Last April, on the 60th anniversary of my great uncle Fred Jeffs’s untimely death, I marked the occasion by writing a blog post “Murder By Person Or Persons Unknown“. I’d visited the press archives at the Library of Birmingham, and sifting through pages of journalistic speculation about this remarkable case helped me renew my determination to respond to a family story which I’d first learned about in my early teens, but which had so many questions unresolved.  What ignites fascination and intrigue more than an unsolved murder…? An unsolved murder, perhaps, that occurred on your doorstep.

In November I responded to a call-out from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s ‘FURNACE‘ programme, which invited ideas for new community engagement projects. My proposal was a research project inspired by the Fred Jeffs case involving the participation of local residents of the Quinton-Warley-Langley neighbourhoods, all adjacent to Fred’s old shop – ‘Jeffs confectionary & tobacconists’ – which stood at 12 Stanley Rd. (a shop now occupied by CBC bikes).

Jeffs Shop

I am pleased to say that the project idea was accepted by The REP, and in the past weeks I have been researching the story, and preparing for sessions at the libraries of Bleakhouse, Thimblemill and Quinborne, (as well as William Lench’s Trust, Quinton) which will take place in the coming fortnight.

Flyer Front

I’d love to meet with people who remember Fred and his shop, or who came to know about the murder story through local folklore. I’m interested to know more about the man and the circumstances of his death, not just from the newspaper headlines, but from the time-honoured storytelling tradition that survives from hearsay, rumour and – in the absence of proven facts – speculation. It took me no time at all to realise that the memory of Fred and his murder still resonates in the consciousness of local people in Warley. So I have set myself the task of gathering a consensus of information by interviewing local people about what they know – and also what they don’t know, about the case.

If you would like to contribute, please do get in touch with me. Information boards have been put on display in Bleakhouse and Thimblemill Libraries, postcards about the project are being distributed, and you can visit and contribute to a Facebook page – Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder on which I’ll be posting regular updates.

If you live in the Warley area, know about the case, or even remember it, do let me know. Together we can build a picture of life in Quinton in the immediate post-war years, help create a creative response and – who knows – go a little bit further to solving the case!


Who was Fred Jeffs?

Why would anyone want to murder him?

What happened on that fateful final night of Fred’s life; the short Good Friday – 18th/19th April 1957? And what does the evidence suggest?

Someone committed the crime, but why were they never traced?

How did the police investigation develop, and why did the trail eventually dry up?


Get in touch with Graeme by e-mailing or calling 07854 873277

Furnace is The Rep’s pioneering community engagement programme. It gives people the opportunity to make theatre with professional artists and create something new that celebrates them and their community. Find out more at



Rob, (Graeme Rose) doubled up with pain, pays a visit to his old University pal Stu (Matthew Wait), in Stu’s “grotesque mansion” somewhere in the North, “overlooking Norway”. Stu attempts to show Rob the door in Chris O’Connell’s latest play, CHOKE.  Photo by Andrew Moore.

Presented by Theatre Absolute in the Shop Front Theatre, Coventry. February 6th – 17th 2018.


” …poses difficult questions about idealism. Is it possible to change the world through ‘good’ deeds?  Nick Le Measurer – Leamington Courier. Friday 9th Feb.

” … a joy to behold – the intensity heightened by the proximity of actors to audience – and Rose and Wait are both superb as they cross swords (or perhaps more accurately scalpel) to reveal their back stories via some devastating home truths.”  Steve Adams – Warwickshire What’s On. Weds 7th Feb.

” There’s great energy and wit to this explosive new piece on as Graeme Rose (Rob) and Matthew Wait (Stu) thrash out their differences and their shared history.”  Muddy Stilettos. Weds 7th Feb.

” …a sustained  full-on, balls-out performance by Graeme Rose (Rob) and Matthew Wait (Stu).” Steve Chilton – Elementary What’s On. Weds 7th Feb.




