A Grand Spell of Sunshine - The Life and Legacy of Francis FrithA Grand Spell of Sunshine - The Life and Legacy of Francis Frith

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National Service

A Memory of Bexhill.

National Service

As a 71-year old now living in Macau (China) I still retain the warmest memories of Bexhill in the 1950s. At that time I was a National Serviceman stationed at RAF Wartling (Upper Barnhorn) and courting a local Bexhill girl who lived in Downlands Avenue.

My most vivid memories relate to our regular attendance at many performances by the Penguin Players at both the De La Warr Pavilion and the little theatre in Egerton Park. Many residents will remember that Richard (Dicky) Burnett and his wife Peggy Paige managed the company and acted in these weekly productions. The company also included many other actors and actresses, some of whom went on later to become familiar faces in TV dramas. I recall the players in the 1950s (1956-58) included James Irwin, Honora Burke, Adele Strong, Pilton Wilson, Anthony Cornish, Ron Pember, Edgar Metcalf, Clyde Pollit, Richard Simpson. The very first play we attended was "Captain Carvello", followed later by "The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse", "Separate Tables", "Uncertain Joy". ...and many many others.

I also remember the summer variety show (was it called "Starlight Rendezvous"?) with Freddie Frinton as the host and star. He performed his famous sketch as the tipsy butler in “Dinner for one”. That was many years before he became famous on television in the series “Meet the wife” with Thora Hird.

After I left the RAF I attended teachers' college in London but returned regularly to Bexhill in 1957-58. One Christmas (probably 1957) I took a part-time job as a mail sorter at Bexhill post office; and the following summer I was employed as a waiter at the Eastcliff (?) Hotel, owned and operated then by a Mrs McCoy and her husband.

During my time in Bexhill I attended services with my girlfriend at the Beulah Baptist Church. At that time the pastor was Rev Edmund Heddle.

Having lived overseas for many years I visited Bexhill again for the first time in 1999. Many things were much the same as in the 50s, but there had been some significant changes too. I had expected to arrive by train at the Bexhill West Station, but then discovered that it no longer exists. The building was still there (now an antique shop or something of the sort) but the rails have gone. Gone too was the little theatre in Egerton Park. At the time the De La Warr Pavilion appeared to be very rundown and neglected; but I believe that more recently it has been refurbished. I looked for, but could not find, the Thalia School of Speech and Drama, run in the 1950s by the Portch family. I was at teachers' college with the daughter Yvonne Portch.

I left England permanently in 1974 to work and live in Australia. Most recently I was teaching at the University of Hong Kong, but retired from there in 2004. I still retain the fondest memories of Bexhill.

Peter Westwood
Macau, 2008

With thanks to Peter Westwood for this memory of Bexhill

Added 26 April 2008

#221427

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