Entertainments National Service Association

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"ENSA" redirects here. For other uses, see ENSA (disambiguation).
An ENSA concert party entertaining troops from the steps of a chateau in Normandy, 26 July 1944
Black and white photo of a bespectacled man in suit and tie looking at the camera
The founders of the ENSA, Basil Dean (top) and Leslie Henson
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 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 It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC).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.[1]


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, Victoria Hopper, Clive Brook, Deborah Kerr, Claude Hulbert, Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Tommy Handley, Tommy Trinder, Flanagan and Allen, Gordon Harker, Naunton Wayne, Joyce Grenfell, Adelaide Hall, Arthur Askey, Edith Evans, David Farrar, 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.

During 1945, actors Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson were created honorary army Lieutenants in ENSA. They performed Shakespeare's plays for the troops in a six-week tour of Europe.

In popular culture[edit]

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".

Chaos Supersedes ENSA, a mini-series (1980), was written and directed by Patrick Garland for Thames Television.

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".

In the popular BBC sitcom Dad's Army episode "Museum Piece", ENSA is revealed to be using the rifles Captain Mainwaring so desperately seeks.

In the BBC sitcom Up Pompeii episode "Lysistrata the Peace Treaty", The main character Lurcio { Frankie Howerd } is drafted into the army. He is told by Captain Bumptius that he will be assigned to "ENSA". Lurcio responds that it's not that bad and starts going over show ideas. Captain Bumptius then tells him it stand for the "East Naples Suicide Army"!


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

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