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Phil meets the cast!

Last week (Thursday 5 May) the cast of the musical theatre show The Glee Club met former Theatre Royal Winchester archivist Phil Yates – after they learned that the show and Phil share a very special connection.

The Glee Club tells the story of five miners and a church organist rehearsing for a local gala in the 1960s, while Phil was one of the little-known Bevin Boys – young men aged 18 to 24 who were sent to do unskilled manual jobs in coal mines during World War II to help production when supply ran low after experienced miners were called to war. Plus, The Glee Club is set in South Yorkshire while Phil worked in the west of the county.

During their intimate meet and greet Phil talked to the cast about being conscripted as a Bevin Boy and his time working down the mines and told them that they portrayed the camaraderie between miners perfectly.

The cast said: ‘We had a lovely time meeting Phil. He recognised a number of references of the play and the set. For example, the pit wheels on stage were similar to the ones at the pit that he worked at.’

Phil commented: 'The show brought back memories of my time working down the pits at Castleford and Pontefract and visiting the minors' social clubs. I told the cast about my work pony driving near the coal face and working on the haulage roads.'

Most people know of Phil as one of the ‘Gang of Six’ who helped save the theatre from the threat of demolition (and being turned into a supermarket) in 1974. That summer a group was formed to raise money to buy the building – once a hotel, a cine-variety venue where audiences watched live acts and silent films and a full-time cinema that showed news from the front-line during World War II. In 1977 the group bought the building and refurbished it themselves and in November 1978 it opened as the Theatre Royal.

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