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It started in Sheffield. Keith Barron spent little time off our screens over his 56-year career with over 160 credits

Keith Barron once wistfully explained that he had ‘enjoyed a career of two stages’: in the first, he’d had the luxury of getting many roles that required “Penetration Acting” – having sex on screen (fake, of course); and the second stage was what he called “Heart Attack Acting” – playing older characters whose ‘bedroom antics have cardiac consequences.’ Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

He might not have been from Sheffield, but actor Keith Barron owed his success to the city. He was born in Mexborough in 1934, and left its Technical College with ambitions to be an actor, spending eight years with the Mexborough Theatre Guild.

“I had always been interested in the theatre, but my father had a wholesale provisions business and wanted me to take it over. I found it very difficult, so I used to take off and read film magazines. We had a terrible row, he sold the business, and I went into rep at the Sheffield Playhouse in 1956. I had to start at the bottom, making tea for a pound a week for nine months. It’s valuable experience, it makes you really sure that you want to do it.”

The Sheffield Repertory Company was on Townhead Street and Keith lived on Kenwood Road.

“Visitors to Sheffield Playhouse will be pleased to see Keith Barron making his professional debut in Sheffield Repertory Company’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. He has the small part of a porter. Although he has only two lines to say and his appearance does not last more than 30 seconds what little he had to do, he does well.”

His first sizeable role was as the spy in Peter Ustinov’s Romanoff and Juliet, and starred in dozens of productions over the next few years, including amongst many, The Winter’s Tale, Frost at Midnight, Graham Greene’s The Potting Shed, A Touch of the Sun, Toast and Marmalade and a Boiled Egg, An Inspector Calls,  Blithe Spirit, and as the Rev. Guy Saunders in another Ustinov classic, The Banbury Nose.

Like the other men of his generation, Keith Barron was forced to partake in the National Service which stood in the way of his acting dreams. It wasn’t until he had completed his time in the RAF after dropping out of school, that he was able to follow his passion and begin studying acting at what was the Sheffield Playhouse. Photograph: BBC News

In 1959, 25-year-old Keith was described by a newspaper “as a modest, aspiring young man, and standing on the brink of success.”

“There is perhaps, no more impressive moment in a theatre when an audience is moved to spontaneous applause by the sheer power of a player’s acting. This is happening every night at Sheffield Playhouse with Keith Barron in The Ring of Truth,” said The Stage in 1960.

Much Ado About Nothing at the Sheffield Playhouse in February 1958. Left to right. Bernard Archard, Keith Barron, Neville McGrath, Judy Bailey, Kenneth Dight, Anne Godfrey, Julie Paul, Judith Chappell, and Bryan Drew.

Keith was also amongst Sheffield Playhouse actors chosen to record An Inspector Calls for BBC radio for its Saturday Night Theatre slot.

His departure from Sheffield Playhouse in 1961 was regarded as a serious loss. “A sound young actor with a compelling sense of rhetoric: he has held many audiences enthralled by his command of rapid dialogue accompanied by quick stage movements. He is definitely a live theatre actor, but like too many he is going into television.”

Keith Barron enjoyed a ‘long and varied career’, and was survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary Pickard(right), and his son Jamie (middle). Photograph: Daily Mail

Keith never gave up on the stage, joined the Bristol Vic, and didn’t want to go to London but television was the future.

He appeared as Detective Sergeant John Swift in The Odd Man (1962-65) and the policing spin-off It’s Dark Outside. His first sitcom success was in The Further Adventures of Lucky Jim (1967) and later in No Strings (1974). He deftly switched from comedy to drama, from the title character in Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (1965) and as David, in Duty Free (1984-86) about two couples on a package holiday in Marbella and attracted seventeen million viewers.

Duty Free was about two British couples, David and Amy Pearce and Robert and Linda Cochran, who meet while holidaying at the same  Spanish hotel in Marbella and the interruptive affair conducted by David and Linda during their break. It was made by Yorkshire Television. Photograph: BBC News

His other TV roles were prolific, and included Room at the Bottom, Haggard, Prince Regent, The Good Guys, Telford’s Change, Stay with Me till Morning, Take Me Home, Doctor Who, Coronation Street, DCI Banks, All Night Long, Where the Heart Is, Kay Mellor’s The Chase, and Dead Man Weds. And he was in Countdown’s Dictionary Corner on numerous occasions.

