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Ken Waight, Chairperson, Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre

Grand Theatre veterans record their memories for oral history project

Submitted by trustadmin on 4 December 2023

As a 15-year-old Colin Hogg worked backstage at Doncaster’s Grand Theatre. “It was a very educating time,” Colin remarks wryly. “I was a call-boy at the beginning and they sent me up to the chorus girls’ dressing room to give them 10 minutes’ warning. I knocked on the door and said, ’10 minutes, girls!’”

Unable to make himself heard through the dressing room door, Colin was called inside by the performers, only to find them still getting dressed for their stage performance. “I flushed up and they laughed!” he continues. “I got back downstairs and the stage manager asked me, ‘Did you give them 10 minutes? You’re all red, what’s the matter!’”

Colin’s memories and recollections from the early 1950s, along with those of fellow members of the Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre and others associated with the venue, have been captured in recent weeks as part of an oral history project funded by the Theatres Trust Resilient Theatres: Resilient Communities programme.

Ken Waight (pictured) is the Chair of the Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre. He explains: “In April this year the Friends were awarded £6,500 to fund a project aimed at capturing the oral history of the city’s historic theatre, drawing on the memories of people who remember the Grand as a working entertainment venue.”

Also contributing their memories to the Grand Theatre Oral History Project were former performers at the theatre, the son of the Grand’s final general manager, and Life President of the Friends committee Margaret Herbert.

Ken adds: “Their contributions, mainly from the 1950s, were recorded in two video sessions at Doncaster’s new museum and these videos will be available for future research about the Grand and in future promotional activity.”

Ahead of publication of the full Grand Theatre Oral History Project, a 46-second video trailer, featuring Colin, Margaret and others who recorded their memories of the historic entertainment venue can be viewed online.

The Theatres Trust funding has also enabled the digitisation of many old artefacts and memorabilia associated with the theatre, which is a grade II-listed building adjoining the city’s Frenchgate shopping centre and overlooking Doncaster railway station.

“Artefacts including original posters for performances, programmes from the shows, an account book which details costs and expenses relating to the Victorian-era theatre, and original architects’ plans have been digitised using specialist equipment available through the University of Sheffield,” Ken adds.

The resulting digital files will be used in future promotion and publicity work to support plans to regenerate the Grand Theatre, he says. Currently, a working group formed of representatives from the Friends, the Frenchgate Centre which owns the building, City of Doncaster Council and the Theatres Trust is considering the future of the Grand Theatre.