When all of life is a stage - well, in spare time
- Credit: Archant
A wartime tragedy, the end of an hereditary line, a chance meeting leading to romance and marriage, plus drama, music and laughter...all these elements come together today as we follow up a recent column. Sadness and joy, fact and fiction, blend into the mix.
This all stems from my recent account of the accidental death of a young airman during the 1914-18 war, and his full-scale military funeral in Gorleston. It was read with particular interest by a Hemsby resident - the nephew of the teenage victim!
The revelation came in an e-mail from Linda Applewhaite, of Beechwood Road, reporting: “My husband, David Applewhaite, is the last surviving sibling of Dorothy (Reed), and John Reed (the flyer) was his uncle. I thought you would be interested.”
I certainly was.
That February column reported that John (Jack) Sleeman Reed, who had ambitions to follow in his doctor father’s footsteps, abandoned his studies and volunteered for military service, being commissioned and joining the Royal Flying Corps.
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He was fatally injured in 1916 when the aircraft in which he was a passenger over Hampshire nose-dived to the ground from 200ft; his pilot survived.
The 19-year-old was the only son of Dr John Sleeman Reed and his wife, Mary, of Surbiton Lodge, on the corner of High Street and Trafalgar Road East. Their only daughter, Dorothy Mary, married Gerald Applewhaite, a long-serving soldier in the Indian Army, and they had four children: Tony, John and Betty, who all died in adulthood, and David, who is now 79.
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His mother, Dorothy Applewhaite, who died in 1971 at the age of 78, is interred in Gorleston’s “old” cemetery, next to her GP father and airman brother.
“I am the last of the line,” says David. He and Linda have no children.
For nearly three decades he was employed as relief manager and in other roles for retailer Hughes TV and Audio which trades across East Anglia. “I had a lovely time. They looked after me well,” he reports.
Before that, he was a cinema projectionist, a career that saw him working in all the several cinemas in the Great Yarmouth borough: Windmill, Empire, Royal Aquarium, Regent, Regal, and Gorleston’s Coliseum and Palace.
In that job, he peered towards the screen through his projection room window across the backs of the heads of seated picture-goers, ready to ensure that the film’s continuity was uninterrupted. But in his off-duty times, he was often looking in the opposite direction – from the stage towards the audience.
For he was a talented and enthusiastic amateur performer and back-stage helper, a member of our highly esteemed local “Ops and Drams” - Great Yarmouth and District Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society whose near-professional standards were renowned beyond town and county.
As a singer, baritone David had important roles in some of the memorable and popular musicals for which the society was famed: he played Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, and French plantation owner Emile du Becque in South Pacific, for example.
His musicals CV included Guys and Dolls, Annie, Annie Get Your Gun, Oliver!...
His talents were also on show in pantomime and straight dramas produced by the company, his favourite “straight” role being in This Happy Breed, Noel Coward’s play about the lives of a working-class family between the wars.
In company with some of his fellow Ops and Drams members, in summers he did regular gigs at holiday camps and caravan parks in the area, appearing in their shows to entertain visitors.
“At one place, where one of the songs I was singing was Born Free, Matt Monro happened to be staying there as a guest and saw the show,” recalls David.
“He came backstage afterwards and congratulated me, and we had our picture taken together.”
Born Free was Matt Monro’s signature song.
David’s wife, Linda, hails from the Midlands where she sang in the Leicester Philharmonic Choir. While staying at a holiday camp in Hopton, she went to the cabaret one night and, in the bar afterwards, happened to chat to one of the performers...David.
That meeting blossomed into marriage. Together they featured in many of the Ops and Drams shows, including Me and My Girl and Oliver! Linda also was prominent in the administration of the society, being its secretary and also business manager.
The society’s favourite venue was the 1500-seat ABC where top stars spent their summers. Off-season, the theatre was ideal because its excellent back-stage facilities, supportive management and town centre location suited both the society and its audiences, many of whom were reliant on buses...which did not operate on the sea-front in winter.
To the dismay of the society and many Yarmouthians, the 1934 building was demolished in 1989 to make way for a shopping development.Productions were also staged at the Wellington Pier Pavilion, the Britannia Pier Theatre, Gorleston Pavilion and the very final one in the Hippodrome Circus ring (aptly, it was Barnum, in 2002).
A major factor was escalating costs, says David. A huge financial outlay was required to cover royalties and producing and staging the theatre-going public’s favourite West End-style musicals – those already mentioned, plus The King and I, Gigi, Oklahoma!, Carousel, My Fair Lady (twice)...
The society is now dormant after more than a century of success.
David and Linda Applewhaite are managing to maintain their passion for amateur theatricals, albeit on a smaller scale, and are enthusiastically lending their time and expertise to the acclaimed local Dusmagrik company.
David was saddened when I told him of the death last month of Pamela Cundell, the 95-year-old character actress known to television viewers as a flirtatious Warmington-on-Sea resident who finally ensnared and married Corporal Jones (Clive Dunn) in the long-running sit-com Dad’s Army, one of the many roles she played on the small screen and on stage.
For we remembered her spending summers in Yarmouth decades ago as a popular member of the professional weekly repertory company at The Little Theatre, part of the Royal Aquarium complex where David worked in its cinema projection room at one time.