Childhood memories with Sheila Birt

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Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Each week we persuade a reader to recall some of their fondest memories. Today it’s the turn of Sheila Birt. The 62-year-old actress from Copnor will be playing Lady Rumpus in Habeas Corpus at the Kings Theatre in June. She’ll also star in Calendar Girls when it comes to the theatre in September.

· What’s your earliest childhood memory?

I can remember the Queen’s Coronation and pushing my Coronation coach up and down in the shop window in Darlington Lane where my Dad had a bakers. I must have been very young, about three.

· What do you remember about your birthdays?

I had a typically 1950s childhood. Parties with jelly and blancmange in a rabbit-shaped mould. My mum made everything. Our house was just like the set-up at Portsmouth Museum.

· How was school?

I have wonderful memories of school. I didn’t get bullied so I was very lucky.

· What toys did you play with?

I really wanted a teenage doll for Christmas and when I didn’t get it I was absolutely crestfallen. The dolls looked like a Barbie but bigger.

· What did you get up to with your friends?

We went swimming at Hilsea Lido which, when I look back, was freezing!

We used to go to the picture club at the Odeon in Southsea. It was on Albert Road and it was a nice cinema. We were so excited when we were made marshals and got to tell the other kids to sit down.

· What did you watch on TV?

Dixon of Dock Green, Doctor Who and adaptations of Charles Dickens’ stories which were shown on a Sunday afternoon. They weren’t scary like Dickens can be – they had been made for family viewing.

· What music did you listen to?

We went to singing classes and I used to like classical music. We did listen to The Beatles and Cliff Richard too. I especially remember Twist and Shout and Travelling Light.

I used to fancy myself as Helen Shapiro or Petula Clark.

· Any clothes that stand out in your memory?

The sticky-out skirts and a flick up in my hair. I remember wearing a net petticoat which was brought in at the waist, with a belt and flat shoes. I used to go out like that and think that I looked wonderful.

· What was the naughtiest thing you did?

I was a bit of a goody-goody as a child. I did used to pinch bars of penny chocolate from my mum’s larder and claim that I knew nothing about it when they were discovered as missing!