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31 July 2012

John Williams’ memories of Toad of Toad Hall – Dramsoc 1953

The recent New Theatre Showcase at The University of Nottingham brought back wonderful memories for English graduate John Williams, now 81, from Worcestershire, who produced a number of plays for Dramsoc in the early 1950s, a heyday of amateur dramatics at the University and he remembers a brief period at the end of his finals as being one of his most memorable times.

“We were all taking finals in the summer of 1953, and halfway through a three-hour exam, I thought about the three weeks before we got our results and how we might fill it. Something popular, I thought. Something to make up for the financial loss of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Crime Passionel, which I’d produced the previous year. Although the team worked very hard on that production, we were never happy with it.

“So I thought Toad of Toad Hall would be a good idea. In those next three weeks, we rehearsed, learned all the songs, built some wonderful sets and put Toad on. Apart from the usual three performances, we hired a bus and did a couple of performances at a school in Mansfield - again packed out.

“I remember the cast included people like John Chaldicott (Toad) Peter Medland ( Badger), Rex Satchwell (Mole) and Rene Watts (Ratty) and especially Leo Lambourne who made a lot of the small part of the Policeman.

“Then we came back to the Great Hall to do two more performances for local children, and that's what brought us a problem. Because, for the first time, a dramsoc performance was to be given to outsiders, and fire regulations had to be looked into.

“ ‘Are these fireproofed?’, asked the fire officer, staring at the huge curtains. I said I thought they probably were. ‘Let's see’, he said, and produced a box of matches and set light to the hem of the curtains. It burned quite steadily - nothing flamboyant you understand, but it did burn.

“An ageing university official was summoned; he recalled that when King George V came to open University College in 1928 , there was a bit of a panic getting the curtains up and in fact they were in position only 20 minutes before HRH turned up. Fireproofing had been set aside.

“I suppose", I said gloomily, we'll have to cancel the children's performances. ‘Never!’ he said. ‘You don't want to be doing that - terribly disappointing. Have you got any buckets?’

“So that's what we did. Toad went ahead, two noisy, packed halls with schoolchildren, eleven buckets of water in the wings, and two more on stage pretending to be scenery.

“I wonder if that curtain is fireproofed now?”

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