The Questors Archive logo


ALAN CHAMBERS (1929-2020)

It is with great regret that I have to announce the death of Alan Chambers. Alan passed away on 26th December at the age of 91. He had been cared for at his home since being diagnosed with stomach
cancer a week before.

Alan had been a member of The Questors since 1961. He made a massive contribution to our theatre over a period of 59 years of active membership, including as an actor, director, Director of Productions, chairman of the Grapevine Committee and a member of the Committee of Management and then the Board of Trustees.A full appreciation of Alan's life and work will be published in due
course, and we will announce plans for how Alan's work and his many accomplishments will be remembered.

Our thoughts and condolences are with Bridgett and the rest of Alan's family.

Doug King

The following is the text of the Eulogy given by John Davey at Alan's funeral


I'm John Davey, representing the Questors Theatre; I'm sure you all know of Alan's long and distinguished connection with the theatre.

Alan once worked out that he must have been born on the second day of rehearsal for the Questors first ever show – The Best People in 1929. However, it took him until 1961 to arrive at Questors from his home city of Manchester. He was, of course, a committed and lifelong follower of Manchester City, although he would occasionally admit that there was another club in the area followed by some heretics.

David Emmet, at the tender age of 11, was actually there when Alan arrived as a new member on the premises, helping his father Alfred in bricklaying on what became the dressing-room and wardrobe block of the theatre. David doesn't remember exactly, but assumes that Alfred immediately put Alan to work. I think that everyone who knew Alfred would know for certain that this would have been the case.

That was the period of great excitement in Questors history, working towards the opening of the new Playhouse in 1964 with a production by Alfred of Ibsen's Brand in the presence of the Queen Mother. Alan had clearly made rapid progress through the ranks as he was Alfred's Associate Director on that production.

By the time I joined in 1971, Alan had obviously established himself as a major force at the theatre both as an actor and director. I only discovered later that I had actually already seen a production directed by Alan, before I knew anything about either the Questors or about him. It was in 1970 and in Cornwall at the Piran Round near Perranporth, a very large open-air man-made amphitheatre which dates back to medieval times. The production was The Fall and Redemption of Man, by John Bowen, and I still have vivid pictures of it in my head 50 years later. The first half was in the open air, but the Cornish climate ensured that heavy rain fell, and after an extended interval, the second half resumed in a specially-erected marquee. Not for the only time in his life Alan demonstrated the 'show-must-go on' spirit of the true theatre person.

Alan directed more than 50 shows at Questors and also acted in more than 50. You'll be relieved to know that I'm not going to list them all, but what is striking is not just the volume but the range: Shakespeare, Brecht, Caryl Churchill, farce, new plays – Alan took them all on. He was particularly associated with the long-lasting tradition of the Questors Christmas melodrama and researched what at the time were little-known scripts and staged them with great success. Later, as an actor he became an institution in the Christmas pantomimes, generally in smaller roles, always making a distinctive contribution.

I directed him four times in a variety of roles in Macbeth (inevitably, the Porter), Romeo & Juliet, Chekhov's The Seagull, and Waldo and the Wonderful Web, a Christmas children's show in which he rejoiced in the role of Mungo Muggles. He was an easy actor to work with: intelligent, thoughtful, aware of the play as a whole anda terrific company member. Two of these were played at the Minack Cliffside Theatre in Cornwall, where Alan had himself become the first person to take a Questors company in 1967. In 1999 he directed for the fourth time there and it was the only time he directed me. It was The Merry Wives of Windsor. As someone had had to drop out, unable to make the tour, Alan had filled a part himself and thus it was that he and I found ourselves hiding behind the huge rock at stage left, waiting to open the show before packed houses as Justices Shallow and Slender. We bonded in our mutual terror and it's become one of my most-abiding theatre memories. It was at the Minack that Alan faced one of his greatest challenges. He was directing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and between the final dress rehearsal and the opening performance, one of the cast suddenly and unexpectedly died. Alan was able to weld together a distinctly shaken cast, to adapt the show and to get it up on time and successfully to an unsuspecting audience. That's not a call that many of us would want to be forced to make, but, as always, Alan acted decisively in the best interests of theQuestors and the audience and in keeping with theatre tradition.

But Alan was not limited to acting and directing. We know that he was a poet of some distinction - he once pointed out to me how poets needed to be like the bards of old, with a sense of vision - but he also adapted and translated plays for Questors, notably Ding! Dong!, his version of Feydeau's farce Le Dindon.

He was also a great raconteur. If you want an example, in the Questors Archive there's an interview with him recorded some years ago, in which he's talking about his introduction to sailing, another of his passions. On his very first trip with a member of the Manchester University Sailing Club, the racing dinghy capsized after five yards, leaving Alan up to his knees in water – and then floated away. He and his friend had then to follow it on foot for 2 miles. On finding it, his friend instructed Alan to jump in, he missed and was promptly dumped in the water again, this time up to his neck. He tells it a great deal better than I can.

One of his great areas of contribution to the Questors was his role as Artistic Director, under various titles over the years. I became his Deputy in the late 70s and learnt a huge amount from him about the complexities of planning a season and how to attempt the impossible task of keeping everyone happy. For many years he was a fixture on the old Committee of Management which later morphed into the Board of Trustees with him still in place. The phrase 'a committee man' is often used reductively and pejoratively, but Alan was absolutely the right kind of committee man: clear, far-sighted, with a defined sense of the role of The Questors. He never spoke unnecessarily, so when he did, you knew it would be a considered and positive contribution. And like the teacher and educationalist that he was, he knew about 'tough love'. He was usually a genial and engaging presence, but he knew when a line needed to be drawn and when he needed to be the man to do it. I remember at one Artistic Directorate meeting he addressed an errant member (no names here!). He began a sentence, 'With respect', and paused for effect in the best theatre tradition before continuing – 'which means that I'm about to say something unpleasant' and then said it absolutely straight. The problem was quickly resolved. Many of us will also remember the grace with which he eventually resigned from the Board of Trustees at an AGM (which there was no pressure for him to do) explaining that he wanted to make way for younger people.

He helped to found The Grapevine, that quintessentially Questors institution and was for many years its Chairman. In recognition of his years of devotion to the bar, in every sense, he was made an Honorary Life Member of The Grapevine – and in 1989 he was made an Honorary Life Member of The Questors – a very rare double indeed.

It's a pity that circumstances today do not allow us to honour him as we would wish to do – with a full house. We hope that we can do that at an appropriate time in the future. As a man of many personal qualities and as a Questor of rare distinction, if there is somewhere beyond us a pantheon of the Questors greats, Alan will be sitting in some celestial Grapevine, enjoying a pint with Geoff Webb, discussing the finer points of sailing with Mike Green – and having a heated discussion with Alfred.