grandmother was Mrs Joyce May O’Kane (nee Martin). She was usually known as Maisie. “She lived with us in Broad Street where my father had his photography business. She ran the Grand Sweet Shop, adjacent to the Theatre from 1913 until her death in 1959. She often took me to shows at the theatre when I was a small child – anything from repertory, to ballet and of course the Panto! It is thanks to her that I developed my passion for theatre. During the Second World War there was a “blackout” curtain over the door but people still came to the theatre as often as before and enjoyed themselves as much as ever. She loved to dress the window herself with the big gift boxes of chocolate – and all the real ones too, not dummy boxes! She was a very elegant lady, always impeccably dressed in hat, gloves and jewellery. The picture inset is Mrs O’Kane at the door of the shop in 1950. Note the display of gift boxes of chocolates, which she so enjoyed arranging.
Jeffrey Holland first came to the Grand Theatre on the bus from Walsall as a young boy! Having appeared here many times, he looks forward to playing Alderman Fitzwarren in this year’s pantomime Dick Whittington from 7 December!
Memories of many productions from a colourful set of programmes, some of them signed by the actors sent in by Patrick Moon.
Emily Tierney from Club Tropicana remembers a fabulous week here with the show, one of her favourite theatres in the country!
Kevin Kennedy shares a birthday wish!
With another 100 memories to go, the West End’s Jodie Steele reveals that the Grand Theatre holds a special place in her heart as the first touring theatre she ever performed in! She played Carmen in Fame The Musical here in 2014. Since then she’s gone on to play Elphaba in Wicked and starred in Legally Blonde, War Of The Worlds, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Great American Trailer Park Musical and most recently as Heather Chandler in the Other Palace and West End production of Heathers!
Having starred in The Bodyguard in 2015 and now Rock Of Ages during our 125th anniversary year, the Grand Theatre is one of Zoe Birkett’s favourite theatres to visit on tour!
Cheryl Fergison has starred in Menopause The Musical many times at the Grand Theatre and last year she played Jan in our in-house production of Amanda Whittington’s Ladies’ Day. This year she finds herself in Dressing Room 1, the Ladies’ Day home to Mr Tony Christie himself – someone she was very happy to meet, let alone work with!
Antony Costa starred in July 2017’s A Judgement In Stone and returned this year to play Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages! Here he is to wish us a happy 125th!
Signal 107’s Dicky Dodd has been part of the Grand Theatre ‘family’ for a long time! Whenever there’s a press launch or something we need to shout about Dicky and the team are never far away!
Lisa Maxwell has been a regular to our stage, most recently she starred as Judy Garland in the 2015 production of End Of The Rainbow. This year, during our 125th anniversary she returns to play Celie in Calendar Girls The Musical from 28 – 24 September.
Dinnerladies’ Sue Devaney has wonderful memories of performing in the stage version here at the Grand Theatre 125 years ago… well, maybe not quite that long Sue! She will star in Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls The Musical from 24 – 28 September.
The lovely Sarah Jane Buckley who was here as recently as the 2018 production of Blood Brothers, playing Mrs Lyons, sends her best wishes and will join us from 24 – 28 September this year in Calendar Girls The Musical.