‘Royal’ Retirement at Heritage Open Day
Winchester historian, Phil Yates has led his final tour of the city’s Theatre Royal as part of Heritage Open Days 2017.
The spritely nonagenarian has been a volunteer at the theatre since 1974, when the venue closed as a cinema and was threatened with demolition. He was part of the ‘gang of six’ which saved the building, purchased in 1977 and re-opened the following year.
Whilst the theatre was getting ready to be re-launched, it was opened at certain times for the public to look around and Phil was asked to be their guide. This eventually led to official guided tours of the theatre.
Over the years he has entertained group tours with his memories of the building and the stars of stage, TV and variety, which trod the boards there. Phil interviewed many for the theatre’s archives, amongst them were Cyril Fletcher, Richard ‘Stinker’ Murdoch, Donald Swann and Kathy Staff (aka Nora Batty from Last of the Summer Wine). He also remembers Dame Gracie Fields, who early in her career once danced on the theatre’s stage, under her maiden name of Grace Stansfield.
Phil’s tours of the building gave visitors an access all area back stage pass, taking in normally inaccessible areas. Now 40 years later, Phil at 90 finally retired from guiding following the successful Heritage Open Days.
He commented, “It has been great fun, gaining knowledge all the time and extending the tours in recent years to the fly-tower in the highest part of the building. Over the years I’ve met so many nice people on my tours.”
Phil’s extensive knowledge of the history of the building led him in 2009 to co-edit with Madelaine Smith, the theatre’s official history book, Behind The Curtain.