A Theatre-going Tram Conductress, 1930s to 1960s


  • Betty Searle, 92, grew up in Upper Tulse Hill but has many memories of Streatham as a young woman before and after the war.

Q: What are your memories of Streatham Hill Theatre

I used to go to the theatre every week. My parents owned a garage in Upper Tulse Hill and they used to display the theatre poster on the wall of the approach to the garage. They also used to display posters for the Gaumont Cinema, Streatham (later the Megabowl) and the Empress Theatre, Brixton.

The first show I remember seeing was ‘Lilac Time’ (a pastiche operetta telling the story of the life of composer Franz Schubert) with Richard Tauber (1931?). He was married to the British actress Diana Napier at the time, but I thought he was old and fat!

Another memory is of ‘The Aspern Papers’ (based on the novel by Henry James, 1960). The last shows I saw were ‘Look Back in Anger’ by John Osborne and ‘The Ginger Man’, (based on the 1955 novel by J.P Dunleavy). I’ve never been very interested in kitchen sink drama! However, I did take my children to a wonderful production of ‘Peter Pan’ (1961).

I once saw Henry Fonda standing outside the stage door looking very bored, and obviously not a very happy little bunny! Lots of people used to mill round the stage door looking for autographs.

The Blue Ribbon milk bar was on the opposite corner of Barrhill Road from Streatham Hill Theatre. It was a trendy hangout and the start of the Americanisation of Britain.

Q: What are your memories of transport in Streatham?

During the war my husband was stationed in Colwyn Bay. I had to undertake ‘work of national importance’ and I worked as a tram conductor for £5 per week, which was a good wage for the time. My regular route was the number 16 and number 18 which were circular routes, terminating at Streatham Station, and going along Westminster Embankment and Westminster Bridge.  I remember one night, I let so many people on the last tram for Tooting, that there was no room for me, and I kept shouting, “Someone will have to get off!” Some trams were open at the front. Others called ‘Fultons’, were closed in with glass.

Q: Do you have any other memories of Streatham?

At the top of Telford Avenue there was a hotel with lawns in front of it. I also remember the Golden Domes cinema.

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