Entertainments National Service Association
The Entertainments National Service Association or ENSA was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War II. ENSA operated as part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes. It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC).
The first big wartime variety concert organized by ENSA was broadcast by the BBC to the Empire and local networks from RAF Hendon in north London on 17 October 1939 and Adelaide Hall, The Western Brothers and Mantovani were amongst those entertainers appearing on the bill. A rare Newsreel of this concert showing Adelaide Hall singing We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line accompanied by Mantovani and his orchestra still exists.
Many well-known stars have performed for ENSA, including Sir Seymour Hicks, who led the first show in 1939; also in demand were the other original E.N.S.A. organisers, Beatrice Lillie, Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Sir Harry Lauder; other top stars performing for E.N.S.A. throughout the war years were Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Gertrude Lawrence, Leslie Henson, Gracie Fields, George Formby, Florrie Forde, Anna Neagle, Leslie Banks, Vera Lynn, Noël Coward, Jessie Matthews, Josephine Baker, Jack Buchanan, John Gielgud, Evelyn Laye, John McCormack, Ivor Novello, Will Hay, Margaret Rutherford, Stanley Holloway, Claire Luce, Will Fyffe, Deborah Kerr, Claude Hulbert, Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Tommy Trinder, Flanagan and Allen, Gordon Harker, Naunton Wayne, Joyce Grenfell, Adelaide Hall, Arthur Askey, Edith Evans, Michael Wilding, Vivien Leigh, Emlyn Williams, Bobby Howes, Arthur Lucan as Old Mother Riley, Jack Hylton, Diana Wynyard, Elisabeth Welch, Hetty King, Leslie Hutchinson, Fred Emney, Hermione Baddeley, Hermione Gingold, Cyril Ritchard, Jack Hawkins, Vic Oliver, Ben Lyon, Bebe Daniels, Spike Milligan, Geraldo and His Orchestra, Binnie Hale, Clifford Mollison, Alastair Sim, Tessie O'Shea, Terry-Thomas, The Western Brothers, Betty Driver, Jack Warner, Madge Elliott, Frances Day, Jimmy Jewel, Douglas Byng, Gert and Daisy, Nervo and Knox, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, Dorothy Squires, Ernest Thesiger, Josef Locke, Billy Cotton, Sandy Powell, Wilfrid Brambell, Paul Scofield, Rebecca Cantwell, pianist Cyril Smith, Robert Rietty, and Dora Bryan.
In popular culture
Despite many extremely talented entertainers and movie stars, past and future, working for ENSA, the organisation was necessarily spread thin over the vast area it had to cover. Thus many entertainments were substandard, and the popular translation of the acronym ENSA was "Every Night Something Awful".
The television sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum concerned the misadventures of a group of soldiers providing entertainment for an army barracks in India. These were known as the Concert Party and were not ENSA members per se.
ENSA also featured in the television sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart, in the episode "How I Won the War".
The only known ENSA theatre to have survived in its original condition is the Garrison Theatre at Hurst Castle in the New Forest National Park. Created by servicemen in 1939, the proscenium arch still bears the badge and grenades of the Royal Artillery, and the curtains still hang from an old galvanised gas pipe. Shows are presented from time to time by the Friends of Hurst Castle.
In the Are You Being Served? episode entitled "Camping In", Mr. Grainger told a story of being a member of ENSA which Mr. Humphries said stood for "Every Night Something awful 'Appens".
- Mantovani: A Lifetime in Music by Colin MacKenzie, page 78: ISBN 978-1905226191
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