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Glorious memories of theatre

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

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THE Echo's recent coverage of the 50th anniversary of the closure of the city's Theatre Royal has brought back many memories

None more so than for St Leonard's resident Nina Morgan, who recalls the glory days when stars such as Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Kathy Kirby and Roy Orbison used to appear live on stage in Exeter.

Mrs Morgan, of Magdalen Road, Exeter, and her husband, the late Captain Peter Morgan, were family friends of the Echo's then film and drama critic Peter Jarman, and, as an amateur actress in her own right, was often invited to be a guest at shows Peter was reviewing.

Said Mrs Morgan: "Peter used to spend all his holidays visiting film studios and film sets. He made many show business friends both in the UK and in Hollywood, and when stars he knew performed in Exeter he was was invariably invited backstage to meet them after the show — and I was invited.

"My programme for the Roy Orbison show is dated Saturday, March 4, 1967, and I believe that it was staged live at the ABC Cinema.

"Roy, a Texan, was in Exeter as part of a marathon British tour.

"Chatting with him after the show we discovered that he was still grieving the tragic death in a road accident of his much-loved wife Claudette, who had provided the inspiration for one of his most successful hits, albeit he wrote it for another group. His parents were helping him to care for their two children.

"He told us that he was hoping to find a suitable English girl to become a nanny to his children and I think he did interview some Exeter girls while he was here, but nothing developed from that. He kindly signed his picture in the programme for me.

"Appearing with him in the Exeter show were The Settlers, Small Faces, and Paul and Barry Ryan."

The Engelbert Humperdinck show which Mrs Morgan attended was live on stage at the Odeon Cinema on Sunday, November 12, 1967.

Sharing the bill with Engelbert were That Was The Week That Was star Lance Percival, singer Gigi Galon and the Rockin' Berries group.

Mrs Morgan recalled: "Back in Engelbert's dressing room after the show we sat eating a supper of chicken drumsticks with him and he told us how his real name was Gerry Dorsey, but he had chosen Engelbert Humperdinck as his stage name and it seemed to have caught on well with the public."

The Odeon manager at that time was Roy Potts.

The Tom Jones show which Nina attended was at the ABC Cinema (formerly the Savoy), on Wednesday, November 22, when the Ted Heath Orchestra also appeared. She recalled: "There was a packed audience which greeted all Tom's appearances with a lot of noise. As tended to happen during his live shows, many girls in the audience threw their knickers on the stage.

"When we were talking to him after the show, he told us that during a dance routine which was part of his act, he had unfortunately banged his arm accidentally against a pillar and broken his wrist watch.

"He said he was fond of Exeter and was delighted to have played twice that night to full houses.

"Tom and his special guest star, Kathy Kirby, both signed their portraits in the programme for me."

Nina said that the ABC, then managed by Bob Parker, had an excellent stage which was ideal for live shows.

She added: "Local people loved to see those big live shows and there were always very good audiences.

"Sad to say, both the ABC and the Theatre Royal are no longer with us and we no longer seem to get these glorious big professional shows coming to the city. You have to go to London to see that kind of show.

"What a shame it is that we no longer have a city centre theatre with the facilities the ABC could provide."

The ABC also hosted live appearances by The Beatles and Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

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