About Alan Chudley
Sixty Years a Theatre Buff
Alan Chudley has contributed a number of Theatre Images, Programmes and Articles for the site. Here you can read more about him in his own words.
As a child my mother used to tell me that if we had a Theatre in Guildford that she would take my brother and I to a pantomime. With the depression of the 1930s, money was very tight and trips to theatres away from Guildford were out of the question.
Right - Alan Chudley, his wife (in blue), and the wife of the Theatre Royal Winchester's House Manager. The picture was taken outside "The Theatre Bar" on the corner of Tower street and Jewry Street and was part of the Winchester Theatre Royal, which in its "Daisy Date" days was not allowed a bar inside the Theatre.
However the chance came in early 1939, my paternal Grandmother had died after falling down the stairs of the Mayfair Cinema Tooting. My father claimed £50 insurance money from the CO OP Tontine, the undertaker expenses amounted to £35, so Father was in the funds, and took us to see; "The Queen of Hearts" at the London Lyceum Theatre. Sixty years later and to the day, I made my last visit to a theatre again at the Lyceum to see "Oklahoma". In between was 60 sixty years messing around theatres.
We had no public theatre in Guildford between June 1932 when the Theatre Royal closed for good, and May 1965 when the Yvonne Arnuad Theatre opened. (The Guildford Theatre, which opened in May 1946, was a theatre club open only to members.} The nearest theatres were at Aldershot and as soon as I was old enough to be allowed to go on my own, I used to go almost every week to both theatres, I would also, whenever possible go over to Aldershot on a Monday Morning to see the touring shows arrive, as such I became friendly with the backstage staffs, and would often earn a few shillings taken the artistes baggage to their digs. Later I was offered a showman's job in the Hippodrome looking after the lights on the stage. On leaving school at the age of 14 this became a full time employment until called for National Service in the Army.
Always a loner and never one of life's more valiant mortals, my stance that he who turns and runs away, lives to fight another day did not equate with military discipline and I was very lucky not to have found myself in very serious trouble. As it was, within days of joining I was in hospital with acute bronchitis, the result was I was down graded medically and excused boots, which meant excuse square bashing, route march's, PT and all the other nastiness associated with National Service. I was told that I was to be trained for duties in the Railway Traffic Office and was posted to York where we were billeted with civilian landladies instead of being in Barracks. The landlady in York took in Theatricals. One other lodger worked in the local Empire and told me that there was a vacancy for a lime boy there. Fortunately the theatre manager was a retired Army officer who was pals with my CO so I was allowed to accept the job. When I was released from the Army there was no chance to go back to the Aldershot Hippodrome; television had arrived in the south the wartime garrison had departed and so had many of the Theatre's audience. The skids were under the Hippodrome
A year or so working in the West End, I went into a local firm's workshops, they made architectural joinery and stage scenery, this was a good job for me as I was soon to be married and needed a job with regular hours. There was sometimes the opportunity to go out to the first theatre when a set that we had built had to go out for the first time to do the fit up and show the stage management how the set went together.
When the local Yvonne Arnuad theatre opened I was employed there for a while as assistant master carpenter building the theatres sets. This was a bad mistake; The Yvonne at that time was a producing theatre aiming to produce a new play every three weeks to West End standards with workshop facilities and staff better suited to Harry Hanson's Court Players, During one very busy period of long and unsociable hours I resigned and returned to more civilised workshops as before.
I was always a theatrical Nosey Parker, and would whenever possible
ask to have a look around various theatres, these requests were often
granted. I would also nosey around derelict theatre buildings. In my
mis-spent youth there were many bombed out theatres in my stamping ground,
they include Gattis in the Road,
The Canterbury Music hall, the Little Theatre,
the Kingsway theatre, the Shaftsbury
Theatre and the Holborn and Stratford
Empires in London, The Palace and Hippodrome in Southampton,
and the Hippodrome and Prince's
Theatres in Portsmouth. There was
also the Grand Theatre at Woking, used as an Armed Services canteen
during the war years when ENSA sometimes presented show on the stage,
afterwards, the Grand was used mainly at Christmas times by the post
office for sorting mail.
I have been retired over 12 years now and because of deafness I no longer visit the theatres and content myself with Theatre history and recalling my own theatrical experiences.
Other articles by Alan Chudley on this site include:
Theatre Royal, Aldershot - An Article written for this site by Alan
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: