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The Albert Hall theatre in Llandrindod Wells

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:59 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My father Walter Powell recorded his memories in the 1970s and 1980s about the Albert Hall theatre in Llandrindod Wells. These include the Second World War.

"These disjointed facts may be of some interest to you: I have been associated with the Albert Hall, with my Father up to 1948 when he died. I carried on to 1958 when I retired from the secretaryship. They have been put down as they came to my mind..."

...The year 1933 saw the birth of the Llandrindod Wells Drama Festival in the Albert Hall and it has run continuously there until now, with great success, except of course during the War years. Looking at the copy bill for rental for this event in September 1933 it may be seen the charge for a week was £15-15-0 including all lighting and cleaning and Lesser Hall etc.

The scene changed in 1939 and at the outbreak of the War in September, The Albert Hall was rented to Cheltenham Girls College, who because their college had been commandeered by the RAF evacuated to Llandrindod Wells. They used the whole premises for lectures etc. This occupation was short lived.
The Albert Hall and all its contents and facilities was commandeered from them by the Army for the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) in October 1940. From then until the end of the War it was used by them for lectures and in the evening for E.N.S.A. and NAAFI concert parties. [In the theatre programmes it is written as"124th OCTU, Royal Artillery (A.A.)"]

Some of the prominent names I recall performing there were:
- Tommy Handley of ITMA fame ("It's That Man Again"). In 1939 Tommy Handley promised to do a charity concert for the hospital at the Grand Pavilion, Llandrindod Wells, but while he was in South Africa with his troupe the War came.
- Bobbie Howes. I got to know Tommy Handley and Bobbie Howes well.
- Mrs Andrew Cruickshank née Cerigwen Lewis of "Jane Eyre" fame.

The Community Theatres (Cambridge) Ltd. which had evacuated to Llandrindod Wells also gave plays regularly during this period and townspeople were welcomed. Excellent plays were produced and we have since seen some of these actors on TV e.g.:
- Gerald Cross
- Elizabeth Grey
- Dinah Sheridan.

...A green room was opened in Middleton Street, Llandrindod Wells in the Old Cinema and Goughs Arcade, to cater for advance bookings and to provide Sunday evening concerts and refreshments for the members.

Guest artists were culled from the army ranks:
- John Arnatt
- John Witty
- Dennis McCarthy
- Leo Genn

All to become well known after the war; and gave exemplary performances during their military training.

With the focus of activities modified to deal with visitors who were to stay months instead of a week the concept of the Albert Hall as a community centre was adapted under Arthur Lewis's shrewd administration to meet the demands of a country at war. The rent paid to the Presbyterian Church was £6 per week with an undertaking "that suitable and useful plays and pantomimes only will be produced".

...The hard-working repertory company played five nights a week, with a change of programme weekly, for almost four years, and during this period townsfolk and cadets were treated to excellent performances by Dinah Sheriden, Gerald Cross, Elizabeth Grey and many others whose faces have since become familiar on screen and stage. Jill Evans, Maureen Pook and Janet Bruce still seen occasionally on TV and whose daughter, Sandra, is also an actress of repute were among the permanent cast who made their own decor, cut sandwiches and doubled as waitresses with Mrs Lewis in the Greenroom Café between hectic rehearsals.

...Dinah Sheridan went on to star in the movies "Genevieve" (1953) and "The Railway Children" (1970) and TV dramas like "Don't Wait Up" (BBC) and ITV's "The Winning Streak". [In an interview in The Radio Times in 1987 which my father kept Dinah Sheridan said she still gets fan mail from soldiers who saw her in rep in the Second World War"'I'm the man who used to send you roses every Saturday night,"one admirer plucked up the courage to reveal recently."]

...I knew all the Cambridge Theatre Company, as secretary of the Albert Hall I had to collect the rent of £6 each Saturday morning. I often had coffee there.
- A weekly Talent Night was instituted, and much talent was indeed discovered:
- the internationally famous magician, Robert Harbin, made his debut here
- Carey Edwards, who wrote Cyril Fletcher's Odd Odes and ghosted for Ted Kavanah of ITMA, wrote pantomimes for the company.

Each month as each officer cadet intake passed through, they had to produce and perform a security sketch, sometimes assisted by one actress (who played Olga, the beautiful spy). One of these cadets was Frank Hauser, now a leading theatrical producer.

...There was a happy liaison between the residents, the army and the Repertory Company, and the Albert Hall was seen to fulfil its function successfully (even if not all that profitably) during this traumatic period

...I have photographs and programmes etc.

