Monday, December 24, 2007

A Babe Remembers

We are visiting Isobel's Aunty Rhoda who, aged 92, is now resident in a nursing home. For her age she does remarkably well, but she does tend to forget things and gets a bit confused at times. We tell her that her great nephew Alexander has been invited to an interview at Leicester Medical School. This news seems to pass her by, but a few minutes later she says: "I went to Leicester once, but I didn't like it. It was when I was on the stage". We all nod our heads and smile in the way that you do when an old person has said something a little batty. It's one of those "there, there" moments (as in "there, there love, drink your cup of tea") But then Isobel says "that's right Aunty, I remember my mother once telling me that you were on the stage as a young girl". I am amazed. I find it impossible to imagine Aunty R on the stage. She has many talents - few people I have ever met, for example, can deliver an insult like Aunty R - but I had never imagined that singing and dancing on the professional stage were amongst them.

I go into full investigative mode, if there is one thing I love it is what the press nowadays calls a "backstory". It turns out that Aunty R was a member of a troupe called the Winstanley Babes when she was young. They must have been reasonably professional and well-known as she was recalling performing for a week in Leicester which is a fair distance from her native Liverpool. The date - as best we were able to track it down - must have been in the late 1920s or very early 1930s. A little bit of web-based research when I got home revealed that the Winstanley Babes was not a figment of an old lady's imagination but a professional troupe active from the twenties up until the fifties and based in the North West. Jimmy Clitheroe - who went on to find fame on the radio - was an early member of the troupe. And so - it would seem - was Aunty R. I even tracked down an old theatre poster advertising a show featuring the Babes.

Aunty R will be coming for tea on Boxing Day. She might think that she is coming for a rare trip out of the Home and a chance to be with all her family. In fact she is heading for a session of detailed interrogation that would not be out of place in Guantanamo Bay. I want to know more about the Babes and the time they spent on the road. I want to know what she did, what she sang, what she danced. Aunty R will know it all - I doubted her memory once but now I have learnt my lesson. She might not know what day of the week it is or who the Prime Minister is (indeed, I've been having trouble with these two questions recently), but she will know all about the Winstanley Babes. And that's good enough for me.

6 comments:

  1. Jill McCarthy8:42 AM

    Just came across your blog and wanted to say that the Babes was still in existence in the 60's. I was a Babe at the Liverpool Empire for a whole season in Puss in Boots with Jimmy Tarbuck, Frankie Vaughan - I think it was 1964. Miss Winstanley was still going strong and we were "taught" in our dressing room each day.

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  2. Keith Mealey11:27 PM

    My mother in law (Edith Carr)toured with the Winstanley Babes from 1932 to 1938 approx.She is 87 on Saturday. She can remember bits and pieces and remembers appearing with Jimmy Clitheroe. She can also remember that they had to go to different schools because they were touring. She appeared at Empire Liverpool, Salford Hippodrome, Thelmans Blackpool, Alahmbra Blackburn?, The Royalty Chester.

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  3. Janice nee hall appeared as a Wiinstanley Babe in the early sixties, at the Palace Manchester.
    What wonderful memories with Auntie Joan and co. I would love to get in touch with anyone who also appeared in 'Turn Again Whittington and Humpty Dumpty.

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    1. Anonymous10:38 AM

      Hello Janice

      I was at the Palace Manchester 19523/4/5 in Dick Whittingon with Aunty Joan who used to live near me in Wythenshawe Manchester. We had lessons in the dressing room and I am also trying to find some of the girls who were in the shows with me.

      Linda Bryant (Brookes)

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  4. Anonymous3:27 PM

    i know a lady may reid who danced early 30,s and im tring to track any old photos would be gratefull to any one who has any ..many thanks janet

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  5. I was a Winstanley babe around 1970 starring at the Palace theatre in Manchester with Anita Harris and Jimmy Clitheroe. We had a private tutor- good times.

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