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Death of Principal Male of Operatic Society

January 1937

Mexborough and Swinton Times, January 29, 1937

Mr James Bird in the costume in which he should have appeared.

The spirit of joyful achievement in which the Wombwell and District Amateur Operatic Society made final preparations for the production of the musical play “Good Night Vienna,” at Wombwell Empire Theatre, was marred last weekend by tragedy.

At the last moment it was learned that Mr James Bird of Barnsley, who had been cast for the principal male role of Count Max, was down with influenza at Northampton, and would probably not be able to take the part in the opening performances. This was considered to be a serious handicap as it meant that in the very short time available a deputy would have to be found.

Then worse happened. On Sunday evening, while the players were engaged in the final dress rehearsal, came the news that Mr Bird had passed away in hospital.

A Tragic Secret

The tragic intimation was conveyed by phone in the first place to Mr Clifford Watkin, the stage manager, and after a hasty consultation it was considered advisable to withhold the news from the company until the conclusion of the rehearsal.

Unknown to the majority of the players in the routine a final practice was gone through under depressing shadow. At the conclusion the players were called onto the stage and informed of what had happened. Several of the leading members of the company were overcome by the shock. Mr Bird had become very popular with all members, and was expected to achieve one of the personal triumphs of the production.

On the darkened stage the players stood in silence for a moment withholding talk of grief in respect, and then finally disbanded. It was a sad blow to everybody, and not a pleasant circumstance in which to start a week show.

A Barnsley Substitute

The manner in which the officials of the company hastily cast about for a deputy and finally triumphed over difficulty is now well-known. It was a foregone conclusion that Mr Harold Jolley, L.R.A.M., Barnsley, who played the part with such distinction in the Sheffield Teachers Amateur Operatic Society production at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, last November would be a success in the role.

The society were exceedingly fortunate to find him available, though with his engagements difficulties did not end completely.