MIKE HURST

Mike Hurst
My mother, Flavia Pickworth, began her career on stage as a member of the Italia Conti stage school in London in the 1930’s. In the mid-thirties she took over her Mother’s dancing school and “Flavia’s Starlets” were born. She was a stickler for work and discipline. She had to be because her troupe became well known on the London Music Hall circuit, appearing with all the greats of the time. The great impresario, C B Cochran, put into print that he thought my Mother was a great teacher and inspired confidence from all her pupils. But for his untimely death, he would have been an enormous help to her.

My first appearance was at the age of four in 1947 at the Met, Edgware Road, London, one of the great old Variety theatres. I sang “Money is the Root of All Evil” and “California Here I come”. From 1947 to 1956 I appeared in all my Mother’s shows and also toured periodically with Music Hall bills, with the likes of Sid Field, Max Miller and Leon Cortez. It was an education. It also gave me an enduring love of the stage and, as later years would prove, an even greater love for the enthusiasm and energy generated by youngsters.

Rock and Roll brought an end to my involvement with the Mother’s group in 1957. I wanted to be Elvis, not Gene Kelly. With my Mother’s help and endless enthusiasm I joined The Springfields in 1962. I subsequently produced many hit artists such as Cat Stevens, Manfred Mann and Spencer Davies. Mother, meanwhile, had forged links with a London agency and was placing some of her more talented pupils in big West End shows like Oliver!

I persuaded my Mother to leave London where she was still teaching children, and move to Henley to be near her family. This she did, and lived in Hamilton Avenue. However, she could not stay away from the business and started the Henley Children’s Theatre Group, her first three pupils naturally being her three Grandchildren, Tim, Lexi and Muffin. She always wrote the scripts herself, giving as many children as possible a chance to shine individually. Her criterion was simple: if you had the enthusiasm and the nerve you deserved a chance. Flavia had maintained her links with the London agency, and now placed her Henley children in shows like The King And I. One of her London pupils, Brynsley Ford, was already doing well in the BBC Children’s show The Doubledeckers. He would later go on to be one third of the reggae group, Aswad.

My mother, Flavia Pickworth, began her career on stage as a member of the Italia Conti stage school in London in the 1930’s. In the mid-thirties she took over her Mother’s dancing school and “Flavia’s Starlets” were born. She was a stickler for work and discipline. She had to be because her troupe became well known on the London Music Hall circuit, appearing with all the greats of the time. The great impresario, C B Cochran, put into print that he thought my Mother was a great teacher and inspired confidence from all her pupils. But for his untimely death, he would have been an enormous help to her.

My first appearance was at the age of four in 1947 at the Met, Edgware Road, London, one of the great old Variety theatres. I sang “Money is the Root of All Evil” and “California Here I come”. From 1947 to 1956 I appeared in all my Mother’s shows and also toured periodically with Music Hall bills, with the likes of Sid Field, Max Miller and Leon Cortez. It was an education. It also gave me an enduring love of the stage and, as later years would prove, an even greater love for the enthusiasm and energy generated by youngsters.

Rock and Roll brought an end to my involvement with the Mother’s group in 1957. I wanted to be Elvis, not Gene Kelly. With my Mother’s help and endless enthusiasm I joined The Springfields in 1962. I subsequently produced many hit artists such as Cat Stevens, Manfred Mann and Spencer Davies. Mother, meanwhile, had forged links with a London agency and was placing some of her more talented pupils in big West End shows like Oliver!

I persuaded my Mother to leave London where she was still teaching children, and move to Henley to be near her family. This she did, and lived in Hamilton Avenue. However, she could not stay away from the business and started the Henley Children’s Theatre Group, her first three pupils naturally being her three Grandchildren, Tim, Lexi and Muffin. She always wrote the scripts herself, giving as many children as possible a chance to shine individually. Her criterion was simple: if you had the enthusiasm and the nerve you deserved a chance. Flavia had maintained her links with the London agency, and now placed her Henley children in shows like The King And I. One of her London pupils, Brynsley Ford, was already doing well in the BBC Children’s show The Doubledeckers. He would later go on to be one third of the reggae group, Aswad.

The Springfields

The Springfields

My Mother came to live with us at The Grove when she contracted cancer in the late 70’s. Despite her illness she continued with the Theatre Group and always had time for her six grandchildren. She died in 1981, in the middle of rehearsals for her annual Summer production at the Kenton. The flowers that covered my lawn were testament to the love and affection she was held in by so many people of all ages.

Flavia history,
hct-1969
flavia-history2
snow-white-program1
snow-white-program2

She was not a wealthy woman. All the proceeds from ALL her shows had been given to charities. First the St Dunstan’s School for the Blind,and the The Imperial Cancer Research Fund. For her work she was made a Life Governor of the Fund in 1976 being presented with the award by the Hon Angus Ogilvy.

I took over the Henley Group in order to complete the show she had been working on. How we all did it I don’t know. It was painful and exhilarating at the same time. I had no intention of continuing. I was not a teacher or a writer. What I came to realise was that I was my Mother’s son, and once taken up, it could not be put down. I discovered I loved writing for children, and I loved teaching them. Even when I moved to Devon in 1985 I continued to drive back to Henley every Saturday to take the Theatre Group. This lasted for three years and the commitment was, to put it mildly, tiring. I was overjoyed when my daughter Muffin took over. She was perfect for the role. As all who know her will testify, she is resilient, determined and immensely strong! From that day to this I have been not only proud of her, as any Father would be, but really grateful that she wanted to take up the baton of the HCTG. It is no small thing to organise and present a show with more than 100 children to contend with, but their mothers as well! She takes it all in her stride and the affection in which she is held by generations of Henley youngsters speaks for itself.

So, here we are … 2014 and still going strong, albeit without a “G”. HCT is a real family tradition. Marjorie and I now have 17 Grandchildren, so I have to hope, and indeed assume, that yet another generation of the Hurst Family will still be producing the Henley pantomime for years to come. Do not bet against it!!

 

MIKE HURST