We are extremely grateful to our President, Christine Thomson, who has been hard at work developing ‘The History Project‘. Here, you can read about how Chelmsford Theatre Workshop begun and who our forefathers were.
In the 1960s there was an annual drama production at the Civic theatre as part of the Chelmsford Festival. The play would be advertised and people invited to audition for it, coming together for that one production alone. In 1969 the play was ‘The Country Wife’.
At this time, Yvonne Peacock ran a drama class at Patching Hall Lane school – the then ‘Blessed John Payne’, presumably. Members, many of whom participated in the festival plays, regretted that the course was coming to an end and, keen to do more, suggested that they form a drama group. The idea may have come from Yvonne herself or from Diana George.*
In August 1969 Tom and Con Johnson called a meeting at G.E.C., where Tom worked, to discuss the project. Amongst others, attendees – and then founder members – included the Johnsons, of course, Yvonne, Diana and, in no particular order, Rita Ronn, Alan Wood, Josie Whitehead, Betty Deans, Jo Morbey (Spencer), Gwynneth Southgate, Norman Grimes (possibly), Mary Lynn and a ‘tall, thin, bearded man’. The name for the group may have been suggested by Yvonne and, after much discussion, ‘Chelmsford Theatre Workshop’ was created. In those days, the group had no permanent base and rented various school halls and, once a year, the Civic theatre for a major production. In the early 70s, CTW managed to hire the Sillett Barn (a.k.a. ‘The Barn’) behind Brooklands in Broomfield Road for most of its productions, and then bought what is now The Old Court Theatre in Springfield Road, giving us a home of our own since 1979.
In November 1969, Peter Hughes directed the first play by Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, Bill McIlwraith’s black comedy ‘The Anniversary’, suggested by Rita and with Diana as the mother. It also starred Margaret Simmonds, Norman Grimes and Wendy Demello (apologies if that name is wrongly spelled) amongst others.
Other early members, some of whom were also referred to as founder members, included Jackie Horne, Bob George and David Madams.
Diana went on to become treasurer from 1971 (or possibly 1973) until 1988, when she and Bob moved away, although Diana is still a life member. Con was also a life member, after stints on the committee, as president and mayor! Many people from the early days are still active in the community – although others have moved away; some still performing and directing, and some are still members of CTW: Well done, Cyril – from 1973 to the present! And apologies to anyone I have omitted and who ought to have been included.
Written by Christine Thomson, CTW President
(a mere junior member as Christine did not join until 1975)
*In an email received 6th January 2018, Alan Hartley-Smith writes:” I was a founder member in 1959 of the Arts Festival committee – for the first drama productions we invited existing groups but then we proposed that we would form an independent group and appoint a producer so that individuals could audition without prejudice and a more extensive play could be mounted beyond the capabilities of any one group. CTW was formed and Yvonne was the first appointee producer. I myself belonged to Marconi Dramatic Society, CAODS and the Ballet Company, and over the 20 years of its life occupied most of the Festival administrative posts from Business to the final Chairman. I still have records of the entire run.”