All posts tagged 'Chatham'

Panto actress has real talent

by Tuned In, with kmfm DJ Andy Walker Friday, October 11 2013

I always knew Kent had a lot of talented residents, but I was strongly reminded of this last week.

I was invited to judge this year's auditions to find a Snow White for the Central Theatre's Christmas panto in Chatham. Twenty women arrived to perform last Sunday morning at the theatre.

Now you would expect the odd performer to be one of the open mouth auditions that you see on the X Factor, but no. Every young woman who took to that stage sang their heart out and gave a performance that said, "I can do this."

The first audition was a suitable song - from a West End show or a contemporary pop song. From there, Paul Hendy from Evolution Productions, Steve Hewlett - the ventriloquist from Britain's Got Talent along with his puppet Simon Cowell and myself would then judge on performance.

Some had a great stage presence, some were engrossing and others had brilliant voices.

It was tough. You could see how much every young woman in the theatre wanted the role. Some really wanted it - badly. So to whittle it down from 20 to eight was a tough choice.

Not as hard as when eight had to become three. Auditions became more personal, much more personal. Thinking that only one of these women could take the part. I thought that I can only be honest and go with the person who I could really believe to be the Disney star.

Congratulations to Tarryn Gee - she really shone. I kept making notes that she was totally 'engaging' and that I could imagine her as Snow White. She was the full package.

Tarryn is from Rainham and has been singing and dancing since she was two years old. She will be a star this year as Snow White at the Central Theatre, Chatham.

The auditions were for local talent. Sometimes you forget that just because we are not in a vibrant city like London does not mean we do not have talent.

These auditions were proof of that. Right now as you read this we will probably have a future West End star practicing before they go for their first audition in five years' time.

We probably will have the next Hollywood actor or actress about to take a lead role. It happened to Gemma Arterton from Gravesend. She's been a Bond girl and more recently starred opposite Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck in thriller movie 'Runner Runner.' Who will be next?

I'll speak to you on your way home on kmfm Drivetime from 4pm.


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I wish the fort well in its bid for lottery funding

by The Codgers' Club Friday, February 1 2013

by Alan Watkins

A £2million bid for lottery funding could take Fort Amherst a stage closer to the dream of being a world visitor attraction.

Whether the dream is either justified or a reality is beside the point.

Fort Amherst as we know it today was originally conceived in the 1980s as an historic treasure that could create tourist jobs. It came in the wake of the closure of the dockyard.

Nearly 30 years on, some parts of it have been opened up but much of the complex is still closed to the public. In part, this is because of ongoing military use.

Part is because the funds are not there and another constraint is because the mining beneath the Great Lines has never been properly mapped or explored.

A bid is being drawn together by the charity trust set up to look after the former Army gunpowder store and by the council. It will go some way towards regaining the initiative lost when the Great Lines bid for World Heritage Status was turned down.

In my opinion the combination of the Historic Dockyard, the fort and Brompton Barracks was doomed to fail. UNESCO, the people who decide what is of world importance and what is not, had insisted too many of the existing heritage sites are in the UK and the US.

They want to look to Mali, Mongolia, Patagonia or Panmunjon but no longer the west.

Another factor against the bid was, I believe, the failure of our community to get behind the project. Medway is full of people who eat breakfast in the dark, arrive home in the dark and spend the rest of their time (and their money) in London. Others are sceptics.

“We aren’t going to win because we never win, therefore there’s no point in taking part,” seems to be the philosophy of many who live here during the day.

It reminds me of a former mayor’s question to me more than 20 years ago: “Why on earth did you want to come here?” The simple answer is that I like the Medway Towns, and the Medway people, and one day I might actually get the feeling that I am accepted as a Medway resident rather than an incomer.

The trust is seeking to motivate people to back their bid. They‘re inviting people to have a look on February 17 at where the £2 million will be spent.

Much of it will be continuing the restoration of the fort. More will be on opening up the Middle Lines, which have been lost over the years beneath clay and earth.

