‘One of Our Own’, the Star of our 2013 Festival Show, Remembers, 1950s to Present

Interviewee

  • Brenda Hargreaves, 86, was born in Streatham and, with the exception of a brief time spent as an evacuee in Eastbourne and Llanelli, has spent her whole life there. Brenda is a founder member of the Streatham Society and the Streatham Society Players. In 2000, Brenda received a Civic Award from Lambeth Borough. She is a member of Christchurch, Streatham, but now receives communion at home. Brenda is also a poet and writer. ‘Streatham Then and Now’, our show performed as part of the Streatham Festival 2013, was based around Brenda’s poems.

Q: Where have you lived in Streatham?

I was born in Amesbury Avenue.  I moved from Eastbourne to Llanelli after France fell, but while I was staying in Llanelli I became very homesick and so I begged to return home to my family. I arrived home just in time for the Blitz in 1940. When I married I moved from Amesbury Avenue to a small flat in Staplefield Close and from there to a larger flat, where I still live, in 1969.

Q: What are your memories of life in Streatham?

Towards the end of the war, from 1944, there were a lot of flying bombs, or V1 rockets, dropped on Streatham. When they started to fall, I was playing Freda in ‘Dangerous Corner’ by JB Priestley at St. Mary’s Hall, Clapham. I remember I had the line, “Things are quite mad, aren’t they – and rapidly getting madder!” I did quite a lot of amateur dramatics.

I attended Hitherfield Primary School where I was bullied by a girl called Pam, who later became my friend. Later I attended Balham Central School, and made a lifelong friend called Jean. We found we’d both missed a scholarship by one mark,

I met my husband on the day of the General Election, 1964. I had been working for the Labour Party and came back to the Committee Rooms on Downton Avenue where I was introduced to a Mr Hargreaves, a Lancastrian. He was older than me, a Lancastrian who worked for the Water Board. He has also worked for a Funeral Director and was a fireman during the War, so I used to say he covered three of the four elements, Earth, Fire and Water! We married in 1966. I have always worked for the Labour Party. Jim Walker was our candidate in 1964 and 1966. He bagan to turn the tide against the Tories and later Keith Hill won the seat for Labour in 1992. In 2007, Keith Hill arranged for me to go to a reception at No. 10 and meet Tony Blair. The date was April 16th, my wedding anniversary!

Q: What are your memories of Streatham Hill Theatre?

My sister Dorothy, who was 12 years older, often used to take me to the theatre. I remember seeing ‘The River Line’ (by Charles Morgan, week of March 30th 1953). The theatre was bombed in 1944 and did not reopen until 1950. After the re-opening I saw Jack Warner there, who was lovely! I asked him to sign my programme and he put his arm around me and said, “So you’re Brenda are you!”

I also saw ‘Wedding in Paris’, with Evelyn Laye (1955). Evelyn Laye’s husband Frank Lawton was supposed to be in it, but as he was ill, Francis Lederer took over.

Q: What are your memories of working in Streatham?

After my husband died in 1973, I worked in WH Smith. I was made redundant once and went to work in a tobacconist near home and then the Pyramid Press, but then I went back to Smith’s. One afternoon, things were very slow, and we were talking about life in the past. One of the assistants said, “Don’t the years fly by quickly”, and I said, “And don’t the afternoons go by slowly!”

Once a customer came up to me with a really beautiful book and asked for a refund because the book was a wedding present and his wife died on their honeymoon. I asked the supervisor to give the man a refund with no questions asked, which she duly did. I realised later that I’d been conned, but Mr Clark, the manager, a very nice man, said he would have done exactly the same.

Q: What are your memories of transport in Streatham?

The number 5 bus to Mitcham became the 118 to Morden.

Once, when out with my sisters, I dropped 6d in the tram tracks and we had to hold up the tram as I got my finger caught trying to get it out!

I remember the last ever tram going through Streatham. I believe that Ethel Revnell, formerly one half of ‘The Long and the Short of it’, with Gracie West, was on the tram.

Q: What are your memories of shopping in Streatham?

At Tyrrell’s the Haberdashers, the change came back on a pulley system. There was also Matthews the Art Shop, Butler’s Bookshop and Cordo’s Delicatessen, but when Cordo’s moved up towards Brixton, it was never the same!

Q: Do you remember attending any events in Streatham?

I remember Donkey Derbies on Streatham Common and performances of Shakespeare in The Rookery.

Q: Do you have any memories of famous people in Streatham?

I knew Evelyn Laye a little; we corresponded and I wrote a lot of poems for her. I finally met her and her husband in Harrow.

Sonnie Hale lived with Binnie, his sister, on Drewstead Road. When Evelyn Laye laid the foundation stone for Streatham Hill Theatre, she was married to Sonnie Hale, but he left her later after an affair with Jessie Matthews. In her speech while laying the stone, Miss Laye said, “I’m a Streatham girl by marriage”. It was Evelyn telling me about spending the night before laying the stone drinking absinthe with Americans, that led to my writing my poem, ‘Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder!’, that I read at the STC Show for Streatham Festival.

Gene Anderson, a very promising young actress, lived near the border with Balham, but died tragically young of an overdose. She attended the same drama class as me at New Park Road Evening Institute.

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