World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Peggy Fell 

Entertainmaent During The War, Part 1

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Peggy Fell----Blue Sparks and The denys Edwards players
Location of story: Sheffield
Background to story: Civilian

                             The Wartime Players

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Peggy Fell. ===========================================


In 1941. the late Mannie Levy, then in charge of the Northern Command Volunteers Entertainment Services (Sheffield Area), set in motion a movement to present plays to the Troops. He enlisted the help of Denys Edwards, a welt-known amateur player, who though rather sceptical of the idea, was persuaded by Mannie to undertake the project. A little group of Amateur Thespians in the city was formed, without a name and with Mannie in charge. One-act plays were performed in support of Variety Artists. The first play, at Croft House Garrison Theatre in Garden Street, was Amazons on Broadway with an all girls cast among which were three of Denys Edwards Players founder members.

These short plays neither “got the bird” nor made any particular mark, so encouraged by the absence of any active hostility, a full length play was presented in June 1942 by the nameless group. The play was a comedy, Yes and No; it ran for seven performances but it was the start of a snowball which rolled on to great success during the wartime years. Members of that cast, now in their 70’s and 80’s, are still with us, Lorna Beard, Myra Gray, Peggy Fell, Greta Waterhouse and Fred Corbridge, who whilst not active on stage still maintain support of the society. In spite of the diffidence of the Army Entertainments Officers, the company’s efforts were so successful that each subsequent play showed a steady increase in the number of performances and the last play to be done under wartime auspices in 1945 recorded a total of 40 performances at different establishments of the Army and R.A.F. During these years of hard work, playing In Nissen Huts, Army Canteens, converted farm buildings, even stately homes, travelling home on a Corporation bus in the small hours often three times a week, it was natural that a team which had functioned so well together and had benefited from fellowship should stay together when the call for troop entertainment ceased. D.E.P. So at the end of the second World War, after giving 160 shows at military sites within a wide radius of Sheffield, it was decided that as soon as our commitments permitted we would inflict ourselves on the general public, led by Denys Edwards, and be known as the Denys Edwards Players, D.E.P.

It was with some pride and no regrets that we started our public performances with not a single penny to our name and everything we have acquired has been earned by our own work and encouraged by donations from our patrons. We rehearsed in one anothers’ homes, paid a small amount into a “kitty” at each rehearsal, built our first set for the cost of 30/- (old money), assisted by redundant tram canvas indicators, and our first audiences in December 1945 suffered the hard seats of Croft House without a murmur. Since those days, we have come a long way; we still build our own sets but after a series of rented workshops and studios we now have our own premises. This has been achieved by hard and dedicated work by members past and present in fund-raising and giving time and talents to keep D.E.P. in the forefront of Amateur Theatre in Sheffield. So, led by Denys Edwards, who prior to taking up a business appointment in London was a leading amateur actor and producer in Sheffield, the company first performed at Croft House Settlement and then in 1947 moved to the Library Theatre, where, apart from one play at the Y.M.C.A. when the theatre was being re-furbished and eight plays at the Merlin, they have been to the present day. The total number of plays performed to June 1995 is 210 and there have also been a number of One Act plays entered in Play Festivals.

This is quite an achievement due to the hard work and enthusiasm of past and present members and the leadership of the D.E.P. Chairmen. The Society is fortunate in having over the years excellent producers and a body of competent actors and actresses, the make-up of which has changed over the years. It has been supported also by those members who help backstage with scenery, properties, wardrobe, lighting, effects, ticket sales, publicity and front of house management. Whilst again the personnel in these jobs has changed, many people have given dedicated and continuous service which has helped greatly to maintain the high standards of the society.

The policy of D.E.P. has been to present plays of every type and these have included in recent years musical plays. Over the years we have been fortunate to have had the support of patrons who are regular attenders at our shows and who we consider as our friends. A society as big as D.E.P. needed somewhere to store and prepare scenery, to keep its properties and wardrobe and if possible a room for rehearsals, under one roof. In the early days, after a spell of “home” rehearsals, the upstairs room at the West Street Hotel was the venue and scenery preparations were carried out in a hay loft above an old coach house in Filey Lane. Because of subsidence and war damage, the workshop was dirty and draughty and in cold weather the distemper brushes froze to the scenery. In November 1959 the building was declared unsafe and a long search for a suitable place began. As a temporary measure, a barn belonging to Cannon Hall in Ejutt Lane, Totley, was rented in November 1960 but the distance from the City Centre was a drawback and the search continued.

Eventually the society managed to buy out old Mr Harrop and take over the tenancy of his workshop behind the Leavygreave Hotel by arrangement with the Sheffield Hospital Board for probably ten years. After a lot of hard work cleaning, clearing, decorating and building a rehearsal room in one corner, the place named The Goodwin Studios was opened for use in September 1962. At last D.E.P. had a home. However, the Hospital Board brought its plans forward and in two years we were asked to leave so that the ante-natal clinic to Jessop Hospital could be built. Thus the search for workshop and studios was on again!

