Catching Stories, Making History: Workers’ Voices, 1973-2000
Catching Stories is a one-year oral history project instigated by Dean Whiskens and Jacqueline Contré from Infamous Community Arts, and inspired by their backgrounds with Banner Theatre in Birmingham.
From the start, Banner Theatre based its productions around the recordings of people’s stories and experiences. Much of this ‘actuality’ is preserved in Banner’s records and archive. However, what remains largely undocumented are the stories of the company’s personnel: its performers, writers, directors, technicians, administrators and other associates. It is this significant gap in the company’s history that Catching Stories seeks to redress, starting with the initial interviews of 36 former Banner members, carried out by Dean, Jacqueline and a team of volunteers, with many more members waiting to be recorded.
Dean’s father Bob, a Land Rover trade-union convenor, was interviewed by Banner in 1978 for On the Brink, a show about the motor trade industry. As Dean recalls,
“Dad was interviewed for On the Brink, and ended up performing in it. A bit later, Mum got involved in the Women’s Show. That was in the early 80s, I was six or seven then. And I remember being dragged all around the country during the Miners’ Strike.
When I was 15, Pete Yates [Banner’s then audio-visual director] invited me to shadow him on Rock ’n’ Roll Jordan, their one-man show about migrating from Jamaica to England. I wanted to be a theatre technician, so he took me under his wings. That’s when Banner was in the Bradford Street office. I went along to the shows during my school holidays, or at weekends, with Pete as my mentor. Not long after, Pete died.
Then, when I was16, I was meant to be at college. I remember going out with Dave [Rogers] and Dave [Dale] on Saltley Gate… My brothers were less involved but they always helped with things like moving offices etc. Colin went out with Redemption Song as second technical assistant to Richard Price. Rob did work experience with the administrator…
All of that made me want to work in community arts. And I’ve been thinking of recording past Banner members for several years now…”
Jacqueline had also been involved with Banner Theatre since the early 1980s, first as an amateur performer with the Women’s Group and the Song Group, later as an administrator and manager.
“When I first came to England in 1975, I came across the Grey Cock Folk Club, and there was this couple who ran a singing workshop at their house – Dave and Chris Rogers… I joined, and ended up singing at the Club with the residents. That’s where I met Charles Parker, Pete Yates, and a whole lot more people who had started forming a theatre company – Banner.
I joined Banner in 1982 when the Women’s Group, most of whom I knew through the folk club, asked me to perform in their show, Women At Work, when one of their members left to go travelling.
It was around that time that I also became interested in helping out in the office, and ended up being trained by the then administrator Marion Pike, which launched me into a completely new career as an arts manager.
I’ve remained in touch with Banner ever since. The Banner main group and the core group – that’s the professionals – was a huge group that continued to intersect in various ways during the following decades.
I remember that, on occasions – most notably during Banner’s 30th Anniversary celebrations, we talked about the possibility of recording former Banner members.”
While these ideas were not initially followed up, the final impetus arose in 2015, when Banner asked Jacqueline to write a piece on the origins of the company.
All of these factors led Dean and Jacqueline to dream up a small oral history project to begin to record Banner’s history, which they started in October 2016 with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (Sharing Heritage programme). Dean and Jacqueline have met with considerable interest from all participants and volunteers, both in the initial stage of the project, and in its ongoing development. There is a shared recognition of the importance of collecting this part of Banner’s past, and providing a context for Banner’s own oral history archive.
Dean Whiskens and Jacqueline Contré
27 September 2017
Thanks to The Heritage Lottery Fund who funded Catching Stories, and to the generous support of Infamous and Banner’s supporters and friends, who gave us money and time to make the project happen.
Thanks also to Naomi Paul for contributing to these introductory remarks.
 36 interviews carried out at time of writing, by Dean, Jacqueline and a team of volunteers including Bob Whiskens, Estelle Fisher, George Gordon, Mogs Russell, Rosie Cartlidge, Tim Hollins and Vince Pryce
 At that point, Banner’s history had not been comprehensively captured. In the process of researching Banner’s records and archive, Jacqueline found few complete and accessible records detailing the company’s work and, in particular, its personnel.
The resulting article, Banner Theatre: A Brief History, was subsequently posted on the Morning Star’s Culture Matters website, and on Banner’s own new website.