I saw an old photo, and thought of Marti Caine
I saw this photo from the early nineties. It made me think of a good book I read in the garden, when it was sunny, and we were in lockdown.
“My career was flourishing, I had reached the dizzy heights of compere at the Fiesta, one of the North’s most prestigious night clubs, where I did an hour spot and introduced acts like Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson, as well as all the top British acts. It gave me an opportunity to study the great comics like Tommy Cooper and Dave Allen.
“The Fiesta was as plush back-stage as it was out front. The 2000 strong audience wore full evening dress. It was how I imagined showbiz would be – far removed from the stark reality of Working Men’s Clubs.”
From Marti Caine/A Coward’s Chronicles/1990
I saw a big yellow crane in the Peace Gardens
I visited the Peace Gardens and there was a big yellow crane. Christmas preparations, and the installation of the Alpine Bar. Further evidence that it will soon be upon us. This photograph was posted elsewhere, and somebody said I was colour-blind because the crane was red.
It was dark and quiet, and two students stood talking
The early hours of the morning. A view from Regent Terrace towards Leavygreave Road, and two young men, presumably students, stand talking outside the University of Sheffield’s futuristic Diamond Building.
This time is theirs, but had they been from another era, they might have heard the sound of crying babies, new life, nurses chattering, and tears of joy and sadness from emotional parents. This had been the site of Jessop’s Hospital for Women.
Sheffield Hallam University is going to London
In 1843, the Sheffield School of Design was founded in response to the industrial revolution, in which the town established itself as a leading centre for steel production.
By the 1850s, it had changed its name to the Sheffield School of Art and merged with the College of Commerce and Technology in 1969 to become Sheffield Polytechnic.
It evolved into Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in 1992, with the right to award its own degrees, and according to latest figures is the fourteenth largest university in the UK with over 30,000 students (seemingly more than the University of Sheffield).
And now it is to open its first satellite campus outside Sheffield in Brent Cross Town, the 180-acre, £8Bn new park town in London.
The town will bring together 6,700 new homes, over 50 locations for retail, food, and drink, provide workspace for over 25,000 people and build a community around three redeveloped schools, health, wellness, and amenity services.
Sheffield Hallam University will occupy the lower 6 floors of the first commercial building at Brent Cross Town and focus its degree-course offering on the subject areas for which the university is renowned, including health and wellbeing, business, finance, management, digital and technological skills.
The focus will be on recruitment of local students, with a significant proportion expected to be from the surrounding area and follows the same strategy as in Sheffield where 40% of the university’s students come from within a 25-mile radius. It is scheduled to open from 2025/26, with the aim of reaching 5,000 students by 2030.
I found out that Alun Armstrong used to visit Sheffield schools
I wonder how many people remember the children’s theatre company, Theatre Vanguard, which toured Sheffield schools with a company of professional actors during the 1960s and 1970s.
It was the brainchild of Colin George, Sheffield Playhouse’s artistic director, and when the theatre closed its doors in 1971, the project transferred with him to the newly constructed Crucible Theatre.
If this brings back memories, as it does me, then you might have seen an up-and-coming young actor called Alun Armstrong, who also appeared in the Playhouse’s last production, I Was Hitler’s Maid.
Since then, his credits have included several Charles Dickens adaptations, and the eccentric ex-detective Brian Lane in TV’s New Tricks.
He spent nine years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, originated the role of Thénardier in the London production of Les Misérables, and won an Olivier Award in the title role in Sweeney Todd.
He’s also known for playing Cardinal Jinette from the Van Helsing franchise, Baltus Hafez in The Mummy Returns, Uncle Garrow from Eragon, the High Constable from Sleepy Hollow and Maxwell Randall in Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire.
And he also appeared at your school assembly hall.
A story about New York‘s Cornelia Street Cafe
Another story about Theatre Vanguard, the Sheffield Playhouse project that toured city schools during the 1960s and 1970s, and later transferred to the Crucible Theatre.
With plays, improvised pieces, and audience participation, the company introduced performing arts to schoolkids.
One of the original troupe members was a London-born actor called Robin Hirsch.
“I taught for a year and a half at a German University when I was very young. When I came back to England, I became an actor at the Sheffield Playhouse, and I was hired partly to be a junior actor on the mainstage, but also to help with what was a pilot program in theatre and education. It was Theatre Vanguard — we went into the community to do stuff and we would bring the community to us.”
In 1977, Hirsch created the New Works Project, a peripatetic experimental theatre company in New York, and, along with two other artists—Irish American actor Charles McKenna and Argentinean-Canadian-Italian painter and sculptor Raphaela Pivetta—he opened a tiny one-room café in New York City’s Greenwich Village: the Cornelia Street Café.
Its size and reputation grew, and it was where singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega started out, as did Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. There were performances from members of Monty Python and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as singer Jeff Buckley, and it’s alleged that Lady Gaga had a job here.
Hirsch ran the Cornelia Street Cafe for forty-one-and-a-half years until he was forced to close it in 2018 due to rising rent.
An unplanned Attercliffe experience
It was Friday afternoon, and I’d dropped somebody off at Cineworld, and I thought I’d go and take some photographs of the old Adelphi Picture Theatre at Attercliffe (soon to be in council hands).
I realised I’d not really investigated this part of Sheffield, and I was blown away when I discovered Attercliffe Cemetery.
I spent an hour tramping through autumn leaves, between graves, and down to the river.
I didn’t see a soul, but when it was time to go, a man with an Alsatian dog appeared out of the gloom, and said ‘hello’ with a strong Brummie accent.