It’s a monumental undertaking, but three years in, Tony Young and fellow volunteers at the Kings Theatre in Southsea are starting to see the light.
Order is slowly emerging from the utter disorder into which the historic venue’s archive had slipped.
But as Tony and the team sort through the endless boxes of programmes and memorabilia, it is increasingly clear there are big gaps to be filled. ‘We’d like to know if anybody can help,’ Tony says.
‘So far we have sorted the programmes, and the earliest we have is about 1917-18. We have been able to build up a database of performances – with many gaps – from day one on September 30, 1907, to today.’
But the gaps are the problem: ‘There is a story that some of the programmes were offered for sale in the 1960s in order to make ends meet at the theatre.
‘We are gradually trying to get them back from various places such as eBay and ABE Books. But the budget is nil. We are having to do it on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes they are donated.
‘We have got gaps through the mid-1950s, through many of the ’60s and into the ’70s and even the ’80s. Clearly we have gaps from earlier, but we have to be realistic about the chances of getting programmes from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s.
‘There are two types of gap: one where we know what was on, but we have no programme or supporting evidence that it was ever performed. The other type of gap is where we haven’t got a clue what was on at that particular time.
‘The big gaps for us are 1958-61, from 1964-69 and then the early ’70s – 1971, 72 and 73. But actually I came in this morning and there was an envelope marked “the archivist” with three programmes sent by a lady in Harrow who was sorting out a house. They were 1975, 77 and 79. Two of them were duplicates, but one of them was a programme we had been looking for for ages.’
Tony adds: ‘It’s not just programmes we would like. We would welcome artefacts, memorabilia and even reminiscences.’
n Anyone with any programmes, mementoes or memories should write to The Archivist at the Kings, Albert Road, Southsea, PO5 2SH.