I wish them well. I might even turn up myself.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Playing the dame a bit too well

by Tuned In, with kmfm DJ Andy Walker Friday, October 5 2012


I have got to learn to say, “let me think about it.”

I was asked if I wanted to be made up as an Ugly Sister for the press launch of the pantomime Cinderella at Chatham’s Central Theatre. I have not worked out yet whether I should be alarmed that I was asked to become an Ugly Sister and not a Prince but that is a little too late now. This year’s show features the brilliant Cheryl Fergison – Heather from EastEnders – and Paul Burling, who was the Harry Hill impressionist on Britain’s Got Talent two series ago.

I arrived at the theatre for the press launch as the panto team were welcomed by passing shoppers in the High Street. Then I was introduced to two actors, Matt Daines and Peter Whitfield, who play the Ugly Sisters.

Matt is also the director of this year’s pantomime and it became clear that he knows exactly how to turn someone into a woman. I had no idea about the different “base” that is first applied – the last time I applied make up was one private Saturday afternoon when my girlfriend was out, so this experience was totally new to me.

I watched myself in the mirror go from a fairly masculine man to cross dresser within 20 minutes. Comments of, “you’d make a good woman” were repeated, although I think my stubble would be a giveaway.

As you can see from the photo, Andy became Andrea for a brief time. If the producers are reading this, I am available as an Ugly Sisters understudy anytime!

If you listen to kmfm Breakfast with Rob and Emma you will soon have the chance to win tickets to this year’s Christmas panto at the Central Theatre, plus others across Kent. They will also be joined on the show by Cheryl Fergison, Paul Burling and Steve McFadden, aka Phil Mitchell from EastEnders. He is in pantomime this year at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre.

I cannot remember the last time I went to see a Christmas panto or when I have been inside the Central Theatre. The grandeur of the venue is clear when you walk inside and see its high, decorated ceilings and large tinted windows.

It took me back to playing Dandini at the Westlands School in Sittingbourne when I was in sixth form. The magic was clear from watching this year’s cast interact with each other. Your family will love it.

I will leave it for you to answer whether I enjoyed being Andrea but my pose in this picture may be a giveaway. I’ll speak to you in my man clothes on your way home on kmfm Drivetime from 4pm.


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Categories: kmfm

Street toilet to get a clean up

by The Codgers' Club Monday, March 19 2012

by David Jones

Welcome to Luton Arches, the gateway to Chatham, or should that be the cesspit at the start of the High Street?

Strong words, maybe, but only a more succinct way of saying what Medway councillor Andrew Mackness, one of the councillors who represents the area, said a couple of weeks ago.

He said: “The Tesco end (of the High Street) is more like a toilet, with people defecating and urinating everywhere.” Disgusting, but true.

Neither he nor I are knocking the majority of decent folk who live in the area, but there are some individuals who, because of their utter disregard for the rules of civilised behaviour, barely qualify for membership of the human race.

Just a stone’s throw from the Arches is the Tesco supermarket to which Cllr Mackness referred. It is arguably in the top five of Medway’s ugliest buildings, only marginally more ugly than the multi-storey
car park next to it.

Years ago, it was not unusual to see yobs – and the occasional adult – urinating on the stairs as families walked by with their shopping in Chatham High Street.

Ten years on, not much has changed. Of course, it only takes a few bad apples to send out a stench – literally in this case – which gives a whole community a bad name.

Tatty buildings may be an eyesore, but ultimately it’s people and their bad habits who really pull down an area. But at last things may be changing for the better.

Cllr Mackness was commenting on the news that the rundown stretch between Luton Arches and Whiffens Avenue is to receive Big Lottery cash of £100,000 a year for the next 10 years.

Tesco has already taken steps to combat anti-social behaviour by improving security to stop people sleeping rough in and around the multi-storey car park.

I recall, a decade or more ago, a half-baked proposal for turning the Luton Arches end of the High Street into a Parisienne-style boulevard, complete with pavement cafes, in some council document or other.

I kid you not. It would have been a good candidate for an April Fool’s joke, only it wasn’t.

Since then, not much appears to have happened to this part of the High Street. Shops have come and gone but, essentially, it still looks drab and run down.

