Exhibit of the Week: 1964 South Pacific programme from heyday of summer entertainment

Picture shows a two pages from the council's 1964 programme for the production of South Pacific at the Open Air Theatre.
Picture shows a two pages from the council's 1964 programme for the production of South Pacific at the Open Air Theatre.

Ah, the heady days of the summer of ’64! Popular comedian and singer Dickie Henderson and pop vocalist Joan Regan were topping the bill at the now long-gone, and much-missed, Floral Hall, with twice nightly shows at 6.15pm and 8.40pm, and ‘two complete programmes, changing Thursdays’.

Supporting them, singer Vince (‘Edelweiss’) Hill, comedy double act Hope and Keen and – of course – the impossibly long-legged Tiller Girls, whose high-kicking routines were copied worldwide.

The Spa boasted Joe Black in ‘Dazzle’ in the Theatre; The Trevor Antony Showband in the Ballroom; and in the Grand Hall, the legendary violinist and bandleader Max Jaffa who, for many, came to epitomise Scarborough in the summer, but at this point was a relative newcomer – his first summer season here was in 1960.

At the Olympia – also long gone, having burned down in a dramatic fire in 1975 – there was a diverse variety of entertainment, ranging from Ray and Joan Da Silva’s ‘Children’s Showtime’, through old time and ‘teenage’ dances, wrestling, and family party nights.

So far, so familiar – the names and the venues may have shifted, but the programme of entertainment that still draws holidaymakers to Scarborough today is not too dissimilar.

Over at the Open Air Theatre, though, things were very different. This summer, we’re looking forward to Noel Gallagher, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, Bryan Adams and Busted, amongst others. Fifty-two years ago, the huge outdoor auditorium was presenting its own production of one of the world’s favourite musicals, South Pacific.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic features some of musical theatre’s best-loved songs, including Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and There Is Nothing Like a Dame (fabulously spoofed, of course, in the 70s by Morecambe and Wise).

The cast included Doreen Wilcox and Andrew Stent as the two younger leads, Ngana and Jerome, alongside William McDerment, Grace O’Connor, Tudor Evans, Digby Frank, Anthony Barker, Derek Kelsey, Leonard Debenham, David Robinson and Lesley Snow and a presumably substantial cast of ‘islanders, sailors, marines and officers’ (numbers aren’t given).

In the role of the feisty Bloody Mary – a character who definitely snags some of the best songs – we had the beautiful contralto Jean Grayston, who also happened to be Mrs Max Jaffa.

Seeing a major musical with a large cast at the Open Air Theatre must have been a remarkable experience. Built in a natural amphitheatre by Scarborough Corporation, it was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of London in 1932; the first production was ‘Merrie England’. With a water-bound island stage and seating for nearly 6,000, the venue drew thousands to lavish musicals such as The King and I, Annie Get Your Gun and, in 1947, the legendarily spectacular Hiawatha, in which ‘native American warriors’ paddled canoes in the water.

By the early 50s, over 1.5 million people had attended performances at the Open Air Theatre, to see shows with casts of up to 200.

The much loved ‘It’s a Knockout’ was held there each Wednesday over a period of 11 years in the 50s and 60s, setting an unofficial record of an 11,000-strong audience for a free recording of the BBC show in the 1960s.

The last musical to be produced at the Open Air Theatre – other than a YMCA production in 1982 – was ‘West Side Story’.

In 1977 the dressing rooms and stage set building on the island were demolished, and the seating removed, and in 1986, the venue closed after one final concert from James Last and His Orchestra. The venue was re-opened by the Queen in 2010 after a major £3.5m refurbishment.

The programme for the 1964 production of South Pacific at the Open Air Theatre is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.