Eric participated in 176 productions at the Barn.
According to Pam, Eric’s entry into amateur drama was as follows. Pam had joined the I.C.I. Dramatic Club and was at work, discussing with the director of their next play, Thos. E. Symes, her role as Assistant Stage Manager. Thos. stated he was looking for someone to play the leading role, Witch Boy, in their forthcoming production of Dark of the Moon, when Eric, not an acquaintance of either of them, walked past the window. Thos. Shouted ‘He’s the one’ and they persuaded Eric to take the part, his first acting role.
Eric’s father was a regular soldier in the Royal Horse Artillery who had fought in the battle of the Somme in 1916, in charge of Number 1 Gun. Later posted to Newport in South Wales, Eric was born there in 1929. After his father had left the army they subsequently moved to Cambridge. Eric did his National Service in the RAF and then rejoined ICI in Welwyn Garden City. The ICI Dramatic Club were regular players at the Barn as also were the Welwyn Drama Club, and Eric joined the latter in 1957. His first job that year was lighting A Streetcar Named Desire, and he soon tried his hand at set design in 1959 with The Mystery of the Mary Celeste. Also, that year he tried his hand at directing with Romanoff and Juliet, in which, discovering the problem faced by all directors, that of filling the bit parts, he cast himself as A Layabout. He was appointed to the Committee. A string of designs followed including the famous joint production with the Welwyn Folk Players of Oh What a Lovely War which opened on the 50th Anniversary of the Armistice on 11th November 1968.
The Drama Club and the Folk Players amalgamated in 1969 to form The Barn Theatre Club, increasing the number of plays produced. This gave him the opportunity to design several sets each season, and also help with set building and do the lighting for many productions, sometimes doing all three jobs on the same play, and often working with Pam. In his ‘spare time’ he was Stage Director, overseeing all productions, and also revamped the kitchen and toilets. In 1983 his set for the festival one-act play Erpingham Camp won the Stage Decor Award in the All-England Final, and in 1984 he designed the set for 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, which won the English Final.
Eric’s set designs were quite simply often masterpieces of detail and accuracy. He was involved from 1969 until January this year in over 180 productions at the Barn and designed sets at least 80 times. Examination of the current exhibition of a dozen of his set models in the Clubroom reveals the detail to which his patience must have contributed. Directors with whom he worked were fed useful information and artistic ideas. Potential difficulties were discussed and overcome or altered.
John Davies writes: ‘Eric was a magician. The Lady in the Van was at first sight impossible to perform at the Barn; how on earth could one back a van onto the stage, then paint it a different colour during the interval? Eric looked at the script, and thought he might be able to solve the problem. That was reassurance enough for me to offer the play, and then of course he made a careful scale drawing of the solution, put in a vast amount of personal effort helping to build it, and made the trick work. An amazing man.’
Eric served as Chairman of the Club from 1986 to 1992. Other offices he filled were, at various times, Technical Director, Productions Director, Stage Director and Services Director, and Council Member. He prepared The Rough Guide, outlining the processes all productions need to go through. He worked on occasion with other companies, the Campus Rotary Music Hall, the Barnstormers Music Hall, and the Hertfordshire Players at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, as well as on school productions when he was a teacher at Onslow School.
His papers on our approach to submission for a Lottery Grant, and the detail of the reasons for our failure to achieve this, and its likely effect on the Club’s future, are superb examples of well-ordered research. No other member knew as much about this building, or contributed as much time and practical effort to its upkeep and development as Eric. He had redesigned and redeveloped the foyer twice, 20 years apart.
Eric was a man of strong opinions, but not confrontational, so we only realised this if the conversation happened to alight on one of his pet subjects. Essentially Eric was a quiet person, friendly, and excellent company. Dependability was one of his overriding qualities. No one other member will be able to fill the vacancy left by his departure.
Just as we will find it difficult to fill the inevitable gap in our lives, so the Club will have to learn to replace his work.
We offer our condolences to Pam, and David, Richard and Alan and their families.
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Part 1, 18th Jan 8pm
Part 2, 19th Jan 8pm
Parts 1+2 20th Jan 2.30pm
Part 1, 23rd Jan 8pm
Part 2, 24th Jan 8pm
Part 1, 25th Jan 8pm
Part 2, 26th Jan 8pm
Part 1, 27th Jan 2.30pm
Part 2, 27th Jan 8pm