Let us hope that this large injection of Big Lottery cash will succeed where Medway Council has failed, despite all the promises to brighten up the eastern end of the High Street. Residents will have the opportunity to say how they think the money should be spent.

Given the chance, people will take pride in their community, if there’s something worth taking pride in.

Experience in other towns, which have cleaned up their act, proves that bright and vibrant public places encourage residents to take ownership of their community and deter anti-social behaviour, even that of the sickening, lavatorial kind.

Then the good folk in and around the Luton Arches area will no longer feel neglected, even if they do have to do without pavement cafes.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Why now is the right time to bring Dickens home

by The Codgers' Club Friday, February 17 2012

by Peter Cook

This is my latest big idea. Let’s bring back Dickens.

Forget those old campaigns to fetch HMS Victory back to Chatham, where she was built. That plan is dead in the water. Or rather dead in the concrete.

We would need dozens of road drills to dig her out before we could even get a tow line aboard. That might wake up the neighbours.

Dickens is a different matter. And we would be doing the old boy a favour. We’d also be doing Rochester a favour and people could come and pay homage at his tomb for free, instead of having to pay through the nose like you do in Westminster Abbey.

He never wanted to be buried in Westminster Abbey with all those other puffed-up writers.

The original plan was to pop him into Shorne Churchyard. But that might be a bit close to the motorway these days, albeit quite near Cobham Woods, where he loved to walk.

The Dean and Chapter at Rochester Cathedral offered to have him interred there. A grave was even dug for him. Perhaps it’s still there under the flagstones, waiting to collapse under some preaching prelate.

Imagine the astonished looks on the faces of the choir as the Dean or even the Bishop was inexplicably swallowed up, with just a puff of masonry dust to show where he had been.

Being realistic, they have probably put someone else in there now. After all, if you’ve dug a good hole, you don’t want to waste it.

So let’s start a campaign now to have the coffin exhumed and repatriated to the city that he knew and loved – well, it soon will be a city.

Devotees would flock to Rochester from every country where Dickens is read and loved – and that’s just about every country.

At a stroke it would make Rochester High Street a commercial gold mine, offering everything from Dickens soap on a rope, take-aways from the Chuzzlewit Chip Shop, treatments at the Our Mutual Massage Parlour and so on.  Actually, it’s a bit like that now.

So I’m looking for full support for this campaign. The next Dickens Festival should be a protest march with placard-carrying characters from his books chanting Bring Back Boz.

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Categories: Chatham | Charles Dickens

When good people strike back – it costs

by The Codgers' Club Friday, March 25 2011

Last month a yob gouged a 6in scratch on my car, the first newish vehicle I have been able to afford in 40 years of driving.

It was fortunate for him I didn’t see him do it. Or perhaps it was fortunate for me.

It happened at night, so this mindless (is there any other kind?) piece of vandalism  went unnoticed until the next morning.  But afterwards I wondered what I would do if I had caught him in the act.

Would I have called the police?  Probably not, because he would have been long gone by the time they arrived, assuming they arrived at all.

Would I have confronted him? Probably not, because I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a punch or something more dangerous.  And while these people may be thick, they are streetwise. Law-abiding citizens have  found themselves in a cell after their tormentors have concocted a story about how they were assaulted by their victim.

Which brings me to the case of Paul Creed, who did assault a 13-year-old boy, who he believed had thrown a bottle at the wall of his Chatham home.

It was the culmination of months of misery for Mr Creed, whose home had become the target for vandals and rubbish dumpers.

He was given a light sentence of community service when he appeared in court. The judge described the 42-year-old’s plight as “shocking.”

I am not going to speculate here on whether or not the 13-year-old threw or kicked a bottle at Mr Creed’s home but it is clear from the judge’s comments and web reaction that someone in that group of passing teenagers did.

“Pushed to the limit,” Mr Creed attacked the youth he thought was responsible. Whether or not the boy was guilty is beside the point: Mr Creed was wrong to attack him.

Taking the law into your own hands is never wise because you then lower yourself to same level. And, inevitably, it is you who will end up in the dock, while they go free.

