DSC_9395_medAs our run of five shows at Birmingham REP comes to an end, I have a moment to reflect on the extraordinary journey so far, and to thank all those who have made the journey possible. I will post a full list of credits down below, but the core creative team of Steve Johnstone (director), Claire Browne (designer), Sam Frankie Fox & Ricardo Rocha (original music and sound design, with additional playing from Martin Cox), Jeanette Maggs (stage manager) and Alex Boucher (lighting design) have helped me shape and create something that I am very proud of. DSC_9067_med

The whole enterprise was initially made possible through the REP’s FURNACE scheme, a programme of community engagement – through which I was able to conduct a lot of the early research, and make connections through the Sandwell Libraries.

With additional support this time round from Black Country Touring and the Arts Council, I am able to take the REP show, and offer a tourable version to community venues around the Black Country, and in the coming month I will be bringing Fred Jeffs to Stourbridge Glasshouse (5th June), Wednesbury Library (6th June), Thimblemill Library (7th June) and Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton (8th June). I’ll be fascinated to see how the show travels.

Audiences this week at The REP have been so generous and warm, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. Many people from Quinton and Warley have been present, and it has been a joy to share some of their memories in the post-show discussions which have accompanied the performances. For me, this is a vital part of the project, as the storytelling itself is a mere conversation starter to all the themes that get thrown up by the show.

For the time being, there are two remaining shows at The REP today, and a few tickets left. Maybe see you there?

 

List of Credits for the Theatre Show at Birmingham REP

Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder

Written and performed by Graeme Rose

Directed by                 Steve Johnstone

Designed by:               Claire Browne

Original music & Sound Design:

Sam Frankie Fox & Ricardo Rocha

Musicians:                 Sam Frankie Fox, Ricardo Rocha and Martin Cox (double bass & electric gtr)

Stage Manager:          Jeanette Maggs

Sound Technician        Clive Meldrum

Lighting Design by:      Alex Boucher

LX Assistant:               Aaron Murphy

Photos by Graeme Braidwood

 

For Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Producer                      Will Bourdillon

Dramaturg                  Tessa Walker

FURNACE programme (2018): Hannah Jones, Rosalyn Lesurf.

 

For Black Country Touring:

Natalie Kidman, Steve Johnstone, Frances Land, Deb Justice, Joanne Blunt and the rest of the team.

With additional thanks to;

James, Laura, and everyone at Stan’s Cafe,

Olivia Winteringham and Sam Fox at KILN ensemble,

Lamps originally designed / constructed by Ben Pacey, for the KILN ensemble production “A Journey Round My Skull”

Atxarte, and all at BEfestival,

Gareth & Phil, at Little Earthquake (East meets West consortium)

Paul Fox, at Fox Removals for the sampling and use of the Austin A35.

 

Interview Contributers for the Theatre version:

Tony Chew, Elizabeth Rose, Betty Rose, Roger & Pauline Philpot, Terry and Viv Wilson, Alan Dunnaker, Michael Rose, Tess Rochfort, Val Taylor, Maureen Bishop, Andrew & Carole Bowen, Alan Atkinson, Alan L Warr. Ray Jones, Denis, Eileen and ‘G’.

 

Sheila at Candies Sweetshop, the Back-to-Backs.

Jean-Luc & all at William Lench Court,

Jean Fenn and everyone at Bleakhouse Library, Warley

Old Warley Local History Group,

Julie McKirdy and everyone at Thimblemill Library, Smethwick

Chris Sutton and all at Smethwick Heritage Centre

James Hancock and all the Timmins family.

Visit the Fred Jeffs Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/fredjeffssweetshop/

for updates on the project.

 

Download the Podcasts from:

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/fred-jeffs-the-sweetshop-murder/id1460283205

 

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I’m pleased to announce a number of new performance dates for Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder, across the Black Country Boroughs. These are made possible thanks to the support of Black Country Touring.

 

Wednesday 5thJune, 7:30pm

Glasshouse Arts Centre, Wollaston Road, Stourbridge, DY8 4HF

Tickets: £8 / £6 Concessions

Box Office: 01384 399408

Online bookings: https://www.rmlt.org.uk/Event/the-sweetshop-murder

 

Thursday 6th June, 7pm

Wednesbury Library, Walsall St., Wednesbury, WS10 9EH.

