Back-stage Miscellanea

(Click on images to enlarge)

School plays originally took place in the school hall which later became the library. The above plan, produced for the Memories of Wellingborough School book launch in 2006, shows the location.


The school opened in 1930 with its first production taking place in 1932. Not much seems to have happened during the following few years but in the Summer 1937 school magazine there is mention of a "Play Reading Society": This society meets on Fridays at 4 p.m. in Mr. Appleby's room and although its activities have so far been confined to the reading of plays, its ultimate ambition is to "do it in action." The chairman and moving-spirit is I.A.W.Peck (Lower V), the secretary and treasurer J.R.Upton (Upper V) and the two other members of committee are F.J.Crawley and S.J.Cutmore (Upper V). Its principal difficulty is to obtain sufficient copies of plays and therefore it has had to confine its attentions so far to "Ten Modern Plays." There are hopes however that a sufficient number of copies of some of Shaw's plays may be obtainable. "Enough; hold or cut bow-strings".

In the Autumn 1937 edition of the magazine we have "The Play Reading and Acting Society": This society has held meetings regularly on the Friday evenings of this term. We have moved for these occasions to the library, to our greater comfort and convenience. Our membership continues to increase and The Headmaster and Sherwood have joined the committee. We were sorry to lose Upton. The present sees us concentrating our activities on a play of Richard Sheridan, copies of which have been secured by several members. Just now, circumstances are tending to limit our practical scope, but we all expect great things of the future.

In the Summer 1941 edition we have: After a lapse of five years, drama has once more been restored to its proper place in the school with crimson coconuts having superceded les femmes-muettes. The very successful first (and last) night of the two plays has undoubtedly whetted our appetite for more, and everyone concerned, from the leading lady to the ubiquitous scene-shifter is to be congratulated for recreating a dramatic sense in the school.

[In the Summer 1936 magazine: Musical Society Notes - Christmas concert on 12th December 1935; The second part was devoted to instrumental works and a capital sketch by the VIth form "La Femme Muette"]

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The Railway Club - 1959

Back Row: Peter Clark, Michael Payne, Richard Nobes, David Hill, Mr.M.S.Cheale, Richard Sherwood, Poppit (Mrs.Cheale), David Pope, Dave Hanger, Richard Blunt
Middle Row: Michael Leach, Terry Wood, Paul Coleman, Robert Buckler, Neil Sinclair
Front Row: Chris.Norman, David Powis, Philip P.Jones, Michael Prior, Alan Robinson, Ralph Baxter

The Railway Club - Early 1960's

?, Payne, Short, Larkins, ?, ?, Pope (rear), ? 9front), Pitcher (next to David Pope at the back), Coleman, Pryor (in front of Coleman), Southward, Powis, Leach (rear), ? (front), ? (rear), Sincliar, Neville (front), Nicolas (with warming pan), Craddick.

Work started in 1963 on a major expansion of the school which included a new hall with much improved stage and back-stage facilities. The "new hall" would be named "Mountbatten Hall" in 1966. The first school play to be performed in the new hall was written by Mr Wrenn himself and took place at Easter 1965. This was actually "Two One-Act Plays".
From 1965 onwards there was a dedicated back-stage team, but prior to that, the work fell to the Railway Club which had been run since 1948 by Martin "Ivor" Cheale.

Neil Sinclair: The drama master of the time (name unknown) was complaining in the staff room one day about lack of support for the stage sets. Ivor was listening and volunteered that his Railway Club members would do something for him and so it all began. From then forward, the Autumn Term Railway Club was always devoted to preparing the stage for the Christmas production. We did some model railway building in September and October but progressively became more ‘stage work oriented’ as the term progressed. For the final two weekends before the play began we would spend all of Friday evening, all of Saturday until late in the evening and often Sunday afternoon preparing the set. We would also be on duty as stage hands during the productions themselves – hence the ‘photos were probably taken after the final performance on the last night. We were very proud of the sets which did take a vast amount of time. It is only now, looking back, that I realise the incredible team management skills that Ivor had. Each year, he would take a bunch of unskilled lads and produce some fine sets on time. Although I cannot remember fully, I think we did the same for the house drama competition – giving each house equal attention! The stage units were stored in the bunker behind prefab 19 (Beery Ward’s room).

