Every lunchtime, Frank Hugget, the supervisor at Torquay’s Pavilion Theatre, would take a cigarette break.
One day in 1961, as Frank puffed away contentedly on the theatre steps, he noticed a young girl who was clearly upset.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. “No, I’m not,” she told him, “I’m desperately unhappy in my work.”
“Then why don’t you come and work here?” he replied.
And so began Di Parr’s 16-year association with the iconic theatre and many of the stars who appeared there.
Di will be better known to many as Di Feasby - she married well-known local footballer Steve Feasby in 1967 - particularly through her voluntary work with Rowcroft Hospice and the Women’s Wellbeing Club.
On leaving Audley Park School in Torquay at 15, she had gone to work at Bobby’s, one of the trinity of upmarket department stores in the town - Williams & Cox and Rockheys were the others - but the prospect of ‘measuring cloth and serving fussy women’ was not one she relished.
When she was told by her boss that this was precisely what the future held she went for her tearful walk around the harbour to the Pavilion and that career-changing encounter.
Over the years she met and got to know some of the entertainment world’s best-loved figures, some friendly, some not and some whose behaviour in the wings left nothing to the imagination!
On the friendly front was the diminutive comic Arthur Askey who starred alongside Jessie Matthews and Jack Douglas in What a Racket while she recalls that singer Frankie ‘Give Me The Moonlight’ Vaughan, then appearing at the Princess Theatre, as the least generous celebrity she met.
And the most generous? Carry On star Sid James. “He was fantastic,” recalls Di, “a brilliant tipper.”
Her father became Sid’s driver during his two seasons in the Bay, and her mother the family’s babysitter,
Another celebrity who didn’t rate too highly in the staff’s popularity ratings was Terry Scott of Terry and June fame.
“He always looked down on us,” recalled Di. “I used to go up on the roof sunbathing at lunchtimes and one day he came up with his wife and children.
“He asked me to leave. I asked him why and he replied that he wanted some privacy with his family - so i went round to the other side of the roof.”
She has fond memories of Jimmy Clitheroe - The Clitheroe Kid - and of the day that Ken Dodd asked one of the box office girls to marry him - “and meant it!”
The manager of the Pavilion was Bob Roberts and he and Hugget were respected figures throughout the theatrical community nationally.
“Bob Roberts - we always called him Mr Roberts - was a lovely man,” said Di. ‘He had a grand piano outside the bar and he would play it at lunchtime. I was absolutely mesmerised by how well he played.”
She remembers an usher called Zeke who each day carved initials in potatoes to make the letters for bill posters and Mark Coleman and Tony Loosemore who delivered the weekly wage packets.
Loosemore, incidentally, was another accomplished sportsman, playing soccer for Torquay United A team and cricket for Chelston.
The job had its perks. “We were allowed to stand backstage at The Princess which is how I met Tom Jones and The Beatles. I had the Beatles autographs and some years later went to get them valued. I was told that because John Lennon’s autograph was in blue ink and was fading
they were worthless.”
The curtain came down on The Pavilion for the last time in 1976, the final summer show being The Eric Sykes Show with Sykes, Hattie Jacques and Derek Guyler.
“Hattie was absolutely lovely, the loveliest person you could wish to meet. She had long grey hair that a she wore in a bun under a wig.
“She gave all the staff a party at the end of the season.”
Di was already working at the Pavilion when she met her husband to-be at the 400 Ballroom on Torquay harbourside.
Steve Feasby, who worked for Newton Abbot clay company Watts, Blake and Bearne, played for Torquay United Reserves and Torquay United A and went on to have a strong association with Buckland Athetic. He also represented Devon at darts.
“When we decided to get married Steve was looking for a second job - we all did second jobs in those days to save money - so I asked Bob Northway, the stage manager, if there was one available.
“He said ‘tell him to come along’ and that’s how he became a stage hand”
Weekends were a busy time for the backstage boys. Sometimes they worked all night on Saturday to load scenery onto lorries and on Sunday all day to build the new set. But, as most of them had second jobs, they weren’t available to shift the scenery for Wednesday matinee performances - which is where Di and the Pavilion girls stepped in.
“It was heavy work and we certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to do it today!”
Steve and Di were married in 1967 with a red enamel kettle from comedian Norman Vaughan among the wedding gifts! Sadly, Steve passed away a week before their 50th wedding anniversary in 2017 after a long battle with illness.
Di herself had a second job at the nearby New Inventions gift shop run by Frank Jaffa and, although staying on briefly to work for Rank when they took over the Pavilion as a bingo hall in 1976, eventually went on to work as a house manager for McCarthy and Stone.
Next week - the stars, the shows and the end of the road.