CHOKE is a new play by award-winning writer Chris O’Connell and Theatre Absolute, the company he formed with Julia Negus. It is the sixth in a series of new works under the umbrella theme – ‘Are We Where We Are?’ – taken from a line in Paul Auster’s Walden. Rehearsals of CHOKE are now into their second week at Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre, founded by Julia and Chris in 2009.

Rob’s made a twelve-hour journey, buttoned up in a ball of five coats begged from a bunch of strangers. He’s hitchhiked in sub-zero temperatures to the edge of nowhere because he just can’t stand it any longer, and because he has the strangest, most absurd request…Choke tells the story of lifelong friends Rob and Stu, each staring into the gap between who they thought they were, and who they are now.

Further details and ticket info visit the Theatre Absolute website.

On the back of the hugely successful Bullring performances back in May 2016, “The Hand That Feeds” was re-presented in Castle Vale, and then Victoria Square, Birmingham, at the invitation of Councillor Clare Spencer. River Rea Films have created a trailer which documents this latest chapter in the life of the project;

Consumers place a huge amount of trust in the labelling of our food, and in the  supply chains that deliver food to our shops, markets and plates. But how possible is it to know what it is that you’re really eating? The horsemeat scandal exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, and it was only through DNA testing of frozen lasagnas that the true meat source was identified. There have been countless other stories about Food Criminality – such as the tainting of Paprika and other spices,  the ‘cutting’ of baby formula in China, etc., but the idea of eating horsemeat touched a nerve at the heart of local sensibilities. That is why the story broke in the UK in the way that it did back in 2013.

Criminal networks recognise this vulnerability in food systems, and know that huge profits can be made – not just in the cheap, processed produce but also high-end exclusive items (see also This LINK). There has never been a greater need for adequate policing of our food supply networks. As UK food prices set to rise under the spectre and reality of Brexit, there will be increased temptation to ‘cut’ and dilute quality in the name of profit.

Prof. Chris Elliott, the scientific advisor on this project, was commissioned by the Government to write a report on the impact of the horsemen scandal. His Twitterfeed is an excellent way of keeping up to date with breaking stories which do not necessarily make it through to the mainstream media.

Enjoy your lunch!



Sleep has its House May 1986.jpg

A photo rediscovery; Sleep Has Its House, 2nd year devised project, Dept. of Theatre Studies, University of Lancaster. Directed by Pete Brooks, Nuffield Theatre Studio, Lancaster, May 1986.

From L to R: Holly, Kelsey Michael, Louize Gibson, Alison Wayman, Nicky Johnstone, Dave Cattermole, Graeme Rose (standing, centre), Katherine Anderson, Johnny Brown, Jools Gilson, Sara Giddens, Rosaleen Lee, Claire McLeod and Amanda Rose (unseen); Sound design by Graeme Miller and Rhys Davies; lx design by Pete Brooks and Tam Drury.

As the newly appointed Fellow-in-Theatre, Pete Brooks introduced a new theatre language and a new world of possibility to the Theatre Studies Department at Lancaster. Sleep Has Its House was his first staged project in the Department. Performed barely a week after his company, Impact Theatre Co-operative presented their last ever performance of  The Carrier Frequency, (in Warsaw – on the night of the Chernobyl disaster). The following year, Pete formed a new company, Insomniac Prods. and restaged a developed version of this show – inspired by Oliver Sachs’s ‘Awakenings‘ – entitled The Sleep, and which toured the UK in 1987 featuring Sarah Jane Morris.

Inspired and motivated by this new way of working, several of the faces in the above picture decided to form a company of our own – Kath, Sara, Claire and myself. The company was named Glory What Glory, and Pete continued to mentor us, co-directing the company’s first piece, Falling Into The Light, which toured in the late spring and autumn of 1988; Jocelyn Pook composing a powerful, driving soundtrack.






Earlier this year while working for the Ministry of Truth (Creation Theatre’s 1984 at Oxford Maths Institute), my friend and erstwhile MTO collaborator Dazz Joyce introduced me to “Looking Backward 2000-1887” – Edward Bellamy’s time-travelling Utopian novel set in Boston in an imagined 2000AD. I immediately latched on to it as an ideal subject for a devised project with final year undergraduates at Birmingham University.