Eventually, two rooms on the second floor of a building in John Street were leased for five years to D.E.P. in September 1964. Although two sets of stairs caused difficulty when moving scenery, the place was never cold because the ground floor housed annealing furnaces which seemed to work continuously warming the building. D.E.P. stayed almost 20 years at John Street but towards the end of this period it became obvious that the premises were not adequate to accommodate all the theatrical and social activities and larger premises were sought. To this end, an unused Methodist Chapel on Norton Lees Road was purchased in 1984.

Again hard work by dedicated members of the society has made the Norton Lees studio and workshop a building to be proud of. Extra rooms for storage, props and wardrobe have been built, central heating installed, inside toilets, fitted kitchen and green room created. Some outside help was obtained but most of the re-organisation has been carried out by members, who have applied their skills and dedication to the taskswhich needed to be done. Mention must be made of the late Sir Stuart and Lady Goodwin, whose generosity in 1960 and 1962 augmented greatly the money raised by D.E.P.’s own efforts. This financial background made possible the furnishing and maintenance of the studios at Leavygreave and John Street and laid the foundation for the requisition of the building on Norton Lees Road which is now paid for in full. A tribute must also be paid to the Fund-raising Committee who between 1982 and 1991 organised Payres, Jumble Sales, Games Nights, Bring and Buys, Raffles, etc. to achieve ownership of the studio.

Since the days of Croft House we have progressed a long way, we still build our own sets, we have no income except legitimate profits which goes back into the company to support its work. DENYS EDWARDS Among the many amateur players in Sheffield and District during the late 20’s and 30’s, Denys Edwards’ name was in the forefront. Sheer ability and hard work made him an outstanding actor. His introduction to dramatic art was kindled at the Central Secondary School for Boys. In 1927, the school produced King Henry the Eighth, with all the women’s parts played by boys mainly from the lower school. The school magazine, The Sheaf, of April 1928 recorded that he was already making his mark. His rendering of Queen Katherine was outstanding, entering into the part to a degree which made many of the audience incredulous when told he was one of the pupils.

The remark that Edwards was indeed a “find” for the society was the foretaste of things to come. After school he continued with many groups, the Works Operatic Society of which his father was a member, Sheffield Playgoers, Y.M.C.A., Hucklow Players and the Old Sheffield Repertory Company, which at that time consisted mainly of amateur players. He played in pageants, straight plays, musicals, pantomime, cabaret, concerts, open air theatres and broadcasting, all of which gave scope to his talents. The ability to play comedy and tragedy equally well was his gift and as a producer he gave help to any member of the team without stint but with unfailing tact and kindliness.

His sense of reponsibillty, dedication, inspiration and infectious enthusiasm brought together, after their Wartime Voluntary Entertainment Duties, the band of players who were to form D.E.P. and he always inspired confidence in his fellow players. When he was transferred to London by his company, he still wholeheartedly supported D.E.P.,attending the shows on a Saturday night. Other groups in London were fortunate to benefit from his talents and experience, while the older members of D.E.P. who knew him valued his friendship, his impish sense of humour and his concern and kindness for anyone who needed a helping hand. He died very suddenly in 1982 in the week when we were performing Man of La Mancha at the Library Theatre.

 

 

Again hard work by dedicated members of the society has made the Norton Lees studio and workshop a building to be proud of. Extra rooms for storage, props and wardrobe have been built, central heating installed, inside toilets, fitted kitchen and green room created. Some outside help was obtained but most of the re-organisation has been carried out by members, who have applied their skills and dedication to the taskswhich needed to be done. Mention must be made of the late Sir Stuart and Lady Goodwin, whose generosity in 1960 and 1962 augmented greatly the money raised by D.E.P.’s own efforts. This financial background made possible the furnishing and maintenance of the studios at Leavygreave and John Street and laid the foundation for the requisition of the building on Norton Lees Road which is now paid for in full. A tribute must also be paid to the Fund-raising Committee who between 1982 and 1991 organised Payres, Jumble Sales, Games Nights, Bring and Buys, Raffles, etc. to achieve ownership of the studio.

Since the days of Croft House we have progressed a long way, we still build our own sets, we have no income except legitimate profits which goes back into the company to support its work. DENYS EDWARDS Among the many amateur players in Sheffield and District during the late 20’s and 30’s, Denys Edwards’ name was in the forefront. Sheer ability and hard work made him an outstanding actor. His introduction to dramatic art was kindled at the Central Secondary School for Boys. In 1927, the school produced King Henry the Eighth, with all the women’s parts played by boys mainly from the lower school. The school magazine, The Sheaf, of April 1928 recorded that he was already making his mark. His rendering of Queen Katherine was outstanding, entering into the part to a degree which made many of the audience incredulous when told he was one of the pupils.

The remark that Edwards was indeed a “find” for the society was the foretaste of things to come. After school he continued with many groups, the Works Operatic Society of which his father was a member, Sheffield Playgoers, Y.M.C.A., Hucklow Players and the Old Sheffield Repertory Company, which at that time consisted mainly of amateur players. He played in pageants, straight plays, musicals, pantomime, cabaret, concerts, open air theatres and broadcasting, all of which gave scope to his talents. The ability to play comedy and tragedy equally well was his gift and as a producer he gave help to any member of the team without stint but with unfailing tact and kindliness.

