I suppose you could say the theatre is in my blood. From the moment I set foot in Crewe New Theatre (now the Lyceum) to work as a stagehand during the pantomime of 1961, I knew what I wanted to do. There was an atmosphere, a smell, an aura, lots of ropes, pulley and curtains, but most of all for me, a feeling that I belonged here!
Let me now take you back about one hundred and thirty years. My Grandfather, Frank Etheridge simply ran away from home and job to go on stage. He was a clerk in the Municipal Buildings in Crewe and as they say he” Upped and Offed”. When he married my grandmother I don’t know, but eventually they spent the whole of their working lives in repertory theatre travelling the length and breadth of the country. They were mainly with the Frank Benson no. 2 Touring Company. He used his own name but my grandmother became Nellie Friedland, Nellie Garside and Noelle Bird to name but three!
I have some lovely old postcards from him to her and vice versa when they were in different shows. The addresses are quaint and interesting. From him to her, Mrs Noelle Bird, The Sins of their father Co. Palace Theatre, Swansea is a typical example. My mother was born 29th March 1906 in St Albans where he was playing and she was travelling with him. “Born in a suitcase” springs to mind, as they say. Both my mother and her brother were sent to live with Grandads sister, who we all called Nana, in the Railway town of Crewe.
I was one if the first generation of Crewe youngsters who did not go into the railway Company or into Roll Royce car factory. I followed my longing and became a performer, eventually after lorry driver’s mate, bingo caller on the Golden Mile in Blackpool, Barman and poultry dresser (very itchy!). A levels were all failed as I was out performing four night a week instead on reading Victor Hugo and Chaucer. My first stage work was backstage at the New Theatre, Oxford, thence to the Alhambra Morecombe for the Hughie Green Show. Then my first proper performing job as a backing guitar player on a three week tour of UK with Helen Shapiro’s cousin, Susan Singer. I remember my lovely Grandma saying to me,” When you perform, no matter what you do you are speaking or singing to real people. Talk to them, smile, look interested. They will respond. And if you are not going down well, imagine I am in the back row and play to me”. This is the best advice you will ever have, in any type of entertainment.
Eventually I started to get more and better work ranging from recording at Abbey Road, doing Radio Luxemburg and TV work for BBC and ITV. Now age 77 I am still performing, doing talks about my pro life to different groups, mainly but not exclusively W.I. I have now started to Zoom, as have many, and have very recently joined Mirthy. I look forward to working with Mirthy and have had good advice from Abbie in our long and varied chats.
Below you can see photos of my grandparents. These pictures must be about one hundred and twenty years old.