Memories of the Theatre Royal, Hanley

A great theatre that sadly closed a few years ago and is now a night club. I was a Front of House volunteer between 1984 and 1990 having many great memories of the stars, shows and most importantly the wonderful staff who helped keep the theatre running, many times on a wing  and a prayer…

Below there will be memories from fellow volunteers, backstage staff, audiences and with a bit of luck some of the stars! If you have any Theatre Royal memories please feel free to get in touch and/or comment below.

 For a potted history of the theatre please visit…

http://www.thepotteries.org/buildings/theatre_royal.htm

and for the technical aspects of the building and the list of past owners please visit here

There is also a very interesting Facebook tribute page featuring many photos (mainly from the 1980’s shows) compiled and run by former employee at the theatre Andrew Ankers.

The Shows

The Rocky Horror Show was the one show I loved during my time working at the theatre. I first saw it in the audience and didn’t know what to expect knowing little of it but I know a lot more now! Overall I watched the show 29 times at the theatre and only paid twice, the other times I was working as a volunteer.

Crowd control was always fun, the amount of rice you’d sweep up between shows and the vast amounts of water pistols/squeezy bottles that made it in. The latter were banned as they caused mayhem and made the stage very slippery when the water mixed with the rice. I remember one show was abandoned afetr some idiot threw a water bag filled with nails onto the stage.

They had some very good actors in the roles including Bobby Crush as Frank ‘n’ Furter! Strange to see him in fishnets and not behind a piano…

There is a potted history here of the Theatre Royal production.

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The theatre put on other touring shows throughout the 1980’s including Cabaret (starring Wayne Sleep) and the Hobbit.

Ria Bright recalls her time in the production of the Hobbit:

‘We got to do The Hobbit at Hanley & Stockport, but Hanley was the special one, because the theatre was so beautiful. I played an elf & a wolf. I had to walk around with a lantern a lot. The wolf costume was tricky, because I couldn’t see out of it. I had to twist the head to the side to see anything. I had to fight with someone as a wolf & kill them.

I loved the curtain call, seeing the curtain rise to reveal how beautiful that theatre was.’

Thanks to Ria for these photos of the production:

 

 

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March 2015: found this excellent and informative site on the theatres in Stoke-on-Trent, do have a look.

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Interviews with former satff and perfomers at the Theatre Royal. If you would like to be featured or have a contact for a former perfomer/staff member please get in touch via papa_bear70 (at) hotmail.com

Paul Wood (worked at the theatre between 1983-2000)

When did you work at the theatre and in what capacity?

I started in April 1983 and worked as a Front-Of House volunteer until December 1993 when I was taken onto the payroll in a full-time capacity as Stage Door Keeper. I remained in that post until the closure of the theatre itself in 2000 through three different managements (with occasional periods of unemployment between each one!). I was actually on duty on the very last show ever staged at the Theatre Royal, thus therefore the last in a long line of Stage Door Keepers. I’m proud to have been there on that final night.
How did you become involved in the Theatre Royal?
I wanted to see Barry Howard (one of the starts of TV’s ‘Hi-De-Hi’) live on stage there but couldn’t afford a ticket! I then saw that the Theatre was looking for volunteers and figured that this was an exellent way to see the show after all. Cheeky, but true! However, in my defence, I did end up dedicating 17 years of my life to the place so it wasn’t a totally selfish tactic!
Which shows did you enjoy the most and why?
It was always the plays, particularly the comedies. They quite often starred a lot of big TV names from the classic comedy shows. John Inman, Trevor Bannister, Brian Murphy, Ian Lavender were just a few of the many I saw in those early days.
Any shows/performers that sent a shudder down your spine?
Seeing Billy Connelly live on stage is something I will never forget. I saw the second of a two night run he did. Many staff said the first night was the better of the two. I can only say that he must have been on incredible form that first night because the show I saw the following evening was awesome.
What performers and actors/actresses did you enjoy seeing the most and why?
As mentioned above, TV names were always a big draw for me. I was thrilled to see Colin Baker of Dr. Who fame. We also had shows from many famous comedians such as Rowan Atkinson and the legendary Ken Dodd perform sell-out shows.
Your memories of the fellow staff/volunteers you worked with?
I have countless warm memories of many people I worked alongside in those days. Some of them are still friends to this day and we often talk about the Theatre Royal. I also remember one or two lovely people that we lost at the time.
Why do you think the Theatre Royal never quite got the success it deserved?
In a word: cash. Funding was always a problem.I think a lot of it was down to Council politics. In its heyday, the Theatre Royal was the top venue in Hanley & was greatly valued. When it burned down in the late 1940s it was rapidly rebuilt at great expense. Move on several decades and there was an obvious change in attitude from the powers that be. Come the 1980s, the Council seemed to see it as more of an embarrassment. The only time the revived Theatre Royal had any decent money spent on it was when Mike Lloyd purchased & refitted the building to a high standard in the late 1990s. But market forces outside of Mike’s control were destined to finally bring the curtain down less than three years later.
If in an ideal world an investor came along, do you think the Theatre could be restored to its former glory or is it best left in the past?
Probably best left in the past. Only the outer shell resembles the wonderful building I once worked in. Most of the inside has been radically changed (not for the better!). Even if you could dig up the original plans and painstakingly restore the place piece by piece, it would not be the original Theatre we all knew and loved. R.I.P. Theatre Royal, that’s what I say!

