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Lewes Road Gilbert and Sullivan Society

Father joined as a young man

I believe my father joined the Gilbert & Sullivan section, after serving in the Boys Brigade at Lewes Road, as a young man in the mid 30s and my mother came on board a few years later when they met, perhaps in the early 40s.

Early beginnings

My adventures at the Lewes Road G&S Society began when I was 3 years old in 1949. We moved from Shaftesbury Road in the town centre, to the new estate called Hollingbury in 1949. To save finding a baby sitter every week, I was taken out in the dark of night to watch the rehearsals taking shape. I got involved in watching everything from learning the songs and scripts, to adding actions, and later the measuring up ready for ordering the hiring of costumes and wigs from London.

Mum was highly trained

Mum was a hairdresser by trade, so was able to assist with the tidying of wigs and hairdos in general. She was also trained as a make-up artis,t and was therefore a great help when it came to adding a youthful glow to a maiden’s face, or ageing line features to faces and hands. My memory of most of the regular people is clear as a bell. Being so young it was polite in those days to give a title to grown-ups but because we all knew each other well they all became auntie and uncle rather than Mr and Mrs.

Never an empty seat

As you can see in the background of these photos, there was a great amount of work that went into the scenery, especially when there were scene changes needed. It was only a small church hall but in the intervals tea was served and plates of ice creams were offered around the seated audience. There was never an empty seat in my memory. The show was popular with family, friends and all interested parties in Gilbert and Sullivan including other G & S societies locally.

The working week

The First Saturday would be dress rehearsal, Sunday free, then, Monday was the start of the show week. Monday usually went on with a few tiny mishaps but as the week got into its swing it became a magic all of its own.  It ended on the Saturday and at the end of the show all the ‘Thank you’ gifts were presented on stage, producer, prompt, canteen staff, (of which I was one in my teen years together with Sybil Black and her mother known warmly to us all as Mum Constable).

Exchanging end of show presents

Costumes will have been packed away again and ready to be sent back up to London to the hire company. Then there were the private gifts. Most times the lead players would gift their partners with something appropriate to the show such as a small ornament representing something from the particular show. We had such ornaments on our mantle-piece for years. I still remember all the smells and the sounds of the theatre as though it were yesterday.

Work between shows

The show ran for a whole week somewhere in July. That was the end of the year so everyone could go and enjoy holiday breaks. Rehearsals would resume again in September starting with deciding which show to present, voting in and applying for the lead roles, and so on. I remember how the deciding went between shows known to be the most popular and whether to try out lesser known ones as The Sorcerer.

Fully trained soprano

My father was a chorus man but my mother was a fully trained soprano and took many lead roles over the years. Later as younger people joined, and her voice deepened more, mum then took on some of the contralto lead parts. Like Ruth in Pirates of Penzance, Katisha from the Mikado and Buttercup from HMS Pinafore.

Click on each of the images to open a large version in a new window.

Full company for the Mikado:The names I can recall are all left to right starting at the back working forwards. Top = Lily Elmer as Katisha, Bob Read as The Mikado and producer, Back Row = Ron Harman, Cisely Harmon, Connie Clarke, Alec Churcher, Peggy Joiner, Les Surman, Rene Surman, Doug Brown, Amy Newman, behind Amy ??, next Amy is Ernie Killick, Molly Bentley, Joyce?, ??, Molly Buckland, ??, ??. Middle Row = John Sutherland (I think), Percy?, Leslie Baldwin (my father), ??, Pete?, Ron Fowler , Dick Bentley. Front Row = Sylvia Baldwin (my mother), Doreen Hines, Valery Moon, ??, ??, Martin Surman, Gracie Moon, ??, ??, Lily ?, Bessie Buckland, Critch Oxenham.
From the private collection of John Killick
Lead players in The Gondoliers: Ron Harmon, Rene Surman, Les Surman Sylvia Baldwin, Ernie Killick.
From the private collection of John Killick
The Gondoliers: full cast
From the private collection of John Killick
Iolanthe lead players; Ron Harmon, Ron Fowler, Lily Elmer as Fairy Queen, Ernie Killick, Sylvia Baldwin, Lemuel Ernshaw, Critch Oxenham as Iolanthe risen from the lake, Les Surman. Rene Surman, Peggy Joiner, Molly Bentley. Sitting close by in the wings for all the shows was, of course, the Prompt. A darling lady called Lily Plank. Hardly ever seen but one whose presence could not be missed.
From the private collection of John Killick

Comments about this page

  • Hi Sandra. I very much enjoyed reading this and looking at the great photos.

    By Jennifer Tonks (26/06/2011)
  • I remember seeing many performances at Lewes Road. Several of the cast became personal friends of mine, particularly people like Bob Reed and Peggy Joiner. And in 1968 I played John Wellington Wells opposite Sylvia Baldwin as Lady Sangazure, for Burgess Hill Operatic Society.  A lovely lady!

    By Bill Colbourne (24/02/2015)
  • Hello, Bill Colbourne. I feel certain of your name. I wonder if we have met?
    I believe in the 17 years of my connection with this society ‘The Sorcerer’ was only played once at Lewes Road.  I still laugh now at the memories of the cast learning the song ‘The eggs and the ham, and the strawberry jam! The rollicking bun, and the gay Sally Lunn’! It was quite a tongue twister.
    In my youth I used to help my mother with her lines and she was always singing her part whilst doing housework and in the garden. When hanging out washing the air was full of sultry songs of ‘Katisha’ from the ‘Mikado’ or of ‘Buttercup’ from ‘Pirates of Penzance’.  I got to know them well, and the chorus lines also.
    I wonder if you still have photos of that show in 1968? I would gladly post my email address here if you wish to make contact.

    By Sandra Bohtlingk (27/02/2015)

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