Betty Dawes – Tribute

In Memory of

Betty Dawes

14. 07. 1932 – 27. 05. 2016

Shoreham Herald  –  Published: 06 June 2016  –  by-lined: Rosemary Bouchy

Betty Dawes, who died on May 27, was for many years Wick Theatre Company’s much-loved and now much-mourned president.

She was also president of the Southwick Opera and the Southwick Community Association, and will be a great loss to all who knew and  worked with her.

Born Betty Carpenter on July 14, 1932, in Portslade, her great love had always been the theatre.  In 1946, as a member of the Unity Youth club in Fishersgate, she had the idea of forming a drama section. This was set up as the Unity Players, later becoming Young Wick and finally Wick Theatre Company.  She was one of a band of volunteers who helped with the conversion of the old barn into the Barn Theatre, which opened for business in 1951.  Wick has performed there ever since.

Betty was constantly working for the company from the earliest days, acting, directing and helping to run the administration.  Also in the early 1970s, she joined Southwick Opera, directing both light and very ambitious grand operas.

Another of the original teenage members of the Young Wick Players was Ralph Dawes, and he and Betty were married in 1959.  They had two children, Amanda in 1963 and Jonathan in 1965, both of whom have theatrical connections.  Amanda is now a busy theatrical costume maker and Jonathan provides percussion when music is required for a Wick or Opera production.

All Betty’s activities did not go unnoticed. In 2006, she was presented by the Brighton and Hove Arts Council with a Contribution to the Arts award for enduring work in the theatre.  In the same year, she and Ralph were invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in honour of 60 years of working for Wick, and in 2014, a plaque was installed in the Barn Theatre foyer to mark her long and active support of Southwick Community Association.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair in recent years, Betty was still able to contribute and was busy arranging a front of house team for Wick’s next production, up to the day she went into hospital.


Eulogy given at Betty’s funeral  –  June 13,  Worthing Crematorium,  Findon

On 14th July 1932, Betty Florence Carpenter, was born at 33, Franklin Road, Portslade.

Soon she moved into a newly built terraced house in The Gardens, Southwick, with her Mum Katie and her Dad Albert (Burt) or “Jack”as her Mum called him. Burt was a Master Butcher. Betty’s brother Peter was born in 1938. Followed by her second brother Paul in 1951.

In 1936 she went to Fishersgate First School, where she first met Ralph, who would later become her husband. Ralph was three at the time and not interested in marriage!

She went to Worthing High School in 1944, where she became good friends with Joyce Arnell. They remained friends throughout her life. At this time, through the school, she gained a pen friend in Toronto, Canada. Joyce Garceau. They always remained in contact, but sadly never managed to meet.

Betty’s parents often took her to the theatre, and cinema, which sparked her interest in performing early in life. While at Worthing High School she and Joyce Arnell would see almost every show performed at The Connaught Theatre, in Worthing, waiting at the Stage Door afterwards for autographs, and often being allowed back stage. Her favourite was actor there was Dermot Walsh.

In 1948, along with some Youth Club friends, Betty formed the Unity Players. Then with the help of Stanley Baker, the founder of Southwick Community Centre, and George and Molly Penney, the Unity Players became The Young Wick Players, the company now known as Wick Theatre Company.

Betty worked as a secretary at The Ocean Insurance Company, on West Street in Brighton. There she met Fan Ayling, another life long friend. By now Betty saw Ralph in a different light and they started dating. Young Wick was fast becoming a marriage bureau with about four couples getting together and all eventually marrying.

On a rainy evening in 1957, Betty and Ralph had an almighty row in the house in The Gardens. Upset, they went for a walk together, up the road, and into Fishersgate Recreation Ground, with Rufus the family dog. As they walked out of the park, Betty was still upset, so Ralph turned to her and said, “It could still be a good Christmas…Would you marry me?”. I believe she accepted.

On 15th August 1959 Betty and Ralph Dawes married at St. Peter’s Church in Fishersgate. Betty’s Bridesmaids were Belinda Penney, Betty Perry, Pat Menheniott and Maureen Futcher. The guests were transported to the reception in a brand new open top, white double-decker bus that Ralph had managed to organise with Brighton and Hove Bus Co.

