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.”
Whilst Doreen ‘s favourite memories of the Grand Theatre include being asleep in her dressing room and eating crisps from the Stage Door tuck shop, the Queen of the Black Country has managed to reflect on some memoires she has enjoyed here at the Grand Theatre.
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!