I was either a member of the audience or a member of cast for all
the school productions Hathershaw Technical High School mounted
between 1961 and 1966. Peter Halliwell’s piece brought memories
flooding back and I’ll share them with you, if I may?








ESCAPADE   1961.

Apparently Peter had been trying to get permission from CCB to do
a school production for some time but Charlie was very conservative
in some areas. However Mrs Wellens was high in Charlie’s favour
and she brought along the script of Escapade. It was ideal: a
school setting, with which Charlie could connect; a headmaster,
staff, and schoolboys with which he could associate, so he gave
permission for it to be done. Whilst it might not be the best play
every written, as Peter says, school and two schoolboys were
central to the action. What better beginning then for a school
dramatic society?

The production was reviewed by Mrs Wellens in the 1961 School
Magazine and she was quite honest about its strengths and
weaknesses: the strengths were in set building and decoration, in
the quality of some of the performances whilst at the same time,
other performances were a source of weakness because of
audibility. I can remember seeing it and being amazed at how
imposing Dave Shore looked as the headmaster, Dr Skillingworth, in
his gown. (This was just months after we had seen our own staff in
their gowns and hoods for the first Speech Day in the Summer of
1960. Little did I know that whilst admiring Shore in his gown that I
too, would be expected to wear and teach in one when I moved to
Grange School in Oldham in 1974 as head of drama!)  Mrs Wellens
called his a performance of “dignity and authority” and I would
certainly agree.

I can remember too being impressed by Keith Royales as one of the
schoolboys; we were the same age, in the same year but his
performance I thought was stunning; I wondered how he learned all
those lines and created a real character. Mrs Wellens describes him
as a “promising young actor with a good clear voice and an impish
sense of fun.” These qualities guaranteed him a spot in almost all
succeeding school productions and this must have been a great
confidence builder for any youngster, to know that your acting
talents are appreciated by those who teach you.










THE UNEXPECTED GUEST    1962

Before the title of the next school production was announced, I had
been going to Oldham Rep each week and one of the early plays I
saw there was Agatha Christi’s The Unexpected Guest which I
thoroughly enjoyed. I was delighted to be offered a part in our
school’s production - understudy to Ian Wrigley’s character, Jan.
Cecilia Partington understudies Annie Bailey and this was the one
and only time at Hathershaw we had understudies. (Perhaps Celia
and I put Peter off repeating the experiments!) Miss Moorhouse
reviewed the play for the School Magazine, Mrs Wellens having
retired. 

Jessie perceptively saw the purpose and  strength of every school
production in every school across the country, then and now; they
were mirrored in our Unexpected Guest: “I saw the friendship of
the younger and older pupils, of pupils and staff cemented in a
common effort. I saw Ian Szwandt and Marilyn Swanwick lead
teams or workers on scenic construction and décor. . . . these
teams behind the scenes must have numbered fifty - probably more
- and behind them, giving support, encouragement, advice and
technical skills were sixteen staff, to say nothing of the
Headmaster who wielded a paintbrush on occasions.” One night,
when pupils were working on the set, painting and constructing, Mr.
Bell arrived to do his share. Dave Cadman, one of the workers, saw
him and said “Watch out, Charlie’s here!” Mr Bell related this story
the next day in assembly, and to great laughter adding “I don’t
know who this ‘Charlie’ is!”

There were some very strong performances from Geoff Morgan and
particularly Janet Rigby. I greatly admire Ian Szwandt who managed
to act the dead body in a wheelchair for the forty minutes of the
first scene.

But, for obvious reasons, it was Ian Wrigley’s part that fascinated
me. Jessie described him as having “the intelligence needed (to
play) the part of a ‘retarded” 19 year-old” - I doubt, if I had been
called upon to stand in for Ian, whether I would have had such
skills. Just as an aside, when Miss Moorhouse reviewed
performances, the boys were reviewed by their surname and the
girls by their Christian names! Only Ian Szwandt was accorded
both! (see School Magazine 1962)












THREE ONE-ACT PLAYS   1963

There was a change in pattern for the school production of 1963, an
evening of one act plays. I don’t remember anything about the first
one, Dear Departed because I was concentrating on my part in the
second play, The Monkey’s Paw, which tells the story of a family
who are not well off but are friendly with an old army sergeant, who
had served in India and the East. He brought back with him a
monkey’s paw as a souvenir but it is a cursed talisman. Whatever
you wish for, you get but not in the way or form you wanted.
The wife (Janet Ashton) wishes for money; enter Russell as the
representative of the firm where their only son works, to say their
son has been mangled in a machine and is dead. The firm wish to
compensate the family with £200, a fortune in those days. The wife
wishes that her son would return to them and there is the sudden
awful, chilling banging on the front door, with the horror growing in
the audience as to what will be there when it is opened. The
banging got louder; Janet was trying to open the door whilst her
husband John (Booboo) Dawson was trying to stop her. The tension
mounted until he grabbed the monkey’s paw and wished that his
son might rest in peace.
The knocking stopped a milli-second before Janet opened the door
to - nothing. I remember the performances of Janet and Booboo
being very, very strong, displaying emotions and acting skills well
beyond our 14 years. Many were surprised by Booboo’s
performance; most of the time he was the quiet shadow of Yogi
(Brian) Hartley, quick to get into mischief, not very academic, yet
here was a performance of great depth and quality. Charlie had
been against giving him a part because he was in the ‘lower forms’.
Despite the fact that Booboo was amongst the top 5% who had
passed the 11+, he spent his entire career at Hathershaw in the
lower of the two forms in our year and for Charlie, that meant he
wouldn’t be able to act because of this! (Years later I was to
experience the same pressure that was exerted on the director of
Monkey’s Paw to change his cast and drop Booboo. As head of
drama at Grange, I had cast one of my drama students at Bill Sykes
in Oliver. He was tall and looked the part but he could hardly read.
The Head wanted him replaced. I held out and recorded the lad’s
part on tape. That’s how he learned his lines and he was a
tremendous success!)

