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Sir Donald Wolfit Charitable Trust

About the Fund

Thirty Years Ago……

 

 

Over three decades have passed since the memory of Balderton born actor Donald Wolfit was remembered in a star studded gala event at Newark’s Palace Theatre on Sunday 25 April 1993. 

 

Also in April 1993, former Theatre Director Brien Chitty set up a trust fund with the aim of assisting drama students through their training.

 

A series of events took place around the town to commemorate what was then the 25th anniversary of the actor’s death. These events included performances at Wolfit’s old school, Magnus, the Robin Hood Theatre at Averham where the young Donald first performed, exhibitions in the former Appletongate Museum culminating in the grand gala concert at the Palace Theatre attended by a number of former members of Donald Wolfit’s acting company.

 

Among those taking part in the gala were Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock in TV’s ‘Are You Being Served’), Leonard Fenton (Doctor Legg in ‘Eastenders’), National Theatre players Richard Pascoe and Barbara Leigh Hunt and Brian Johnson who represented the UK in the 1960 Eurovision Song Contest but had worked with Wolfit previously. The evening was compered by Director, writer and raconteur Ned Sherrin and directed by former Nottingham Playhouse Artistic Director Richard Digby Day. Civic guests also joined Sir Donald’s daughter, Margaret, in a church service conducted by the Rector, the Rev Roger Hill at the parish church.

 

According to the Newark Advertiser dated April 30 1993, a memorial lecture was also given by Professor George Rowell, formerly reader of theatre history at Bristol University and whose father owned Bainbridges store in Newark. The lecture took place in the theatre bar at the Palace and told that it had been the image of Victorian actor managers that had impressed young Donald. Professor Rowell also recounted how Wolfit first achieved that ambition in 1934 at the Palace Theatre when he was just in his early thirties.

 

Former Stage Manager at the Palace Theatre, David Piper, remembers the gala evening very well. This was an occasion where it was a privilege to work in the company of esteemed performers.  He particularly remembers Brian Johnson who claimed Wolfit was a very strict disciplinarian and who was rather taken aback when Brian began a singing career. Leonard Fenton remembered being reprimanded by Wolfit for allegedly upstaging a fellow actor and Frank Thornton spoke fondly of working with Wolfit and learning the craft of comedy which ultimately would lead to starring roles on television.

 

In subsequent years an annual lecture was given by various theatre celebrities in order to raise further funds for the charity. The list is more of a theatrical Who’s Who and includes Timothy West, Honor Blackman, Sheila Hancock, Prunella Scales, Imelda Staunton, Eileen Atkins, Geraldine McEwan, Sian Philips, David Warner and Alan Ayckbourn.

 

Recipients of the fund have included Michael Bond, currently Manager of the Apollo Theatre in London’s west end and Oscar Conlon Morrey who starred in the recent west end production of ‘Only Fools And Horses’ and with Sir Ian Mckellen and John Bishop in the UK tour of ‘Mother Goose’. Owing to the pandemic the first event for four years was held earlier this year when Oscar visited the town.

 

The charity which was originally named the Wolfit Endowment Fund is now the Sir Donald Wolfit Charitable Trust and is delighted to announce the annual lecture will return in October and will feature Patricia Hodge, currently starring in the West End with Nigel Havers in ‘Private Lives’. Accompanying Patricia once again is Richard Digby Day. As well as appearing in ‘Private Lives’ Patricia is also featured in the forthcoming series of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ on Channel 5.

 

Carol Wilkinson, who has been Secretary of the charity for the last 20 years said, “It is a real privilege to be involved with such a worthwhile local charity.  How I wish I had been at the Gala Concert.  If anyone has any memories of the concert or of Sir Donald Wolfit himself, please do get in touch.  We would love to hear from you.”

 

To send in your memories, please email carolwilkinson2012@gmail.com

PATRONS
The Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell
Mr Desmond Barritt     Mr Richard Digby Day

Mr Adam Woolfit     Mr John Tallents    Miss Joanna Parlby
Mr David Nightingale

TRUSTEES
Malcom Ellison FCA (Hon Treasurer)
Carolyn Drury     Lucy Kitchen     David Piper   

    Robin Bowerman     Beryl Rimmer     John Dodd
Sara Gilbert     Sheila Mumby     Tina Paris

Carol Wilkinson (Hon Secretary)

The Wolfit Endowment Fund was founded and registered as a charity (No. 1065634) in 1997. The name of the charity was changed in 2023 to Sir Donald Wolfit Charitable Trust as this better represents what the fund does.  The Fund was established to assist students of drama, both financially and in-kind, using the income from its invested capital.

 

The Trustees will consider applications for a grant of £1000 to individual drama/musical theatre students, over 17 years of age, who are resident in Newark or Balderton, or who have attended a school in Newark or Balderton.  Trustees prefer to give grants to students who are in the final year of their course but this should not deter students from applying earlier.  

 

Helping drama students to realise their ambitions in this way is a fitting memory to one of the greatest stage actors of the twentieth century, Sir Donald Wolfit C.B.E. The Fund maintains the link between Wolfit and his home town of Newark (and its neighbouring village Balderton, where he was born) by supporting students who either live, or went to school, in this area. Young people considering a future in acting can thus draw inspiration from the life and career of this, their town's most famous actor-son.

 

In addition to its grant-giving role, the Fund works to support acting and the theatre in the local area through a programme of events. The highlight of these is the Annual Wolfit Drama Festival, and details of this can be found by clicking on "Current Events".

 

The Fund also exists to celebrate and further our understanding of Wolfit, whose role as the last of the great actor-managers is a subject especially important to the history of theatre. Anyone who wishes to find out more about Wolfit is very welcome to contact the Fund.

 

The following are recommended by the Fund as sources of further information about Wolfit:

 

  • The best published source on Wolfit is the biography, by Ronald Harwood, C.B.E., entitled Sir Donald Wolfit - his life and work in the unfashionable theatre. It was first published in 1971 by Secker & Warburg, London. Its ISBN number is 0 436 19121 0. Copies are available from Newark Library and Nottingham Central Library, either locally or through inter-library loans.

    (see Nottinghamshire County Council's Library Service and click on Newark or Central, Nottingham. A search can be made as to the current availability of copies.)
     
  • Wolfit's autobiography is entitled First Interval, and was first published in 1954 by Odhams Press Limited, London. Its ISBN number is X 000 547751. It is available at Newark Library and Nottingham Central Library as above. 
     
  • The Wolfit papers, which include performance related materials, correspondance, literary works and personal papers, are held at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin. These were purchased from the Wolfit family in 1991. The Harry Ransom Center's web site provides a detailed overview of these papers, as well as a biographical sketch.
     
  • Further material, given by Ronald Harwood, is held at the Theatre Museum, London (part of the Victoria & Albert Museum), and comprises 23 scrapbooks of programmes, cuttings and the like, maintained by Wolfit between 1921 to 1967, and given to Ronald Harwood after his death.
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