Archive for April, 2018

Joan’s Tale

April 1, 2018


Recently, we have sadly lost one of our stalwart story tellers: Mrs Joan Elliot (nee Dobson). Joan was a lovely lady and enjoyed a long life. She wrote one of the first tales on this site, and I feel one of the best, back in 2007: The Pantomime.
It tells of a time of great camaraderie. On the 14th of March 1941 Richmond Hill School had been bombed out, the sound of those bombs dropping was about my earliest memory. In the same year the local children put on a pantomime in an opening in St Hilda’s Crescent to help raise money towards the City of Leeds war effort, specifically to pay for the production of the aircraft carrier, H.M.S. Ark Royal. All across the city were boards pointing to the progress of the fund.
A few houses have been demolished in St Hilda’s Crescent and the opening is somewhat wider than when I took the photograph in 2007 but Joan’s house is still there. I often have a nostalgic trip around the area and if I see any of the present inhabitants of St Hilda’s Crescent about I try to tell them of the provenance of the opening and the pantomime put on here in 1941 to raise money for the Ark Royal, but unfortunately, although it is hard to imagine any other event in the history of the street as being so magnificent it would appear that today historical provenance counts for nothing and they look at me as though I’m some lunatic dropped in from the planet Zog. In deference to Joan and because it was put on the site so long ago and I don’t think many of you will have read it I’m going to give you another chance to read it now: The Pantomime: see what you think

By Joan Elliot
My life in 1941 revolved around: going to school (St Hilda’s) and to the Easy Road Picture house on Monday and Thursday nights; these were the days when the programme changed. If we went with an adult the cost of admission was 7 ½ pence. We were very lucky in that my life long school and after school friend was Vera Wood; she had a sister older than us called Mary. Mary was a very lovely young lady and talented in many ways, she was particularly good for us for she could take us into the pictures and act as our chaperone.
School at that time was quite boring, Johnny North, our teacher, had been one of the teachers brought back from retirement to take the place of the teachers who had been called up for the war; he was far too old, must have been in his seventies and to us young ten year olds that seemed absolutely ancient. Then we got the ‘call to arms’ as the saying goes. The city of Leeds had decided to buy an aircraft carrier: ‘The Ark Royal’. It was think time! What could we do to help raise the money; Save jam jars? Collect rags? Neither of these seemed an option, we didn’t get enough jam to make saving the jars worthwhile and we had lots of uses for rags ourselves; rag rugs was one (if you don’t know what rag rugs were ask one of your elders). Then one of the gang came up with an idea: we’d have a concert.
At that time Frances Ladler, was producing the pantomime, Cinderella, at the Theatre Royal. That was the answer; we would do a copy of that wonderful show. Fortunately for us, the mother of one of the girls in our class was a cleaner at the theatre and she brought us home some old programmes left behind by theatre goers. At the back of Mr Wood’s garden in St Hilda’s Crescent, there stood a big shed, this was our property, or so we thought at the time – I think it really belonged to the railway, which ran along the bottom of the gardens {The Navvy}. We spent hours in that shed, always busy doing something or other. From now on it was to be our pantomime workshop.
First of all we had to get a cast together; there were plenty of willing girls but the boys were another ‘kettle of fish’. We managed to get Peter Dunhill to play Baron-de Broke and Keith Hobson was Buttons, Vera Atkinson played Cinderella and Vera Wood Prince Charming. I played Dandini. I can’t remember who played the ugly sisters but I remember that half our class at school were in there playing some part or other. From that very first day our lives were taken up with: planning, begging, sewing and borrowing old frocks to cut up and make into other things. At this point it should be remembered that at the time the war was in full swing and not a lot was left; clothes and food were on coupons, plus anything of any use was taken up for the war effort but we were given lots of help by our parents and relatives. After a lot of fun and planning we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The next worry was: where to hold this magnificent production as the shed was certainly not big enough? The houses in St Hilda’s Crescent were in pairs and between each pair of houses there was a yard were the back doors of the houses faced each other. We decided that one of these yards was to be our theatre. We borrowed draw curtains for the bottom of the yard and draw curtains for the top. The scenery was painted on old rolls of wallpaper out of a neighbour’s attic. The stage at the top end near to the gardens was made higher by wood lent to us by another kind soul. I must say at this point that the generosity and kindness of all our parents, relatives and neighbours could not have been better, everyone by now wanted to help.
On the night of the show chairs came out of every house. Mrs Wood’s piano was put under the window and Mary Wood was the pianist. In the shed all the costumes made by the girls taking part in the show were ready.
The show opened and ran every night for a full week at two pence for an adult and a penny per child. We played to a full house every night for a week and raised a grand total of £20 for Ark Royal.

Great tale, Joan and there are still a dwindling few around who can remember that special week over 75 years ago!