Note: This Post follows directly on from: 60,000 VIEWS, 11 NEW COUNTRIES AND THE APPOINTMENT OF CHARLES SHARMAN-COX, F. S. C.
Actor PAUL GREENHALGH ….
……. was only 24 when he encountered PETER ALEXANDER RITCHIE BRIDGE….
……….who ran The Palace Theatre , Westcliff, from 1965 to 1969.
Paul’s agent had fixed an audition for him at Mr. Bridge’s flat in Notting Hill, London…
…..where Paul takes up the story…..
The flat was very strange and very dark…..
……..Peter used to pretend that he was into Satan and black magic….
He once said to me:
I woke up one morning and the wall was covered with blood.
But it was just a case of terrible damp when you went in to see it…..
…….just a big streak of wet wall which needed a damp course.
I loved Peter, but he was a terrible liar.
He had a secretary called Hilary Clulow. When you went to meet him, he used to say:
Oh, Hilary, would you just get this contract off to Diana Dors…..
Oh, take this contract off to Mandy Miller….
…….a famous child star then. It just happened that I knew Mandy Miller, so I rang her up.
Of course, she knew nothing about it…..
They called it Weekly Rep, but in reality you didn’t have a whole week to put on a play.
With Peter you started rehearsals on the Tuesday and you had two matinees during the week, Wednesday and Saturday. So those afternoons were gone because you finished rehearsing about twelve.
Peter had a very short attention span. He would be very keen on the first morning of rehearsals…….
………but by four o’clock in the afternoon he had totally lost interest……
He would be eating cream cakes in the foyer.
Peter directed one play – I think it was an Agatha Christie – which he hadn’t read.
He didn’t read half the things he directed….
Very often we didn’t even have a run through….
At the Dress Rehearsal on the Monday, you would go in and the set would be half up. Then about half past three you might start to vaguely go through it. Often we never even got to the end.
Sometimes they would drop the curtain and we would carry on doing the Dress Rehearsal while the audience was coming in…..
At times, Roz Elvyn [the Acting A.S.M.] would hide behind the sofa with a book in her hand, feeding me the lines.
I do remember once there was a play with a lot of telephone calls. I would pick the phone up and say
…..and I’d think:
Who is this? What am I supposed to say?
Michael Hyatt, the Stage Manager who sat in the prompt corner, would hold up cards telling me who was on the other end of the line….
On one first night Peter had a meeting to go to so he didn’t turn up. He never came to see the show during the week because he couldn’t be bothered. He had directed a show that he never saw….
We never read the stage directions in the plays.
We would simply wait for Peter to say:
You come on over there.
Then he would let you do what you liked…..
He would say:
Oh, I want you over here.
And then you’d have to find a way of getting there.
He did have a very good eye for things. He was very good at making pictures on the stage….
I’m sure Peter fiddled the finances….
When he got big stars down, he always paid them in cash….
June Bronhill, for instance…….
…..got her money in a brown envelope. I think she thought:
If I don’t get it in cash, I’m never going to get it….
Peter, and this sounds terribly arrogant, was in love with me. Everybody thought that we were lovers, everybody, and it was completely untrue. He just, for some reason, loved me. He wanted to turn me into the ‘Star of Southend.’
I loved Peter. I absolutely loved him. I really did. And although he was in love with me, he never tried to make a pass at me, ever. But he did everything in his power to keep people away from me. If he thought anybody was getting too close, he would sack them….
The other thing Peter used to do, and this is something we discovered quite early on, was cause trouble. He would go to everybody and say:
Oh, you know so-and-so says this about you.
And for a few weeks we all really didn’t like each other. ..
He had a deep, deep love of the theatre. He loved everything about it and had a great knowledge of plays. He would come up with some that I had never heard of. And he knew all the authors and where they had been produced
Because he had this love of the theatre, his parents thought:
Oh, we’ll buy him one.
Norman, his dad, was extremely wealthy and his mother, Eileen Farrow……..
…….was a dreadful contralto who always sang as though she had a pound of plums in her mouth.
She was like Hyacinth Bucket. She had this posh voice which she would drop out of at times.
She kept bees in her garden and would say:
Oh, I’m going ’ome to get the ’oney……
Then, as she was leaving, she would turn around and say:
Once, in the middle of a performance of Robert and Elizabeth, Peter was having trouble with a scene change. He sent ‘Mother’ out to cover by singing……
She chose a song from Show Boat – which had nothing to do with the show – but sang…..