The third play was Jukebox Saturday Night, set in a coffee-bar
and dealing with, among other things, racism. It went on to win the
Oldham Schools One-Act Drama festival and at least another
festival. The School Magazines from 1963 onward are missing, so
we have no review of the performances, set or decorations. Which
is a pity.











ROCKETS IN URSA MAJOR   1964

This was a science fiction play written by Fred Hoyle who was
professor of astronomy at Cambridge and he gave the school
special permission to stage it. It was a play about hope for the
future, about outer space being populated by friendly aliens and it
matched the optimistic mood of the Sixties. I was down-graded
from having speaking part to being a prompter, along with Brian
Heywood and Vinnie Waldron. Brian’s dad, who ran a handyman’s
shop, made us wooden clipboards with a bracket to fit a bicycle
lamp on, so we could see our scripts in the dark. Keith says I saved
his bacon by mouthing a prompt to him “Do you want a sweet?”
and whilst I am happy to accept the role of face-saviour, I don’t
actually remember the incident.

What I do remember is being promoted to cast - one of the non-
speaking TV cameramen covering the Prime Minister’s (John
Winters) broadcast was ill on the second and third night, so up I
moved in the pecking-order! I suppose it was the equivalent of
Third Spearman on the left at Covent Garden. I remember the
effects of the show, especially the descent of the flying saucer!
People wondered when it landed, what would emerge.
When the ramp dropped down, creatures like ourselves (Derek
McCulloch and Susan Fletcher are the only two I remember)
emerges in shiny silver suits and spoke in a language that only
Keith Royales, playing another schoolboy, could understand and
translate for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Far-fetched?

On those March evenings, all the audiences suspended their
disbelief and surrendered themselves to a jolly good night’s
entertainment as Keith saved the world!  All this was well before
Doctor Who and the special effects; most of us had been brought
up on Flash Gordon and this was a step up from him. The other
thing I remember about the show was the scripts were typed (by
Mrs Sykes?) on banda masters and run off, so they smelled of
meths. When the script changed or was adapted, a new piece was
issued and we cellotaped it over the redundant lines.


































MIDWINTER    1965

This was a general title to cover two longer one-act plays. The first
was titled Christmas in the Marketplace and was a translation
from the French. It is a collection of five gypsy players who set up
their caravan in the marketplace of any town on Christmas Eve.
Whilst they are waiting to attend the first Midnight Mass of
Christmas, they perform their own unique version of the Mysteries
surrounding the Nativity: the Archangel Gabriel (Keith in wellies!)
brings the tidings to Mary; her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth,
the Nativity proper, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple in
Jerusalem. I played Melchior, the ancient gypsy and the narrator of
the piece. I remember borrowing my Grandfather’s heavy postman’s
coat for this and being extremely warm under the lights on stage!
The style of play was supposed to be difficult for an English
audience to grasp: it was supposed to be difficult to depict/convey
the Gallic quality of place, time and banter with the audience and
certainly Britain didn’t have this romantic notion of wandering
gypsies and their quaint painted caravans.

That didn’t seem to be a problem in our school hall as Ian Wrigley,
Keith Royales, Janet Ashton, Jean Cornwall and myself bounced
through the script. All I can remember about the play was that Jean
Cornwall was meant to say “White roses, white roses, so many
white roses” but it always came out as “Why troses, why troses, so
many why troses. The other thing I remember is being drilled in
our lines by Jessie Moorhouse at her house in Moorside one
Saturday evening. After we had done a successful line-rehearsal,
we were rewarded by supper and Jessie’s sherry trifle was
something to die for! It was worth doing the play for that alone.


The second play was Begin and Never Cease another play with the
Christmas theme. Thee play was set on a railway station called
Meebleth Halt (an anagram of Bethlehem) and opened with a young
heavily-pregnant woman (Jean Cornwall) carrying her suitcase into
the waiting room. Enter a squad of soldiers on their way back to
camp. There was plenty of scope for comedy in this piece and it
was here that Nigel found his vocation for comedy acting! As he
himself says, Peter Halliwell took a chance having a tubby,
bespectacled schoolboy with a stutter in the play but it paid off!

