An Appreciation of Eric Thompson
(20th June 1942 – 8th August 2023)
Eric Thompson was – and always will be – an absolute icon; and he was a lovely, supportive, thoughtful and caring human being. His endless support of, and meticulous work with, Living Archive MK will always be remembered with warmth and affection. (Marion Hill)
Eric’s work with Living Archive
In 1984 ‘The Living Archive Project’ co-founded by Roy and Maggie Nevitt and Roger Kitchen, morphed into a charity with Roger and Roy as its first Directors. The founding Trustees under the Chairmanship of Dr Paul Clark included Peter Cheeseman, Geoff Cooksey, Bob Moon, Sheila Lindsay … and Eric Thompson.
Living Archive oversaw a number of innovative community musical documentaries staged by the Stantonbury Campus Drama Group, based around the special historical origins of the new city – such as All Change and the coming of the railway; Days of Pride and the Great War; and The Jovial Priest in which Eric had starred as the notorious local reverend who alienated his flock and caused his choir to go on strike!
The Jovial Priest
Father Newman ‘Joey’ Guest was vicar of St James Church in New Bradwell from 1908 – 1946. ‘An Irishman with a keen sense of the dramatic’, he announced to his congregation that as St James had not yet been properly registered, all marriages at the church were illegal and the people of New Bradwell were living in sin.
The announcement came as a thunderbolt to a very full congregation, and it was estimated that 1000 marriages had taken place over the 50 years.
Eccentric, bombastic, athletic and perhaps even pitiful are some of the words one could use to describe a man who had a profound effect on the lives of the people of New Bradwell; they could also describe Eric’s unique performance.
Father Guest continued to preach to ever dwindling congregations but nevertheless was still a prominent figure in the community. He would often be seen running, vaulting gates and riding his bicycle with his feet up on the handlebars!
Paul Clark’s song, The Ballad of Joey Guest certainly illustrates how the New Bradwell scene was primed for religious tension:
Now we see the conflict set of vicar with community…
They don’t want services adorned with catholic mystery…
Such treatment leaves them so annoyed, their fighting spirits rise.
But as J Cunningham’s song Stantonbury Village had warned, God was on Father Guest’s side:
Oh no, how could we forget him –
The Reverend Newman ‘Joey’ Guest!
Vicar of St. James’s – and don’t you ever let him
Get you in an argument, God knows best
Eric’s overall performance as this extraordinary priest was described as that of ‘a consummate artiste’ – thorough and meticulous as well as poignant and hugely entertaining.
His work as master of ceremonies for many other shows was just as redoubtable:
The Story So Far
This show was a performance in words and music of 20 songs composed for Living Archive documentaries. In Eric’s words, it was about ‘beginnings and endings:
‘Neil’s song I Want Little More From Life yearns for a new beginning in Bletchley in the 1950s, like a new beginning in the new city of Milton Keynes for probably nearly all of us here in this theatre. And endings – it’s end of the show, but the start of a new play – the New City Play – rehearsals start tomorrow. Be involved! See you next February!’
The show was performed by the Living Archive Band and a cast relating interviewees’ memories on three memorable occasions at Stantonbury Theatre in April 2002, The Stables in May 2002, and MK Village Hall in March 2003.
A Glance From a Train
Eric’s most enduring performances were in a two-man show with the late Brad Bradstock, telling the story of the coming of the railway to Wolverton. The show toured for five years across the UK from 1995.
In Living Archive’s appreciation of Brad following his death in January 2023, Eric remembered first meeting him in the Stantonbury Campus / Living Archive documentary plays of the early 1980s:
‘We got on so well, we decided in 1995 to put together a show drawing on the songs and dialogue in the plays. Over the next five years we performed the show at a number of venues around the country – many great memories of working with Brad on this. Among many successful performances, one stands out: Sunderland Arts Centre, a February afternoon, an audience of four. After the first song one of them stood up and asked if this was the glass blowing class! ’
The show can still be seen in a Covid lock-down version produced by the two of them in 2022: Week 29: A GLANCE FROM A TRAIN – Living Archive
Memories of Eric
Eric was such a great character and a lovely man. He worked on the Box Office at The Stables. Somewhere in my Stables memorabilia I have photos of a fashion show fundraiser ‘thing’ we did where a bunch of Cleo’s old stage costumes were auctioned off and all us younger female staff had to be models (we weren’t given the choice – it was acceptable to treat your staff like that in the ‘90s!) None of us wanted to do it so we enrolled Eric to escort us all down the catwalk for moral support and reassurance, which he did with great aplomb, wearing a crazy suit covered in mad geometric patterns (I think it was donated by George Melly). Bless him x
Rachel Fleet (formerly at The Stables, now LAMK Administrator)
I kept in close touch with Eric and Di throughout the long illness and till the end. Sterling chap, good friend, dedicated and reliable actor, versatile too when you consider how he switched between the good, honest, blunt Yorkshireman John Brody and the malevolent, upper- class, would-be rapist Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby. I even think that if Eric was not also playing John Brody, he would have grown his own handlebar moustache for Mulberry Hawk!
He combined high intelligence, incredible energy, a ferocious love of performing and a deep loyalty to the community of theatre devotees he served with all his body , brain, heart and soul.
He was one in a million and we’ll never forget him nor our indebtedness to him.
Roy Nevitt (former Stantonbury Campus Drama Teacher, Theatre Producer and Director, prime mover of the national Theatre of Fact)
Eric was an absolutely wonderful human being.
What I loved about him especially was his almost child-like enthusiasm and positivity, his support and commitment to the projects he was involved in.
He was such an important, central figure in the whole history of the documentary plays – who can forget his wonderful Father Guest! I particularly remember the performance when the first few rows of Stantonbury Theatre were occupied by elderly residents from New Bradwell, some of whom had shared their memories of Father Guest with us. When Eric, as Father Guest, got up in the pulpit and uttered the immortal words to his 1908 congregation that ‘I have discovered a fault in the marriage register and there are 1000 couples, including most of you in this congregation, who are living in sin’, those first few rows of the audience spoke the words ’living in sin’, in unison. It was, after all the story they had told us!
Roger Kitchen (former General Manager of Living Archive Milton Keynes, currently Chair of the Board of Trustees)