AUBREY PHILLIPS 1933-2015
Here at IBY we were saddened to hear that Aubrey Phillips has passed away. A long time resident of Clwyd in North Wales, Aubrey was the driving force behind the Summer Season at Rhyl for a great many years during his long career as an Actor, Director, Producer and all round entertainer.
Many thanks to Aubrey’s friend and performer James Harman for some of the photographs used in this article.
Aubrey’s Summer Shows at The Gaiety Theatre Rhyl ran each year for between twelve and fifteen weeks, presenting a change of show each night of the season, and three performances of “Snow White” on a Thursday!
It was Aubrey’s production of the touring version of “Snow White” that entered the record books. It toured on and off for forty years, with “Farewell” tours starting around 1990 and finishing in 2008 when he “Passed on the Baton” to another company.
Dave Peters as Muddles
Aubrey began that mammoth tour when he first presented “Snow White” at the Victoria Theatre in Salford during his residency as Director. He was responsible for the weekly rep seasons, and presented this out of season pantomime for a lengthy run. The first cast in 1969-70 included Alex Munro- a fellow Summer Season Impresario. Alex presented shows at Llandudno’s “Happy Valley” Open Air Theatre, and at the Coliseum Rhyl from time to time. Other cast members included Mathew Kelly, Bryan Johnson, and escapolologists Paul and Danny Denver. The Russell Leite Juveniles played the Seven Dwarfs.
the Victoria Salford Rep Season
In conjunction with Stewart Suthurst, Aubrey began sending Snow White out on tour. The Company became Philip Bernard Productions. Frequently Bryan Johnson played Huntsman, along with Colin Beach as Wicked Queen, later James Harman, who remained a close friend of Aubrey’s up until his death. Bryan was famous for his entry in the early days of the Eurovision Song Contest with “Singing High High High”, and was the Brother of Teddy Johnson, partner of Pearl Carr- also Eurovision contestants in the 1950’s. The highlight of the forty years of Snow White on tour was a short season at the Victoria Palace London.
Joining Aubrey’s casts in Pantomime and tours was Charles Hawtrey, of “Carry On” Fame, Ken Platt, as well as Anna Karen- “On The Buses’s Olive” who appeared in Aubrey’s productions of “The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe”, and from the same Television & Film stable, Inspector “Blakey”, Stephen Lewis.
The longest star of the “Snow White” touring days was Debbie Young, who played the title role for over fifteen years.
I worked for Aubrey in the 1977 Summer Season at Rhyl’s Gaiety. I was fortunate enough to work with Debbie, and as happened in most years we performed “Snow White” each Thursday at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm during the long season. Charles Hawtrey was appearing at the start of the season, but was unwell, and I was moved up into the role of Muddles without delay. Aubrey as always played “Martha”- he billed himself “The Original Martha” (I’m not sure if Arthur Askey would have agreed!) and Johnny Dallas played the Huntsman Role, with Colin Beach as Wicked Queen , and on a few occasions when there was a problem Joe Holroyd played Queen and Colin became a stand-in Prince.
On a Thursday I actually did four shows- “Uncle Joe” and I appeared on the Prom in the Pierrot Shows for Aubrey. I was a replacement for “Auntie Dot” who apparently broke her arm and was unable to play the Piano- it was a very long day on a Thursday!
Joe Holroyd had been a founder member of Oldham repertory, and Aubrey and Joe became founders in turn of the Little Theatre in Rhyl.
Those Summer Seasons don’t exist today. Aubrey showed me how the need for expensive bills and posters was not necessary when a bright yellow Day-Glo two sided board outside the theatre worked just as well. The locals came at least once a week as well as the visitors who, in those days stayed at the resort for a week. Aubrey did six days at the Gaiety each week, presenting Wrestling on, I think the Saturday, which was “Change over” day at the seaside Resort.
Into those tiny dressing rooms we crammed hundreds of costumes. I supplied all my own for my solo “spots”, and then we had for each show at least one opening, one first half finale, an Act Two opening, a finale plus three “Scena” costumes. Aubrey had aquired a set of Roman Gladiator Costumes that season. Colin’s Auntie had been “On The Halls”, as he said, and taught him a silly number to the tune of “Entry Of The Gladiators”- that was that sorted!
We were Soldiers in Busby’s, Minstrels, Cowboys, Choirboys, Spanish, Chinese- in UV costumes singing “So Long Oolong”, we were In our Pantomime Costumes, in UV Blacks for Chris Covington’s “Star” Puppets, and in Evening Wear, Swim Wear, and to accompany Johnny Dallas singing “When A Child Is Born”, we were in Kaftans.
The experience gained from doing over four months of this change of show was invaluable. Aubrey prepared young performers for a lifetime of coping with whatever was handed out, and provided hundreds of artistes with work for over forty five years.
Sadly the Gaiety is no more. Aubrey’s long Summer seasons at The Floral Pavilion New Brighton are no more. The site of the Gaiety is occupied by public toilets that mimic the circular shape of the Gaiety auditorium foundations. Here is a picture of me on that site in 1977 and one taken last year. (2014).
Sadly visitors do not always go to Rhyl or to New Brighton to spend a week these days, but Aubrey’s “Summer Pantomime” format lives on in many places to this day.
Aubrey reported to a newspaper in 1977 “Summer Pantomime has been one of the mainstays of Phillip Bernard Productions. We have never looked back since we roaded “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” eight years ago. We’ve worn out three sets of scenery and it is still a hot favourite”
Memories of sitting in my corridor of a cramped dressing room listening to tales from a local who popped in of an evening – Roy Rolland, the man who took over from “Old Mother Riley” and became her once again- and to Bryan Johnson, to Colin’s stories of a speciality he had perfected- tap dancing en pointe- on large cake tins… of finding a peeling poster backstage announcing Danny Caroll in a “We’re No Ladies” show (before he changed it to La Rue) and of Aubrey and Johhny Dallas or Dave Peters swapping anecdotes, changing comedy routines in mid flow, and teaching newbies to always, always be on their toes- This is something I have to be eternally grateful for.
Dave Peters is no longer with us- Aubrey often did “a double” with him as”Two Vicars” and “Chelsea Pensioners”- he did the same with Johnny Dallas- I think they will be swapping anecdote sand performing long lost routines at this very minute.
Bless you Aubrey, and Thank You!