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The ENSA Years of ‘The Norris Trio’ Part 1 - ‘Sinbad the Sailor’

by actiondesksheffield

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Pansie Marjorie Muriel Hepworth Norris, Maisie Norris, Max Norris, William Maxwell Mason, Albert Modley
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22 August 2005

Pansie Marjorie Muriel Hepworth Norris in ‘Sinbad the Sailor’

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Andrew James Senior and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

The ENSA Years of ‘The Norris Trio’
Andy Senior


The following story is an extract from the biography ‘The Music hall World of The Morris Trio’ written by Andy Senior:

“I found myself after the sad passing of a dear friend of the family Muriel Mason, looking through her many old photographs. I was besotted by not only how many she had, but also how far back in time the pictures went. I was going back into the past at an alarming rate. I spent a full day just looking at some of the sepia photos dated in the eighteen hundreds. Posters from the early twenties, photo albums about the travels to Cyprus, and South Africa and written accounts of times during the Second World War. Then various other items that were loose. I knew from the beginning of this epic journey into the world of the music hall, that it would take me a long time to sort through all the fantastic stuff I had collected.

”So this being my first attempt at writing a book on someone else's life story, you must excuse any errors that might appear.

”I have two people to thank before I start Muriel herself, for the many items and my dear Mum, who I am indebted to. For when I got stuck on various pieces, I would phone her up several times in one afternoon.

Yours Andy Senior.
Two weeks before Christmas 2004.”

By way of further introduction
Muriel Mason was born Pansie Norris on October 4, 1903.

Muriel was the eldest child and started in show business at 10 years of age in ‘Little Miss Muffet’ at the Royal Theatre Birmingham. Muriel had stated that, “Coming from a musical family, I suppose its only natural that we, my late brother, sister and myself should eventually land in show business.”

‘The Norris Trio’ comprised Muriel (Pansie), Maisie and Max Norris. Maisie was two years younger and Max four years younger than Muriel. Another sister Ruby, who was six years younger than Muriel, had died aged five years.

On August 9, 1931, Pansie Marjorie Muriel Hepworth Norris aged 27, married William Maxwell Mason aged 31. They were divorced on June 12, 1939, shortly before the start of World War II.

There is little information from the Decree Absolute document in 1939 until 1942, except for some photographs dated 1938 & 1939 to 1941 of Max, Maisie and Muriel performing in ‘On with the Modley’ which starred Albert Modley. Also amongst the collection of documents is a programme and song sheet from the Max Norris Production of ‘Brighter Nights’. ‘The Cure for the Black-out Blues’, described as ‘Their New 1940 Super Revue’, was even brighter than our 1939 success ‘Bright Nights’.

Muriel died at 101 years of age in 2004, and neither she nor her brother and sister had had any children, and so, because Andrew James Senior’s mother had been a close friend of Muriel, Andrew inherited Muriel’s large collection of scrapbooks, photos and notes. At the time of putting this extract of the biography on to the web site it remained unpublished.

Roger Marsh
BBC Action Desk Sheffield

Part 1 - ‘Sinbad the Sailor’
We take up the story sometime in 1942.
In 1942 my late brother Max who was producing and managing shows at the time, decided to put on ‘Sinbad the Sailor’, which is seldom played, as it supposed to be an unlucky subject in the profession. The favourite pantos being, Cinderella, Mother Goose, and Aladdin, these being the most popular ones. However, my Brother ignored the superstition and decided it was to be ‘Sinbad the Sailor’, and I was to he principal boy. "

Well, the first thing that happened at rehearsals and just before we opened was, one of the characters, ‘The old man of the sea’, was taken ill, so my brother sent a telegram to a friend in London asking him to travel up straight away to take over the part. Luckily he was at liberty and came. Well! Of course he was very tall, 6ft, and also broad (the previous man was only short) & I had to capture him and carry him on my back! So you can imagine how I felt, as I'm only 5ft 2 ½ inches. On the opening night, l was dreading this bit, I fell down centre stage with our friend an my back! And the curtain had to be lowered. There's more to come. We had hired the scenery and I required a small casket to be filled with jewels from the bottom of the sea. As they had no casket available, they sent a large box. We wondered how on earth we were going to fill that with prop jewellery. Then I got a brainwave to fill the box with tinsel and a few pearls and diamante on the top, thinking this would be quite effective and shine on stage and in the lights. Well One child in the gallery spotted this camouflage and shouted out, “Them's not jewels it's tinsel!” much to my embarrassment.

Then finally I was supposed to be, flown up to Fairyland, and had wires and rope fastened on my back so they would not be noticed in the audience (like Peter Pan). The man in the flies had to haul me up with rope and then it was the interval, and when the curtains were drawn, I was hauled down again. Well on New Year’s Eve, the men were all in a hurry to get a drink. I suppose, they hauled me up, tied me off and left me dangling in midair. After hearing my screams, they realised what they had done, and let me down. Much to my relief? No wonder "Sinbad the Sailor" was said to be an unlucky Pantomime.

The photo is of Muriel as ‘Sinbad the Sailor’. The date on the back is 1942, so the trio were still entertaining during the first years of the war, many theatres at the time had to close due to restrictions, and the call up for many members of shows. The next part of the trio’s life is when they joined E.N.S.A. The real name being Entertainment National Service Association.

(We once again take up Muriel's narrative. She left several notebooks, and it seems clear whilst reading through them that she would pause for sometime before continuing with the story. This was written when she was 92.)

"Well I've had a very interesting life, meeting people and some Stars, who unfortunately are no longer with us. I am very thankful for my good health and also that I was able to go and entertain the forces in India and Burma during the World War 2, but that's another story, I am now 92, retired of course, but with many happy memories & lovely friends. I hope you enjoyed reading my ‘Peep behind the scenes’, so bye for now. "


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