All about the Westovian Theatre Society - Pier Pavilion South Shields

The First Juniors

The First Juniors of the Westovians Theatre Society: Top left to right: Jim Ironside, Jim Gray, Dawson Douglas. Centre: Betty Douglas. Bottom left to right: June Duncan, Brenda Shaw, Meg (Robinson) Hogg, John Ironside, Helen (Robinson) Ironside.

Juniors in 1951 making-up for '300th Performance' at Redwell School'Top left to right: Jim Ironside, Jim Gray, Dawson Douglas. Centre: Betty Douglas. Bottom left to right: June Duncan, Brenda Shaw, Meg (Robinson) Hogg, John Ironside, Helen (Robinson) Ironside.

'Juniors’ have actively been around since just after the war in I945. Although there is no account of a named section as such, there is evidence that these young people took an active part in the histrionics of the Westovians from the late forties.

Edna Dawson (now Lawson), the remaining original ’junior’, joined the Westovians in 1946 and easilly recalls the prominent young members who joined about that time, namely Angus McGill, Bob Jennings, Jimmy Mitchel and his wife Norma, Vera Seagal, Jean Becke, Don Bolam, Gwen Talbot and Ian Carmichael. By 1949 Helen Robson (now Ironside) was a member, with John Ironside and Kevin Moore. John and Helen remember attending meetings of the Westovians in the Dorset Cafe, and rehearsal in the Havelock Inn, Stella Newton's house (on best behaviour) and Wallace Coxon's house.

In I950, there was an influx of ’juniors’, introduced by word of mouth. Helen introduced the twins Meg and Madge Robinson (now Hogg and Hunter) the twins introduced me. Other junior members included June Duncan, Betty and Dawson Douglas, Brenda Shaw and as the months progressed Jim Ironside, Ron Ainley and Ken Allen.

After the war and well into the fifties South Shields and District held a Drama Festival, in association with the British Drama League - for one act plays. They also had a Drama Coach Mrs. Veitch. Many of the juniors were involved in these festivals - I cannot recall any senior member taking part. A suitable one Act play would be chosen - usually directed by Stella Newton or Dorothy Morgan and finally bv Angus MeGill and entered for the Festival.

Starting in I948 and for five years, we won the Helen Chapman Drama Festival Trophy at least three times. A John Goldsworthy play in I948, Dark Brown in 1949 directed by Stella Newton and including Edna Dawson and Kevin Moore. In I950 after the influx of new ‘juniors’ we entered a play called ‘The Three Hundredth Performance’ directed by Stella Newton.. I was in it with Helen, John, Meg, Kevin Moore, Brenda Shaw and June Duncan and we won the trophy. We did it as an 'in-house’? production and again for a Guild. In I95I we won with a scene from Twelth Night- 'The Tricking of Malvolio', Ron Ainley was Malvolio and it was directed by Angus McGill.

‘Juniors' were beginning to express themselves musically too, I beleive, not really with the full aprroval of the 'Seniors’. In 1956 and 1957, two 'in house' productions of reviews were performed, the responsibility of getting such a different type of theatre, off the ground was in the hands of Bob Jennings, who directed these with Vera Seagal as M.D. These would not be repeated until the mid sixties with a 'Junior Revue' which ran for 3 nights and included Jennifer Allen, Maureen Stokes, the twins, Geoff Davison, John James, Ron Ainley, Harry Deakin, myself and Bell Dixon on the piano. It was produced by John James and Geoff Davison.

Many of the 'juniors' moved on and away, the Angus McGill crowd, mostly to London and others just fell by the wayside. By the end of the fifties most of those who had joined in the forties were gone, with the exception of Ian Carmichael, Edna Lawson, Helen and John Ironside, Jean Becke and Alan Knox. Helen Ian and Edna came into their own with others like Ron Ainley, the Twins and myself. Ken Allen found his nitch back stage and I floated between being on stage to back stage depending on the play. Ken Dunn was making an impression by the late fifties and John James, Geoff Davision and Harry Deakin were with us too. All adults now and no longer juniors in the true sense and until our Junior Section was formed in the Seventies we had no age range within the society if a child was required in a play, so members children tended to be co-opted from members families, if they had a leaning towards theatre, such as Mark Johnson, Donna Cocking and Debbie Reay in 'Speaking of Murder', which I directed.

(Documented by Jim Gray with the assistance of Helen and John Ironside, Edna Lawson, Meg Hogg, Madge Hunter, Ron Ainley and Ann McLennan)