Betty and Ralph honeymooned by driving around the uk, they revisited the home Betty had been evacuated to, aged 12. She remarked that the house had “shrunk” since she was last there. The lovely couple who had looked after her still lived there and were delighted to see her.

Betty and Ralph started their married life in the flat above her father’s Butchers shop in Boundary Road, Hove. Betty ran a sweet shop, her father owned at the top of Boundary Road, in Carlton Terrace. Betty was surprised one day when Donald Peers, a famous popular singer of the time, came into the shop on his way to play golf, and chatted to her as he bought some sweets.

In 1963 Betty and Ralph’s daughter Amanda was born. For Wick this was big news, as Betty and her friends Jean Porter and Betty Elliott were all expecting their babies at around the same time. Amanda and Charles Porter were both born on the same day. Mark Elliott was born a few days later. The local paper reported “Wicks triple production!” Ralph remembers at this time Betty drove a red, Hienkell, Bubble car. She and Jean, both heavily pregnant, went to Southlands Hospital for a maternity check. They arrived to discover neither of them could get out of the car because they were so pregnant! Ralph says they were like two bumps in a bubble!

Betty and Ralph moved to their first house in Stoney Lane, Shoreham, and in 1965 their son Jonathan was born. In December 1966 they moved their young family to a large Victorian house in Park Lane, Southwick. They also moved Alice, Ralph’s Aunt, always know as Auntie Alice, into the house with them. This house has been their home for 50 years this year. Betty adored it. The house was large enough to hold rehearsals for their shows. It was also the perfect place to entertain friends and throw parties, as well as being a generous family home.

As her children grew up Betty founded and for many years ran a pre-school nursery, at the Methodist Church hall in Southwick. She was correspondent for the Governors of the Shoreham and Southwick First Schools, much later becoming a Governor herself. She also made meat delivers for her father’s butchers shop. Another venture was selling Stanley Homewares. I wonder how many of you remember them? They were sold at House Parties a bit like Tupperware.

In the summer months Betty and Ralph would offer accommodation to visiting foreign students. This led to many long term friendships. Especially with the Bergami family from Bologna in Italy. Mauritzio (pronounced Me-theo) and his sister Elizabeth got on so well with the family that they returned each year for many years. Betty, and family even went to Bologna to visit them.

Betty took delight in the way people felt welcome in her home. One of Jonathan’s friends, Serena, from Italy, also stayed with the family as a student during the 1980’s. On hearing of “my Betty’s” passing she wrote, ” Betty has influenced my life like a second mother. In the end, I am a teacher of English language, and I am so fond of your country because of the great love she gave me when I was a young girl. I learnt a lot from her humanity and generosity. We know how much she was full of life and energy. ”

In the early 1970’s the family took a holiday to a farm in Wales. There they met Pat and Tony Jeffery, who’s sons Martin and Philip were a similar age to Amanda and Jonathan. The two families really got on with each other, and they spent the entire holiday together. In that week they formed a lifelong friendship.

By this time Betty’s brother Peter was living in Harrogate, Yorkshire with his wife Pat and their daughter Gail. Betty and Ralph and the children would pile into the car early in the morning, while it was still dark, to make the long drive to Harrogate. One memorable visit was at Christmas. Peter and family lived in a large 1st floor flat overlooking The Stray, a large park. On Christmas Eve everyone dressed warmly to go to sing carols on The Stray. As they were singing it gently began to snow, much to the excitement of the children. On Christmas morning Jonathan was the first to wake up and he very quickly woke everyone else up because outside, there on The Stray, was thick, thick snow. Magical! Christmas was always a special time at Park Lane, and it’s a tradition to put a lit tree on the balcony at the front of the house. The neighbours say the season doesn’t start until the tree is up on the house in Park Lane. For many years Betty and Ralph would host a Boxing Day morning, Open House Party. With friends dropping in, often until early afternoon, to sample Betty’s hospitality and Ralph’s legendary Mulled Wine.

With so much happening in her life, and the family and house to look after, it would be easy to underestimate how important Wick and The Opera, as they were affectionately know, were to her. They were the common thread that ran through everything. The house was often full of the sound of people rehearsing in the evenings. Laughter and the aroma of coffee always accompanied this. If either Betty or Ralph weren’t acting in the show, then one of them would be directing it, or organising something for it, or helping out in some other way.

