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How Allo Allo star Sam Kelly played a key role in Croydon's theatre scene

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A SITCOM star famous for his role in 'Allo 'Allo! who died a fortnight ago had a huge hand in founding Croydon's famous Warehouse Theatre.

Sam Kelly, who died from cancer aged 70 on June 14, was famous for his role as Captain Hans Geering in 'Allo 'Allo! and was well-known for his performances on TV, film and stage.

But in 1977, with fellow actor Richard Ireson and director Adrian Shergold, he started what would become one of Croydon's most well-known venues.

Ted Craig, the final artistic director of the Warehouse Theatre, said Mr Kelly's contribution to the Croydon arts scene had been huge.

He said the idea for the theatre had started from a rapidly expanding "lunchtime theatre" scene spreading across London in the mid 1970s.

"It was very big for a time. Every pub with a spare room was turned into a theatre for lunch," Mr Craig said.

"You would go for a sandwich and a pint of beer and watch a play.

"Sam, who was local to Croydon at the time, got together with Richard and Adrian and they said 'this is crazy, why don't we do it in Croydon?'"

The trio initially made their base for the theatre at a Caribbean nightclub on Dingwall Road which Mr Craig said had a "very dubious" reputation at the time.

He added: "They would arrive at 12pm and put on productions and leave by 1.30pm but every day when they arrived there would be quite a job clearing the incredible amount of mess from the night before.

"But they were so focused on putting really good work on and they built quite a reputation. Sue Townsend (Adrian Mole author) even wrote her first play to be staged at the Warehouse.

"They got a little grant off of the Arts Council and they eventually took over the building and it was all go.

"But unfortunately, the lunchtime theatre scene was over almost as quickly as it had begun."

Mr Kelly's direct involvement with the theatre came to an end around 1980 but he returned a number of times and helped with fundraising efforts.

Mr Craig, who still operates the Warehouse Phoenix despite the theatre closing in 2012 and being demolished last year, took over as artistic director in 1985 when the theatre had started struggling for funding.

He said Mr Kelly had been a "true talent" and that he was thankful for the Porridge star's contribution to the theatre's history.

"Sam was wonderful," he added.

"He was such a funny man with such a wonderful range. When he was on our table at dinner he was cracking jokes and was brilliant company."

Councillor Tim Godfrey, Cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure, also paid tribute to Mr Kelly, saying: "Somebody like Sam Kelly was ambitious for culture in Croydon.

"He helped drive this town forward."

Warehouse Phoenix still runs the International Playwriting Festival, which took place this year on May 17 to 18 at Fairfield Halls.

How Allo Allo star Sam Kelly played a key role in Croydon's theatre scene


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