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Fagin's boys shine at the Grand Theatre in 1976

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 18, 2013

By John Workman

  • Card sent by musical director to Oliver cast

  • The boys, stars of the show in Oliver! at the Grand 1976

  • Olwynne Hutt musical dierctor of Oliver in '76

  • Donald McClay, producer of Oliver at the Grand in '76

  • Oliver played by Kevin Adams

  • The Bottle & Glass Inn, now at the Black Country Living Museum

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ONE of the most popular works by Charles Dickens is Oliver Twist, his second novel, published in monthly instalments that began in February 1837 and ended in April 1839.

The story of Oliver Twist mirrors, to a large extent, much of Dickens' early childhood. At the age of 12 his father John Dickens was arrested and sent to debtor's prison, and young Charles was sent to work at a blacking factory making shoe polish.

It was in the factory that Dickens met Bob Fagin, a fellow employee who defended him when the other boys taunted him. But just as Fagin in the novel showed Oliver how to pick pockets, so Fagin in reality showed Dickens the darker side of life.

For many years Oliver Twist has been a popular story to tell on both stage and screen, and recently we were given memories of a production of the musical Oliver! by the Bilston Operatic Company that took place at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton in November 1976.

Kevin Adams was the young man who played the part of Oliver Twist, with Richard Calkin as the Artful Dodger, Donald McClay playing Fagin and also producing the show, Linda Cresswell playing Nancy, Douglas Cresswell as Mr Brownlow, and Michael Thomas as the murderous Bill Sykes.

One of the pictures that was supplied to us shows a youthful team of workhouse boys and Fagin's boys, the teenagers who stole the show. Do any of the lads, who must now be well into their 40s, recognise themselves and possibly have memories of appearing on the Grand Theatre stage?

They were, in alphabetical order, Christopher Adcock, Richard Beards, Graham Beech, Barry Ellis, Ashley Galloway, Martin Gudz, Steven Humpherson, Graeme Lodge, Mark Maynard, Simon Pearce, Kevin Perks, Stuart Phillips, Ian Plater, Richard Smith, Christopher Spruce, Anthony Styles, Mark Twynam, Christopher Wolverson and Richard Woodward.

Donald McClay had been a professional actor, producer and manager before 1976, and first joined Bilston Operatic Company as an acting member. This was his sixth production with the company and his second appearance on stage.

Musical direction was in the capable hands of Olwynne Hutt, a Bilston girl who had been educated at Bilston Girls' High School and at the time was a teacher in the Music Department of Tettenhall College.

The younger cast members stole the show, according to reviews at the time:

"Oliver!, one of the most popular of all musicals, has played to almost full houses (in excess of 1,200 people), and it's not surprising. The chorus of boys is a firm favourite, and in this case obviously well tutored.

"Kevin Adams as the naive orphan and Richard Calkin as the worldly pickpocket both rose to the occasion superbly."

And, as Mrs K. Winnall of Wednesfield said in a letter, "I would like to give a word of praise to Bilston Operatic Company for their performance of Oliver!, a superb show which has entailed much hard work for all the cast. It was great to see all the young boys putting so much energy into it and enjoying it at the same time."

Did you take part in the 1976 production of Oliver!? Or do you have pictures and memories from another show? Contact jworkman@blackcountrybugle. co.uk or write to our editorial address.

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