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Our Earliest Days



Betty Dawes [nee Carpenter] recalled “Our earliest days”
Betty with hat in lap

Having seen her first theatre show – December 1946 production of ‘Pick-Up Girl’ – with her father at The Hippodrome in Brighton, a teenage Betty returned to The Unity Youth Club full of excitement, wanting to start her own drama company.

“I said to Mr Mepham who ran it (The Unity Youth Club), could he find somebody who could come in there and teach us how to act. He tried various places and couldn’t find anyone. Eventually he got hold of the Southwick Community Centre and the Southwick Players and made an appointment for me to go to the Community Centre one evening.”

Betty was impressed by the Community Centre.

“Stanley Baker who was the secretary and George Penney who was the treasurer were sitting in the office. They were very kind and chatted to me. George Penney said, “Please just wait because my wife is going to come and talk to you.” So I waited and they chatted. Then Elizabeth Penney came and a man called Peter Elder, both from the Southwick players, and said they were willing to come along and give us some lessons. I thought that was wonderful and thanked them very much.”

“So they did come eventually and we had lessons. In the hall where we were, there was a little stage, so we could do it on the stage. We rehearsed four One Act Plays. We learnt our lines and we presented the show in the (Red Triangle) club in The Twitten, in Southwick. It was very successful and we were so thrilled. So we said, “We’ll have to do it again and have more rehearsals”. So we went to Southwick Community Centre. They hadn’t got a theatre then but they had got a barn which they decided to turn into a theatre. So we all went and helped and did a lot of work. I did and my husband Ralph (Dawes) did, at the time. A lot of work, with many others. We did a show there called Jane Steps Out, when it (the Barn Theatre) was finished. There was a wonderful atmosphere.”

“I found out there was a Unity Players in London and I said we’ve got to change our name, we can’t be called Unity Players, so we came up with The Young Wick Players. We were in our teens. Ten years later some of our members said we were too old to be Young Wick any more, so then we became Wick Theatre Company then.”

“We were lucky. We used to rehearse in Molly’s (Elizabeth Penney) house, and sometimes in my parents house.

Molly and George were marvellous. George had a company (Penney’s Yard) on the seafront and he allowed us to store scenery there, as we had no where else to store it.”

Those drama enthusiasts included

Ralph Dawes & Betty Carpenter [Ralph and Betty later married] John Basilio & Janet Norris [John and Janet later married] Tommy Craig & Mary George [Tommy and Mary later married]

Peter Castle – Brian Cooper – Godfrey Evans – Maureen Futcher – Sheila Grovestock – Di Hubbard – Gwen Mepham – Betty Perry

Eileen TurleyBruce ‘Buster’ Unstead –  Jean Unstead – John Wilson