‘Banknotes were stuffed down my bra’

Jane Denyer and Margaret Murrell are retiring from the Barn Theatre box office in April
Jane Denyer and Margaret Murrell are retiring from the Barn Theatre box office in April
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Two box office stalwarts at the Barn Theatre in Southwick have served an astonishing 65 years between them.

In April, Jane Denyer and Margaret Murrell will be taking a well-earned retirement from the business of selling tickets. They remember the time when it was an all-cash operation with a box office no bigger than a broom cupboard.

Both came from a Barn Theatre background – Jane as an actor member of Southwick Players and Margaret a busy helper with Southwick Opera.

Jane joined the box office in 1975 and handled bookings for the Players, while Margaret started in the early 1990s on behalf of the Opera.

Tickets were booked over the telephone or in person and these were not paid for until the night of the show.

“There was often a lot of cash around after each performance,” says Jane.

“Margaret took hers to the night safe in the Square, accompanied by the hunkiest fellow she could get hold of. I would go home with banknotes stuffed down my bra and fortunately never got mugged.”

At the end of the run, the takings had to be counted at home.

Margaret said: “I would spend all day Sunday doing this and if the total didn’t add up, it meant starting all over again.”

Husband Peter would enquire plaintively whether he was likely to have any dinner that night, she added.

Jane remembers piles of cash all over her kitchen.

At that time, organising front of house rotas was part of the job, as well as putting out the seats. They served teas in the interval, too, later replaced by ice-creams, which were less trouble.

They did all this in addition to their day job but now it is just selling tickets and organising the ice-creams.

Jane still recalls the first time she looked into the auditorium, saw a full house, and thought ‘I sold tickets to all those people’.

“It was such a thrill,” she said.

There were a few tense moments and Margaret describes how, during a Southwick Opera performance, that a group of firemen turned up to make a routine check.

It took a lot of sweet talking, and offers of drinks, to persuade them not to march up on to the stage there and then but to wait until the interval, when they caused much interest and some alarm among the audience.

Nowadays bookings for all three resident companies, together with the beer festival and visiting productions, are handled by the same box office team.

There is a tried-and-tested computer system, making the work so much easier, and online bookings account for 70 per cent of the turnover.

Jane and Margaret say they will very much miss box office life. There is the satisfaction of providing a vital service for the theatre and they have enjoyed meeting so many people. On the plus side, they will be able to take more holidays and even manage to see some of the shows.

They hope there will be volunteers coming forward to carry on this important and rewarding work.

Their assistant of 15 years, Leonie Hudson, is also leaving, making this even more essential.

At least three volunteers are wanted urgently to help run this vital service.

Individuals will work on a rota basis, ideally making a commitment of one evening a week for the times when staff are required.

Box office staff must be in place two weeks before and during the run of any production. At other times the few phone calls and online bookings are handled by one of the team at home.

Contact the office at Southwick Community Centre on 01273 592819 or email enquiries@southwickcommunitycentre.org.uk for more details.

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