My only involvement in this play was as purloiner of milk churns
with Ron Jackson. Peter had called for the station to be decorated
with a sign, a milk churn or two, and other suitably appropriate
articles like mail-sacks, parcels, crates etc. But where to get a milk
churn? Enter Russell, whose Grandma lived back to back to a dairy
that had just closed down. Ron, Nigel and I drove up in Ron’s car,
Nigel and I removed our blazers and ties, so no-one could identify
us, and the milk churn was swiftly deposited in Ron’s boot and we
drove swiftly away with our trophy! If anyone (CCB) asked where
we got it from, they were told,

“Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies!”








A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM    1966

There is a great resistance to staging or watching Shakespeare’s
plays in Oldham and Peter Halliwell set out to prove how misguided
this was. There was a composite set, with the pillars representing
Greek columns for the Court scenes and with judicious lighting,
trees in the wood for the other scenes. Peter had two co-directors
to take charge of the Lovers’ scenes and the Fairy scenes whilst he
took charge of the Workmen’s scenes. Peter Quince has gathered a
motley crew of ancient Athenian tradesmen (with names like Snug
the joiner, Bottom the weaver to place the comedy in English
hands!) to do a play ‘before the Duke and Duchess on their wedding
day at night.’ And what a motley crew! Yet 44 years on I can only
remember Jimmy Stuttard as Quince and Nigel as Bottom. I can
remember the opening workman’s scene in the forest. Peter
Halliwell had told each actor coming onto stage to trip over an
imaginary log and they did. All of them waited for Bottom to arrive
and trip flat on his face but Peter had Bottom arriving upstage of
the waiting crew, thus spoiling their fun. Peter Halliwell wove
similar comedy into the rest of the workmen’s scenes so that the
final play within the play was uproarious! I saw it every night and
laughed and laughed.  Ian Wrigley, Keith Royales, Jean Cornwall
and Ann Miller played the lovers, Brian Jones and Sue Robinson
played Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairy Kingdom.
Puck, the mischievous fairy servant of Oberon was played very well
by Ian Bocking, yet CCB disapproved of him as a choice. Again he
came from ‘the lower forms’ and that was condemnation enough in
Charlie’s eyes.  Even though Bocking turned in a good performance,
I’ll bet Charlie never rated him! The whole production was excellent
and the Chronicle reporter, ex-Hathershaw student and actor
Warren Wilson, described it as ‘a midwinter’s night’s scream!’ How
right he was.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was Hathershaw Technical High
School’s last production, for in September 1966 the school merged
with Clarkesfield to form one of Oldham’s new comprehensive
schools (‘Apprehensive, I call it’ muttered CCB.) So what were the
benefits of these six school productions? Jessie Moorhouse hit the
nail on the head when she wrote about the friendship that grew up
between younger and older pupils both in the cast and backstage,
of the relationship that developed between teachers and pupils
outside the classroom as they were cemented in a common effort.
There were occasions when pupils were allowed to lead and take
charge of set construction and set decoration, as well as lighting
and this was good for each and every one. Behind them, as Jessie
pointed out, giving support, encouragement, advice and technical
skills were those members of staff who saw it as a valuable school
exercise. That was the legacy of Peter Halliwell’s productions at
Hathershaw Tech.

But that legacy went farther; several of us retained our interest in
drama and theatre developed at Hathershaw, so that now Nigel and
I are heavily involved in the amateur dramatics world at the
Lyceum. Nigel has played Bottom twice for the Lyceum Players and,
having seen at least 25 different professional productions of A
Midsummer Night’s Dream I can confidently say he is the definitive
Bottom.
Others, I am sure, have gone on to be involved with amateur
dramatics in their own communities, all thanks to Peter Halliwell.
We owe him a great deal and it is an honour to be able to do so in
these memories.

SCHOOL PRODUCTIONS  1961 - 1966

by Mike Russell
18th March 1961
Pictured in this Chron photograph are Derek McCulloch, Stuart Adams (or Keith?), Susan Fletcher (Aliens), Peter Halliwell, Anthony (Tats)Taylor (Sound Engineer), John Winter (Prime Minister), Colin France (Prof. Fielding). I can't recognise the one just above Peter's head but the cameraman looks like the floor manager - who must have taken a cameo role.
Pictured are the 'Spacemen' Susan Fletcher, Stuart Adams, Pete Rostern, Derek McCulloch, Bob Horton and Barry Holt.
Keith Royales (Charles Paton) and David Shore (Headmaster, Dr Skillingworth)

DS....Where did he get this gun?
KR...  He made it.
DS...  Made it ??
KR...  Yes.  (Takes gun and looks              down barrel. Headmaster recoils in horror). In metalwork class.
DS....Come here Paton.
KR....Yes , Sir.
DS...Closer, boy.
KR...Yes, Sir
Sincerest thanks to Mike for his piece on the school plays, which brought back very many more happy memories of our dramatic times at HTHS, making it seem like yesterday, and most sincere thanks for the super presentation of both the articles and the photos . The entire website is a delight to experience and gives us all tremendous pleasure.
I look forward to seeing more memories and comments from all involved, in any capacity, - from our first 'escapades' to our later 'miracle working'.
Thanks once again to all involved,
Sincerely, all the very best, Peter.