West Cliff Theatre
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The West Cliff Theatre in Clacton-on-Sea, England, dates back to 1894 when Bert Graham, a 21-year-old civil servant, set up a concert party on a patch of waste ground in Agate Road. In 1899, along with Bernard Russell and Will Bentley, Graham moved the concert party to the West Cliff Gardens.
Bernard Russell died in 1910, but Graham and Bentley continued the concert party. In 1912 they signed up a new romantic baritone by the name of Stanley Holloway. He stayed with the company for three years.
In 1928, Graham and Bentley built a new theatre on the site of their concert party, the theatre which still stands in Clacton-on-Sea today as the West Cliff Theatre. In 1934, Graham and Bentley sold the theatre and it was bought by Will Hammer, who already owned several seaside theatres. In 1934 he also founded the film company Hammer Film Productions, which was later to gain worldwide fame as the producer of many horror films.
After the Second World War, the theatre, under Hammer, continued to put on summer shows. The 1947 show, Victory Vanities starred Nosmo King and a young up-and-coming comedian, appearing in his first-ever summer season, one Frankie Howerd.
Will Hammer died in 1957 and there was much doubt over whether the theatre would continue. Eventually, Clacton Council bought the theatre and continued to put on shows. In 1973, Francis Golightly took over the staging of the summer shows. He was responsible for unearthing some major new talent who went on to star in the West End - names such as Ruthie Henshall, Alex Bourne and Gary Wilmot.
In 1985, a local group of theatre enthusiasts took over the day-to-day running of the theatre and in 1995 bought the freehold of the theatre from the council. The West Cliff (Tendring) Trust is now solely responsible for putting on the shows at the theatre and still maintain the tradition of putting on a summer show.
As well as the summer show the Trust put on year-round entertainment with one-off variety shows, plays, children's shows, dance and other shows. There is also a thriving youth section, the West Cliff Youth Group, which puts on performances during the year, but is also a valuable means of training youngsters for the theatre.