Sir Ian McKellen’s support for St George’s former life
PUBLISHED: 13:21 24 December 2014 | UPDATED: 13:21 24 December 2014
IT was only to be expected that laughter and chatter levels would intensify as the evening wore on. After all, this was our granddaughter’s 18th birthday recently, and her teenage chums were enjoying the party at her Bradwell home.
The television near us was playing music videos (or whatever the latest technological format is) on a loop, showing performers all new to me singing their latest offerings against unlikely background scenarios.
Then one showed a young man slouched on a park bench, joined by a much older chap wearing a tropical-style white suit and hat who appeared to be doing the singing.
I immediately recognised the older fellow. It was Sir Ian McKellen, the renowned classical actor apparently thoroughly enjoying the novelty of lip-synching, and I wondered how he came to be involved. A caption said the song was Listen to the Man, by George Ezra.
The next day, by a remarkable coincidence, I received a letter on a Great Yarmouth topic...mentioning Sir Ian in a far different context!
The correspondent was former Yarmouthian Graham Gosling, long resident in Bury St Edmunds but an ardent supporter of our former St George’s Church when he and his wife, Pam, belonged to the Masquers drama group which produced many offerings there on a stage the company built.
Reading recently about “the exciting redevelopment of St George’s” reminded the couple of their involvement with the group and the Georgian building.
Graham writes: “It must not be forgotten that the Masquers pioneered the use of this redundant church in 1975 when, thanks to the enthusiasm and drive of the late Henry Burke, they staged ‘The Norfolk Furies’ - a dramatisation of Kett’s Rebellion - in the building.
“It became the St George’s Arts Centre and in 1977 the Friends of St George’s was formed to raise funds and to promote the wider use of the building. I was a member of the committee which included people such as Peter and Valerie Howkins, Harry Miller, Mike Taylor and Norman Gooch.
“We promoted events such as concerts, folk evenings, craft fairs and an antiques exhibition. In 1979 the Forellen Ensemble, made up of members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, played there, giving a wonderful performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet.
“Timothy West (recently seen in TV’s EastEnders) and his wife, Prunella Scales, presented an evening of readings and anecdotes.
“But the Friends’ biggest scoop for St George’s at this time was in 1978 when – thanks again to the efforts of Henry Burke – members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, led by Ian McKellen (subsequently Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings films) presented Is There Honey Still for Tea?, an anthology of ‘English-ness’ in poetry and prose.
“The RSC members were very supportive of our vision to promote St George’s as an arts centre and even became paid-up members of the Friends!”
Recent publicity featuring Valerie Howkins in the Great Yarmouth Mercury reminded Graham “of her campaign to prevent the trees being felled in the late 1970s.”
St George’s, where the pantomime Aladdin runs until January 4, hit the headlines this month when it won a category in the 2014 Georgian Group Architectural Awards “which are now in their twelfth year and seek to recognise those who have shown the vision and commitment to restore and recreate Georgian buildings and landscapes across the United Kingdom,” according to the announcement.
St George’s Chapel topped the section for re-use of a Georgian building.
The citation reported that the Grade 1 de-consecrated 1710s church was converted to theatre use in the 1970s, “then fell vacant and was a building at risk by 2009. Now it has been restored with a commendably light touch, the watchword being retention of patina so that the building has kept the scars, age spots and imperfections that lend it personality and character.
“The removal of 1970s interventions and the revealing of over-painted scagliola (imitation stonework) have transformed the interior, which has been reused as a performing arts space.”
The £6000 cost of building St George’s Church in the 18th century was met mainly from a tax being levied on coal imports into the harbour.
Let Graham Gosling have the final word today: “My wife and I look forward to visiting the re-developed St George’s – but we think it is important that its origins as a centre for the arts are not forgotten.”