Claire (& Eric) joined BROS by one of those serendipitous routes common to amateur theatre. Having been active with NEMCOM (New Malden Operatic) in SW London, and prior to that in numerous gang shows (through which they met when Claire trod on Eric’s hand at an after-show party!), Claire took on the role of production manager for the Amateur premiere of Crazy for You at Wimbledon theatre in 1997.
Here she met a production team all of whom were BROS members and so it was inevitable that shortly thereafter Eric & Claire were invited to become involved, Eric initially as part of the crew for Fiddler on the Roof at Richmond in April 1999 then Claire as production manager for the next Minack show Half a Sixpence in 2001. Notwithstanding the early stages of MS which had been diagnosed shortly after she and Eric had married in 1988, Claire threw herself into the task and soon established a rapport with both cast and crew, and indeed the Minack staff.
This ability to make friends easily and be quietly efficient yet confidently strong-willed endeared Claire to all who met her, and she and Eric became intrinsically linked with BROS and particularly the Minack shows. Even in recent years when the progression of her MS left her far less able, she was always the smiling face greeting the cast and crew while issuing Minack wristbands or organising company ticket allocations.
Her email address as poshclaire@ always drew a smile but it may not be commonly known that this was Claire’s nickname at work, given to her by her colleagues because of her exemplary telephone manner when answering calls. She also had a trademark withering stare which could stop any outrageous behaviour in an instant, and both Eric & I can testify to the validity of this statement.
Claire first saw Eric on stage in a District Gang Show where he was performing in a cat’s leotard! Turning to her friend she remarked that he was the man for her (NB the writer has no information as to what specifically caught her eye) but despite meeting afterwards in the famous hand-stepping incident, Eric’s natural shyness meant that no connection was immediately made. Indeed, it took Claire to subsequently ask Eric out for the dating process to begin in earnest.
By the time Claire joined BROS her own performing days were behind her, but it may be of interest to the reader to know that during her time in the scout movement she performed in numerous gang shows at both local and district levels but with a highlight of appearing at the Royal Albert Hall with the South London Gang Show. In later years Claire also became Assistant Commissioner for Beaver Scouts in her District, and she and Eric continued their work with the scout movement until they moved away in 2011.
In 2005 Eric persuaded Claire to run the book for Hot Mikado at Hampton, assuring her it was a simple job requiring only a few calls and the odd button push during the performance. The reality was somewhat different and a real baptism of fire, as the set had multiple sliding doors all having to be opened by crew hidden inside the structure and requiring cue lights to tell them when to open or close. On the journey back to Sutton after the first tech rehearsal there was a stony silence in the car, but as their flat door closed the air turned blue! Needless to say Claire managed wonderfully and no-one would have known front of house that her stress levels were high – except perhaps on the night when she announced to a packed foyer that ‘Tonight’s performance of Hot Commando is about to commence’! (Wishful thinking perhaps?)
The Minack shows were not the only BROS shows Claire worked on, and she and Eric were often part of the backstage teams helping out at auditions, rehearsals and production weeks at all the regular venues. However, the Minack shows remained special, as were the nights at the Cable Station Inn! Indeed there were several occasions when Eric & I retired to our cottage leaving Claire with Clare HR and others happily ensconced in Mick’s care, knowing that there would always be a willing helping hand to assist CHR pushing Claire’s wheelchair back up the dreaded hill at some ungodly hour.
Our merry foursome also holidayed on many occasions together either on TALENT (Thespians Away, Let’s Escape November Together) weekends away in the UK or visiting Eric’s best Friend Derek Ruby and his family in Spain.
In 2011 Eric and Claire moved to a lovely chalet bungalow in Titchfield Common as the MS meant that Claire was no longer able to climb the stairs to their flat in Sutton and thus ended their direct involvement in local shows other than as regular audience members. In 2012 Eric took Claire on a three-week road trip in America, from Washington DC to Nashville to Memphis to Florida they took in all the sites and visited; The Grand Ole Opry, Graceland’s, Sea World and the Kennedy Space Centre and had a fabulous time. On one occasion however, Eric put Claire in the car and turned on the fans as the heat outside was above 100 degrees, but after closing her door, taking her wheelchair apart and storing it in the boot Eric returned to the driver’s seat to discover Claire was like a roasted chicken as he had forgotten to switch on the aircon!
Claire was a great fan of the theatre and especially musical theatre. Eric and Claire used to see many shows in London, Chichester, Salisbury, Poole, Woking, Wimbledon and their local The Mayflower in Southampton. Another great passion was Claire & Eric’s love for cricket, and they joined Hampshire County Cricket club and supported Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl and also at some away matches. Claire especially loved the cricket when it was warm and made lots of friends with all the people who sat around them, but when it got cold, out came the nice warm coat, blanket, scarf & mitts: and Cricket is meant to be a summer sport!
It has only been in the last year that Claire’s MS has caused more and more discomfort but they kept on going doing everything they could, so whilst this horrible disease just wasted her body away it was just the very last couple of months Claire was not as positive as she had been for the past 32 years and she waited till Eric got up for his normal cup of tea in the morning before slipping quietly away.
At her funeral service the two pieces of musical theatre music she had chosen were You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel, and The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha, two of Claire’s favourite shows.
Claire lived her life to the full despite the MS and will be missed by all she knew as the witty, smiley, fun & enthusiast person, but with that wicked stare she gave if she disapproved of something, that needed no words.
Rest in Peace Claire, you have left a big hole in the lives of many, but you also gave so much to all who met you.
WHR, Archivist & Friend