Theatre lovers ‘owe many debts’ to Eastbourne arts stalwart

Harry Lederman
Harry Lederman

Harry Lederman, one of the best-loved characters in the local arts scene, died on Sunday (September 24) at St Wilfrid’s Hospice.

Harry – a writer, performer, motivator, organiser and friend to all – was born in 1934 in East London, rich in the tradition and culture of a Jewish community whose values shaped his life.

Harry Lederman with actors Stephen Rashbrook (left) and Neil Roberts (right)

Harry Lederman with actors Stephen Rashbrook (left) and Neil Roberts (right)

A wartime childhood spent dodging the Luftwaffe raids was followed by National Service in the RAF, and a long and distinguished career in Customs and Excise.

Marriage to his beloved Dot in 1959 came after the happy chance of a meeting at amateur dramatics rehearsals for Sailor Beware – Dot evidently taking no heed of the title’s warning, and falling instantly for the new recruit.

Work and family – including the birth of children Michael and Lyn – took them from Brixton to Barkingside to Maidstone to Northampton and finally, on retirement in 1997, to Stone Cross.

The Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre owe Harry ‘too many debts to repay’. Committee member Janet Maskelyne said, “Harry’s contributions have been immense. He has been personally responsible for securing a huge sum of money through his fund-raising achievements over the years. And stewarding at the DPT: next time a courteous and knowledgeable volunteer offers you a programme, or directs you to the bar, remember it is Harry that the theatre has to thank for setting up that scheme.

Harry Lederman with Chris Conil and Sally-Mae Joseph

Harry Lederman with Chris Conil and Sally-Mae Joseph

“He had two spells as our chairman, and he and Dot were recently elected life vice-presidents. There are countless other instances of his input. He was such a multi-talented man and the FDPT was but one string in his bow.”

Theatres director Chris Jordan said, “Harry has been virtually another arm to the theatres press team, attending every press launch and almost every press night, regardless of whether it’s a show he’s personally interested in or not – now that is some dedication!

“He has never once let us down, and has ‘got us out of a hole’ many a time writing reviews for publications when their staff reviewers have been unable to attend. I also fondly recall an afternoon up in Crowlink, a photo shoot for the summer in-house production of Last of the Summer Wine, where Harry gamely took the role of Clegg for the posters and leaflet artwork! He has dedicated countless hours to Eastbourne Theatres. Harry truly is the very best friend that a theatre could have.”

Long-standing friend Malcolm Webster said Harry was also extremely committed to East Sussex Moviemakers. He said, “Harry was one of our founder members in 1997, making, and assisting in the filming of, many high quality amateur films, and steering us through many stages of evolution.

“He was secretary for several years and chairman at the time he died.”

Harry was a cornerstone of Radio DGH, Eastbourne’s hospital radio service, hosting a weekly show. Co-presenter Phil Moon said, “Harry’s particular forte were his theatre reviews – frank, amusing and giving the listener a great perspective of the production. Harry’s knowledge of shows and films was encyclopaedic, enhanced by his involvement in amateur theatre.

“Whenever a Fiddler on the Roof track was played, he took delight in adding – I was in that!”

The Ledermans had been long-standing members of Eastbourne Ashridge Circle and most recently Harry was its programme secretary.

There was time, too, for bowls at the Gildredge Park club. Secretary Alan Hipkin recalls an ‘accomplished player, much liked – in fact universally loved – by all our members’. “He has been on our honours board and only last year won a triples competition,” he added.

Harry was a generous and highly perceptive reviewer, with a knack of wry understatement.

Of one less than thrilling thriller he wrote: “It was a pity that the tension which had been nicely built up was spoiled when the body got up and walked from the stage.”

And he covered a feeble touring production of The Glenn Miller Story, in which ‘any similarity between Tommy Steele and Glenn Miller was purely coincidental’. But he was also generous with his praise.

Friend Dorit Oliver-Wolff said knowing Harry was ‘an honour and privilege’. “His passion for music and theatre was second to none. No man was richer in friends, and they will love him always. He died on Jewish New Year, and he is blessed in eternity.”

Friend Kevin Anderson added, “Harry has been confronting cancer for the past year or so, and this wretched disease has shown Harry no mercy. Earlier in the summer he was still the dapper and sprightly figure whom we all love, but recent weeks had seen only a fading away of his strength, if not of his spirit. A long eventful life, richly lived. Harry recently gave me a DVD copy of that Fiddler production from 1983 which has become the stuff of legend and many a chuckle.

“Wise, witty, humble, gracious. Harry’s legacy will live long, and our thanks will outlive our loss.”