In the beginning….
Mum and Dad at home
I was born in Waterloo Avenue, Leiston in late September 1947, the eldest son of Sam and Olive Whiting. I attended Leiston Primary School, both the old one in Waterloo Avenue and the new school in King Georges Avenue, and then Leiston Secondary Modern School. Again both on the Waterloo Avenue site and its replacement in Seaward Avenue which opened in September 1964. At the Modern School I was amongst the first group of pupils ever to be offered the opportunity to take ‘O’ Level GCE examinations and I opted for five – Mathematics, English Language, English Literature, History, and Geography. Of that first batch I passed only Mathematics and English Language, largely because, as I was unable to take the subjects I needed – the school didn’t have staff available to teach them – I did not try too hard.
One of the set plays for the English Literature examination in 1964 was Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. As part of our study of that work our English Literature teacher, Molly Kirwan, took us to watch a production of it in London. I don’t remember anything about which theatre we went to, or whose production it was, but, the live theatre experience enthralled me.
The English Literature GCE was one of those which I didn’t pass, but, I was well and truly hooked on theatre. With the encouragement of Peter Martyn-Lunken, the new English and Drama teacher at Leiston Modern School, I lit my first play – ‘The Amorous Prawn’ – in Leiston Church Hall (now demolished and replaced with houses!) towards the end of my last full year at school. I have two abiding memories of that first production; the lighting control consisted of about ten on/off switches – no dimmers, and the explosion towards the end of the play was created by Neville the stage manager throwing a lighted ‘banger’ firework under the stage. One night he lit it too early and couldn’t put it out!
Other productions, both for the school and for the Leiston Amateur Dramatic Society (LADS) followed. Two shows stand out in my memory. One is the first pantomime written for the new school by two of the teachers, Jack Watts and Ted Curzon, and called ‘Cinderella at Deadwood Creek’. I not only lit it but also played the part of the Horse Doctor. The other is ‘Murder in the Red Barn’ presented by LADS. I lit this play, helped with the set building, and took the part of Tim Bobbin, the village idiot! My mum came to watch a performance and was so taken in by the realism of the scene where William Corder is hung that, when I didn’t come home at the usual time after the last performance, she thought that George Kerry – the actor playing Corder – had be injured and I’d been arrested . Actually I’d been enjoying the first of many ‘last night parties’!
With the agreement of my parents I then remained at school for a further year to study for the Physics ‘O’ Level I needed to follow my chosen career with the BBC – well that was the plan! Unfortunately the headmaster was the only person qualified to teach the subject, and of course with a new school to run he was very busy. I soon realised that I was unlikely to pass with only one years tuition and so in early July 1965 I left school determined to find my own way to work ‘in entertainment’.