A lifetime of dancing started in Felixstowe

A life time of music and dance started at a dancing school in Felixstowe for Mary Adams (nee Jennings) who now lives on the other side of the world at Latrobe, Tasmania.

Mary, who was once part of the famous Tiller Girls, tells us how her first audition was via a bus ride to London on a “Grey Green Coach.”

Mary said “I first attended Felixstowe County Modern School, Maidstone Road, in 1949 aged eleven, and left there in December 1953.

“I then started work at Best Products electrical factory in Gainsborough Road, Felixstowe, which made steam irons and kettles.

“Several of my school friends went to work at Fison’s in the office. In those days there were not a lot of choices for work, but we all seemed to get a job upon leaving school. The following year I started work at Smith’s grocers shop in Walton High Street.

“There I learned to weigh sugar, cheese, butter etc and pack it. Everything was done by hand those days.

“I attended The Elaine Stothard School of Dancing when my family moved back to Felixstowe in 1949. We put on two charity shows in April 1950 at the Pier Pavillion, with music by Cyril Cummins and orchestra.

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“In May 1951 we did two more shows with Cyril and his orchestra and I still have the programmes, which cost sixpence. I think nearly every girl in the show attended the Stothard Dancing School and we were taught well, with many of us taking ballet exams and passing with high distinctions and highly recommended.

“I joined the Co-op juniors, and learned stage craft. I went with them to Germany when I was fourteen for two weeks. We were singing as well as dancing for those shows.

“It was a wonderful experience and I took part in many shows with the juniors.”

“The showbiz newspaper “Stage”, which I bought every week, listed all the up and coming shows that needed dancers. Auditions were being held for the ‘Tiller Girls’, so I decided to get some routines together.

“Mrs Stothard helped me greatly there and off I went with shoes, leotards and high kicks on the Grey Green coach with the map of the London underground once more.

“When I arrived at the theatre for the audition, I saw some of the other girls waiting to audition, tall and lovely, very self assured and it made me feel like I should go home!

“Of course I stayed and did my bit. To my surprise, I won a contract to dance as a Tiller Girl in ‘Dick Whittington’ at the Ardwick Hippodrome, Manchester.

We played two shows daily, six days a week for three months. At the dress rehearsal, some scenery fell on us. Nobody was hurt, but the newspapers had a field day. “Tillers Girls hurt by falling scenery”, so we had to send telegrams home to tell our parents that we were safe.

“In 1955 I auditioned in London for the pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. The ‘Grey Green’ coach departed from near the Ordinance Hotel and took me to Victoria in London, from where I made my way on the tube to the theatre. I gained a contract and started rehearsals in November.

“We opened on Boxing Day at the Ipswich Hippodrome performing two shows each day for about three months. When the show finished I went back to Felixstowe and worked at E Burt and Son grocers who had premises at High Street and Hamilton Road, even though they knew I would audition for another pantomime at the end of the year. The manger and staff were so good to me.”

“We youngsters used to hang out at Fella Brothers ice cream parlour, which was in Victoria Parade, where we used to go at night to meet and play the juke box.

“Monday nights a crowd of us would hire a small hall at the Cavendish Hotel on the sea front and take a record player and records and jive for three hours. Felixstowe then had two cinemas’ in Hamilton Road, The Ritz and The Playhouse, they were on opposite sides of “The Triangle”.

“My last show at home was at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe in September 1959. The show was ‘Me and my Girl’, the choreographer was Dennis Lowe.

“Earlier I was one of the dancers at two other shows that Dennis and Chris Greatbanks were responsible for staging. One was Carousel at the Spa Pavilion with that beautiful stage.

“The original part for the juvenile lead was a singing role. I was asked to play that part and it became a dancing role with Dennis as my partner.”

“My teenage years were exciting. There were big changes in the music we listened to changing from 1940 swing to early rock and rock and roll.

“The BBC wouldn’t play any modern music and they had no competition. In the evenings we listened to the fading signal of Radio Luxembourg and we loved it. It was great and we could listen to our kind of music. We listened to Bill Hayley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Johnny Ray with ‘Cry’ and ‘Such a Night’.

“Radio Caroline came on the air at Easter 1964 and transmitted ‘our music’ 24 hours a day. It was the first pirate radio ship and was anchored three miles off Felixstowe, just outside territorial waters so the government couldn’t touch them. “I am now seventy-one and have three great-grand-children and I still love to dance to Michael Jacksons’ music.”

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