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 It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC).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 in ENSA, including Robert Rietty, Gracie Fields, George Formby, Wilfrid Brambell, Joyce Grenfell, Adelaide Hall, Paul Scofield, Rebecca Cantwell, Dora Bryan and Vera Lynn.
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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