It’s now just a couple of days after the final performance in the George Cadbury Hall, Selly Oak. The project was not without its challenges; a huge amount of my energy going into the distillation of a script rather than the open devising that I’d anticipated. But such is the nature of devising; where you are developing a methodology at the same time as  generating material. Looking Backward became something of a literary exercise, with great demands placed on the students to wrestle with syntactically complex texts. All said, I feel blessed to have worked with such a warm-hearted, generous and talented team who created something I feel very proud of. Below is a copy of the Programme Notes, accompanied by stills from the show.





The object of this reading is to assist persons desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the 19th and 20th Centuries. The author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, not wholly devoid of interest on its own account…

…So writes Edward Bellamy, in his Preface to “Looking Backward 2000-1887”.


Whether Bellamy’s ‘romantic narrative’ fully pulls our attention away from those “instructive” qualities remains questionable, but “Looking Backward” certainly deserves more recognition for the huge impact it made on its first readers when it was published in 1887. Bellamy was then a struggling young writer in a small industrial town in Massachusetts. His book not only inspired a wave of time-travelling literature (including that of H.G Wells), but also spawned a whole political movement. Groups of thinkers and activists would form ‘Bellamy Clubs’ to debate the radical ideas promoted in this Utopian vision for the Industrial Age.



Bellamy’s protagonist in the novel, Julian West, is an insomniac, kept awake by the troubling hubbub of contemporary life. But thanks to the interventions of a mesmerist he slips into a profound sleep in his secret underground chamber, and survives a catastrophic house-fire, only to be re-discovered and awoken in the year 2000. His new hosts then give him a tour of the changed world.


The theme of ‘Waking Up’ is a metaphor for the modern condition which causes Julian such angst. He is a sympathetic witness to the miseries of those less fortunate than him, but also realises his privilege has only been made possible on the backs of others’ labour.



So why choose “Looking Backward” now? Bellamy writes in 1887 but attempts to project a future 2000AD, the supposed culmination of a century’s worth of enlightenment and human progress. (Bellamy himself uses the expression ‘evolution’, which betrays the influence the Darwinians had on his generation.) But it is significant that the ensemble that presenting for you today – all born in the fading light of the 1990’s – are the first generation to have no actual memory of the 20th Century at all! Sometimes referred to as “Generation Z”, this digital-literate and socially-conscious generation start only with the Millennium. Their future lives will help shape a very different – perhaps smaller – world in which ‘Globalisation’ and ‘Climate Change’ loom large.


Theatre offers us an opportunity to model alternative realities and it is in this spirit we present a re-modelling of Bellamy’s Utopian landscape, as imagined from a 1887 perspective. But as we listen to Bellamy’s descriptions of an evolved future society it is easy to become blasé and forget how extraordinary his vision was. So much of what he predicts has actually come true but has become normalised in our everyday modern reality; giant shopping Malls with Amazon-style distribution systems, Credit Cards and cash-less economy. But he also predicts gender equality, the IMF, trade clearance systems, radio for musical and religious sermons; a welfare system; free education and the nationalisation of Industries and rail networks. In Bellamy’s world there are no ‘pay gaps’. Universal basic income has become the norm, and economic efficiency is the result.



“….it seems to me that nowhere can we find more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during the next thousand years, than by Looking Backward upon the progress of the last one hundred.”


Bellamy’s characters dismiss the “followers of the red flag” as nothing more than an sponsored conspiracy, but we cannot help but listen to his description of Utopia without thinking of how the actual 20th Century was shaped by – long after Bellamy’s death – the rise and fall of Communism, and the spectre of National Socialism. Bellamy’s call, at the end of the novel, for unquestioning patriotism leaves­­ a bitter taste in the light of actual events of the 20th Century – not to mention recent ideological shifts in the USA. We are left wondering whether we do indeed live in times that are ‘looking forward’, or whether we are, infact, still ‘looking backward’…


Graeme Rose, director, October 2017

[pictures courtesy of David Crisp and the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Birmingham]





The Department of Drama & Theatre Arts Presents

 Looking Backward

 by Edward Bellamy. Adapted by Graeme Rose. Devised by Graeme Rose and the Cast.

