LOOKING BACK: A Key part of the Peterborough story

Building the Key Theatre  in 1972
Building the Key Theatre in 1972
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There can be few more loved institutions in Peterborough than the Key Theatre.

I wonder what percentage of Peterborians have attended a show or other event there? I imagine a fair proportion of the city’s population have even been on the stage – from Key Kids to Gang Shows and from Telegraph award nights to am-dram productions.

The then Peterborough City Council chief executive Paul Martin and Michael Cross are pictured with Derek Killeen at his leaving presentation at the Key Theatre.

The then Peterborough City Council chief executive Paul Martin and Michael Cross are pictured with Derek Killeen at his leaving presentation at the Key Theatre.

The theatre is synonomous with panto and among the stars who have appeared was Paul Daniels who sadly died recently. The magician appeared in Sleeping Beauty in 2005. Top marks if you remember that year’s Key panto was actually held at the Broadway! It was a show written and directed by Michael Cross who for many years was much loved by city theatre-goers as the Dame in the panto.

Michael together with two previous directors – Tony Clayton and Derek Killeen – raised the theatre’s profile far higher than you might expect for a small provincial venue with fewer than 400 seats.

The building opened 0n November 26, 1973 with a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The theatre cost just £165,000 to build although within a few years it was in deep financial trouble. Thankfully it survived.

My own memory of The Key is interviewing Charlie Drake who played Buttons in the 1985 panto Cindrella. I was a cub reporter working for the Spalding Guardian. Charlie was my first big assignment. I was warned by the office grump that Charlie would eat me alive, but he was charming.

Paul Daniels who appeared in the Key panto in 2005

Paul Daniels who appeared in the Key panto in 2005

If you have any memories or photos of the Key please get in touch.

From the archives

A look back at stories from the Peterborough

Telegraph archives – some sad, some happy, some serious, some funny

Tony Clayton, one of the influential directors of  the Key Theatre.

Tony Clayton, one of the influential directors of the Key Theatre.

Peterborough has some strange claims to fame from being home to the world’s first mini-roundabout (it was the junction between London Road and Oundle Road) and home to Black Shuck the mysterious dog which inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to pen The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Along side those you can file Mrs Ethel Grainger or as she was also known “wasp waist woman’’.

Mrs Grainger, who lived in Priory Road, had the smallest waist in the world for a woman at just 13 ins.

Her death at the age of 76 was reported in the Peterborough ET on Friday, February 26, 1982.

Building work almost complete on the theatre

Building work almost complete on the theatre

Mrs Grainger was in the Guinness Book of Records and, the ET reported, “achieved her incredible waist measurement by wearing increasingly smaller made to measure steel corsets.’’

Her waist measurement was 22 inches when she married local teacher and keen amateur astronomer William Grainger.

Mrs Grainger had previously told the ET that her husband thought her too chubby and it took her 21 years to get to her world record measurement.

She was also known for having many piercings – including 13 in one ear and wearing a large ring through her nose.

She was also, the ET obituary noted, a former president of the Peterborough Bee Keepers’ Society.

In 2011, the magazine Vogue Italia caused a storm in the fashion world when it featured a model with a tiny, corsetted waist on a cover inspired by Mrs Grainger.

An interior shot of work in progess

An interior shot of work in progess

The stage is almost set

The stage is almost set

Funnyman Charlie Drake who appeared at the Key in the 70s. Do you know who the actress is?

Funnyman Charlie Drake who appeared at the Key in the 70s. Do you know who the actress is?

Aerial view: This picture of the  villages of Ailsworth and Castor was taken around 1979 when it was on the main route out to the A1. The bypass was later built and would appear on the right of the picture. St Kyneburgha Church stands proudly in the centre.

Aerial view: This picture of the villages of Ailsworth and Castor was taken around 1979 when it was on the main route out to the A1. The bypass was later built and would appear on the right of the picture. St Kyneburgha Church stands proudly in the centre.