Ron Smith’s Story

A couple of years ago an email was received from a Ron Smith in Yorkshire. It was about an event that Ron was involved in during WW2 that included Court 15. This is the story based on Ron’s email.

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From: Ronald Smith

To: Uncle Tom’s Tales

Subject: 1940s

This is one of my childhood memories, a fleeting glimpse of your buildings during WW2. I am almost 85 years old now, and what memories I have from that time are vivid, but where I just put my glasses down a few minutes ago is less clear.

I am from Teesside, my large maternal and paternal families were from Tyneside, but my nicest, kindest and best-looking aunt was my Auntie Sally who was pure, born and bred Brummie.

At some time in the thirties my uncle made his way from Newcastle to Birmingham to find work, and was followed later by other family members (on the train). None of them were in engineering, but a generation or two later, I discovered my cousin and her husband were making nuts, bolts and screws in Erdington.

You are probably in contact with plenty of people who remember when your buildings had smoking chimneys and noise coming out. Their memory will be truly valuable, but maybe you will be intrigued to find somebody having memory of the place, but with as little connection as I have and living far away in (dull as hell) Yorkshire.

Some 80 years ago, I went with my Mum, Dad, and Auntie Sally to a show at the Birmingham Hippodrome which I think was called “Roses of Piccadilly”. I slept through most of the show, but remember there was a ventriloquist and some funny banter involving a settee – I was, after all, only three or four years old at the time.

We came out and waited at the bus stop at the front of the theatre. A girl riding a bicycle passed on the other side of the road and seconds later died under a bus coming towards us. All I saw was the bus crossing the road and demolishing a shop canopy. So, being young, I didn’t really comprehend and I don’t recall being upset. However, Auntie Sally started to tremble violently and crave a drink of water, so we crossed the road and went down a through-passage into a large typical Brum domestic back yard of houses and metal workshops. Auntie Sally scrounged a cup of water in somebody’s dark kitchen, and I remember her hand shaking violently as she held it.

A few days ago, I was watching an episode of “Who do you Think You Are?” on TV about Emma Willis whose family is from Birmingham. At one point they went down a dark passage into where the National Trust have preserved a typical traditional Birmingham courtyard and houses. I recognised it as the place where we went.

Well, I had recorded the programme, so I looked carefully with my glasses on and could make out that the preserved buildings are on the junction of Hurst Street and Inge Street. I stuck Hurst Street Birmingham into Google Map, and there was the Birmingham Hippodrome! The theatre is directly opposite the covered alleyway to the preserved domestic yard. The National Trust call it “Birmingham Back to Backs”. It is there and I am pretty sure that is the correct place, I can identify the door where my Auntie Sally went in.

I hope you are all well ……. Ron

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We did some research into the “Roses of Piccadilly” and could not find any evidence that the show mentioned by Ron existed. However, we did find a show called “Piccadilly Playtime” which was on at the Hippodrome in 1942 – this fits in with Fred’s “about 80 years ago”!

Here are the details:

Piccadilly Playtime

Opening Night: Monday 17 August 1942

Last Performance: Saturday 22 August 1942

Genre: Variety


Jack Warner – [later to be TV’s Dixon of Dock Green – ed]

Jerry Hoey and His Band – [Hoey was said to the inventor of the Hokey Cokey dance – ed]

Alice and Rosie Lloyd

Bryan Michie

The Gridneffs [a ladder balancing act from Russia]

Marianne Lincoln

Performance Times: Twice nightly at 17:15 and 19:30