Box Office Information: 0121 569 4945

 

Friday 7thJune, 8pm

Thimblemill Library, Thimblemill Road, Smethwick, B67 5RJ

Tickets: £4 in advance / £5 on the door

Box office: 0121 569 4943

 

Saturday 8th June, 7:30pm

Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 4AN

Tickets: £7 / £5 Concessions

Box Office: 01902 572090

Online bookings: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/booking/select/akSfjyDCThVH

 

Stay tuned for further, additional dates. My hope is to extend the reach of the show throughout the neighbourhoods that feature in the show and Podcast series. There will be a short conversational end to the evening in which I talk about the making of the project and invite anyone who has a memory of the events of Easter 1957 to add to the evolving legacy of the project.

GR.


Fred at Bath Row

Fred Jeffs was born at Bridge of Allen, near Stirling, on the 23rd April 1919, which makes today a special occasion indeed. The above photo is the earliest I can find in my family’s possession and shows him in the back-yard at Bath Row, Birmingham, in the late 1920’s.

This morning, on what would have been Fred’s 100th birthday, director Steve Johnstone and I marked the beginning of rehearsals by visiting his grave in Quinton Cemetery. IMG_9600


Graeme FredJeffs A5 Flyer_REP_FrontGraeme FredJeffs A5 Flyer 02

 

Graphic Design: Sakab Bashir @darkhorse-design

Main Photograph: Graeme Braidwood

Downloadable:  FredJeffs A5 Flyer_REP

 


Life Class

19Feb19

BiF 30 Life Class

9th February saw the first work-in-progress performance of LIFE CLASS, marking the 30th anniversary of Bodies In Flight – the Bristol/Nottingham company co-founded by Simon Jones and Sara Giddens back in 1989.

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The original 1989 date was significant as being Simon’s 30th birthday. After several years lecturing at Lancaster University he had recently taken up a post at Bristol, where he remains Professor of Performance at the now grand (and frankly unbelievable) age of 60. Sara was my erstwhile collaborator in Glory What Glory, the first of many companies to emerge out of the Lancaster scene in 1988; inspired and mentored by Pete Brooks (Impact Theatre Co-op, Insomniac Prods, Imitating the Dog) who joined the Dept.at Lancaster as Fellow in 1986. But as Bodies In Flight, Sara and Simon have continued to create work – marrying their respective mediums of choreography & writing (the Flesh & the Text) in an impressive body of work.

Prior to the performance of LIFE CLASS, Dr. Andrew Quick (Imitating the Dog) spoke of the enduring legacy of the BIF at the launch of an installation of the Company’s work. Images by photographer/printmaker Ed Dimsdale, an accompanying exhibition of the Company’s work curated by the Theatre Collection at Bristol University and a video triptych by Tony Judge with edited highlights from the company’s back catalogue.

Tony has put together some of these images from this alongside extracts of Andrew Quick’s speech.

Happy Birthday, Bodies In Flight.

Life Class credits:

Simon Jones – writer / director
Sara Giddens – choreography / director
Tony Judge – video
Neil Johnstone – sound design / composer
Morven Macbeth & Graeme Rose – performers

with special thanks to Dance4, Nottingham, and Nottingham Mechanics.


The murder of my great uncle, Fred Jeffs, in 1957, remains one of the West Midlands’ great unsolved crimes. I first stumbled across the story when I was in my early teens. My Nan – like so many of her generation – did not yield family secrets so easily, but she had been sent a 1971 article in which the known details of her brother-in-law Fred’s murder case were laid bare. It was an account of the story, published by Birmingham City Police in their quarterly journal, “FORWARD”, written by a Chief Supt. W.Worrall, who had worked on the case. For a callow youth with a taste for the macabre it made gripping reading.

fred portrait_oldbury weekly

Fred had been the owner of JEFFS’s sweetshop and tobacconists, at 12 Stanley Rd., Quinton, in West Birmingham. Together with with his wife, Betty, they ran the shop from the end of sweet-rationing in 1953. By the end of 1956, though, the couple had separated, and Fred was living alone above the shop with his dog, Perro, a black poodle. The week’s run-up to Easter would be lucrative time for a Confectioner, but it also left Jeffs a vulnerable man. It was said that he slept with an air pistol beneath his pillow. The exact sequence of events of Maundy Thursday evening, 18thApril 1957, is still open to conjecture, but by the following afternoon of Good Friday, his badly beaten body had been discovered by teenage ‘birds-nesters’ in a place known locally as ‘Wasson’, in Sandwell Valley.

