Unique home theatre faces its final curtain

Fred Temlett at his home Main picture: OX54182 Richard Cave

The Grange Theatre in 1990

Martin Jarvis

Pam Ayres

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Oxford Times Chief Reporter. Call me on 01865 425434

FRED Temlett and his wife Valerie loved the theatre so much they decided to create one in their own home.

Since 1971 the couple have been staging plays and musicals in their Grade II-listed home to full houses.

Mrs Temlett reckons to have directed nearly 100 productions, while her husband, a retired teacher, acted as stage manager and made the scenery. But at the age of 91, Mr Temlett has decided the time has arrived to bring the curtain down on the remarkable theatre at The Grange in Little Tew, set in the heart of the north Oxfordshire countryside.

“We decided we were getting a bit too old to continue running it,” said Mr Temlett.

“It was getting a bit too demanding and I have been in and out of hospital. The house is such a big place to take care of anyway, with over 20 rooms”.

The 70-seat theatre was created in what used to be the single-storey servants’ buttery of the rambling 170-year-old house, a former rectory.

But now the Temletts are to turn it into accommodation for a live-in carer, which the couple say they now need.

A planning application was approved on Monday by West Oxfordshire District Council , allowing them to undertake the conversion.

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The lighting and seats, where thousands enjoyed professional and amateur performances over the decades, have already gone.

The sound of applause and laughter have long gone but half a lifetime of drama has left the couple with wonderful memories.

Photographs of The Barretts of Wimpole Street and other past productions adorn the walls of the charming theatre bar, created next door to the theatre. And it wasn’t just full-length plays performed here: over the years The Grange has seen pantomimes, classical concerts and folk nights.

As well as directing and overseeing the costumes, Mrs Temlett even wrote some of the plays herself.

“We always sold out. People would travel here from Oxford, Banbury, Burford, Coventry and Stratford,” said Mr Temlett, who taught engineering at Banbury School.

“We enlisted our own actors and actresses. But we would also see amateur groups like the Banbury Cross Players and Banbury Operatic Society.

“My wife chose all the plays. We would do Noel Coward classics and modern stuff. We put on everything from Shakespeare to comedy by Neil Simon. After covering expenses, the money went to children’s charities. I believe we must have raised over £10,000 down the years.”

They assembled an impressive group of volunteers, who happily worked as lighting engineers, helped with costumes and acted as front-of- house staff.

The Temletts acquired The Grange in 1956, set in impressive grounds, after it had fallen into a bad state of disrepair. The building was listed in 1987.

The theatre took six months to develop. Although work had involved lowering a floor to create a stage, the buttery conversion cost only £400.

They secured the theatre seats from an old cinema in Trowbridge that closed down. The old library was converted into a bar and another room was made over for use as a coffee lounge.

When it first opened virtually every spare minute of their free time was spent arranging productions, rehearsing, building sets or performing.

Mrs Temlett, who once regularly trod the boards as a young dancer in Welsh theatres, said: “A performance of Romeo and Juliet 10 years ago is one that remains with me.

“We have also had some well-known names here such as Martin Jarvis and Pam Ayres.”

The last production came three years ago with the play The Shell Seekers. As the curtain came down, the pair instinctively knew that the show had come to an end.

Mr Temlett said: “It was quite emotional.”

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