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Thanks for all your comments and please keep them coming & get in touch.

29 Responses to “Memories of the Theatre Royal, Hanley”

  1. G.M.Rowe Says:

    Hi,
    A bit before your time perhaps, but my mother Mary Rowe Stage name (MARGO) was one of the ‘Hanley Babes’
    and appeared in many pantomimes at The Theatre royal in the 40s.
    I went to see many shows there including Frankie Vaughan, Steve Larrabee (the lone star cowboy). The illusionist David Burglass. The scenery in the pantomimes was wonderfull, nay magical. Some of the best in the world. Palaces, Caves, and real waterfalls etc.
    I do have some pictures. I am interested in any help I can get that lists what shows were there and the dates 1942-1953. Particularly Panto’s. Can you help?

    Best wishes
    Gary.

    • Rita Connery Says:

      My mother was a Hanley Babe her name was Rita Rammell, its her birthday on 24 July and I would love to find somebody from the troupe and photographes, she will be 85 and lives now in Trentham. Regards Rita Connery

      • Michael Bailey Says:

        My mum was a Hanley Babe in the 1940s and appeared in Aladdin. Her name then was Audrey Colclough and her father ran a Fishmongers in Northwood. She’s not very well now and I’d love to hear from anyone who knew her, or who has photographs of her. The only photo I have is from a Sentinel clip showing the Aladdin cast lined up at the Theatre Royal.

  2. Betty Thorley (Lee) Says:

    I was a Hanley Babe during the ’40s and appeared in many pantomimes, such as Goldilocks, which was in 1943. I taught dancing in Stoke under the name The Valdette Studio. Following the death of Eileen Kelly and the retirement of Beryl Cooper, I took over the Hanley Babes for two years prior to my leaving for South Africa. I also danced professionally at the Theatre Royal in variety with my dance act “The Valettes”. It would be good to be notified of any pupil or past dancing friends respond to this comment.

    • mavis williams Says:

      Hi Betty

      I was also in the pantomime Goldilocks in 1943. I went to Eileen Kelly’s dance school in Jasper street where Beryl Cooper taught dancing, I was also in Dick Whittington in 1944. My name was Mavis Bennion, I have photographs of the Hanley Babes troup. Regards Mavis

      • gary m. rowe Says:

        Dear Mavis,
        As my Mum was also a HANLEY babe and in Goldilocks and Dick Whittington you must have known my mum quite well.
        Is there any way I could get a copy of your Hanley babes photo? then i could point out my mum to you. I would be pleased to send you some pictures which may include yourself.
        best wishes,
        Gary
        ps. Mums maiden name was Mary Howes, her married name Mary Rowe and her stage name ‘Margo.

    • Susan Morris (nee Hill) Says:

      Hi Miss ‘Lee’

      I was a pupil of yours way back in 1959 at the Stoke studio
      – happy days! I remember amongst other things playing one of Mr. Snow’s children in Carousel at the Theatre Royal and I still have the programme from the show!
      I remember you leaving with Miss Ross for South Africa and so my dancing days ended.
      i hope you are keeping well.

    • Rita Connery Says:

      Hi Betty, My mum Rita Rammell was a Hanley Babe and her birthday if 24 July, she will be 85, do you remember her, I would love to have some copies of photos of the troupe. Is there any other babes of the same age that you are still in contact with. Regards Rita

  3. Paul Whiston Says:

    As a baby my mother Gladys Whiston took me to the Theatre Royal when she taught the girls in the chorus before the evening show. This would have been from 1942 to I think 1945. My memory is being made a great fuss of by the Babes. I was born in May 1942 but it is possibly my earliest memory.
    Ware you one of those babes? I am sending this again because I forgot to tick the box!

  4. Betty Thorley (Lee) Says:

    I was in the Hanley Babes from 1943 until 1945. I don’t, however, remember your Mom. Eileen Kelly was my dance teacher; the choreography was normally done by Emil Littler. I appeared in Aladdin, and Goldilocks – those are the two that I remember best ……. it was some time back! After this, I toured as a Hanley Babe with Eileen Kelly. We travelled to Kettering, Morecombe, Burnley, Barnsley, Worcester and such places. I remember it being a wonderful experience, especially as I didn’t have to go to school, because we had a tutor backstage!

