Friday, 20 April 2012

Mystery of early Budleigh theatre show


Can you help solve a thespian puzzle by providing information about this drama production in Budleigh's Public Hall, dated, according to the above photo, January 1926? 



A local antiquarian book collector has suggested that a show which became a West End hit in the 1930s may have had its origins in a much earlier Budleigh Salterton amateur production. 


For lovers of crime mysteries Victor Clinton-Baddeley is known as the creator of the amateur detective Dr R.V. Davie in a series of five novels written between 1967 and 1970, the year he died.


But Budleigh-born Clinton-Baddeley had his first success as an author at the age of 25 with his travel book entitled simply Devon.  A second edition appeared in 1928.

 He went on to write various light-hearted dramas and pantomimes in the 1930s. The first of his comic operettas for which he wrote the libretto was The Pride of the Regiment, or Cashiered for His Country, with music by Walter Leigh.




Published in 1932, as noted in a folder in Fairlynch Museum's Local History Room, the operetta was staged at the Public Hall in April 1935, with Clinton-Baddeley himself as producer.  The characters were played by local drama enthusiasts, including Joyce Dennys as Miss Adelaide, her husband Dr Tom Evans as Captain Rudolph de Vavasour and Charles Jewel as Launcelot Brown, as seen in this photo from Fairlynch archives.


But local antiquarian book and print collector Tony Jones has a different photo of the same operetta, obviously performed at the Public Hall, which bears the much earlier date of January 1926. The photographer was Miss L.M. Horton,  who ran a photographic business in Budleigh's High Street.


"I've no reason to think it's a mistake," says Tony, a former resident of  Knowle who has been collecting and dealing in books and prints relevant to East Devon for 15 years.


Amateur dramatics were thriving in the 1920s and 30s at Budleigh, reaching a landmark in 1936 when the town's Drama Club was founded. Collaboration between Clinton-Baddeley, who had been actively involved in Cambridge University's Amateur Dramatic Club, and the local doctor's wife with a talent for writing and painting and a love of theatre was inevitable.


In 1927 the young Clinton-Baddeley, fresh from his success with the publication of his book Devon, collaborated with Joyce Dennys in writing a one-act comedy, The Cup that Cheers. With six characters, including three children, their parents and the daily help, it was probably Joyce Dennys's first play, as Dr Anita Jennings comments in her notes on the future author of Henrietta's War in the Museum's Local History Room.





Among other achievements Clinton-Baddeley became a well-known voice at the BBC, celebrated for his readings of classic authors.  This photo from a 1937 edition of the Radio Times shows him outside a studio where he had just finished giving a television reading from A.A. Milne. Unluckily for him the BBC fireman was patrolling the studio corridors just at that moment, enforcing the 'No-Smoking ' rule.


Tony is keen to meet any local residents who had relatives involved with the Public Hall production of The Pride of the Regiment. "It would be really fascinating to know whether the earlier date is correct. It could prove that Clinton-Baddeley was much more active in local amateur dramatics than was previously thought, and that Budleigh Salterton was the initial springboard for West End hits."  


If you can help with any information to confirm the date of Tony Jones' photo please phone 01395 446407.  

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