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October 13, 2014

BDP.2008-04-09.MAIN.BKP.035.COL.epsTHE END of an era is an over-used phrase, but sometimes it means what it says.

Bob Carlton’s impending departure from the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch in November, is a prime example and will leave Havering looking for a new inspirational thinker.

The creator of the west end Oliver winning ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’, Bob arrived in Hornchurch 17 years ago at a time when the future of the Queen’s was in doubt.

The theatre’s creation back in 1948 was seen as a ground breaking event. The first time a local Authority in the UK had decided to open its own theatre, which happened on September 21, 1953.

Old Queens in Station Lane, HornchurchBased in Station Lane, Hornchurch, (pictured left) the 1913 former flea pit cinema turned warehouse, was purchased for £4,200 and named after the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth.

The original idea was to fund the new asset out of the rates but supplemented by the income from patrons and sales of merchandise.

Queen's interior oldLike all dreams it did not quite work out and over the years the Queen’s has gone from one financial deficit year to the next.

It has taken a lot of faith by the then Hornchurch Urban District Council and the upstart Havering, the anguished 1965 amalgamation of Hornchurch and Romford to a London Borough, to continue backing the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. (above, the interior of the Queen’s when buckets were placed on the front row because of a leaking roof)

To its great credit, the council is still fully behind the Queen’s even in the turbulent years of austerity and recent central government funding cuts.

Bob Carlton was seen as the new hope when he walked through the door in 1997 with another dramatic financial decline on the horizon.

He must have wondered if he had made the right decision, but Bob is one of those people who seemed to revel in making ground zero a launch pad for the future.

In this he did not disappoint and the innovations came along with the first priority of retrieving the Arts Council Funding, withdrawn after particularly bad years when new ideas were in desperate need to fulfil the parameters for funding. (pictured left, the Queen’s Theatre in Station Lane Hornchurch, a former cinema and warehouse)

Such was his anger at the loss, he motivated my interest on the Romford Recorder, with a number of instant headlines such as ‘they are stealing our money’; I threw the weight of the paper behind the campaign.

From there we worked closely together because he is an inspirational man. Full of ideas and a delicious sense of fun in his directing, the Queen’s certainly did take off and Havering as become a focus for good producing theatre, a tribute it still bears with pride.

The instigation of a professional body of actor/musicians was one such attraction. Cut to the Chase certainly made an impact from ordinary theatre into extra ordinary theatre when the audiences decanted after performances as if they had been to a party.

It was and still is, an infectious idea that works.

GodspellDuring that time there have been many superb productions that caught the eye and ear and went quite a way to making the deficit look workable.

For despite the idea and early hype of Hornchurch councillor Jim Bush back in 1953 to: ‘break even or  put a half penny on the rates’, the Queen’s could not and did not reach that target. (the 2014 production of Godspell pictured right)

Bob’s arrival and innovations have over the years increased the quality of Havering’s Jewel, but we are in another financial dip and it would seem that he has made up his mind to move and on and make way for forward thinking such as he brought in.

It is a bold decision and one typical of the man, for nothing lasts forever and it takes great courage to hand over the reins of a hugely successful project to new ideas and unthought-of forward movements.

Nothing stays the same forever and theatre concept needs rethinking. It seems to be moving to more community involvement, something that was underway when he came and encouraged. It seems the theatre we knew is changing a lot faster and paralleled by the changes in media that have seen newspapers become digital with instant access.

I have enjoyed working with Bob Carlton and look at those years with deep fondness for not only expanding my personal knowledge and enthusiasm of theatre, but for us all in Havering who have seen what can be done in theatre.

He has given our borough something to be proud of, and that is his legacy.




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