Birds gotta swim, fish gotta fly…..
When the mistake was later pointed out to her, she didn’t turn a hair.
She thought no-one had noticed.
Norman was in charge of the finances and had his office at The Theatre. I loved Norman. He was absolutely adorable….
But I came in one day during the first week of the pantomime rehearsals and found the Stage Manager and the ASM sitting on the stairs, crying with laughter.
And I said:
What’s the matter?
And they replied: ‘
We’ve just gone to Norman for money for props for the pantomime and he’s given us a pound.
A pound to prop the entire panto!
Peter, on the other hand, was the complete opposite…..
He would say things like:
Oh, we need a horse here.
And, lo and behold!, someone would turn up with a horse. We had one in Adventure Story – a play about Alexander the Great…….
As Alexander, I had to come on riding Bucephalus, who was famously white. But they couldn’t get a white horse so I had to make do with a brown one….
Alexander also always wore a red cloak, but they couldn’t get a red cloak either. So I had a white one.
……And the horse came on, led by a man in a costume which didn’t reach the floor, so you could see his trainers.
On the first night, the horse shat and pissed everywhere, which summed up the production.
To be honest, it wasn’t that bad…..
All the costumes were from the film of Antony and Cleopatra. I had all Richard Burton’s outfits. This was a great idea, but none of them fitted me.
All the old ladies at the matinees would applaud when I came on with these wonderful outfits……..
…….but I couldn’t turn my back to them because I was all held together with safety pins….
Peter wanted to be Diaghilev and that’s what he looked like. He used to wear black coats down to the ground. But he couldn’t quite carry it off. He was like a twelve year old.
For instance, he brought down Elsie Randolph, a Musical Star…….
…….to play in Hay Fever. We actually managed to do a run through of this production, but at the end she went forward to ask Peter for notes……
He was lying in the second row with his feet up, fast asleep…
Peter did manage to get audiences for his productions…..
…… and he would get stars to play in them.
I remember one day he said:
Oh, I want to do A Taste of Honey.
He always chose plays that had a good part for me.
So who is going to play the girl?
He was getting frustrated with us, so blurted out:
And we thought,
Yes I bet. Una Stubbs.
And, lo and behold, who turned up on the Monday morning but Una Stubbs!
He had employed Oriel Ross……
…… who was Max Reinhardt’s leading lady. I don’t know how she had been his leading lady because she was just a piss-artist, drunk most of the time…..
She would always make her entrance through the fireplace – because she couldn’t get the idea that it wasn’t a door. So in the end Peter just let her do it. Every night she would come on, carrying a basket of flowers, through this huge stone fireplace.
Jessie Matthews and Wee Georgie Wood came down to do Palace of Varieties. Some of these stars were absolutely delightful and some of them weren’t.
Jessie Matthews wasn’t particularly nice….
Chili Bouchier was a Film Star in the 40’s and she came down to do Gigi. I didn’t like her very much either.
She was one of those actresses who, when she acted, looked at the top of your head. ….
She never, ever looked you in the eye. I was doing a scene with her and the set was very dark.
Peter suddenly said:
Oh, Chili, I think we will have a lime on you here.
And she replied:
Oh, how lovely.
I was even more in darkness than she was, so I said:
What about my effing lime?
She looked as if she could have killed me….
So for the rest of the show, there was Chili Bouchier in a limelight…..
……..a hissing stick of sodium which burnt so brightly it almost blinded you…..
………while all the rest of us were dancing around in the dark…..
When Peter did My Fair Lady I went to The Theatre to see a rehearsal. The poor man playing Professor Higgins was in a terrible state….
Peter had said to him:
Step forward here and the cloth will come down behind you. Then you do your song in front of the cloth.
When it came to the Dress Rehearsal, the cloth wasn’t there.
Come on, come forward.
And the actor replied: ‘
I thought you said the cloth was coming down behind me?
And Peter said: ‘
Can you see it up there?
And the actor replied:
So Peter said:
Well it won’t be coming down then, will it?…..
I loved Clarkson Rose, the great pantomime dame……..
…….and he loved me……..
I was no threat to him. He had worked with all those incredible principal boys, Norman Wisdom and people like that, who had stolen the show from him. Of course, I didn’t.
I just did exactly what I was told….
I had this wonderful letter from him saying:
You are the best Principal Boy I have ever worked with.….