There would be many social events to enjoy too, and the excitement of the week at The Barn when the show was performed. Betty loved every moment. She had had good role models. When The Wick Theatre Company started, George and Molly Penney took them under their wing. I am sure they saw a lot of potential in the young company. They offered a lot of support and guidance, and a large living room to rehearse in. Molly and George became very important to Betty, she felt totally at home there. She became really good friends with their daughters Anthea and Belinda. Betty was welcomed into the family, and was often include in things they did and places they went. It was George and Molly who encouraged her appreciation of Opera and took her to Glyndebourne.

Betty’s love of Opera grew and flourished. In the 1970’s she joined Southwick Opera. By now she was an experience performer and director. The first thing she did for the company was to direct a production of Song of Norway. It was also her daughter Amanda’s first appearance on the Barn Stage, along with Simon Gray who is now artistic and musical director for Southwick Opera.

Betty and “Wick” also supported a new group of young talent, including Amanda and Jonathan, Alan Gray and Karen Mulholland. She directed them in a one act show called The Playgoers [April 1979], and this was enough for a new Young Wick to be formed.

Jonathan remembers, “When I was maybe 8 or 9, we attended a Dinner Dance at The Barn Theatre. There were lots of interesting dances going on, waltzes, quick steps and the like. I had no idea how anyone knew what the steps were, but I asked Mum if I could dance with her and she was naturally delighted. She suggested we try a waltz as it was one of the simpler ones. After listening to her counting 1, 2, 3 to the music we tried to go round the dance floor a few times. However, I wasn’t having much success, so she had a flash of inspiration. Whilst many ladies would dread the thought of having their toes stepped on, my Mum gladly suggested the opposite, and told me to put my feet on hers. She then led me round the dance floor with my feet firmly planted on her feet. This sums up to me how nothing gave her greater pleasure than doing whatever she could to help everyone enjoy themselves.”

Her kindness to all creatures, great and small, was something that Jonathan found great empathy with. “One of Mum’s regular pleasures was putting food out for the birds in the garden, in different locations, so that they all had a chance to eat, regardless of how big or small they were. She would also always ensure that there was water for them to drink all year round. She had an abundance of nurturing love for everyone and everything. Her kindness and impeccable manners made a huge impression on me. All my interests were supported fully by Mum and Dad, and their only desire was for me to be happy in what I chose to do. I can honestly say they succeeded in their wishes.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a time when many mothers had the chance to stay at home and bring up their families. To be greeted by her on return from school every day is something that I will always treasure. The value of that love is immeasurable. After a day spent at school, I also enjoyed many evenings at The Barn Theatre in my early years, watching rehearsals and performances. Being immersed in a creative environment at such an early age has given me a great love of the arts, which will stay with me always.”

As the children grew and left home the dynamic of Betty’s life changed. Ralph had started his own roofing business. This allowed them a little more free time to spend with friends. Lovely leisurely holidays were taken with Pat and Tony Jeffery. There were numerous trips to France with Brian and Francis Moulton, and a regular Sunday evening video night, where they were also joined by Joan Bearman and Sue Whittaker. More trips to France with her brother Paul and his partner Brenda. There were trips to see the Peter, Jane and Gail in Yorkshire. They also went all over the country to see Amanda, who was now working professionally in the Wardrobe Department of various Theatre and Opera companies, and was always “on tour”. Betty revelled in Amanda’s work and would often help as a dresser on some of the professional shows. The cast and crew always loved Betty.

In 1991 Amanda married Nigel. Their daughter, Olivia, Betty and Ralph’s first grandchild, was born in 1993. At this point Amanda and Nigel were living in London and Betty would catch the train up and visit them every couple of weeks. In 1995 Amanda and Nigel’s son Johnathan was born and the family moved back down to Southwick, living in Betty’s childhood home in The Gardens, to be closer to Betty and Ralph. In 1997 Tom, their third Grandchild was born. With the grandchildren close by they saw them almost every day.

