Stars of the future performed on Blackpool's Royal Pavilion stage during the Jack Rose era

By Barry Band

Friday, 21st May 2021, 3:45 pm
British actress Sheila Steafel, 1968. (Photo by Potter/Daily Express/Getty Images)

This month’s news is that theatres are reopening. No more stories about theatres that closed and were demolished.

But I was reminded this week about a Blackpool theatre that often closed and reopened; the Royal Pavilion.

The little venue on the corner of Rigby Road and Tyldesley Road was a cinema that had four names before closing in 1949 and reopening the same year with its original name.

Sheila Steafel is named on this programme from 1956 when she played Thelma Tolly in Parson’s Pleasure in Blackpool, 1956

The Royal Pavilion became Blackpool’s repertory theatre, managed by Jack Rose.

Our occasional correspondent Ray Dolling, who lives in Harlow, Essex, knows more about the Pavilion than most historians/researchers and gives us another dip into his archives.

Illustrated here is a 1956 programme cover and the cast list of a three-act comedy titled Parson’s Pleasure.

Our pleasure is to remember some of the actors who dodged in and out of the study of a vicarage. More tea, vicar?

The front cover of a Royal Pavilion programme

In the Jack Rose years several stars of the future were seen on the little stage and will be remembered by older readers.

Here we have the professional stage debut of that funny lady of dozens of TV comedy shows, Sheila Steafel, second on stage in this forgotten play. She was also stage manager during her several summer weeks at the Pavilion.

Sheila, who died two years ago, aged 84, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Lancashire parents. She came to London to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.

Coming to Blackpool for a few summer weeks in 1956 may well have had an influence on the direction of her career.

It’s romantic to assume she would have seen a matinee performance by Thora Hird in Walter Greenwood’s comedy Saturday Night at the Crown, at the Grand Theatre, in which she played bar-room gossip Ada Thorpe.

Sheila was married to actor Harry H. Corbett from 1958 until divorce in 1964, by which time she was established in TV comedy sketches in The Frost Report, followed by The Dave Allen Show, The Two Ronnies and other comedy favourites.

She was the White Lady in the 1970s TV series The Ghosts of Motley Hall, she appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company and had roles in more than a dozen films.

Arthur Leslie became equally well known on television as Jack Walker, landlord of the Rover’s Return in Coronation Street until his death in 1970. His real life wife, Betty Morton Powell, was with him in his Royal Pavilion residency.

Gordon Rollings was a regular in the Jack Rose Repertory Players, later appeared in Corrie, was the first presenter of BBC2’s Play School in 1964, and a story-teller on Jackanory in 1966--67.

In the 1956 programme pictured on this page, Jack Rose welcomed him back to Blackpool after Gordon’s two-year stint as a clown with Cirque Medrano in Paris.

June Barry was another Jack Rose player who went on to success in television, notably as June in The Forsyte Saga.

Also seen in the cast of Parson’s Pleasure was Owen Oyston, who was to have leading roles on a wider stage.