One of the longest-serving members of staff in the history of Chichester Festival Theatre is retiring.
The CFT’s building services manager Colin Hedgecock is stepping down after working at the venue for 43 of the theatre’s 53 years.
Sir John Clements was the CFT’s artistic director when Colin joined as a stage electrician in September 1971. He retires on May 15 at the start of Jonathan Church’s tenth season in charge.
In between he’s seen the venue nearly go bankrupt twice before rising to its current success with soaring audiences and a 50th-anniversary multi-million pound rebuild.
Colin admits he’s never been a great one for going to the theatre himself, but he has loved his years at the CFT.
“Jen, whom I married a year later, saw the job advertised, and I thought it would be nice to work there. I applied, was interviewed by the chief electrician and got the job,” says 64-year-old Colin. “It’s just a nice place to be, a lovely location in the middle of a park. The people are nice, and every season there are new people arriving. We do the summer season, and then the following year, another lot arrive!
“In my old office, we were on the one-to-five dressing room corridor and were always bumping into actors. They are fine. I have never had any problems with actors.”
Starting as a stage electrician, Colin rose in seniority: “At one point, I had three permanent staff, and then after that I went down to two. We have got a young chap starting part time, so there are now two full time and one part time.
Colin, who was born in Chichester and still lives in the city, recalls an era when things were built to last, but even so, the building has had “its moments” down the years: “Various bits were becoming more problematic, and when the Minerva was built, it increased the workload. The Minerva had more complicated equipment than the old theatre equipment.
“But being so long in the job, I could walk into a plant room and I could hear if something wasn’t quite right. You can pick things up before they become a real problem. You get an instinct for it.”
The massive rebuild hasn’t necessarily made things any easier: “It has been a big learning curve. There is a heck of a lot more plant.”
Changes in legislation have also added to the complications: “When I first started, there was no health and safety legislation. That has come in and has become gradually more and more onerous. A lot of it, you think ‘Yes, it’s necessary’, but it is making the job more time-consuming. It has all made a terrific change to the way we operate.
“But I will miss it. I will miss the camaraderie of my team, my boys, Barrie and Chris. They are good lads, and they would do anything for you.”
As for retirement, the work is stacking up already: “I have been saying for the past few years ‘Don’t worry, Jen, I will do it when I retire’, and now I have got a flipping long list!”
But one thing he is particularly looking forward to is spending more time with his granddaughters: “I get more time with my grandchildren than I did with my own children because of the hours I was doing while I was a young lad.”