     After consulting a mesmerist for his insomnia, Julian wakens from a 113 year-long slumber to find himself in the 21st Century. His new hosts guide him through the changed world. Adapted from Edward Bellamy’s time-travelling 1887 novel, this group-devised piece invites us to reconcile Bellamy’s utopian vision – complete with technological advancements, universal income, shopping centres, credit cards and equal rights – with the known realities of the past Century.


Performance Dates:

Thursday 26th October – Saturday 28th October 2017 at 7.30pm

Saturday 28th October 2017 at 2.00pm

Contact Information:

Dept. of Drama and Theatre Arts

George Cadbury Hall,  University of Birmingham

998 Bristol Road,  Selly Oak,  Birmingham,  B29 6LG



Online Shop:

Box Office (Enquiries only – no booking):

0121 414 5676





Frankfurt-based Mamaza have created their project A Single Line in city locations across the world – from Antwerp to Venice. Here is a documentation of their Birmingham rendition, as commissioned by BE festival 2017.

Commissioned for SPON-SPUN Festival, Talking Birds turned a backstage tour of Coventry’s Albany Theatre into a rolling 40-minute performance on 10th September, when the 1930’s building – formerly Coventry Technical College – threw open it’s doors as part of Heritage Open Weekend.

Here is a Trailer for the show, by Jon Randle

Backstage at the Albany Theatre from Talking Birds on Vimeo.

On this day sixty years ago, 19th April 1957, Frederick Jeffs’s life came to a brutal end.


Fred was my grandad’s half-brother. He spent – as my grandad did – much of the second world war holed up in a prisoner-of-war camp. At some point late in the war – probably following the Death-march westwards from Auschwitz-Blechammer (and away from the advancing Ivans) – they were reunited on enemy soil. By all accounts Fred was a loner; reserved, and behaving at odds with the world around him; opting not to share his Red Cross parcels and disappearing alone into the woods during Allied bombing raids.

Back in a ’50’s Brum deemed fit for returning heroes, however, he seems to have prospered. Fred bought a decent Austin and set himself up with a Confectionary shop on the Parade at Stanley Road, Quinton. He married Betty in 1948, with my grandad as best man, but it wasn’t to last. By the end of 1956 Rock ‘n Roll was here to stay, but Betty had gone back to live with her parents.

I’ve been musing over the details of this story since I was at school, and wrote a first treatment for a staged version while I was in my second year at Lancaster Uni. Dennis Potter would have been proud. My interest in the material re-surfaced in the mid-Noughties, when I revisited the site of the sweet-shop in Stanley Road with my dad, who had been 19 at the time of the killing and remembers the police calling in at the family home in Ridgacre Rd. to relay the news of Fred’s death and collect my grandad for interview. My erstwhile collaborator Steve Johnstone was directing Foursight Theatre’s The Corner Shop, and Fred’s story was transposed to one of the narrative threads in that remarkable project which was installed inside empty shop units at the Mander Centre, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich Shopping Centre.

Following the success of Un-Earth, a large-scale, site-specific, music-theatre collaboration between my company The Resurrectionists and mac productions in 2004, we discussed a multi-site theatrical re-rendering of the Jeffs case, but the timing and momentum just didn’t seem right.

Anniversaries bring their own momentum, and I am painfully aware that 60 years on, the number of living witnesses to this event will have diminished considerably. Strange to think that 30 years ago I felt like the late ’50’s were ancient history, and since then the same passage of time has occurred.

By way of opening up the conversation on these events, and importantly passing it on to the latest inheritors of the story, I visited the Library of Birmingham today with my son, Jacob. We trawled through the archive press cuttings of the day, reigniting my fascination for this extraordinary story.

Birmingham_Post_20apr57_0004 [Click on this Link for downloadable pdf]

Birmingham Post_Sat 20th April 1957

Birmingham Post & Gazette, Easter Saturday, 20th April 1957