Portsmouth stalwart in rock opera exhibition

Picture: Isle of Wight Radio/PA Wire

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ALTHOUGH four decades have passed since the filming of the rock opera Tommy, Betty Knipe still remembers it like it was yesterday.

But that’s not surprising considering the 91-year-old, of Southsea, was involved in one of the most infamous incidents of the time – the fire on South Parade Pier on June 11, 1974.

Betty Knipe, who was an extra in Tommy. ''Picture: Paul Jacobs (141778-1)

Betty Knipe, who was an extra in Tommy. ''Picture: Paul Jacobs (141778-1)

Mrs Knipe’s story will be added to other tales of Tommy extras in an exhibition which has just opened at the Kings Theatre in Southsea.

The exhibition comes ahead of a stage adaption of the film which opens at the theatre tomorrow.

Mrs Knipe said her Tommy adventure started when she met the film’s costume designer to be fitted for an elegant grey dress.

She said: ‘I told her “it’s a wonderful dress but I’m not really into grey”. She said “this is a £4,000 Christian Dior dress, I’ll have you know, so you’d better buy yourself a decent bra!”.’

Disaster struck when Mrs Knipe was dancing with her husband, also an extra, in a ballroom on South Parade Pier.

She added: ‘One of the lamps dropped but we all carried on dancing.

‘Then the announcement came “don’t panic, the pier is on fire”. We got out and sat along the seafront and watched the fire.’

Mrs Knipe earned £10 for her part, which went up in flames along with the ballroom.

She went to hand in the dress to the film crew the next day but was told she could keep it as a souvenir.

‘I knew I’d never wear it. It was a beautiful dress but for a special occasion.’

After two years of it sitting in her wardrobe Mrs Knipe donated the dress to the Kings Theatre, but somewhere along the line it mysteriously disappeared.

After Tommy finishes on Saturday, the extras’ stories will be transferred to the Portsmouth Guildhall to be part of a Portsmouth Music Experience exhibition.

Jonathan Fost, of theatre group CCADS, said he thought the stage show would be a hit. He said: ‘The cast are all very excited and there’s been a huge amount of interest about the show.’