Friday, March 7, 2014
Half a century after it was destroyed the grand Hippodrome theatre on St Giles in Norwich still holds a warm place in many hearts.
People have never forgotten the shows – from plays to striptease and from animal acts to those featuring people born with disabilities who often had to take to the stage to earn a few pounds.
Let’s take a look at some of your memories following my stories about the Hippodrome and just two of the acts that appeared over the years – Laurel and Hardy and a youthful Cary Grant.
John Harper of Norwich says: “I started work as a 14-year-old boy at a small printers in Upper St Giles called Harrisons in 1946. The premises backed onto the Hippodrome near the stage door entrance.
“I remember the circus coming. They had four elephants which they used to keep at the old City Station and they would bring them up from there for the afternoon show – tail to trunk.
“They used to come up Goat Lane and we would rush upstairs to watch them go by. One day a workmate opened the window and asked the trainer if the elephant could have his left-over sandwiches. He said yes and the elephant duly took them,” said John.
“They say that elephants never forget and this one didn’t. The next day as they came by this elephant came towards the window, caught its rump on a lamp-post and pushed it into the side of our premises,” he added.
“I also remember a chap appearing at the Hippodrome coming into our shop who was called the ‘Armless Wonder’. He bought something and asked for a pen to be put between his toes so he could write out a cheque to pay for it,” said John.
He also recalls the fellow who arrived with performing bears. He had one ear. The other had been bitten off by a bear!
Then there was Bill Maynard, who went on to star in Heartbeat, Betty Driver of Coronation Street fame with her little dog in her arms, Max Wall and dear old Sandy Powell.
“Can any readers remember Hepworths on the Walk? Well, I was in there one Saturday morning when Sandy was trying on this suit and he asked me what I thought of it. I can’t remember what I said but I do know he shook my hand,” said John, who lives at Maple Drive in Norwich.
“My guv’nor George Miller had a permanent seat at the Hippodrome every Saturday night and on a Friday he used to send me up to the box office to pay for it. I think the only time he didn’t go was when there was a striptease show... but I think his wife had something to do with that,” he recalled.
J Lynn Wardle arrived in Norfolk during his National Service in the 1950s. He served with the RAF working on radar at Neatishead and became a regular at the Hippodrome.
He remembers seeing Old Mother Riley and Kitty MacShane, Danny La Rue, Phyllis Dixie, Jane and her dog from the Daily Mirror, Cyril Fletcher and a whole collection of ventriloquists, jugglers and comedians.
“As an acting member of the Norfolk Operatic Society I was on stage at the Hippodrome in White Horse Inn with Norma Wick in 1958 and also in Show Boat with Coral Newell the following year.
“I used to go to the repertory theatre, run by husband and wife June Sylvane and Hector Ross, and there was, as always, a pianist playing as the customers came in,” he said.
Trevor Sadd said: “I remember going with my mum, dad and sister. It seemed a regular Saturday night out. First we would go to the market for some fruit or sweets and then stand in the queue to get seats upstairs in what they called ‘the gods.’ I still have the little opera glasses that we used to take with us for each visit.”
Barbara Fielden added: “I played the Hippodrome in the early 1950s when I was in the touring musical version of Treasure island. We had a number of problems with such theatres as they were usually used for variety shows and required little in the way of scenery. Our show had 15 different sets and gave stage hands quite a headache!”
Thank you for all your memories of the theatre which stood in the way of progress...a car park.