We are now in our 32nd Season of Plays and Pantomimes and for all that time St. Bernadette’s Players has been entertaining not only the parishioners of St. Bernadette’s Parish but also the wider communities of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre
Our present situation is a far cry from 32 years ago. In those bad old days (?) we had to build the stage in the School Hall on the Saturday before a performance and dismantle it the following Saturday. It was Frank Morlidge who masterminded the whole thing and we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
THE EARLY DAYS
We have one David Melling (known to many as Dave The Rave) of this Parish to thank for approaching Fr. Ned Carey, the Parish Priest at the time, and suggesting to him that the Parish could do with a Drama Club. To cut a long story shorter, Dave Melling became the first Chairman and the first play to be performed by the fledgling group was “When We are Married” by J B Priestley, Produced by the late Windy Littler. That was in 1977. Since those early days the Drama Club has entertained the local community at least 3 times a year.
Over those years some 26 members, that we are aware of, have gone to that Great Eternal Drama Club in the Sky!!! We’ve already mentioned Windy Littler – a larger than life character in every way. And we have very fond memories of Margaret Ashcroft who graced many of our early productions, including the very first, along with the lovely Janet McMahon. Another great character was Tom Browne, a small Irishman with a big heart. And what about Vinnie Clarke, a gentle giant of a man; Eileen Egerton; Kath Lambe and Louis Harrison (who played the unforgettable part of the Emperor in “Aladdin”). Let’s not forget, too, our own Reverends: Fred Miller and Father Joe Haydon, and our Musical Directors Roy Smerdon and, occasionally, Hilda Walsh. The youngest members we lost, as a result of tragic accidents, were Trish Browne and Debbie Hencher. The latest loss was June Smerdon, and it was to June’s memory that we dedicated the Play “When We Are Married”, which we performed to celebrate our 30th anniversary. She was a much loved and generous lady, who supported us all with costume design as well as make-up. All their memories live on in the present members of St. Bernadette’s Players. May God look after them always and rehearse them well for that great Pantomime in the Sky!!!
It’s hard to believe now, but it wasn’t until 1985 that the first Pantomime “Cinderella” was produced and then almost by accident. Since 1985 the annual St. Bernadette’s Panto’s (most of them written by our own Dennis McHarrie, deceased) have become a firm favourite with adult audiences as well as children. But then, aren’t we all children at heart? And we haven’t been averse to experimenting either; not always successfully it has to be said, but we can’t win ‘em all!!!
The last Production in the school Hall was “Snow White”. At the time the plans for the new Church Hall were well advanced and there was even room for a permanent stage in the building. It was with much relish, tinged with a certain amount of sadness, that we dismantled the School Hall stage for the last time. What joy to be able to finish a production and not have to wield screwdrivers, hammers et al to take everything down, not to mention having to make it all fit back into the cramped store!
A NEW HOME
The first play to be set on the new stage was “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie, produced by Iris Purcell (deceased). That production showed up many of the challenges facing the Drama Club, not least of which was the realisation that all the scenery flats from the School Hall were not high enough. However, they say that the sun shines on the righteous (but then again, the Devil looks after his own!) and we heard that the St. John Vianney G & S Group was being wound up and that they were prepared to donate their scenery flats to us. By sheer coincidence they were exactly the right height for our new stage.
The other advantage of the Church Hall was that, for the first time in its existence, the Drama Club had a permanent home and so could function as a true Club for the first time and have its own meeting night once a week. And that is how Thursday night became Drama Club Night.
Bernard Melling had long had the dream of building a workshop and store for the Drama Club. He approached the Arts Council for Lottery money to build an edifice of brick. He begged, borrowed and stole expertise from as many contacts as possible and had drawings made, obtained planning permission and submitted his first application. It was turned down, with a list of criteria not fulfilled by the Group.
He then recruited Alan Millington, a long-standing member, to help with the second application which, to cut a long story short, was also turned down by the Arts Council. They sought help from the Arts Council, asking for precise details of the hoops they wished us, as a Drama Club, to jump through. The third application was successful, at last, but they turned round and told us that they had run out of money, so we received nothing. To say that the Project Managers, Bernard and Alan, were demoralized, is an understatement. The whole Project was put on the back burner.
In November 2004, Bernard Melling attended a meeting for “Creative Industries” at which it was hinted that the National Lottery “Awards For All” people were under spent for the North West Region. This spurred Bernard on to resurrect the Project. But since the maximum amount which could be awarded was only £5,000.00, it meant that the Project would have to be re-designed. And so the concept of a wooden structure was born. At about that time Bernard also heard that St. Bernadette’s Church was in a part of Blackpool known as a “Regeneration Hot Spot”, and so qualified to apply for Community Chest funding, with a maximum grant of £5,000.00. Bernard submitted applications to both bodies, and encouraged the Drama Group to continue fund-raising. There was already around £4000.00 in the Building fund. We ran a quiz night, which raised £400.00 and the local Bispham Conservative Club ran a Charity Night on our behalf, which raised a further £900.00.
We had enough money to buy a wooden structure similar in design to the original plans, not as big, but big enough for our needs. Brompton Joinery, of Mowbray Drive was commissioned to make and erect the structure, and it had its official opening in March 2005. It has already proved its worth with the Scenery for all Productions now made and painted in “The Ark”, the name it was given because of its resemblance to pictures of Noah’s Ark as depicted in some Bibles.
Bernard Melling has also secured further funding to replace the flooring of the stage, which is now some 15 years old and well worn, and he has plans to apply for more funding for other expensive projects waiting to be actioned.
And that pretty well brings us up to date, so far as the history of the group is concerned. Changes are being made and innovative ideas are being explored as we write, but more money will be needed from the National Lottery and/or other funding bodies if they are to be realised.
As with all Drama groups, new members are always needed; we currently have 49 members on the books. But not everyone wants to appear on stage – no problem! There are plenty of jobs and plenty of fun to be had back stage. Anyone with an artistic flair, be it painting, set design, model making, and joinery etc. etc. can find a home with us. So why not “suck it and see”, with no obligation? We have an “open door” policy and welcome anyone so long as they have an interest in Drama and will conform to our Equal Opportunities Policy. We meet each Thursday from 7.30pm until about 10.00pm. If you feel shy at turning up on your own, approach any member and we will ensure that you are not embarrassed – or bring a friend along. As with most Drama Clubs, we are particularly interested in attracting younger men, from 16 to 40-ish.
We started our 32nd Season with the Play “House Guest” by Francis Durbridge and will soon be in rehearsal for our annual Pantomime. This year we will be performing “Puss In Boots”, a Pantomime we have never done before, and rehearsals are in full swing; so we must be doing something right!!!
The Bernadette Players
ST. BERNADETTE’S PLAYERS
ROLL OF HONOUR
Fr. Joseph Haydon
Rev. Fred Miller
William (Bill) Purcell