    • Hello Betty

      Your name is very familiar to me, but am not sure whether I actually danced in any of the shows with you.

      I toured in panto as one of Eileen Kelly’s Young Ladies in 44, 45, and .46. I was the youngest in the troupe. You may have known my cousin, Hilda Statham. I am still in touch with three of the girls I toured with. (Christmas Cards etc.) We toured in ‘Alladdin’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Mother Goose’, also did local shows in Hanley Park (Holidays at Home), and the Naval Camp at Alsager. Do they ring any bells?.

      Joan.

    • Do you remember an IRIS who was in the Hanley Babes ?

  5. Irene Cartwright (Lyons) Says:

    I was a Valdette at the Stoke studios in 1958 and 1959. I appeared in Jack And The Beanstalk in Blythe (Northumberland), West Hartlepool and Barrow-in-Furness.
    In 1984 my husband and I resurected the Valdettes name when we formed a carnival entertaining troupe. The troupe ceased to operate in 2002.

  6. Carole Bagnall Says:

    I’m interested in the Theatre during the 1980’s when it became a Trust before it finally shut in 2001. Did anyone see any great shows there then? It held the rights for the Rocky Horror Show for some time.

  7. Glynis Brookes Says:

    My Mum, Joan Evans nee Dimond was a Hanley Babe and also danced with Eileen Kelly’s Young Ladies. She met my father when dancing in pantomime at The Arcadia Theatre, Llandudno. She is alive and literally kicking and living in Abergele. Should anyone wish to contact her she has an e-mail address, but if you send me your details I shall be happy to pass them on to her. Also there is a project running based upon the old Arcadia Theatre in Llandudno. If anyone is prepared to share their memories the project manager will be most grateful.

  8. My great grandfather – Frederick Peake owned the Theatre Royal during the 1940’s/50’s and had the tough task of rebuilding the theatre after the fire. After the war, building materials were in short supply and rebiulding the theatre was not a priority, but with the help of the community (I’ve heard 50,000 strong) signing a petition, council agreed and the long, difficult build was set in motion. I know he valued his staff, as many of the full time employees worked at his farm until the theatre was complete, which I thought was pretty nice. If anyone knows anything about Frederick Peake or a Theatre Royal story from the era I would love to hear it. Maybe one of the Hanley Babes can tell me something about him, as I never got the opportunity.

    Many thanks,

    G.Peake

    • Joan Salmon Says:

      My uncle Thomas Sharpley b. 1915 was the chief lighting engineer at the Theatre Royal and knew your great grandfather well, along with the manager Percy Hughes – Tom had worked at the Theatre Royal from the 1930s as a fifteen year old and apart from a break for service in the Royal Air Force during WW2 continued working there until he moved to the Winter Gardens in Morecambe in the early 1960s when Moss Empires sold the theatre in Hanley. My father also worked as a stagehand for a few years after war service and during my childhood I spent many happy hours backstage visiting one or other of them (not as much health and safety then!) and met many of the variety stars of that era. We were also given complimentary tickets on Monday nights to “dress” the theatre and I saw performances by Sadlers Wells, the D’Oyley Carte and Carl Rosa Opera Companies, many operettas and plays. I was 8 years old when the fire broke out on June 2nd June 1949, and remember the occasion well – June 1949 was a particularly tragic month for Tom and our family as my grandad Sharpley also died on the 1st June. I remember someone coming to the house to tell Tom of the fire and him rushing out in the middle of the night to see if he could help. I have a photograph of Tom from the 1930s with his bosses at the theatre but I don’t know their names – I think it would be too early to be Freddie Peake.

      I have many happy memories of the Theatre Royal in its heyday and feel so sad to think of its demise.

      Best wishes – Joan

      • Hi Joan

        The photo of Tom and his bosses (1930’s) would most likely be the Birkett brothers (Arthur and Edmund). Fred purchased the theatre from them. I would love to see that photo! Could you post it on this site? Old Theatres in the Potteries by William A. Neale is a great read for theatre fans. It has a great chapter on the Theatre Royal that includes the fire. If you can remember any stories about Fred Peake that your Uncle Thomas told you I would love to hear them. Working there for 30 yrs. he must’ve had lots of pictures as well – I would love to see them!!!!

