Skip to Main Content

Victoria Theatre - Jubilee Year Celebration

Introducing new drama to Staffordshire

From its inception, producing new plays was an important element of the theatre company’s policy. In the 1960s alone, 32 new plays were commissioned, from such writers as Alan Ayckbourn, Alan Plater, Peter Terson, Henry Livings, Michael Stott, Tony Perrin and Ken Campbell. Original work also included the first four Vic Documentaries – The Jolly Potters (1964), The Staffordshire Rebels (1965), The Knotty (1966) and Six Into One (1968).

In fact, during the first 23 years, a total of 286 plays were produced at the old Vic Theatre. Of these, 115 were stage premieres, including new plays for adults and children, adaptations of novels, and 9 original Vic documentaries. 

The Vic also brought new drama to Staffordshire, in the sense that it often produced plays which were "in the news" having been turned into films, for example Amadeus in 1987 and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice in 1996. The theatre also had the knack of bringing Broadway and the West End to the Potteries often producing versions of recent hit plays, for example The Elephant Man and Educating Rita. Many people from Stoke-on-Trent would never have had the chance to go to these venues but the Vic brought the shows to them. 

Ted's Cathedral: 1963

This play was written by Alan Plater specially for the Victoria Theatre. Its first night was October 8 1963. The character Anderson was played by Alan Ayckbourn. His future wife, Heather Stoney, played Edna. Incidental music was composed and played by The Highwaymen.

The photo shows Peter Cheeseman rehearsing with The Highwaymen.  Peter is to left of the guitarist. To the right is Peter King who played Ted.

Photo of Mr Cheeseman and Highwaymen


: Black and white photo of a 1960s Potteries pop group The Highwaymen with 3 guitarists, and drummer at centre back













The Highwaymen    Photo: John Battison  
L. to R. John Titley (bass guitar), John Emery (rhythm guitar), Brian Davenport on drums, John Egan (lead guitar)

The play centres on teenager Ted (a Beatles fan) who, while working on a building site, gets the idea in his head that he’s there to build a cathedral. But once the plans get approval, he has a fight on to be given due credit for his original inspirational vision. 
Playwright’s note: “The action is as down to earth as the wheelbarrow, piles of wood and old oil drums which litter the set. The aim is to provoke laughter but preferably laughter allied to a few uneasy shuffles.”

Peter King as Ted

The play was televised as part of the First Night series on BBC in March 1964. 

(left) Peter King as Ted, photo by John Battison.




Alan Plater came from Jarrow and originally trained as an architect but went on to have a hugely successful career as a playwright and screenwriter. A life long jazz fan and conservationist he wrote The Beiderbecke Trilogy for ITV (1985-1988): the characters of Trevor and Jill reflect his own passions. Alan Plater wrote screen plays for films including two with D.H. Lawrence connections, The Virgin and the Gypsy and Priest of Love. Plater liked to depict ordinary people whose lives were affected by the intrusion of the outside world.

He had West End success with the comic drama Peggy for You (2000) about the influential theatre agent Peggy Ramsay.  Played originally in London by Maureen Lipman, the real Peggy Ramsay was fundamental  in nurturing the careers of John Arden, Alan Ayckbourn, Robert Bolt, Edward Bond, Peter Terson, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Christopher Hampton, Joe Orton, and others.Programme for Ted's Cathedral

A Smashing Day: 1965

A Smashing Day by Alan Plater (1965)

Programme note: 
“Adapted from the original television play … this production is an exciting experiment … and owes a great deal to the contributions of Ben Kingsley and Robert Powell, who composed and integrated the musical numbers during rehearsals.”

This reference to the music is important, as it was the first time that actors in the Vic company played musical instruments live on stage, something often featured in productions today, but which was rare in the 1960s.

Rehearsing music for A Smashing Day by Alan Plater (1965)    Rehearsing for A Smashing Day by Alan Plater

Left-hand image: Rehearsing music for A Smashing Day by Alan Plater (1965) - Robert Powell (l.) on harmonica and Ben Kingsley (r.) on guitar in rehearsals for A Smashing Day. Photo by John Battison

Right-hand image: Alan Plater (c.) in rehearsals for A Smashing Day working with Vic company actors Fiona Walker (l.) and Christopher Martin in 1965. Photo by John Battison

Mr.Whatnot: 1963

Lord Chamberlains' licence for Mr WhatnotPeter King as Mr Whatnot or MintThis play was written by Alan Ayckbourn and opened at the Victoria Theatre on 12 November 1963.
Alan Ayckbourn had moved from the Library Theatre, Scarborough to the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent when Stephen Joseph found a new home for his Studio Theatre Ltd.. Alan had been a member of the acting company in Scarborough but began to write and direct when based in Stoke-on- Trent. Mr Whatnot was his second Christmas play, following the less popular Christmas v Mastermind  which had premiered in 1962. Mr Whatnot was the first play in which Alan did not act.

The plot revolves around the escapades of a mute piano tuner Mint (or Mr Whatnot) who is asked to attend to the instrument at an aristocratic house, Craddock Grange, but falls in love with Amanda, the daughter of Lord Slingsby Craddock. The humour of the play depended largely on the characters miming the action to an ingenious series of sound effects created by the writer and director, Alan Ayckbourn. The sound effects are crucial to the production and the Archive holds tapes of the effects used in the original production. 

Peter Cheeseman was inspired by this idea of mime when creating the first Vic documentary, The Jolly Potters (1964). Here mimed action was used to illustrate the working of a cup-making machine.