Police already realised something was amiss following the discovery of Fred’s bloodstained Austin A30 van in Witton early on Good Friday morning. Further evidence of disruption followed; the Easter Sweetshop takings were found to be missing from the shop, and the poodle, ‘Perro’ – perhaps the only available ‘witness’ – was discovered without its collar, cowering in a Langley garage, a couple of miles from the shop.

The story contains all the ingredients for a classic 50’s noir thriller; one in which the cosy innocence of post-war suburban bliss is punctured by the realisation that dark forces lurk beneath the surface. Police interviews soon revealed that Fred had been seen drinking with strangers in The Abbey pub, Bearwood, in the days before his death; that a glamorous, mystery brunette was seen whispering to him in the shop prior to the murder, and that a suspicious black sports car had been spotted at Warley Woods whilst Fred was walking the dog nearby.

For many years I had been determined to look into the case, and a Birmingham REP community theatre programme gave me the spur I needed to reach out and connect with those who might have a memory of the Fred Jeffs story; either first-hand descriptions of the shop, or second-hand stories passed down by relatives in the aftermath of the huge police investigation – which had hitherto yielded no conclusive leads or conviction.

I very quickly realised there was a generation of former Warley/ Quinton residents for whom the Jeffs murder still held significance. Infact, it seemed buried in a collective consciousness. The stories I heard were often contradictory, and I found that, over time and in the absence of fact, people had filled the gaps of knowledge with their own interpretations and embellishments. These stories, like scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces in an old, incomplete box, gave a tantalising glimpse of a bigger picture, but what would be missing from that picture, and why?

While digging around, I met someone whose vivid memories of that Easter weekend, 1957, have made it possible to plug one of those holes in that jigsaw.

Alan Warr is well known to many in the Smethwick Local History community, but what may be less known is Alan’s extraordinary childhood connection to the ‘Sweetshop Murder’.

I first met Alan – along with his ‘kid’ brother Len, friend Phil Haycock and Smethwick Heritage Centre director Chris Sutton, in a ‘Heritage Roadshow’ at St. Hilda’s, Warley, in May 2018. I needed to ask Alan about his 62-year old memories of that fateful Good Friday, when he wandered up ‘Wasson’ with his lifelong friend Ray and made a grisly discovery. What the boys encountered there, when just 9 & 8 years old respectively, has remained vividly with them to this day.

The following is based on that conversation;

 

GR       What time do you think it was when you reached Wasson?

Alan:    It was about 9 o’clock-ish …somethin’ like that. In them days kids used to go out at the crack of dawn, and not come back ‘til the tea was on the table. I think it was the Good Friday, or something like that. April ’57.

GR:      And when you saw it – what we now believe to be the murder weapon – what drew your attention to it?

Alan:    It was just there. You can imagine – the grass was long, but this ‘thing’ was probably about this long if I remember right (gestures approx. 18”) …and heavy. And I looked at it, not realising that it was blood and… I presume, bits of his brain, whatever …and I picked it up and I said to Ray, “Oh my God! Wh- what the bloody hell’s that? And then… wwhhoosh!” [gestures as he throws the object over the stone wall] “Gone!”

And that was it. And Ray, looking at me hands, says, “Eurgh, get away!”. I was trying to wipe me hands on the grass, and this bloke, all the time, he’s watching us. I seen him across the other side of the lane. He was actually shadowing us, just behind us, and I thought he was watching us, and he would’ve seen now, thinking back, where I threw it.

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GR:      And, when you saw this man how would you describe him?

Alan:    I know it sounds daft, but like what you’d imagine a typical gangster of the time; the mac and the trilby and the rest of it, you know. How tall he was I don’t know. When you’m nine years of age everybody’s tall to you! And Ray says, “Come on!” And that’s when we cleared off. We scarpered when this bloke was watchin’ us ‘cos we hadn’t got a clue! We dain’t know if we was gonna get into trouble.

It’d be round about lunchtime when we got back. But as word got around, Stephen Oliver’s dad – one of very few in those days to have a telephone – must’ve notified the Police, because, probably about 6, or half-6, the coppers actually carted me down there, but nobody knew anything about it – there’d been nothin’ in the papers, or on the news. He’d mentioned that he thought I’d found somethin’ covered in blood and then, obviously, the body was found later. I’ve got no recollection of the true time, but I know it was late when I went down there.

