Having a Blast in Brighton
From the seedy haunts of Graham Greene’s 1930s Brighton to Fatboy Slim’s 21st Century Big Beach Boutique, Brighton is a city known for “a good night out”.
In 2015, New Writing South’s young writers devised an oral history project where young people from local schools and colleges would explore the social history of Brighton’s entertainment industry through the memories and stories of the city’s older residents.
NWS young writers along with students from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy and City College visited iconic buildings, including Theatre Royal Brighton and Duke of York’s cinema, examined collections of film and theatrical memorabilia and learned to dance the foxtrot. They watched silent films and live theatre shows, and even tripped the light fantastic at Ragroof’s old-time tea dance – all to immerse themselves in the experiences of the day.
Mostly, they talked to the people who were there and recorded their conversations. Older people from all walks of life shared their stories and memories of the Regents Dance Hall, the Savoy and the Arcadia, the Hippodrome and the Essoldo…. and of course the beloved Dukes and Theatre Royal, who have seen so many others come and go over the past century.
The young people discovered a Brighton long gone – a gentler time with simpler pleasures, where queuing for the cinema was as much part of the ritual as seeing the film; where famous actors joined other theatre goers for an interval drink and where church fellowship dances were the best route to romance.
The more they talked, the more they learned about Brighton’s social history, the more they saw the passion and energy of their own youth reflected in another generation. They discovered more in common with the older generation than they had ever imagined.
The recorded interviews have been edited together into short programmes which are now available to hear on listening posts at The Writers’ Place, Theatre Royal Brighton and Duke of York’s cinema. The listening posts were created by sound artist Filipe Gomes (www.filipegomes.co.uk). Two mobile units are also available for loan to schools, libraries, day centres and other community groups.
Illustrator Sarah Edmonds (www.sarahedmondsillustration.com) created a beautiful hand drawn map of the city showing locations of the myriad cinemas, theatres and dance halls that have come and gone in Brighton and Hove since the 1930s, to accompany the listening posts.
If you would like to borrow the listening posts or receive a copy of the map, please contact Lesley Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are grateful to everyone who has so generously taken part in the project.
Special thanks to local film and theatre historian Frank Flood and arts journalist Bella Todd.
Having a Blast in Brighton has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Brighton & Hove City Council.
Anonymous – Memories of growing up in a French circus family and learning the Tango.
Anonymous 2 – An ‘ordinary housewife’ speaks of her father, a soldier, teaching her how to dance.
Anonymous 3 – ‘We all found it hysterical. Little touches like that get you into live theatre, which are great. And yes, you remember them.’
Unnamed Actress – An actress’ view on what has changed in Brighton theatre, why there are more women in the industry than men and what performance has had the biggest impact on her.
Bernie Katz – An 84 year-old’s memories of Brighton cinema throughout the years.
Chris Taylor – A look at how technology has affected cinema – and not always for the good – from New Writing South’s own, Chris Taylor.
Cynth – Find out what it’s like to work Front of House for the Theatre Royal, Brighton.
Florence and Reg – This married couple tell us about learning to dance at Regent’s Dance Hall and Alan Deans.
Frank Flood – A detailed tour of Brighton’s cinema during the sixties, seventies and eighties and what part it played in the culture of the times.
Heather Hacker – ‘I don’t think they’ve got any heroes like Errol Flynn now. He was a wicked fella but God he was attractive!’
Jackie Alexander – Jackie talks through the most fascinating aspects of theatre and stage as she gives an insight into her career working at the Wimbledon Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Brighton.
Jill – ‘I love it. Just the whole atmosphere of the place, getting to see so many different shows, it’s just a beautiful building. The history of the whole building and everything. It’s just magical. I feel lucky to work here.’
Joy – Currently an usher at the Theatre Royal, Joy talks of Dublin as the birthplace of her inspiration to get into theatre and explores the differences between Ireland and Brighton.
Judith Lawson – Kirk Douglas, the Hippodrome, talkie films, Alfred Hitchcock, Ben-Hur, Duke of York’s, fizzy drinks, and raspberry lollipops.
Patricia – Patricia has been part of theatre since she can remember. From her dad’s job doing the lighting for Variety in the fifties, up to the pain of a play being disrupted by a mobile phone.
Patricia (Dancer) – ‘I remember once, we got as far as Hove and we were walking the streets near Hove station and some Jehovah’s Witnesses called out from their flat and asked if we wanted to stay the night, and we did!’
Pauline – ‘There is just something about theatre and the magic of theatre. There’s just something about it. What else can I say?’
Robert Gregory – The oldest of our interviewees at 93, Robert gives a fascinating recollection of entertainment in Brighton from years gone by. Venues detailed include The Imperial Theatre, Regent cinema, the Dome, Isoldo, Kemp Town Odeon, and dancing at the Co-op.
Robert Watts – ‘It takes a bit of a while to just sort of bring it out but if it’s well acted, and links to my personal thoughts about something, yeah I can get very very emotional about the whole thing.’
Roy Ockenden – ‘And to see the cast on stage suddenly hear this lady snoring, they were looking and I gave her a nudge and made eye contact – I thought it was brilliant.’
Sandra Morrow – Sandra talks of the excitement of working in the theatre, how her interested started as a child watching pantomime and how a visit years later prompted her to interview for a job.
Sue – ‘Every moment here at Theatre Royal is memorable. Every single moment! It’s an honour to work here!’
Tree Long – Tree relives the most memorable films she has ever seen, ‘It was a very brutal film but within the relationship of the couple, I remember it to this day. A really marvellous film.’
Val Brown – Val tells us the tale of her attempt to put together a film club in Brighton during the nineties, detailing the issues she faced, mainly to do with ‘Brighton being Brighton’.