Bob Buckler: I was at the Grammar School from 1957 to 1963. I was a member of the Railway Club and therefore enlisted to help with School Plays. On approaching the Sixth Form I assisted John "Ernie" Huddart with the lighting. The bug now started to bite and I shifted scenery, worked in the "flies", and helped lighting at other local productions at the Palace and Lyric in Wellingborough and also at Rushden and Kettering.
Instead of going to university from the 3rd Year 6th in 1964, I "jumped ship" and joined the BBC as a Technical Operator in 1963. Not very popular with "Harold" Wrenn!
After nearly 40 years working in TV Sound, Studios then Outside Broadcasts, I took early retirement in 2001.

(Above from Memories of WGS)
image Worthy of note is the amount of work put in by Nora Bavin, the school secretary, who joined the school in 1931. She was probably involved, one way or another, in all of the plays. She is credited in many of the programmes, mostly for costumes and make-up, which included creating "leading ladies" out of schoolboy actors.
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Stage Staff - probably 1971
Lenny Heighton, Paul Mellows, Pete Bougourd, Phil Longstaff, David Lewis, Sally Coles (guest), Adrian Lewis. Lenny Heighton, Pete Bougourd, Adrian Lewis, Sally Coles (guest), Phil Smart, David Lewis.
"Props" backstage after a barn dance - probably 1971.
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An internal phone circuit diagram. There was a phone system backstage which Sean Murphy helped build and install. The auditorium sound circuit diagram.
Stage Staff - probably 1972

Tony "Jug" Cox, Paul Knight, Pete Bougourd, Phil Smart, Pat Fitch, John Margetts, Ed Crawley, Ivor Cheale, Mark Cleavely,
Dave Patrick, Adrian "A" Lewis, Lenny Heighton, David "D" Lewis, Phil Longstaff.
(Photo courtesy Phil Longstaff)

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Cleaning chairs and larking about on the backstage roof. John Holmes, "A" Lewis and "D" Lewis (probably 1971).
Pete Bougourd: I was one of the first operators of the switchboard. It was a lonely existence cooped up in what was in effect a plywood box. The backstage speakers did not work so you had no idea what was happening onstage. Not many people passed through the props room where the switchboard was during a production so you felt cut-off from the world. Admittedly there would be a flurry of activity prior to the start of each Act but probably nothing during them. If it wasn't so cold in that room you could have easily fallen asleep.

Phil Smart: After the last night of one of the plays (either ZZ or MM), actors and staff were invited back to Carlos Stevenson's house for an "aftershow party". Carlos lived just down the road from the school in Warwick Rd. It was quite a novelty as a schoolboy to be partying at a master's house, and I arrived from the school on my bike. Rumour has it that I was later spotted weaving my way up Doddington Road in an unsteady fashion...

Wellingborough Grammar School and Wellingborough High School for Girls joined and became a comprehensive school in the autumn term of 1975. The final WGS school play was performed in December 1974 and titled "The Dragon". The school was re-named the Wrenn School and one further play, "A Man for All Seasons", was staged in late 1975 by the usual drama team, fronted by Mr Geoff Dean. In 1976, both Mr Dean and Mr David Wilson left the school. Mr Wright passed away in 1977.

image It is with much sadness that we heard recently that Geoff Dean passed away on April 14th 2022. Geoff was born in Doncaster in 1947 and joined the school as an English teacher in 1970. He was first involved with school plays as co-producer (with Mr Wright) of Zigger Zagger in December 1970. He was then involved with the plays up until his departure in 1976, usually co-producing with Mr Wright.
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Sometime after the union of the two schools, the stage was sealed off and became a classroom. The cantilevered boxes; stage left for the stage managers and stage right for the sound engineers, were removed. Pictured left to right in July 2022: Phil Smart, Len Heighton, Phil Longstaff and Paul Knight photographed in the same location "backstage" as the two "Party 7" photos above from 1971.
image Dave Wilson passed away in July 2023 at the age of 81. He was brought up in Higham Ferrers but lived in Wollaston for many years. He was an Old Boy who had been head boy. He went to Leeds University and returned to WGS in 1964 as an English teacher. He took over as head of English when Spike Jackson retired in 1970. He was involved with many of the school plays and produced and played a part in The Long and the Short and the Tall in 1970.
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