The heyday of the Baines School Musical. 82-96
The Musical Director – Robert Richmond
First of all, let me warn you that my memories of these musical events may not be entirely reliable. I take no responsibility for any distortions that occur in my recall of events. Likewise, I apologise profusely in advance to anybody I may inadvertently overlook in this account, and who gave their all in contributing to any of these mammoth productions. They were great collaborations which culminated in some of the best performances you could wish to experience.
So, let me launch into a fairly random account of my memories of those days. I cannot remember
accurately the correct order of events, but it went something like this:
The Wiz (1)
Guys and Dolls
Pirates of `Penzance
Return to the Forbidden Planet
The Wiz (2)
Staff contributions to these occasions were immense. Stages were erected, scenery was constructed and painted, budding singers, actors and dancers appeared out of the blue from within the teaching body. Sound effects were ingeniously manufactured, musical accompaniments were rehearsed and often recorded in the studio. Lighting, makeup, choreography and costumes were all taken care of as if by magic. Sue Biggs (nee Nuttall) and Tony Stuart gave direction to the shows year after year with endless creative talent. I should avoid naming names of the many stalwart contributors on the stage because I just know that people will be offended if I don’t mention them, but how could I overlook the many appearances of Andy Darbourne, George Purves and Dave Astall? I had superb musical help from Kevin Matthews, Heather Harrison and Hughie Mett. Unusual cameos were provided to form a staff barbershop quartet, a roller-skating butler, singing air-stewardesses etc etc. There was a lot of fun to be had and a lot of us were happy to risk our image and reputations in order to partake in this fun.
So much talent and enthusiasm, and I haven’t made any mention of the pupils yet. I think there were over 100 involved in our first production: Dracula Spectacula. How did we ever fit everybody on stage in school? How did we ever get everybody into a recording studio to produce our cassettes? How did we run all the electrical apparatus from tape-recorders, synthesisers, amplifiers, keyboards to smoke machines from one plug socket at the back of the stage? (I remember an impromptu interval had to be announced during one performance when the whole system overloaded and blew a fuse). How did the pupils provide a very professional sounding pit orchestra, and deliver such exhilarating musical accompaniments for the singers? How did the singers provide, unfailingly, such superb musical performances night after night, and for some year after year?
I keep asking all these questions, but there are no answers. We just got out there and did it, and took all the problems in our stride. I remember that in the year of Twistin’ Time my wife gave birth to triplets, just over a month before the opening performance. I was overwhelmed by the support and help I was given by the school’s hierarchy. I remember Muriel saying when I gave her my list of requirements for a successful show: “Well Bob, I didn’t realise you wanted me to suspend the normal running of the entire school.” I don’t know how she did it, but an awful lot of staff spent an awful lot of time up at the Marine Hall in July 1990.
Artistic Director - Tony Stuart
Thoughts of The staff
First show I was involved with at Baines was indeed Twistin' Time, helped a bit with musical preparation but main contribution was backstage the week of the show at Marine Hall. I was a bit out of my comfort zone shifting scenery and the like but remember the excitement felt by everyone as we were at Marine Hall whereas before I THINK am right in saying that previous shows had been in the school hall. It was also a world premiere as the music had been written by our very own Mr Richmond. The following Christmas I put on a play with sixth formers, Who Killed Santa Claus? Id seen it on TV years before and thought it might be simple enough to stage. However it soon became apparent that there were lots of technical issues, sound effects and tricky blackouts. Enter Tim Reed from the fifth form who assumed the role of stage manager with ease, in fact he saved me many a headache. Id even go so far as to quote the song "Wind Beneath my Wings"!!!. He was a member of Thornton Cleveleys Youth Theatre for whom he'd already persuaded me to be MD on their recent production of Half a Sixpence. This meant that we had brownie points so were allowed to raid their scenery store and create the set which was the lounge of TV personality Barbara Love if my memory serves me right. Actually Barbara's secretary was played by Joanne Appleby who now sings with English National Opera! Anyway there was much hauling and painting of scenery on Sundays, not to mention the actual rehearsals. The play was presented back in the school hall which meant an extension to the stage having to be built. Enter Mr Thwaites, now sadly no longer with us, but it is no exaggeration to say that the two plays we put on would simply not have happened without his input. He even got time off his normal teaching to build it and lets just say it couldnt be done in an afternoon. Anyway Santa Claus came and went, as he does every year, until suddenly it was the following Christmas when Billy Liar was the dramatic offering. Tim was again stage manager and me the director but for one reason and another I ended up having to play Billy himself. This involved the smokers in the teaching staff, of which there were a few, showing me how to make it look convincing for my first entrance.