        Regards,

        G.Peake

  9. Joan Salmon Says:

    Hi Gerald – I’ve recently moved house and photo albums are still packed away but when I get to them I’ll try and upload the photo of Tom Sharpley onto the site. Failing that if you want to let me have your email address send to jopo41@tiscali.co.uk and I’ll try and dig it out and send direct. Best wishes – Joan

  10. gary m. rowe Says:

    As I said in my first reply, my mum was a Hanley Babe and appeared in many of the panto’s. At the Theatre Royal Hasnley, and other places.
    She was in Aladin, Dick whittington, Cinderella, Goldylocks and the three bears, Mother Goose, Miss Muffet and did caberet for the Red Cross. Her stage name was ‘Margo’ her maiden name was Mary Howes, her married name was Mary Rowe.
    I have many photographs of Theatre Royal panto’s plus pictures of many individuals who were also in the shows with her.
    If you have any knowledge or photos please please get in touch,

  11. Julia Crocker Says:

    I would be interested if anyone can recall the days of repertory theatre under Harry Hhanson’s Court Players. 1946 being of particular interest to me.

  12. I was lucky enough to be a part of a number of performances at the Theatre Royal in the late 1980s. My first experience was with the Scouts Screamline Gangshow (directed by Greg Walker) which ran for a week. After that I applied to be a part of a touring company performance of The Hobbit which also ran for a week. I was one of the dwarves 🙂 My final experience was being a member of a Scout Gangshow segment of the Roy Hudd Variety Show for one night that also featured Paul Daniels, Lord Charles and Ray Allen (if my memory is correct).

    All three experiences were amazing for me as a child. The Theatre Royal was the only theatre I had experience of in Hanley at the time and I had seen many shows before featuring a number of stars (e.g. Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins as Bodie and Doyle in one Panto, abseiling down from one of the royal boxes to the stage!). So the opportunity to tread the same boards and to see how things worked from back stage was incredible.

    One notable memory that sticks in my mind was an evening tour of the theatre by one of the permanent staff (before a performance). They showed us rooms, staircases, and shafts that were cut off from use after the Theatres earlier fire and subsequent rebuild. Some areas were inaccessible, e.g. a cloak room high up in a shaft behind a locked door. They even showed us a fairly large old lighting control room at the very back of the top circle (nicknamed ‘the gods’). Add into the mix stories of ghosts that haunted the front of house area and the gantry deck at the side of the stage; this really did have quite an impression on me. Back stage, I also remember at the top of the stairs by the dressing rooms there was a door with message reading ‘he who enters here, abandon all hope’ because behind the door there was a drop to the stage area below. And also a very tight spiral stair case with a small chapel room half way down. It was very dimly lit and used by us as a quick way to get up to the changing rooms and back to the stage between scene changes. There was also quite a cosy green room under the stage. I remember all the dressing rooms being quite basic though. I think the only advantage for a big star is that they had a dressing room on the lowest floor closest to the stage, rather than any other luxury! 🙂 Sadly I am certain all these little features have long been removed or sealed up, but it would be interesting to know if any small part of the original theatre still remains intact? A visit it now might be upsetting if it has been changed too much though (suspect so).

    Some great experiences at the Theatre Royal that I will never forget…

    • Thank you so much for sharing your memories of your time on stage at the Theatre Royal. You are right it is totally different now, currently a Liquid Bar now.

      I was lucky enough to see some of the backstage areas and the area in the Gods in the Upper Circle you mention. That was the old lighting room and you’d need a head for heights to be up there.

      The Facebook group linked above has some very good photos of parts of the theatre that still survive today. Enjoyed my time volunteering there I must say and it is a shame the theatre never gets much mention in the history of the arts in the Potteries.

  13. […] page on the Theatre Royal, Hanley has been updated with some memories and photos from the production of the […]

  14. Jeremy Stocks Says:

    Jason – nice post. Do you ever remember going to see Linda Lusardi in Fur Coat and no Knickers!?!?

  15. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.124901017521558.19917.124504174227909&type=3

    Thanks 🙂 I missed that one, although she also did ‘Who Goes Bare?’ with Trevor Bannister & Melvyn Hayes. Some of the shows on the link above would never pull a crowd now like the Ray Coonet farces.

  16. Dear michael Bailey,
    I have photos of all the Aladin Hanley babes, the full stage sets and much more. But i would need a photo of your Mum taken roughly at the time or a scan of the newspaper article you mentioned so that I can identify her on my photos. Please contact me urgently I would like to help.
    dandare@uwclub.net Gary Rowe.

  17. Howard Grace Says:

    Wow I’ve only just found this page and what wonderful and funny mmemories come flooding back!Apart from being lucky working as an actor in that wonderful building either in panto( and there were many of those) but in tours too the thing that stuck out to me was the “family”that worked back and front of house.I absolutely loved the Ankers family.They made you feel so welcome and my god did they work hard.I have so many funny story’s about what happened on stage and back of house it just leaves a grin on my face.Like I said every department in that theatre worked so hard to put a top show on.As soon as I get to learn how to use my mobile I will widen my IT horizons and try find other sights to do with the theatre.God bless the Theatre Royal.Howard Grace.

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