His sense of reponsibillty, dedication, inspiration and infectious enthusiasm brought together, after their Wartime Voluntary Entertainment Duties, the band of players who were to form D.E.P. and he always inspired confidence in his fellow players. When he was transferred to London by his company, he still wholeheartedly supported D.E.P.,attending the shows on a Saturday night. Other groups in London were fortunate to benefit from his talents and experience, while the older members of D.E.P. who knew him valued his friendship, his impish sense of humour and his concern and kindness for anyone who needed a helping hand. He died very suddenly in 1982 in the week when we were performing Man of La Mancha at the Library Theatre.

THE SCENES No society can function without a strong back- up team and D.E.P. over the fifty years has been fortunate to have had the support of people with skills and talents to enable the production of plays to attain a high standard of presentation. What made D.E.P. different is summed up by a former member in the words Attention to detail.

Playing a part he had also played with D.E.P. as a butler, the sherry was served in brandy glasses, the sherry was an unconvincing colour and the audience was aware that a poisonous powder didn't dissolve in another drink. All these points were picked up by the SADATA critic. As he points out, it wouldn't have happened in D.E.P. Over the years, furniture, china, clocks pictures, linen, knick-knacks, light fittings and many other oddments have been collected and stored away. Some may rarely see the light of day but they are there "just in case". The wardrobe too has a good range of clothes from Victorian, Edwardian, the 20's, 30's and 40's to the present day.

Articles tike top hats and bowlers, antique accessories such as evening bags and shawls are things to be cherished and cared for in this world of disposables. We have a first class workshop and are able to build our sets with the expertise of the people who work on them. By the end of 1995, we will have presented 212 three-act plays, and apart from five at Croft House, eight at the Merlin Theatre and one at Frecheville, all have been staged at the Library Theatre. The February performance in 1979 was cancelled owing to a strike at the theatre and another show which hit difficulties was during a Big Snow.

Members of the cast and backstage slowly drifted in, having walked most of the way from the suburbs. An audience of six turned up and joined the cast for a coffee backstage. A quick conference decided to call it a night and all set off back home. "We had a good laugh and shut up shop," to quote one member. D.E.P. have also toured with One Act Plays to enter drama festivals. Sets had to be portable and recruiting a second team when Three Act Plays were on the go at the same time often presented difficulties. Setting up a portable set capable of being erected and struck within a given time limit presented a challenge and the ingenuity of all who took part in these presentations deserves a whole- hearted Thankyou for their efforts.

A list compiled by Terry Mounsey can be summarised as follows: Producers Chairmen Secretaries Treasurers Ticket sales Publicity Front of house Prompt Stage directors Lights/effects Scenic artists Stage managers Wardrobe Properties 11 13 27 6 14 19 12 It would be impossible to mention everyone who has helped over the years but the following have worked for many years, up to 25 and over in some cases, and in more than one of the above disciplines: Keith Allchin Doreen Bell Anthony Brookes Bernard Braiisford* Roger Bingham Mary Bradley Frank Cooke* Maggie Collins Charles Coltey Joyce Col ley Connie Coldwell Janet Coldwell John Eaton Hazel Eaton Ronald Fell Peggy Fell Don Garlick W. Jenkins Gibson* Freda Gray Vera Gregory* Joseph Hampton* Roy Jeffrey Bess Jeffrey Edward Kain Mannie Levy* Laurie Ungard* James Marsland Terry Mounsey Bernard Neild Mary Newey Bill Peacock* James Price* David Shaw Judith Shaw John Shelton Joyce Tomlinson Michael Trott Colin Windle* Charles Wright Linda Wright Those members marked* are unfortunately no longer with us. When we moved to our present home at Norton Lees, funds were required to be raised to pay off the bank loan. A sub-committee to promote fund-raising was formed and their sterling endeavours, bright ideas and hard work involved in promoting efforts to clear our debt deserve the heart-felt thanks of all present and past members of the society. D.E.P. ON TOUR - ONE ACT PLAY FESTIVALS Festivals were always a mixed blessing.

On the plus side they were a way of "blooding" an aspiring new producer and of showing the D.E.P. flag. On the other side there were several difficulties to be faced! Firstly, there would usually be a mainstream play in rehearsal at the same time. This meant not only a problem finding a suitable cast but, even more difficult, that of finding a second backstage team and building a second set in the same workshop. To add to the challenge, the set had to be easily portable and capable of being erected, and struck, on a strange stage within a given time limit. A suitable play was difficult to find. Adjudicators seemed to favour plays which many of us considered to be rather weird. I remember at one festival laughing long and loud at a play about a compost heap in the middle of a living room carpet. (The play was, I think, We'll be in Eastbourne in Ten Minutes by N.F. Simpson). Having found a cast, a backstage team and a play, rehearsals could commence. These were often rather dismal affairs because the cast was usually small and we were the only people in the studio. We were very much low priority and few came to see us rehearse. This did have one very desirable effect, however - the cast became a very close team. I remember Graham Anthony, with that hilarious play Love All, determinedly setting out to encourage team spirit by booking a pub for our rehearsals.