The 600-seat Palace Court Theatre on Hinton Road in Bournemouth was built by the Bournemouth Little Theatre Company, the town’s oldest amateur dramatic society. In its more recent history it has been the Galaxy Cinema and then the Wessex Christian Centre.

From 1955 until the mid-1960s the Barry O’Brien Company, Bournemouth’s own repertory troupe put on a different production ever week or fortnight.

“The company consisted of actors and actresses contracted for the period from September through to the end of June,” said former Bournemouth magician and actor David Medina.

There were some breaks now and again to allow the Little Theatre Company to present their own productions at the theatre. All the members of the repertory company at that time were unknown performers outside Bournemouth, although many went on to bigger things and became well known in the profession and to the public generally.

“Lennard Pearce, one of the repertory members, was resident for years in the 50s and early 60s and only found fame very late in life. He also became the first Grandad in the popular TV series Only Fools and Horses,” said David.

When Lennard died in 1984, his role was replaced by Uncle Albert, Grandad’s long lost brother played by Buster Merryfield who came to live in Verwood. Buster was very popular and after he passed away the Merryfield Theatre at Verwood Hub was set up in his memory.

During the high season between July and August the Palace Court Theatre was hired out to a commercial producer who featured some well-known names in their productions. One such production was ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’ for the 1966 summer season produced and directed by Paul Elliott from Bournemouth who years later became well known as the ‘Pantomime King’ and Peter Byrne.

“I remember the show for it featured our very own Ann Sidney in her first musical. I saw the show late in its run and remember during one of Ann’s several songs of her coming down to the front row and sitting on some lucky man’s knee. Unfortunately I was sitting up in the Circle.”

Ann Sidney, a young hairdresser from Poole, was crowned Miss World in 1964 having won the Miss United Kingdom contest earlier. After a year as Miss World, Ann decided to try her hand at acting and joined a Manchester repertory company for a couple of years, touring in plays such as Doctor in The House. She had already appeared on TV all over the world, including the Bob Hope Show.

The other performers listed in ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’ show were Craig Douglas who had many hit songs including ‘Only Sixteen’ and ‘Oh Lonesome Me’, the well- known actor and comedian Bill Maynard, Hampshire-born Cynthia Morey formerly of the D’Oyley Carte Company and had just left Sadler Wells and Alan Lynton who had appeared in London with Max Bygraves and Dickie Henderson. On some occasions Bill Maynard’s part of ‘Justice Squeezum’ was played by Brendan Barry.

“Despite the established names in the production Ann was the star as she stole the show on every entrance. Ann was far from being a ‘beginner’ in acting as she had drama training in Bournemouth and had already had roles in Macbeth and Doctor in the House. The following summer Ann was in ‘Boeing-Boeing’ at the South Pier in Blackpool,” said David who has been friends with Ann for many years.

When the stars were not on stage at the Palace Court they could be seen ordering a meal at the popular Sweet Lass Grill restaurant on Richmond Hill, renowned for its excellent food. Today Starbucks are situated on the restaurant site.

Ann’s career in entertainment went on to include playing Maria in The Sound of Music in Denver, several stints in panto with Les Dawson and six years as a lead singer at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas.

On screen she would appear in Sebastian, starring Dirk Bogarde, and with Mick Jagger and James Fox in Performance.