The Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) was an organisation established 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 It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC).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. Among the entertainers appearing on the bill were Adelaide Hall, The Western Brothers and Mantovani. A newsreel of this concert showing Hall singing "We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line" accompanied by Mantovani and His Orchestra exists.
Tap and acrobatic dancer Vivienne Hole, stage name Vivienne Fayre, a civilian aged 19, was the only ENSA member killed in the war. On 23 January 1945 in Normandy, she was being driven between shows as a passenger aboard a truck carrying stage scenery which strayed into a minefield. She was buried with full military honours in Sittard War Cemetery.
In popular culture
Despite many extremely talented entertainers 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 motion picture Love Story (1944) in which Margaret Lockwood stars as a concert pianist who makes an ENSA tour to North Africa and the Mediterranean region. The film Desert Mice (1959) follows the fictional escapades of an ENSA troop with Sid James assigned to the Afrika Korps.
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.
Partial list of performers
- Avril Angers
- Helen Clare
- Kenneth Connor
- Noël Coward
- Gracie Fields
- George Formby
- Beryl Grey
- Sonnie Hale
- Adelaide Hall
- Stanley Holloway
- Frankie Howerd
- Mary Lee
- Vera Lynn
- Jessie Matthews
- Laurence Olivier
- Lennard Pearce
- Bob and Alf Pearson
- Arthur Riscoe
- Thelma Ruby
- Peter Sellers
- The Western Brothers
- Myers, Rollo. 'Music in Battle-dress', in Music Since 1939 (1947), pp. 9-30
- Mantovani: A Lifetime in Music by Colin MacKenzie, p. 78: ISBN 978-1905226191
- "Friends of Highland Road Cemetery". Friendsofhighlandroadcemetery.org.uk. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- "Casualty Details". Cwgc.org. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- "Ensa". The Radio Times. 20 July 1978. p. 51. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- "Helen Clare singing Star of the 1930s 1940s & 1950s. BBC, Radio, recording and concert artist". Helenclare.com. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- "Greasepaint and Cordite: How ENSA Entertained the Troops During World War II: Amazon.co.uk: Merriman, Andy: 9781781311622: Books". Amazon. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- "Drury Lane Calling". The Radio Times. 17 May 1940. p. 14. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- Lee, Mary (2005). Forever Francie : my life with Jack Milroy. Edinburgh, Scotland: Black & White Publishing. ISBN 9781845028329.
- Miller, Sarah (29 September 2022). "At 97, Thelma Ruby is both a marvel and a rarity". Jewish News. Retrieved 5 October 2022.