Sunday, 12 June 2016

Buses’ star ‘an inspiration’ for Canning Town’s Madalaine

It’s a long way in many senses from London’s East End of London to the tranquil coastal setting of Budleigh Salterton. But for thousands of fans who look back with nostalgia at the age of British sitcoms like The Rag Trade and On The Buses  the little East Devon town is making quite a name for itself.

An exhibition at the local museum, free vintage bus rides and pebble art on Budleigh’s famous beach… it’s all to mark the centenary of Reg Varney, better known by many including more than 12.5K members of the On the Buses Fan Club as Cockney comic bus driver Stan Butler.

There’s even a musical show in his honour, staged at the local Football Club. But  Before The Buses, as the show is called, deliberately focuses on his little-known early years when he started out as an 15-year-old self-taught pianist and singer playing in the tough environment of working men’s clubs.

By pure chance one of the show’s stars, Madalaine Pearce, born and raised in nearby East Budleigh, currently resides in Canning Town, Reg Varney’s birthplace.  Maddie, pictured above, left her home village to train in Musical Theatre at The Oxford School of Drama and has toured all over Europe and the UK, but is proud to be performing locally again. 

Passionate about both comedy and music, she is thrilled to be involved in Before The Buses, telling the story of a great British entertainer who so loved Budleigh Salterton and chose to spend his retirement years here.

As a professional singer and actress Madalaine’s credits include: Godspell; Animal Farm; The Boyfriend (Exeter Northcott); A Chorus Line (Exeter Barnfield); A Bit Of A Hitch; Just Good Friends (European Tour); Bless ‘Em All; Twelfth Night; Chelsea’s Choice and Cinderella (UK Tour).

The Sir Walter Raleigh pub in East Budleigh, where Reg was a regular visitor with his family 

Between rehearsals she found time to answer a few questions about her latest theatrical venture.

Q. Maddie, you’re performing in Budleigh Salterton’s centenary tribute show BEFORE THE BUSES in honour of On the Buses star Reg Varney. You live in Canning Town, in London’s East End, where Reg was born. It’s quite a coincidence that you were brought up in the area where Reg retired, the village of East Budleigh – birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh – and the location of one of Reg’s favourite pubs. What made you choose Canning Town?

Sir Walter Raleigh's statue stands prominently next to the church of All Saints in the village of his birth 

A. As an aspiring actress from the countryside, I came to London with little money and little knowledge of the city. Canning Town was reasonably priced and has great transport links into the city centre.

Q. Were you a fan of Reg?

A. I remember watching On The Buses with my Dad as a child. He is a big comedy fan and so am I. We loved to watch all the classics like On The Buses, Porridge and Only Fools & Horses.

Star Lane Primary School in Canning Town

Q. You live only a few minutes away from 7 Addington Road, Reg’s family home, and Star Lane School? What can you see of the old Canning Town? The old pubs, the cinemas…

The old Ordnance Arms pub at 110 Barking Road, Canning Town, now demolished  Image credit Ewan Munro

A. Star Lane Primary School is still there, and Rathbone Market. A few of the pubs are still around but the area is changing with new housing, the most recent of pubs to go was The Ordnance Arms which has now been replaced with flats. There is a new development being built near the station which is rumoured to boost shops and restaurants too, it’s all very exciting for the area, it looks like it’s changing for the better.

Q. The show is Before The Buses rather than about Reg’s time as a big star? What have you learnt about his early days, the subject of the show?

A. I’ve been reading his book The Little Clown, which will be the material used in the show – he lived an interesting life full of capers and woes. For me he is an inspiration to other performers coming from nothing, teaching himself the piano and working tirelessly to make himself the star we remember today.

Q. Tell us something about the songs you’ll be singing, why you’ve chosen them and why they appeal to you?

A. The songs have been chosen with the input of Reg’s daughter Jeanne, including numbers she used to sing with her father. They are all fabulous songs that have been covered over the years by some fantastic singers such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. The music is beautiful and timeless. 

Reg, as Stan Butler, star of On The Buses 

Q. Have you developed a taste for jellied eels since living in the East End? Apparently Reg used to serve them with whisky to the cast of On The Buses at his home in Enfield.

A. I haven’t actually tried them though I know a couple of the local cafés still serve them. I’m more of a pie and mash fan!

Reg with his parents outside the family home at 7 Addington Road 

Q. Would you like to see a blue plaque in Canning Town in honour of Reg during this centenary year?

A. Of course! He was a comedy treasure and it would be a lovely way to honour his memory.

The above picture was sent by the Children's Hospice South West for which Budleigh Salterton's Reg Varney show Before The Buses on 1 and 2 July is raising funds. 

The Hospice does wonderful work caring for children with life-limiting conditions. The picture was completed over a number of weeks by various visiting siblings aged between 4 and 10. They’d used a picture found on the On The Buses Fan Club page

Before The Buses is being performed on Friday 1 and Saturday 2 July at 7.30 pm at Budleigh Salterton Football Club. Tickets at £8 are available from Budleigh Tourist Information Centre on 01395 445275 and from Budleigh Football Club on 01395 443850. All final profits from the show are being donated to the British Heart Foundation and  Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre as well as to the Children's Hospice South West.

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