That was it as far as plays went but the next show was The Wiz which am thinking was 1992. I was in the orchestra for that and would frequently get lost in initial rehearsals because I wasnt used to playing from band parts where you couldnt follow whoever was singing! The Wiz was full of good stuff and we had a cast of thousands returning to the Marine Hall or so it seemed at the time. Baines next tried their hand at Gilbert and Sullivan and we went to see the reformed D'Oyly Carte Opera doing The Mikado. A few doubts were raised after seeing it as to whether we could actually do it but it was one of those productions which just gelled under the direction of Mr Stuart with Mr Richmond again at the helm musically, the orchestra made up mainly of Baines pupils. I was called upon to sing Nanki Poo with Mr Purves also showing the staff's desire to get up onstage with everyone by playing the title role. All of the cast were top class, the pivotal role of Ko Ko being in the capable hands of Stephen Meehan.
I left Baines in the summer of 1994 to go back to music college but was allowed to go back for another Gilbert and Sullivan in the September, namely The Pirates of Penzance. Cast and production team wise it was much the same. The singing isnt that easy but for the role of Mabel we had the afore mentioned Mr Thwaite's daughter Claire soaring heavenwards.
Started singing professionally three years after Id left Baines, a path that took me to Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Opera, productions in the round at the Royal Albert Hall, Opera North, Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera, Garsington Opera and last but certainly not least the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Having been teaching musical theatre recently under the umbrella of performing arts Ive been reminded that the clue is in the title, its a "performing" art and though undoubtedly things need to be done in the classroom the reason we all get involved is for the performance of whichever piece it is and thats where you do your main learning. The best memories of Baines I have are the admittedly what feels like endless rehearsals at times leading up to concerts, choir performances, the orchestra playing carols at the local primary schools or being on a float during a gala at Great Eccleston but most of all being actually WITH the pupils either backstage or onstage where just for a few magic hours I ceased to be Mr Matthews and was an equal part of a very talented ensemble.
Duet Magic Flute with me
Those that went into the business
Andrew Reed - Stage manager Chichester Festival
It still amazes me that it's been 25 years since I left Baines - in my mind the school remains exactly the same as it was back then, but something tells me things have moved on somewhat. I loved being involved with the drama clubs and shows while at Baines, but it always felt more of a hobby than anything I was seriously considering working in. After my A-Levels, I had my first taste of professional theatre, working at the North Pier, on a variety show with Lily Savage, just pushing pieces of set on or off, but there was just something about it that I adored.
I studied Science Communication at Sheffield Hallam University during which time I was working at the world famous Crucible Theatre (yes even working on the Snooker), and began to realise this environment was where I wanted to spend my life. I completed my degree then and then hot-footed it to Drama School in London to study Stage Management.
In the twenty years I have been working I am lucky to have worked in The West End and toured both the UK and Internationally. My passion is usually large-scale musical theatre, where the complex shows create real challenge, but have also done many busy plays including 'War Horse', and was heavily involved with creating the play 'Quiz' about the 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' cheating scandal which was later turned into a TV Drama in 2020.
As well as my brother, I'm always very aware that there are a huge number of people in the industry from the Blackpool area - there must have been something in the water! I'm certainly very grateful for all of the shows I was involved in at The Marine Hall, Fleetwood.
At the age of 15 and with the approval and support from Mrs. Gaskell I arranged my own work experience at the Opera House in Blackpool. It was an amazing time and led to the offer of summer work, I was hooked. From then I volunteered for all the school productions including ‘Guys & Dolls’, ‘The Wiz’, ‘Billy Liar’ and ‘Who Killed Santa Clause’. I spent many hours after school and at the weekend in the school hall with Mr. Thwaites building the stage and taking on the role of ‘stage manager’. It was at this point that I realized this was the career I wanted. I went on to study Performing Arts at Blackpool & Fylde College then on to Drama School in London to study Stage Management. I started work in the West End as Assistant Stage Manager for Paul Daniels at 18 which was followed by contracts on several large scale musical tours. I’ve been very lucky to have had a career doing something that I love. Over the past 25 years I have managed some amazing talent including SCLUB7, worked on some of the largest TV shows including ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, ‘The X Factor’ and ‘The Royal Variety Show’. I’ve also Produced and General Managed over twenty large scale shows all over the world including ‘Chicago’, ‘Cats’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Annie’, ‘The Bodyguard’ and ‘Magic Mike’. The best part is that I’ve had the chance to work with my brother a couple of times too ! To this day I remain very proud of Blackpool and grateful for the support and encouragement I received from my teachers at school especially Mr. Matthews who made me realise it was ok to like Theatre.
Having the option to choose drama and media as creative subjects at both GCSE and A-level at Baines sparked my interest in the media. Helping me discover the wider media landscape. I now work at ITV Studios in Factual Entertainment and it’s great to know the spark for my passion started at Baines.
Some of the audience
Margaret McCann (Former Maths/IT teacher)
Yep, there is more to education for life over snd above the academics. All this is enriching, life enhancing and lodges in the personality and memories sections of the brain.
Your note reminds me of a Shakespeare play put on in my first or second year at Baines. It was produced by Lionel (Jack) Horner, DFC, former Spitfire and Wellington bomber pilot, and the lead character was played with appropriate dramatic expression, by Barry Mason, who went on to write Delilah and The Last Waltz for Tom Jones.