The images above show the Lord Chamberlain's licence for the first performance of the play and Peter King in rehearsal as Mr Whatnot or Mint. Peter King went on to have a career in TV. He played Eddie in Doomwatch in 1972.

Mr Whatnot, 1963 – photo by John Battison

Cast (L – R)

Peter King - MR WHATNOT

Bernard Gallagher - CECIL

Elizabeth Bell – AMANDA


Caroline Smith – A TWEEDY LADY

 The play was a huge success at the Victoria Theatre but did not do well in the West End. The critic Bernard Levin, working at the time for the Daily Express, was especially savage in his critique. 

The production at the Victoria Theatre in 1963 did, however, bring Alan Ayckbourn to the attention of many of the big names in in London theatre in the early sixties.

See more about the history of the play at Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website 

Peter Terson

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1932, Peter Terson initially trained as a teacher in Bristol and taught for 10 years before becoming a full-time playwright.

a night to make angels week programmeHe first sent a play to the Victoria Theatre in 1963. He had been sending off scripts to various companies but constantly facing rejection. Following his approach to The Vic, Peter Terson was invited to Stoke to discuss the idea of writing a new play for the company, the result being A Night to Make the Angels Weep, which opened in June 1964.

In the play programme, director Peter Cheeseman wrote:

“The great stimulus … has come from Peter Terson’s characters. Their talk is richly packed with the concrete imagery of the very particular world in which they live. But, more important, they are each observed with great humanity and written with … a profoundly serious sense of humour.”



Stanley Page in Angels Weep



The photo shows (L-R) Stanley Page as Dezzel, David Valla as Dig in A Night to Make the Angels Weep, June 1964 . Photo by Michael Barry. 




Perhaps Peter Terson’s most well-known stage play is Zigger Zagger ,  a play about football fans written for and produced by the National Youth Theatre in 1967, the first of many plays he wrote specially for them.

As his career developed, he continued to produce new work for the Vic Theatre, in total contributing 21 plays over 20 years.  The Victoria Theatre Archive holds all Terson’s Vic Theatre playscripts and early drafts, along with copious related correspondence. 

Peter Terson died in 2021 aged 89, leaving a legacy of 80 performed plays and over 100 more playscripts, to date unperformed. A dedicated Terson Archive is currently under discussion with Birmingham University.

Peter Terson was skilled at adaptation of novels and he created Jock on the Go from the Arnold Bennett story Jock-at-a-Venture.  

The photo shows the adaptation in production in 1966 at the Vic. Harry Jones as Blunger and Ron Daniels, later to become a world renowned opera director, at the harmonium.

With the financial aid of an Arts Council bursary, Peter Terson became The Vic’s resident writer, contributing seven new plays over 3 years, including an adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s short story Jock-at-a-Venture entitled Jock on the Go (1966). The following year his second Bennett adaptation, The Heroism of Thomas Chadwick (1967) was produced by ABC television’s Armchair Theatre series. By this time, the literary agent Peggy Ramsay had signed him up on her books. As his work became more well-known, his writing became a popular source of working-class drama, being widely broadcast on radio and television in the 1970s. Testament to his success as a playwright, Terson had plays commissioned by ABC television, Granada and the BBC, broadcast as part of the drama series Play for Today, Sunday Night Theatre, The Wednesday Play, and Armchair Theatre.  This photo shows Peter Terson with Peter Cheeseman in 1980.

Never Say Rabbit in a Boat: 1978

The title derives from the superstition that seafarers believe it unlucky to say “rabbit” on a boat since the Devil might disguise himself as a rabbit and imperil the boat and the voyage in some way. Many high-risk jobs still hold fast to traditions like this. People who put their lives at risk on a regular basis often adhere to this kind of extra insurance. 
This play was the first full length play for adults written by Nick Darke. The programme notes written by the author himself tell the story of how he came to be involved with the Vic Theatre by complete chance after meeting the holiday-making Peter Cheeseman in Cornwall. The insight Nick gives into his woodworking skills is revealing. Note how Nick Darke was both an actor and a playwright and even appears in this play as Willy.
Nick came from a seafaring family and lived most of his life in Cornwall.

There is a website for Nick Darke's archive at Falmouth University.

This link leads to the full archive:

The Fashion Floor: 1979

This production was Peter Cheeseman’s 100th for the Vic Theatre.  The play was a new one written by Tony Perrin who had earlier written plays for the theatre being created its Resident Dramatist in 1968. Tony also wrote for television and his credits include 3 episodes of Z Cars and numerous episodes of Coronation Street in the 1970s and 1980s.

The play focuses on the role of women in the workplace; in this case a fashion section in a department store. Spot the thanks given to the staff of many local fashion shops in Hanley for their advice in putting together the production. Note also the credit to the Leek based clothes manufacturing company Slimma Ltd.. This company closed in 2005 and its famous chimney was pulled down amid controversy about its status as a landmark in Leek in 2014.

The songs for the play were written by Gillian Brown who at the time was the Vic’s longest serving “actress” (this is how she is described in the programme). She was with the company from 1966 to 1971. Gillian Brown went on to a career in television, film and the theatre, as both a writer and a performer.

Ilona Sekacz arranged the music. Ilona went on to work at the Royal Shakespeare Company creating the music for 1985’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. She has also composed music for numerous films including Mrs Dalloway (1997) and for television series including The Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) and Dalziel and Pascoe (2011-2016).


Photo shows Peter Cheeseman (Director) in rehearsals with Tony Perrin (Writer).