Reopening Doncaster's old theatre would be just Grand, says Friends group

First taken by his father to Doncaster’s Grand Theatre as an eight-year-old, Colin Hogg was fascinated by how the different parts of the shows he watched came together. By the early 1950s 15-year-old Colin, from Highfields, was ready to learn at first-hand how everything worked.

Plucking up courage, Colin pushed through the main entrance in Station Road and asked to speak to the stage manager.

“I asked him if I could help because I was very interested, especially in the backstage work,” said Colin. “He said, ‘Yes, but we can’t pay you because you’re too young.’ I said, ‘I don’t want paying, I want to learn.’”

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Starting as a call-boy Colin quickly learned the ropes and became a mainstay at the Grand Theatre during his two years’ work experience.

Colin Hogg, Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre committee member.Colin Hogg, Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre committee member.
Colin Hogg, Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre committee member.

Shows would usually end by 10pm, and if it was the last night, it was all hands on stage. Colin said: “We called it ‘get-outs’. If the show was due to open at another theatre we had to gather all the production materials on to the stage, roll up the scenery and then take it along to Doncaster railway station. In those days there was a railway siding so when the train came in, we would load the entire show and away it would go to its next performance.

“‘Get-ins’ meant a new show would arrive, by train, and we would collect the scenery and props from Doncaster railway station and take it back to the theatre. One night, a ‘get-in’ train was very late arriving from Rotherham. We collected the scenery and brought it back to the Grand Theatre. But by the time I got home to Highfields it was at 6am!

Colin became friendly with some of the performers at Doncaster Grand Theatre.

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He said: “There was Billy Thorburn, a pianist and band leader. Jamaican-born Chester Harriott was a gifted piano player and his son is the chef Ainsley Harriott. There was Albert Modley, a comedian and entertainer from Bradford.

“Among the theatre employees, Ossie was the commissionaire on the doors. He was a First World War veteran and wore his miniature war medals on his official uniform with pride. He walked with a limp but that didn’t stop him putting up all the show posters around town. He would set off on his bicycle with a paste bucket and he mounted the large display posters around Doncaster. He was an unbelievable chap.”

Now a member of the Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre committee, Colin uses his memories of the Grand in its heyday to imagine what the reopened theatre would bring to the people of Doncaster, the city’s cultural life and the local economy.

“Reopening Doncaster Grand Theatre would have wide-ranging benefits, I believe,” Colin says. “There’s the history of the building which is being captured through an oral history project. For the arts it would be an outlet for schools, colleges and arts associations which would be drawn to the building to rehearse and perform.

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“The theatre is perfectly positioned close to the railway station in the heart of the city centre which means the footfall would be great. I really think for the Grand Theatre, the sky’s the limit!”

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