On my 14th birthday, April 4 1943, I started working for the Halifax Courier and Guardian in the lowly role of printer’s devil (apprentice) at a wage of 12s 6d (62.5p) plus 2s (10p) war bonus, a total of 72.5p a week. This was for 48 hours plus a commitment to three evenings’ study at Queen’s Road College of Art, which had to be financed by my parents.
Soon my knowledge of the cinema was recognised by chief reporter Henry Harwood, who sent me to review films at the Alhambra in St James’s Road for the Round of Amusements column.
The first film was For Me and My Gal, with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Later I added reviews of films at the Victoria Hall, the Royal, Palladium and Pioneer at Lee Mount.
I also covered amateur rugby league in the area, as “Touchjudge” in the Courier Green Final, but National Service interrupted my stint. I was attached to Buslinthorpe Vale at Meanwood, Leeds, where I managed to sell four dozen copies a week of the Green.
In its wisdom the RAF decided that I was an accountant and I was eventually posted to Dishforth, where the station adjutant was a former air crew member, Flight Lieut Gledhill.
He had family in Eton Street, off Gibbet Street, drove home every weekend and kindly invited me along. This didn’t appeal to the RAF police when I arrived back late on Mondays but rank overruled them.
Although it was peacetime relations with the Soviets were deteriorating and ended with the Berlin airlift. This resulted in the redeployment of coastal radio stations and I found myself at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool.
There I found time to join the Seaton Players, which resulted in a lifelong love of the theatre. I became a regular at the Empire Theatre , West Hartlepool, home of the Philip Barrett Repertory Company; he had been married to stage and film star Eileen Hurlie.
One day a glamorous leading lady startled me, saying: “I know you; I went to school with you.” It turned out she was a former pupil of the Halifax Modern School, Ruth Carbutt, of Law Lane, Southowram. We remained in touch until her untimely death from cancer in 1989.
Others I met were prewar film star Nova Pilbeam, Barry Morse, who starred in the Hollywood TV series The Fugitive, and Edward Mulhare, who later played Prof Higgins in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady and with Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan’s Express.
Returning to the Courier I resumed covering local cinema and also the various repertory companies appearing at the now demolished Grand Theatre, North Bridge. The Courier reviewed all amateur theatricals and it was reckoned that I must have visited close on 60 organisations in our circulation area.
Every church had its drama or musical group, such as Sowerby St George’s, St Matthew’s, Northowram, and St Walburga’s at Luddenden Foot. Asquith, the machine tools firm at Highroad Well, Halifax, boasted a Gilbert and Sullivan group.
When reviewing Quiet Weekend at Pye Nest Methodist Church a reader pointed out to me that it was not easy to put on a play and challenged me to have a go. This led to several years at Pye Nest with standard works such as Love In a Mist and To Kill a Cat.
From there I produced for St James’s and St Mary’s Church in Lister Lane, Halifax, St Andrew’s in Queen’s Road, and Lightcliffe Congregational. I was also with the Royal Halifax Infirmary Drama Group for a number of years. All were successful in their day but not one survives.
For around 40 years I have been a member of Halifax Cine and Video Club and am currently president. Many people will recall public film shows over the years and at present we are preparing for our 75th anniversary in March.
Calderdale has produced a rich vein of theatrical talent and it has been my pleasure to play a small part in its story.
nRoy Coble (pictured, left) lives at Mile Cross Gardens, Halifax.
Lt Philip Gerard on the 1960s series The Fugitive with David Janssen