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Changing Times | Theatre programmes reveal history of town The publications are a treasure trove of information

When we go to a concert or theatre today, do we keep our programmes from the event? Sometimes we keep them for the picture of the participants, but do we really look much further? Luckily for local historians many people in the past have collected these items.


I have recently come across a number of such programmes. One is from a Darcia’s Military Band Concert; and while undated it is early 1900. It is interesting to note that on the cover it states that Darcia was ‘the only lady who conducts a Military Band’.


The central pages of the programme list the range of musical items for the evening show, which ends with the William Tell Overture. We believe the concert was held in the original Bandstand, which eventually became the base for the Esplanade Theatre and was situated on the small pocket of land opposite the Royal Hotel, where today we have a food and drink outlet and the skatepark.


Contained within the main 28 pages are over 63 adverts for trades throughout the area. Thus it would be possible to more accurately date this programme by tracing the history of the organisations and companies who have paid to have their information inserted.


Another two programmes were for the Bognor Regis Operatic Society events, dated 1955 and 1960, both performances were held in the Esplanade Theatre. They are both interesting local history documents. In 1955 they performed ‘The Gondoliers’ and in 1960 ‘Love from Judy’. In 1955, their president was the very famous Eric Coates. He was inspired to write Sleepy Shores when looking across the water from Selsey to Pagham.


Page one contains a long list of their committee and patrons. Many of the names I expect people would recognise today: Purley, Reynolds, Hansfords, Charlie Kunz and more.


Next I took a look at the advertisements for 1955. First came the well-remembered Goodacres Toy Stores Ltd. They were established on the corner of the Esplanade and York Road, with a telephone number of just 861. Included in their advert is a list of some of the items they sold, including Meccano, Hornby trains, dolls, leather goods, Tri-ang toys, soldiers and handbags. What surprised me was that they also sold tobacco and cigarettes.


Next came another large advertisement for Hillsboro Garage, where until recently stood a Polish supermarket. They advertise that they were situated opposite the hospital and were ‘the finest Show Rooms in West Sussex for all makes of New Cars and Quality Used Cars’. A very positive claim. Here we find their Tel. No. was 3456.


Next we have a name many people will remember – that of Cleeves the Chemist in the High Street, next to the bus station. The bus station is where today we have the entrance to Morrisons car park from the High Street. Here we learn also that in respect of ‘Purchase tax; there will be ‘No increase in our prices this year’!


Next the North Bersted Players’ were to perform in the church hall, later in the month of November. Their play was ‘And so to bed’, – tickets for this event were 3/- reserved during the week and 3/6 reserved for the Saturday.


The Sea Crest Hotel in Nyewood Lane South were advertising their terms as from 5½ to 7gns (£5.25-7.35) during the summer season. Apparently, children were welcome according to age and season. I bet that was a difficult decision! The later advertisements cover an electrical shop, pianoforte tuner, a lady who dealt with elocution and dramatic art and Linden Wools.


Now we move on to the 1960 programme, again at the Esplanade Theatre. On the front of this programme is an overlay relating to World Refugee Year. On researching it would appear that many refugees remained in camps almost 15 years after the end of the Second World War.


This was seen as disgraceful by those who had suffered greatly during the war and those who were concerned about their situation. It was at this point that a programme was commenced from Great Britain to resolve the refugee problem once and for all – 1959-1960 was announced as World Refugee Year.


The aim of this project was to ‘clear the camps’. It achieved some significant results, especially in Europe. By the end of 1960, for the first time since before the war, all the refugee camps in Europe were closed. The proceeds from the 1s (5p) programmes were to be sent for use by the refugees organisation,


Many of the advertisers in 1955 appear to still remain loyal to the society, five years later, but with larger-sized advertisements because of the increased size of the souvenir programme. We also have new advertisements from such well-known companies as Hansfords, in London Road; F.J. Bobby (Bognor) Ltd, High Street; Marshalls, Belmont Street; and Hawkes and Son of the High Street. Plus an ‘invitation’ from Reynolds and Co. (Furnishers Ltd) to visit their store.


Some of the major companies in the town were also advertising, such as Hago, known for their contemporary wirework items. Apparently, their items made in Bognor Regis were for discerning people everywhere. Another advert told us that ‘everyone wants the new Lec’. This was the new Lec International model P60 refrigeration, for only 69gns (£72.45). These fridges were also promoted within the Olby & Son advert. Builders and florist had also joined the list of ‘selected’ advertisers.


The last programme is for the Esplanade Theatre, which produced their own programmes. In 1968 they advertised ‘The Glamorous Summer Show’ where Bill Pertwee headed the show, returning for a second year. We find many of the same advertisers were still involved; in addition they were promoting local events being held around the town, which were organised by the town council. The Eastern Bandstand (on the promenade) and the Hotham Park Bandstand advertised a busy schedule, with a selection of bands.

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