Entertainments National Service Association

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An ENSA concert party entertaining troops from the steps of a chateau in Normandy, 26 July 1944
ENSA Glamour Girls distribute cigarettes and beer to troops in North Africa, 26 July 1942.
Black and white photo of a bespectacled man in suit and tie looking at the camera
The founders of the ENSA, Basil Dean (above) and Leslie Henson (below)
Black and white photo of a bespectacled man in suit and tie resting his elbows on a table, with his face resting against his right hand

The Entertainments National Service Association (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 It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC).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 organised by ENSA was broadcast by the BBC to the Empire and local networks from RAF Hendon in north London on 17 October 1939. Adelaide Hall, The Western Brothers and Mantovani were amongst those entertainers appearing on the bill. A 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 exists.[1]

Many members of ENSA went on to have very successful entertainment careers after the war, including film stars such as Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers and Kenneth Connor.

In popular culture[edit]

Despite many extremely talented entertainers and movie stars 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".

ENSA plays a modest role in the 1944 motion picture Love Story in which Margaret Lockwood stars as a concert pianist who makes an ENSA tour to North Africa and the Mediterranean region.

The 1959 film Desert Mice follows the fictional escapades of an ENSA troop starring Sid James assigned to the Africa core.

Former ENSA member and writer Jimmy Perry with his writing partner David Croft wrote the BBC sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum which ran from 1974 to 1981. The series was set around the Royal Artillery Concert party in Deolali, and was based on his experiences with ENSA during World War II.

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 original galvanised gas pipe. Shows are presented from time to time by the Friends of Hurst Castle.


  1. ^ Mantovani: A Lifetime in Music by Colin MacKenzie, page 78: ISBN 978-1905226191

External links[edit]