Tom remembers, at the age of about six or seven, Nana would happily play tennis in the back garden with him. Although he wasn’t that accurate at hitting the ball, he worked out that if he hit it to the left or the right of Nana wider than her arm could reach he won the point, because she couldn’t move sideways. At the time he thought he was an excellent player because he always won the match. As the grandchildren got older, Betty and Ralph started to take them, Amanda, Nigel and Jon on holiday. In early 2009 Jonathan and Sarah’s son Isaac was born, Betty and Ralph’s 4th Grandchild, and the family holidays became a yearly feature. Everyone went, including Ralph’s brother, Mike and Olivia’s partner, Sam.

Betty’s health was slowly deteriorating and in late 2012, after the last family holiday they managed to arrange, Betty had a knee replacement operation on her right leg. There were complications, and after two further operations on the same knee her mobility was greatly reduced. She needed more care than Ralph could provide on his own and so a Dona, who had become a family friend, offered to care for Betty, with the help of her extended family, Mum Trisha, sister Kirsty and daughter Ashley. It was originally going to be for a few weeks, but they ended up helping Ralph care for Betty for nearly four years. Julie and Lynn also joined the team of carer’s. Betty enjoyed their company very much and always looked forward to spending time with them.

Throughout these years Ralph stood by her and still cared for her for a large amount of the time. Rather than easing down, Betty continued as President for Southwick Community Centre, Wick and Southwick Opera. She remained very involved, and was still contributing on various committees.

In the last couple of weeks of her life she saw Anything Goes [Southwick Opera] at The Barn Theatre, which she thoroughly enjoyed. She was actively organising the Front of House team for the forthcoming Wick show. She was even smartly dressed and ready to go with Amanda to a meeting at the Community Centre, on the day she was rushed to hospital. Betty was a formidable lady, with a zest for life that never dwindled. She was brave and fearless to the end and from her hospital bed was still planning things that she was going to do in the next couple of months.

Her impact in the Community was vast, (in the past week she has fondly been described as a “Southwick Legend”) and her legacy will live on within Southwick Community Centre, The Wick Theatre Company and Southwick Opera. More than that she will live on in our hearts because, to all those who knew her it is her love, and true, steadfast friendship, that will be missed most. She was a hugely generous and positive person, who looked forward to every day. We must remember how she enjoyed her life to the very full.


Ray Hopper wrote in Wick News August : ” Ray’s Reminiscences “

Being a founder member Betty, then Betty Carpenter, was of course heavily involved in all our early productions, either on-stage or directing.

She started in April 1950 with our inaugural production of four one act plays, i which she played two roles, and made her directorial debut in our next production, directing Sunday Costs Five Pesos, one of three one act plays.

She was involved in every production in one role or another throughout the 1950s, and I first met her when she was playing Gossage [rhymes with sausage] in 1957’s Happiest Days of Your Life. Her last role before becoming Betty Dawes was the terrifying mother of the bride, Emma Hornett, in our much loved production of Sailor Beware in 1959. Luckily, Ralph wasn’t deterred by her convincing performance. As Mrs. Dawes, she repeated the role in 1962’s sequel, Watch it Sailor and in our 100th production revival of Sailor Beware in 1979, when we managed to get most of the original 1959 cast back together.

She continued in a variety of parts after her children were born, and I remember with particular affection her playing of Clara Soppit in both our 1975 production of When We Are Married, and its 1989 revival. She was also cast as the Blue Fairy in our 1985 production of Pinocchio. As Jiminy Cricket, the script asked me to lift her in a cod ballet sequence, but I chickened out, and she ended up lifting me instead!

She gradually became more interested in directing, especially following her involvement with Southwick Opera, for whom she directed 17 productions. Some of her notable Wick productions were A Touch of the Poet, for our 50th production in 1966, the delightful Gingerbread Man in 1983, in which she cast me as a mouse and a lion respectively. Then of course there were the two productions of Godspell, the first performed in St. Michael’s Church for Southwick Churches Together, and the second in 1999. This happy production had such an effect on the cast, which included my daughter Jo, that they all still meet for social get-togethers.

Her last stage role for us was as the Magistrate in 1997’s The Adventures of Mr. Toad. After this she largely concentrated on her Front of House work, in which she was still actively involved right up to her death.

She was my delightful friend for almost 60 years, and I will miss her greatly…