I remember the black police car comin’ with the bells on the front. I think it was a Wolseley. There was at least three detectives in there. Honestly, I can still remember it like yesterday, sittin’ in the back of this car, surrounded by burly detectives. And them old-fashioned macs they used to wear. I was terrified and shaking. And when we got to where these detectives took me (back to Wasson) – there was coppers all over the place; moochin’ about, pokin’ around, you know. And that’s what really frightened me, the fact there was, I suppose, 30 or 40 policemen? That’s enough to terrify any kid!

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GR:      And you believe they didn’t find that weapon that you’d thrown?

Alan:    They definitely didn’t find it, ‘cos I was with them all the time. I took them to where I knew I’d dropped it. There’s a little road going off toward the TRI-ANG factory, and it was opposite that, on the left-hand side of the road as if you were headin’ towards Newton Rd. I took them straight to it. Next thing they’re all searching about, and I had to go and sit back in the car and wait for them, and after a while they must’ve thought, let’s take him home.

I was terrified. I had a strict father, and any thought of a copper actually comin’ to the house or anything, we’d have had a leathering! When it first came out, I had to explain to me parents, and I can always remember dad saying, “Is he in trouble?” And the Police says, “No, of course not.” And I think dad was quite reassured by that. But we had a local copper, that used to keep an eye on us kids and he’d give us a clip round the ear, and say, “I’ll be round to see your dad. It might not be this week, it might be next week, or the week after”; so, you lived in dread that the local bobby would pop round to see our dad, ‘cos you knew then that you’d get a whacking.

 

 

GR:      It was reported in the Smethwick Telephone that local boys stumbled across Fred Jeffs’s body at about 4.30pm that day. 15-year old Cyril Blakemore, of King St. and his pals at first thought they’d found a tramp sleeping.

Alan:    The four lads that actually found the body, actually passed us comin’ back the other way, but we was more annoyed, especially when it got in the papers, ‘cos my dad said, “What you pair doin’ nickin’ birds eggs?” And I said, “We never done that in our lives”, but ‘cos that’s what the papers said, kids used to have a go at us when we got back to school. “Fancy pinchin’ birds’ eggs!”

It’s something you can’t ever forget. I had nightmares about it for years, especially when I found out what had happened (to Fred Jeffs). I mean, I was only young, but I was just terrified that this murderer was gonna go and murder me!

And we think that this bloke followed us all the way home, down Middlemore Road to where we lived in Sydenham Road. We was terrified. But a couple of weeks later, within the same holiday period, we were up the other little place we used to go… a place called the Pit Mounts, at the top of Dartmouth Road, All the stuff from Sandwell Colliery was dumped there, and we called it our mountains. It was our theme park in them days, and we think that this actual guy followed us. Whether or not he knew where we was and had been waiting, I don’t know. The weighbridge had been destroyed when it got hit in the War and there was literally nothing left, no roof, just the frame of this weighbridge office. It was only about 12 foot square. All the floorboards had gone and we was playing in there when this guy came in and followed us across the room – and then he grabbed hold of Ray round the neck and Ray went back out through the window, I hit the bloke – clouted him with a piece of wood. We both then jumped, being fitter than he was, and ran up the bank, but the bloke couldn’t catch us. Of course, he was trying to scramble up to us, but he couldn’t get to us.

I think your imagination can work tricks on you when you’m that young, but we was convinced there was no other reason; that what we thought was the same bloke, would be, within 10 days? We still think to this day it was the same guy, but we’ll never know. It more or less stopped us going out the following summer, ‘cos we was just terrified.

 

GR:      Today there’d be a great deal of concern for children’s wellbeing after being exposed to that kind of trauma, but, after the Police dropped you back from the Wasson on that Good Friday in 1957, they never ever contacted you again, did they?

Alan:    Well, until 1972 I don’t know whether the coppers ever believed me, because in the papers at the time they said that he’d been hit with ‘a big stone’. So, when I got talking to the coppers in ’72 at Piddock Road, the Policeman says, “well, what yow got to do with it?”. And I says, “I think found the murder weapon, but then we was only kids so I don’t know whether you ever believed me?”  The Police probably thought we was mekkin’ it up.

And then he says, “…Lorry starting handle…?”

And I says, “Well, …that’s what I found!”

And the Policeman says, “Yeah. That was the weapon, by the actual damage to his skull”. They could tell, and that was the days long before DNA or normal forensics, you know?

 

GR:      And later on, an inquest report described the murder weapon as an “irregular object”, like a car-jack. Unspecific. But you know better.

