Entertainment doesn’t just happen on the stage, you know. Far from it. I’d led a sheltered life until I became a buyer and seller of unconsidered trifles. I started life as a reluctant farmer on my father’s farm. Showed my sheep at the Fat Stock show at City Hall, led them up the ramp they put up over the staircases, though I never went to see any of the entertainment there. When he retired, my father passed the farm to me and when I discovered the flea market I passed it on to my son. I never looked back. You could find anything at the flea market. Anything. People used to describe it as like going into a magic cave. They came from all over; a temporary community gathered for just this one thing. The atmosphere in there was something else. At its height there were seventy stalls selling everything from bric-a-brac to fine art, each one falling over the other, floor to ceiling with the world’s unconsidered trifles. For us it started as a way of getting rid of the old rubbish from our house and ended up with us running a regular stall. It was mostly woodworking tools we sold – beautiful things they were too, brass, ebony, rosewood. They were stamped in capitals with the names of the makers and we’d look out for the names that sold well. NORRIS made woodworking planes and they were always in demand. I knew nothing about this when I started, mind. This was long before the time of upcycling, before vintage became a buzz word, and we made it up as we went along. In fact, I used to make antiques in my garage by the box-load. I think my wife’s fingernails are still full of Brasso from polishing up lamps even now, and this was forty years back, mind when Lemon Quay was still a carpark, Marks and Spencer a garage and Wetherspoons the offices for The West Briton. The early days were the best. The buzz of knowing that the things we sold could end up anywhere in the world, the people we met who came from all over just for the flea market. It opened my eyes to life beyond Truro and for entertainment value, there was noting like it.
Joyce : when I joined TAODS there as a waiting list to be a dancer. They only had 12 dancers and you had to be over 16. I was 15 when I joined and had just turned 16 when the show was staged in September. We loved performing in City Hall. Our shows were very popular, especially our plays and the carolaire where there was always a great atmosphere. We also used it for other events – one year we were staging Carousel and held an Autumn Fair in the Hall . We managed to get hold of a proper carousel and put it in the hall for the fair – we made a lot of money that year. Keith 2 : I joined TAODS because I wanted to chat up Joyce who was already a member there. Keith 2 : the guttering was inside the back of the building. When it rained you could hear the water running along back stage. There was also a metal bar at the top of the stage area to keep the pigeons out – they made a lot of noise and you could hear them when the performances were taking place. Chris : there was always dancing at City Hall – there was a different band every Saturday night and famous people like Victor Sylvester came to Truro. Joyce : there were also professional pantomimes at City Hall – one year Alan Gale staged a panto. Keith 2 : when I was stage manager I had a crew of about 9 or 10 people . They were a wonderful team. We sometimes had up to 22 back cloths for a show which had to be changed. We built a gantry and had women up there who would lower down the cloths. It was a hectic time but a great time. Keith 1 : there was a corridor at the back of the stage which had a cast iron stair case. When I was the call boy I used to go down the stairs whistling and singing to let people know I was coming as it was a very popular place for a quick snog.
Keith 1 : the annexe was used a lot for different things, including rehearsals for the main shows. One Saturday evening we had a singing rehearsal in the annexe. There had been a caged bird show in building next door and the birds tried to join n the singing.
Chris : it used to be used for teas for the cast between the matinees and the main evening show. On the last night everyone on the stage would be presented with a gift and during that day families would be coming in with presents which were stored in the annexe until after the final performance had ended.
Keith 1 : we also entertained it to entertain other societies from across Cornwall. We also went to other places.
Keith 2 : when you had a show which was very popular you would open up the annexe as well – there was restricted views but it let more people in.
Joyce : there was a proper bar in the annexe
Joyce : My father Cecil Gill , known as “Cec’, did the sound for all TAODS productions for more than 50 years. He owned an electrical shop in Pydar Street and as well as doing the sound for TAODS, also provided the sound for key events in Truro, such as the Mayor Making and the Fatstock shows via his van with speakers on the top.
Keith 1 : Back then health and safety was not thought off and I remember having to climb up a ladder to the beam at the top of the stage and then having to shuffle on my bottom along the beam dragging electrical cables behind me while Cec was shouting instructions from below. Cec also used to go to the City Hall the night before ticket went on sale to supervise the people who were camping out.
Joyce : Ann and Jill always used to camp out in front of the hall overnight before a show so they would first in the queue to buy them. Keith 1 : eventually more people started queuing overnight and one day there was a big queue with dozens of people camping out to get the best tickets. It was a really rough night with wind and rain and they were all getting wet, cold and miserable when the caretaker opened up one of the dressing rooms so they could sleep inside.