When people took against Peter, they really hated him; but I never knew how anyone could hate him, even when he was being a monster….
And believe it or not, he would write his own reviews for the local paper. I don’t know how he got them in there, but they were always glowing, especially about me and Mother.
We received rave reviews, week after week after week. I don’t know who they thought he was, unless, of course, he was paying somebody.
He called himself Peter Quartermain…..
The Palace has the most fantastic stage to act on. It’s what you imagine a real theatre should be, beautiful and really, really intimate. You feel as though you are wearing it when you are performing. There isn’t a dead seat in the house.
All the Fans used to come and sit in the Gallery……
Towards the end Peter had got a terrible reputation in Southend. A lot of people were out to get him.
The Council didn’t get their rent and that was probably the trouble…..
Peter’s Dad had also run out of money and just couldn’t continue….
Peter’s last production was a Palace of Varieties called The Last Laugh.
I kept in touch with Peter and did tours of Novello musicals for him……..
…….He thought I was the re-incarnation of the body of Ivor……
…..while he had inherited the soul……
The dates, of course, don’t tally at all…..
I’m not particularly proud of the productions I did for Peter. But I’m proud of the fact that we went through it all and survived.
If you got a group of people together now and said:
Right, we are going to put Adventure Story on by next Monday…
…..I mean, you wouldn’t even dream of it……
I went to Peter’s funeral. Mother……
……. had banned everyone from the service who had fallen out with him. ….
She believed everything Peter said, you, see. As far as she was concerned, Peter could do no wrong.
Peter should have stayed the rich boy who directed all the amateurs.
That’s what he should have done.
He would have been great at that.
Tales from The Palace Theatre (ISBN 978-0-9574075-0-3) ………
…..is now available at £25.99 a copy….
…..which includes postage and packing in Great Britain…..
All profits from this lavishly illustrated book will go directly to THE PALACE THEATRE CLUB…..
…….for the upkeep of the fabric of the GRADE II LISTED BUILDING…..
…….The Palace Theatre Westcliff…..
The book is on sale at The Palace Theatre…..
Please send a cheque made payable to The Palace Theatre Club to the lovely GEORGIE PERKINS,
The House Manager, The Palace Theatre, 430, London Road, Southend-on-Sea, Essex SSO 9LA
The book is also available from the equally lovely LISA PEACOCK at:
The Book Inn,
49, Broadway West,
For on-line orders: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell them Trixie the Cat sent you!!!
Michael Hyatt writes:
I was in Alexander (Peter) Bridge’s first season at Westcliff and was there again for the latter half of his second.I arrived at the same time as Marilyn Chenney, who has added a very funny comment here. We were both ASM’s and spent the week before rehearsal started washing down the dressing room walls.Paul Greenhalgh has remained one of my closest friends and there is hardly a time when we are together that Westcliff is not mentioned. Mounting 25 productions in as many weeks without a single day off was very hard work but, I would not have missed it for the world. All the permanent company got on so well and regardless of the hard work we did have lots and lots of laughs. We did some very good things despite the fact that everything had to be done in a week. The productions always looked good thanks to the talent and ingenuity of our set designer John Page. At the start of rehearsals one week John went to father, NormanBridge, to ask for money for curtains, ‘What do you want new curtains for?’ Norman replied. ‘You had new curtains last week’. Without the professionalism and respect we had for each other we would not have survived. Everything I learned at Westcliff carried me through the rest of my theatre career.
Marilyn Aslani (Cheney) writes:
I’ve cried laughing at Paul’s stories. I joined Alexander Bridge in 1965 as an ASM for the first six months, then found myself playing leading roles, such as Irma La Douce and Corrie in Barefoot in the Park. Meeting stars like, Hetty King, Ronnie Shiner, Gladys Henson and Sandy Powell was a weekly occurrence. When I was in charge of props Peter would send me off to find, numerous live animals, including a horse, a St Bernard, an Afghan Hound and a goat. The latter would eat scripts left on the props table and butt everyone on it’s way to the stage. When it shat on stage, the rake sent it’s pellets bouncing down to the footlights, which they bounced off of and launched into the orchestra pit and the laps of the front row punters! I’ll never forget ‘Mother Bridge’ rapping on the piano in rehearsal, to halt our singing. In her best Hinge and Bracket voice she announced, “Just a minute, someone is singing different from like what I am”! God bless them all for some of the happiest years of my life.
To read what The Critics have to say about Tales from The Palace Theatre please click: HERE.