Alan:    Yeah. A starting handle it was. You know the big nut on the end, that has to go on the end of the crank? Whether that’s the bit that caught him or whatever…. As I say, it was all over the thing.

GR:      Fred’s van, (used to dump the body, and as the getaway vehicle) was an Austin A30. The starting handle for that is quite small.

Alan:    Yeah, this is why me mate Ray at the time – even though we was only 8 years old – ‘cos his old man having wagons, we used to climb in and go out with his dad in the wagons – we were used to seeing them. We knew what we were looking at.

 

GR       Do you think there’s anyone around today who will know more?

Alan:    As far as I know, there’s only me and Ray still here – 70 years of age now – that can remember that day. And, to be honest with you, I think it frightened a lot of the local kids. I know parents was keeping their kids in because it was so close to home, you know. Things like that didn’t happen! Even thought it was rough working-class area we was all a community – we looked out for each other, and I think a lot of people was frightened.

It’ll always be there, you know. Especially the fact that the guy, or the people, was never caught. I can’t believe that nobody knew anythin’. I mean, obviously, I’ve always had your own thought that he was perhaps seein’ a woman, and perhaps the family had found out about it…?

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(Attempts to unravel the mystery of the Sweetshop Murder will continue…)

With thanks to Alan Warr, and the many others who have been helping me with the project. Thanks also to the Birmingham Rep, and the Libraries of Thimblemill, Bleakhouse, Smethwick and Quinborne, who have been generous with their time and space. If you would like to contribute to the project with your own memories, please get in touch;

graerose@gmail.com

07854 873277

 

Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder

will be performed by Graeme Rose

in The Door Theatre, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

15th-18thMay 2018

 

Plus further dates, to be announced.

 

 

 


Tommy Tank

Bold Text  are a collective of West Midlands-based playwrights (Steve Jackson, Liz John, Nicola Jones, Helen Kelly, Sayan Kent, Vanessa Oakes, Tim Stimpson, and Julia Wright) who have responded to the remarkable Steelhouse Lane Police Lock-up – built in 1891 but unused since 2016 – by writing or back-filling imagined stories about the gaol’s historic inmates. Under the direction Jo Gleave, four of us performers (Ali Belbin, David Gray, Fran Millican-Slater and me) brought the composite script onto its feet within the walls of this unusual and troubled place; a site that has seen the likes of the Birmingham Six and Fred West through its doors, and which still possesses its ghosts, as I was to find out.

For Behind Bars: Inside the Lock-up, the chosen subjects were from the early days of the Lock-up; Sgt. Evelyn Miles and Rebecca Lipscombe, the first female officers appointed in Birmingham back in 1917; Chief Constable Rafter, the man who first appointed them (now immortalised as Sam Neill’s Peaky Blinders character); early police photography pioneer Det. Charles Muscroft; actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was required to register at the Lock-up as an alien during her visit to Birmingham’s Grand theatre in 1916.

Infamous killer James Twitty (“…we only meant to gag her!”) and legendary local street-hawker Tommy Tank – a regular visitor for episodes of drunk-and-disorderly conduct – were characters rendered by myself. The above image shows Tommy Tank – likely photographed back in the day by Mr. Muscroft himself.

The nine performances of Behind Bars were popular and well-received. The Lock-up itself is open at regular intervals for visits, and there are future plans to restore the building to it’s original appearance and develop the site as the WM Police Museum.



Following the performance of FRED JEFFS: The Sweetshop Murder at Thimblemill Library (12th July 2018), I was interviewed by James Sandy (aka. King Of The Buttons) for his excellent podcast , The New Curiosities Box, show #19, (first broadcast 25th July 2018 on 107.5 Switch Radio)

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/avcgy-974155-pb?from=share&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&download=0&vjs=1&skin=1

From 37:30 mins you can hear an authentic record of me talking whilst avoiding my own get-out, whilst the sell-out crowd at Thimblemill finally disperse…

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Images from the Thimblemill Library performance. Credits – Birmingham Repertory Theatre / Graeme Braidwood.


Furnace FJSM A5 Leaflet - PF4

Furnace FJSM A5 Leaflet reverse - PF4

The Box Offices are now open for the July performances of Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder, commissioned as part of FURNACE, Birmingham REP’s Community Engagement Programme.

Tickets for the three shows are free, but limited in number so please book ahead if you can.




Flickr Photos