Actors listed in the programmes include:
- Arthur Lewis
- Austen Lindner
- Barry Letts
- Betty Hobley
- Denis McCarthy
- Dinah Sheridan
- Elizabeth Gray
- Gerald Cross
- Gordon Phillott
- Harry Rousby
- Helen Stirling
- Hester Paton Brown
- Ian Morris
- Joan Yeaxlee
- Kate Shingler
- Lionel Spence
- Lucy Griffiths
- Margaret Davidge
- Marguerite Witty
- Michael Boyle
- Nelson Burton
- Pauline Chalus
- Pauline de Chalus
- Peter Hoar
- Richard Stapely
- Vera Hurst

Directors, managers, stage managers, etc. mentioned include:
- Arthur Lewis
- Barry Letts
- Betty Hobley
- Elizabeth Gray
- Fred Woolnough
- Gerald Cross
- Gordon Phillott
- Harry Rousby
- Helen Stirling
- J. Baxter Somerville
- Joan Yeaxlee
- Joyce Lindner
- Kate Shingler
- Lionel Spence
- Marguerete Witty
- Maureen Pook
- Neville Usher
- Peter Hoar
- Vera Hurst

The theatre companies mentioned in the programmes include:
- The Regency Players
- Associated Theatre Seasons, Ltd.

Writers mentioned include:
- Dodie Smith
- Esther McCracken
- Frank Vosper
- Ivor Novello
- JB Priestley
- Keith Winter
- Kenneth Horne

Advertisers listed in the programmes include:
- Austin Reed tailors, Euston House, High Street, Llandrindod Wells
- Barnard Bros. Military Tailors Spa Road, Llandrindod Wells
- Bernard Weatherill Ltd. Tailors, 55, Conduit Street, London, W1. and Sefton House, Middleton Street, Llandrindod Wells.
- Maxted-Ellis Ltd tailors, Tothill Street, Westminster, SW1, and London House, Temple Street, Llandrindod Wells.
- Messrs. C.C. Hughes, Printers, Middleton Street, Llandrindod Wells
- RI Haines, The Emporium, Llandrindod Wells.
- Thresher and Glenny Ltd. tailors, 152 and 153 Strand, London, WC2, and Park Crescent, Llandrindod Wells.

...The outside steps of The Albert Hall during the war the Chief Constable made us concrete over the very nice black and white 12 inch tiled steps because of the blackout etc., also take out a couple of rows of chairs to increase gangways and brick up the doors which I think was rather silly.

...The start of World War II saw me going around from the Town Hall with the barracks officer. The Army commandeered the various large hotels. In each case, only seven days' notice was given, and army lorries and men took away the furniture and furnishings and put them into store. After the War, the dilapidation compensation was very meagre considering that the army had used all the buildings to the full. The Llandrindod hotels used by the army were: The Gwalia; Plas Winton (now The Commodore); Ye Wells; Rock Park; Brynawel (now The Glen Usk); Lindens; Berkley; Broadway; The Metropole; The Central; and The Montpellier.

The ladies of the A.T.S. were billeted in: Tredawel, Southend, Plas Dinam, Maesderwen, and Hampton.

The Pump House Hotel was used as a military hospital. Ye Wells was the Officers' Mess. Wives of the OCTU also stayed in the town. The Metropole, Glen Usk, Commodore, Rock Park, Berkeley, and Montpellier were the only hotels to reopen after the war. The furniture of these hotels was stored in church halls around the district. It was badly stored and in town each hotel had 3-4-5 day sales in large marquees in about 1943 at 'give away' prices.

It was an unfortunate move in a hurry because the OCTU had plans to build a long hutment camp on Dolberthog Common. Then half the OCTU went to Towyn and built a camp there.

...The Albert Hall was relinquished by the Army in 1945 and the problem of repairs and redecoration had to be faced. There was considerable dilapidation and losses of furnishings, some of which were recovered from another army camp at Oswestry (two pianos, one harmonium, 13 trestle tables, 147 chairs and the cinema screen) - after many weeks I found them at the Oswestry Camp. The disappointing sum of £200 for dilapidation was received and it cost the Presbyterian Church a very large amount to put the Hall back to its original condition - all gangway carpets, curtains etc. suffered.

From 1946, after extensive renovations, the Hall was again used for concerts, plays, lectures etc. as before, but the number of visitors being naturally less because so many of the large hotels and boarding houses who had sold their furnishings did not reopen after the War.

"...As I walk around town, all these memories come flooding back to me, and even though many changes have taken place since then, I still feel Llandrindod Wells is the best place in the world to live. Walter Powell 1989."

History

Item list and details

1. My father's handwritten notes; 2. Photos of Bobby Howes and Tommy Handley; 3. Photo from stage productions at the Albert Hall during World War II: Gerald Cross and Janet Bruce in"Maria Marten"; Janet Bruce, Jill Barry and Adrian Stanley in"Lot's Wife"; "The Brontes". 4. Letter to my father from Arthur Lewis of the Community Theatres (Cambridge) Ltd., c/o Green Room Canteen Middleton Street, Llandrindod Wells arranging for the rental of the Theatre; 5. Photos of the current Albert Hall, Llandrindod Wells

Person the story/items relate to

Walter Powell

Person who shared the story/items

Elizabeth Edwards

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

My father

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID

109541