Remembering Eastbourne in the 1950s

Redoubt Bandstand
Redoubt Bandstand

Looking back reader Lionel Marriott has been in touch again with his memories of Eastbourne – this time the entertainment which was provided in the town.

He writes, “Eastbourne in the 1950s was a lively town with many attractions at reasonable cost. Holidaymakers were entertained by professional productions in six theatres often presenting two programmes a week (changing on Thursday) in addition to a Sunday concert.

“My favourite company returned for many years – Fun in the Air led usually by Cecil Johnson. At the Redoubt Bandstand (now replaced by the sun lounge), most seating was in the open air and if it was raining, the show still went on. Some of the audience would retreat under the balcony at the rear of the seating.

“In addition to the show, those choosing to sit on the balcony had the added view of the sea across to the Pier, Beachy Head in the distance. All for the princely price of 1/6d (seven pence today).

“Seven nights a week promptly at 7pm, Dorothy Atlee the pianist would sweep through the curtain at the back of the bandstand a bundle of music under her arm, sit at the grand piano and the show would start.

“There were six or so talented artists, comedy, songs from the shows, sketches, 90 minutes of fun much appreciated by the audience, based on the traditional seaside pirouette shows of the 1920s.

“The Redoubt Bandstand was well used, for every morning Monday to Saturday, Uncle Bertie (Bertram Otto) entertained the children with magic, Punch and Judy, a talent contest and sing a long, again for one shilling.

“Another attraction popular with young and old and controlled by Bertram Otto was the model railway which he set up in the Winter Garden for several years. A schoolboy’s dream with up to ten trains running. The landscaped scenery recalled the Swiss Alps.

“Many of the shows in Eastbourne presented artists in the days before fame like Leslie Crowther, Bruce Forsyth, Des O’Conner, Norman Vaughan to name three. During the summer season from Easter to October the theatres usually presented a resident company often led by well known radio personalities.

“The Pier Theatre opened and closed the season with the revue show Twinkle presented by Clarkson Rose and his wife Olive Fox, both well known on the variety theatre circuits. Clarkson, a fine patter song performer, was one of the finest pantomime dames appearing at leading theatres in London at Christmas. When Twinkle moved to other resorts, Sandy Powell, Mr Eastbourne, moved in with Star Waggon, a similar show. At the Hippodrome Tommy Trinder and Cyril Fletcher amongst others were resident in the summer and twice nightly variety the rest of the year.

“As a contrast at Devonshire Park, the repertory companies presented straight theatre with a different play each week throughout the year. The most successful company was the Penguin Players led by Richard Burnett.

“The Winter Garden was the main council managed theatre and here the Entertainment Manager George Hill always wore a red rose and greeted the audience. Every year it was a fine family show and one year leading artists from the radio in a variety programme, other years the Fol de Rols, Norman Evans, a north country comedian who inspired Les Dawson to continue the traditio.

“One year the Floral Hall presented an Ice Show and in addition to all of the other entertainment around the town Eastbourne was certainly buzzing.”