Poverty & Dumplings & Nude Shows, Oh My!


In Maryhill, Glasgow in 1952, Theatre Workshop met an eccentric man named Albert Ernest Pickard, known locally as ‘The Maryhill Millionaire’ – he often wore a policeman’s hat fitted with traffic lights to boxing matches and he’d stood as an independent candidate in the 1951 General Election for Maryhill, with the election slogan:

“Make ‘em Laugh”

Albert Pickard.jpg

The reality of the situation was that he owned half of Maryhill and so he rented out an old house to Joan Littlewood and company at a knockdown price.

There, poorer than they’d ever been, they lived communally. Despite it all, they continued to rehearse.

Albert Pickard would sometimes pop around to discuss the conversion of an old church on his patch into a theatre but it would appear he had big ideas, short arms and long pockets.

At this time, the company had to make a minuscule amount of cash go a very long way. They ate fruit from shopkeepers who gave them end of day bargains and consumed a lot of porridge and pots of tea!

John Bury discovered that he could water down the milk for use in tea, saving the cream to make everyone a rice pudding.

Joby Blanshard would mix mince and oats then wallop a decent splodge on everybody’s plate.

On only one occasion, George Cooper prepared stew and dumplings – those dumplings have since passed into Theatre Workshop legend.

John Bury said of them;

“He served the dumplings with the water he had boiled them in as a gravy”

Harry H, Corbett simply recalled:

“Iron hard dumplings”

George Cooper eventually confessed:

“Something went wrong with the herbs. The dumplings tasted as if they had been rolled on the floor”

After a while, Howard Greene got to know a local woman who taught domestic science and he took her out every Friday, on his dole money. In return, every Saturday morning she came round to the house with a basket of food cooked by her pupils. The Theatre Workshop diet improved.

Then, early in 1953, Gerry Raffles received a telegram from Rowland Sales, a theatrical agent who’d been losing money through a nudie-rudie show at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where he held the lease.

The telegram said Theatre Workshop could have Theatre Royal for six weeks at £20 a week – payable in advance.

This telegram meant that after seven years of wandering and poverty, Theatre Workshop would wander no more.

And as for the poverty?
Unfortunately that did follow them to London.

However, they now had a permanent home.

Theatre Royal
**With thanks, once again to Brian Astbury for the series of articles from Reynolds News October 1960, based on interviews with Gerry Raffles and Howard Goorney.

Published by

Free For All

I find myself constantly inspired by the work & legacy of Joan Littlewood. All the best people have an MI5 file!

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