Happy 80th birthday to theatre president Lord Walpole
8th December 2018
Today is a special day for the Little Theatre’s president Lord Walpole – as he marks his 80th birthday.
He will spend it enjoying cake and celebrations with his family, but we send him our best wishes, and deepest thanks for his service and support which stretches back 45 years to 1973.
Lord Walpole was born on December 8 1938, into a family steeped in British history – his ancestor Sir Robert was our first prime minister – and straight into a wartime childhood.
His school days included trips from his home at Wolterton Hall to Sheringham beach – or at least the narrow public strip between the areas littered with deadly mines to deter any German invaders.
But it also saw an early interest in theatre, taking part in end-of-term form dramas including playing Octavius Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julia’s Caesar. At Eton he sang in the house choir.
After studying agriculture and natural sciences at King’s College, Cambridge, farming became his career – along with politics.
He rose from parish to district councillor and constituency chairman for the Conservatives in north Norfolk when Ralph Howell was MP. He has been a forthright champion of the county and its rich heritage as chairman of the regional tourist board and county museums committee.
But that early love of the Arts was always there and when a political colleague heard the Little Theatre was seeking a president and she suggested he would be ideal president. He agreed with gusto.
Lord Walpole recalls running annual meetings that were “almost shows in themselves” as various players groups performed their reports about the year.
“It was, and still is, a marvellous theatre to have on our doorstep, with a mix of professional actors and very talented local amateurs,“ he added.
“We love the summer rep season and take grandchildren to the Panto – sometimes more than once, because we have 14.
“Sheringham Little Theatre has given us – and thousands of others – great pleasure over the years.”
He and wife Laurel recall enjoying sitting in the balcony of the theatre before its Lottery-funded revamp, and the days when it had no bar, meaning they and other patrons nipped over the road to the Robin Hood pub for interval drinks, before being summoned back by a bell.
Lord Walpole, who sat in the House of Lords as a non-party political ‘crossbencher’, from 1989 until his retirement in 2017, used his upper chamber connections to enlist former famous farce actor Brian, later Lord, Rix to stage a charity event in north Norfolk with part of the proceeds going towards a Little Theatre improvement appeal.
The couple, who now live at Mannington Hall where they have regularly staged events on behalf of theatre funds, have seven children, scattered across the world as far as Melbourne Australia, including one who has gone into theatre world as a career.
Son Roger, 38, works as production manager at Edinburgh University, but has done spells as a technician at the Little Theatre, along with his wife Lesley – so the family links are strong.
Lord Walpole had his 70th birthday at the theatre, with family and friends adding to the entertainment.
His birthday this year falls on the opening weekend of our Panto Beauty and the Beast. Although he will not be with us, we will be raising a toast to his birthday, presidency, and good health after the show. Oh yes we will.