Tony Kilshawe moved to Deal after a successful stage career and lived in Keppel Cottage, 146 Middle St. He was involved with The Guild Players from 1963 up to his death in May 1978.
His arrival was something of a landmark event in The Guild Players’ history and he rapidly became the driving force inspiring it to continually raise the standard, scope and sheer number of productions. He transformed The Guild from a very modest church-related group with limited aspirations to a much more serious minded organisation with ambitions to be the very best it possibly could.
He was at the forefront of everything The Guild did and was often the Director and the lead actor. During the 1960s and 1970s there were seldom fewer than 4 productions a year, rising to 6 in the 2 years after his arrival (1964 and 1965) and reaching an astonishing peak of 7 in 1967.
In December 1978 an Extraordinary Guild Players Meeting decided that, as a tribute and memorial to him, the theatre name would be formally changed from The Little Theatre to The Kilshawe Theatre. This was the name of our theatre up until we had to leave St George's Hall in 2014 in recognition of an inspirational and much loved figure and an acknowledgement that without Tony Kilshawe's significant involvement with The Guild Players at a crucial early stage it most likely would have faded away like most small amateur theatre groups inevitably do.
Although no-one currently involved in the group met Tony, we always proudly erected The Kilshawe Theatre sign above the door of St George's Hall during our show week.
Now that we perform our shows in The Astor Community Theatre, we can no longer change the venue name during our show runs, however Tony's legacy and values remain important to The Guild.
Tony Kilshawe was a man of many parts but theatre was his enduring love. His first serious performance was aged 10, and at 14 he passed an audition to join the Will Murray Company, a theatrical touring group, but family opposition prevented him pursuing the opportunity. He trained at the Plymouth Repertory Co when he was 21 then joined the touring Shakespearean company The English Players.
The War Years
Within weeks of the outbreak of WW2 Tony Kilshawe formed his own theatre company and until he joined the R.A.F. produced plays for army units in London and the Home Counties for the Army Welfare Command or helped entertaining the public in air raid shelters and tube stations. He joined the R.A.F in 1941 where he met an old friend and fellow actor, A. J. Brown, then one of Deal’s leading theatrical celebrities, with whom he formed the R.A.F. Players, which performed all over the country including to American aircrews. Tony Kilshawe was attached to Combined Operations and took part in the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. He gradually assumed control of the entertainment and welfare of all R.A.F. troops in Sicily and Southern Italy, from his base in a palace in Catalania. He managed everything from transport of mobile cinemas to isolated field positions to nightly revues and other entertainment in the larger Sicilian towns. In response to a lack of variety among visiting E.N.S.A. parties, he produced a farce with himself as the lead and two men playing the women’s parts. They played to capacity houses and presented the play at the large San Giorgio Theatre followed by a tour of the island. When the H.Q. moved to Italy the next year, he was responsible for the welfare of units as far apart as Romania and Sardinia. Mobile cinemas, dance bands and revues toured constantly but plays were the top attraction. An amateur actress was attached to the company and the comedy thriller, Someone at the Door, was produced with Tony as the lead. Demand for this play was so high the R.A.F. made it available to any of the Armed Services and the Americans. No request was ever refused though complications sometimes arose. On one occasion it was agreed to do the play for a large Army unit stationed in the mountains east of Naples. The cast lost its way on a dark and wet night and it was nearly 9:30pm when they drove along the deserted main street of the town, searching for the theatre. Everybody was depressed and sure that the troops would have returned to the camp in disgust. However, the theatre was packed and in great spirits. The corporal in charge of the scenery, who had gone ahead early in the morning, was a very competent jazz pianist and had entertained them wonderfully well. The cast were given a tremendous reception.
One Wild Oat
In 1950 Tony Kilshawe took the part of Humphrey Proudfoot in a touring production of the hit West-End farce One Wild Oat. In this role he replaced Robertson (Bunny) Hare, a very well known actor of the period. The 1951 film version of this play with Bunny Hare and Stanley Holloway included a pre stardom Audrey Hepburn in her first uncredited screen role as a hotel receptionist. The tour was an enormous success with records broken at several theatres and the play transferred to repertory and with Tony Kilshawe appearing as a guest star in several of those productions. He also toured with a production of Will Any Gentleman?, again playing the part made famous by Bunny Hare, and with perhaps even more success than with One Wild Oat. In 1952 he appeared as Mr. Twigg in an episode of the early TV drama Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School. He appeared in two British films in the 1950s; as a Colonial Officer in the 1953 comedy romance Laxdale Hall and as a Manager in the 1957 drama The End of The Road.