Keith died in November 2017, survived by his wife, Mary Pickard, a former stage designer, whom he met in Sheffield and married in 1959, and a son, Jamie, also an actor.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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Buildings People

Stirring Up Sheffield: “Adventures need heroes and troublesome villains.”

Denounced by theatrical knight Bernard Miles, by councillors at public meetings and in the media, Colin George carried the day to build the Crucible Theatre, inspired by the legendary director Tyrone Guthrie, who died before he could direct the Crucible’s first play, Ibsen’s rarely-produced epic Peer Gynt. Photograph: Tenby Observer.

Here’s a book that will become a collectors item, and a must for those who appreciate Sheffield’s recent history. ‘Stirring Up Sheffield,’ a substantial book, is written by the Crucible Theatre’s first Artistic Director, Colin George, and his son, Tedd George, and will be published by Wordville Press on 9 November 2021.

This is the extraordinary story of a group of visionaries who came together to build the revolutionary thrust stage theatre. The radical design they proposed for the auditorium—which redefined the actor/audience relationship—aroused fierce opposition from Sheffield’s conservative quarters and several of the era’s theatrical luminaries. But it also galvanised a new generation of Britain’s actors, directors, designers and playwrights who launched a passionate defence of the thrust stage and its theatrical potential.

Colin George was the founding Artistic Director of the Crucible Theatre. Born in Pembroke Dock, Wales, in 1929, Colin read English at University College, Oxford, and was a founding member of the Oxford and Cambridge Players. After acting in the repertory companies of Coventry and Birmingham, Colin joined the Nottingham Playhouse in 1958 as Assistant Director to Val May. In 1962, he was appointed as Assistant Director at the Sheffield Playhouse, becoming Artistic Director in 1965. Colin played a leading role in the creation of the Crucible Theatre, which opened in November 1971, and was the Crucible’s Artistic Director from 1971 to 1974.

“My father was Artistic Director of the Playhouse and the previous year Sheffield City Council had agreed that the Playhouse should have a new theatre. Discussions on its design were already advanced, but my father was unhappy with the proposed stage and wanted to break free from the ‘picture box’ proscenium arch and bring the actors closer to the audience.” – Tedd George. Photograph: Wordville Press.

During his tenure Colin also established Sheffield Theatre Vanguard. This innovative scheme took theatre out of the Crucible to engage with the wider Sheffield community. Sheffield Theatres continues to build on his legacy with Sheffield People’s Theatre, a cross-generational community company which trains and nurtures the aspirations and skills of local people through special one-off projects and collaborations.

He later worked as Artistic Director of the Adelaide State Theatre Company (1976-1980), as Artistic Director of the Anglo-Chinese Chung Ying Theatre Company (1983-1985) and as Head of Drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (1985-1992). Colin joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as an actor (1994-96 & 1997-99).

The Crucible Theatre is today one of Britain’s major touring venues and a Producing House in its own right, and is also famous for being the home of the World Snooker Championship, screened on TVs all over the world every year. Image: Sheffield Theatres.

In 2011 Colin was invited by the Crucible’s Artistic Director, Daniel Evans, to join the Company for the 40th anniversary production of Othello. This was to be his last theatrical performance and, fittingly, it took place on the thrust stage he had created. Following Othello, Colin produced the first draft of this book, before his death in October 2016.

The introduction is by Sir Ian McKellen:

“Adventures need heroes and here its principal one is Colin George, the first artistic director of The Crucible Theatre, who in this memoir recalls in fascinating detail how, aided by others locally and internationally, a dream came true. Here, too, there are troublesome villains, who failed to share our hero’s imagination and determination.”

In 2011, in the theatre’s 40th anniversary production of Othello with Dominic West and Clarke Peters, Daniel Evans invited George back to play Desdemona’s aged father. It was George’s last role, in a theatre he loved and which was now garlanded with awards. And it was a full house. Photograph: The Guardian.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.