People take the law into their own hands, because they feel frustrated by the lack of help from “officialdom.”   It’s a last resort and their judgement becomes clouded in the heat of the moment.

My guess is that this case will not bring an end to Mr Creed’s unhappy story. I suspect that the local yobs, encouraged by the publicity and unchecked by equally irresponsible parents, will devote more time to making his life a misery. I do hope I am wrong.

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Ugly maze is no Eighth Wonder

by The Codgers' Club Friday, November 19 2010

by David Jones

There's a master plan for Chatham. I know this because I have just read it on Medway Council’s website and this newspaper has been writing about it for years.

It all looked rather wonderful – or at least the computer-generated impressions did. Sadly, the 'real’ Chatham looks somewhat different right now.

It’s a traffic-clogged eyesore, now more-down-at-heel than a year ago when I last had to pay the town an unavoidable visit. But that’s progress for you...

Stuck in a traffic jam at the junction of The Brook and Dock Road last month and trying to work out how to get to the Staples store in Medway Street, I was reminded of a sentence from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, Notes From A Small Island: “Bradford’s role in life is to make every place in the world look better in comparison and it does this very well.”

Delete “Bradford” and insert “Chatham” and you know exactly how I felt trying to negotiate the ugly maze that is now Chatham town centre.

You needed to stop and park to understand the road signs and I probably broke half-a-dozen traffic regulations trying to reach Staples.

Confusing doesn’t begin to describe it. Other drivers were equally baffled, not least by the ambiguous 'dead end’ sign at the start of Globe Lane.

Meanwhile, Chatham High Street must take the prize for the most unwelcoming, and at times intimidating, pedestrianised shopping area in Kent. None but the brave – and those who want to visit Debenhams – venture there.

Sorry if this all sounds harsh and I know I’ll be accused of being 'negative’ or unsupportive of the council’s efforts to regenerate Medway and Chatham in particular, but it has to be said.

The team of 19 which comprises Medway Renaissance, the grandly-titled organisation tasked with the regeneration of Medway, is being made redundant.

It’s all down to the private sector now, we are told. Great news but, er, who’s going to pay?

The Renaissance team has been given the chop because of the government’s public spending cut-backs and Medway Council has to save £50 million over the next four years.

So, somebody please tell me: when is Chatham going to end up as the city centre for Medway? 

Wait a minute, the Thames Gateway Kent Partnership can answer that: “Medway is undergoing major regeneration and aims to be a city of Culture, Learning, Tourism and Enterprise. Chatham will be the cultural and civic heart of this new city, a city of 300,000 people by 2026.” 

That’s in 16 years’ time. The regeneration of Chatham has been under discussion for about the last 10. It won’t be much of an exaggeration, given the inevitable delays, to say that the transformation will have taken near enough 30 years. Am I alone in thinking that, to put it kindly, it will have been rather a long wait?

Strangely enough, 30 years is the same time it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

As the Renaissance team had previously declared its intention of making Medway 'a world-class city’ we must hope its aspirations did not stretch to turning Chatham into the Eighth Wonder of the World, a laudable aim though that might be.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse at Alexandria… the Waterfront at Chatham. You must admit it’s got a nice ring to it.

On a more serious note, I can only say this: last month, if I had been an out-of-area visitor to Chatham, about half-an-hour in all that mayhem would have been enough to convince me never to return, no matter what the computer-generated images look like on the council website.

No doubt Messrs Chambers, Jarrett & Co will be doing their best to persuade us that better days are coming in Chatham.

I know that Chatham has some great assets, notably the Waterfront  area and that the River Medway is the key to making the town come alive again. 

No one can doubt that some progress has been made but Chatham needs more than a demolished flyover and a new bus station. The town’s beating heart has died. It needs a serious injection of the character it once had.

But when? I want a straight answer to a simple question: When will Chatham stop looking like a depressing bomb site and start to have the warm, inviting feel of a place worth visiting?

Will it be in 16 years or 40? Or is that question now impossible to answer because of the Spending Review?

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