Keith 1 : I remember Joyce and Chris taking part in a performance of Kismet. Along with another girl they were the “three princesses” and came out of baskets and did a dance on the stage. Joyce – as we were all dressed in the same way the only way people could tell us apart was because “ I was the only one who had boobs”. Chris : we did Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – that was a real wow – one of the best shows we ever did. Joyce : we had professional artists such as make up artist Jules Martin and musicians come to help with the shows. We had our own stewards and front of house people, people who did the wardrobes and worked back stage and a social committee who used to sell the programmes – the women always wore long dresses and the men wore dress suits. The shows were opened by the Mayor Keith 1 : It was always recognised that Truro had high standards – when we did Fiddler on the Roof one of the audience said “ I saw the original in London and this knocks it into a cocked hat” Keith 2 : a man called Les painted the flat for us – he was amazing. One time he did a back cloth of Truro Cathedral which became fluorescent when it was flooded with UV lighting – that got a round of applause in the middle of the show. Ros : I loved the carolaires – they were such happy times. Bill White played while the audience was coming in. Chris : we had some wonderful MD’s – Harry Jordon, known as the ‘lady chaser’, and Hubert who used to banter with a Truro lawyer. They had great rapport with the audience.
Keith 2 : We never did anything to damage the show but we did have some fun on the last night At the end of our production of the Sound of Music Johnny Moon went up the mountain with the children. It was an amazing sight. On the last night we put stage weights into his bag to make it heavier. On another night we were doing a plan in which people had to bring a trunk onto the stage. It was usually empty but on the last night we filled it with concrete blocks and other items from below the stage. Keith 1 : during the performance of the Vagabond King the rogue has to run away and jump into a vat of red wine. On the last night the inside of the barrel was lined with holly – he was wearing tights and a short tunic and the language was interesting. Chris : on one last night Anne was due to be presented with a plate of food during the play – on the last night someone got two pigs eye from the butchers and put them with the food on the plate. When she lifted the lid off the plate she had to try not to laugh. Joyce : we were a family – back stage / front of house – we were all a family.
Keith 2 : we miss the City Hall – we had been told that the Hall For Cornwall would be a hall for the whole of Cornwall – but amateur societies cannot afford to use it. We have lost out . Redannick Theatre is much smaller which means we cannot put on the same kind of shows it is not the same ….. we had some wonderful years and made lots of money for charity. Joyce : the shows were the highlight of our year and the highlight of the audience’s years – they were happy days and we miss them. The society has gone down to a small number – we have lost our young people. We did everything to the best of our ability – and it is a great shame.
Before I moved down to Cornwall in 1964, I lived in Honor Oak in London. From the road I lived on, which was on a main bus route, we could see Big Ben – we were right in the heart of things – you could get anything you liked any time you liked. After I left school, I worked at Westminster for a while and then at Worth’s Fashion House. When my husband got a job teaching science at Truro School, we moved to Penelewey, which was – at the time – just a handful of houses, even fewer than there are now. Where we’d have busses running all day in Honor Oak, there was one bus a day now and I thought ‘what one earth have I come to?’ My husband died thirty years ago now and it was after he died that I heard about this place called Hall for Cornwall. It was a new thing for me. It was close and it was affordable. I discovered something there that grabbed me by the heart. One year I went to see something there every week – marine bands, plays, opera, comedy, dancing – anything they had on. The man on the security desk said to me he was thinking about calling Securicor for me, I’d bought that many tickets, and they told me by the end of the year, they thought I’d pretty much bought Row F! I remember seeing one comedy group which was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I laughed so hard it was painful and the man sitting next to me couldn’t stay in his chair he was laughing so much. I remember thinking I need a break from this. It’s strange, I’ve forgotten what they were called now, but I’ll never forget laughing that hard, not ever. It was a change from life, seeing something so different. I was able to feel I was supporting people who were doing creative things while I was doing it. A special place it is, right in the heart of things.
Billy Onions had a horse that he used for one purpose and one purpose only and every market day Billy Onions led his horse down Mitchell Hill and tied him to a lamppost smack in the centre of town, right by City Hall. Why’s Billy Onions bring a horse into town when he in’t got nothing to sell? Well, I’ll tell you. That horse’d wait, patient as Job and sometimes a child from the market would take pity on him, bring him out a carrot or two, something to pass the time, until Billy Onions emerged from out back of the Red Lion at the last light of the day. Now the Red Lion to City Hall was just a stagger and a belch and Billy Onions could manage that right enough. He’d pet the horse on the nose, untie him from the lamppost and the horse’d lead him right home.