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JOHN ROLFE (d.2004)

John Rolfe died on the afternoon of 16 June after a short illness. He was an active member for more than 40 years and his contribution as set designer and constructor, front-of-house steward, occasional stage manager, and friend was imeasurable. We miss him terribly.

It was in the 1950s that I first became aware of John Rolfe, without knowing who he was. From my vantage point at the 97 bus stop in Pitshanger Lane, I would regularly see, across the road, a young woman emerge from the ladies hairdressing salon and climb aboard a vintage Trojan motor car, to be
transported by an imperious man in the driving seat. The passenger was Margaret, who became John's wife.

Friends for Forty Years
In the 1960s, I was led to John by Eric Walmsley, a designer for BBC-TV who created sets for me at St Peter's Players. He suggested I contact the Head of Design at The Questors, to seek a recommendation for a successor. I misunderstood and made a direct approach to John with an invitation to design sets for the Players. Thus it was that the mystery driver became John Rolfe and
for 40 years we never looked back.

During that period, John designed more than 15 sets for me and I never questioned his prodigious capacity for creative work, despite his jig-saw life of family, teaching, landscaping, music and, following Margaret's death, a diary full of activity.

Musical Prowess
The range of his work was astonishing. He did two proscenium stage sets for me at St Peter's, three for Ruislip Dramatic Society on the vast wastes of the Winston Churchill Hall stage, and designed ups and 10 sets for full scale musicals, on fit-up stages, for Heatham House Youth Theatre at Twickenham. He not only designed the setting for the Youth Theatre's closing tribute in 1988, but played sax in the accompanying quartet and performed an emotional solo for One Boy (from Bye Bye Birdie).

John was a gentle person — I never heard him use an expletive or saw him lose his temper but he was highly attuned to quality and the lengths to which he would go to meet his own criteria. In so doing, he threw out challenges to me. Having read a script and grasped the nature of the piece, he would invariably say "this is a tricky one; I don't know how we're going to manage it", which was as much as
to say, "have you really thought out what you want?" It was his way, consciously or not, of ensuring that I was absolutely certain I did know.

John's designs supported the players — and, like the man himself, never intruded. He was an economical designer, meticulous in the detail of his drawings and models, technically displaying the essence of practicality. He took into account the nature of the playhouse and his sets subtly reflected idiosyncrasies in the architecture.

It has been a privilege to enjoy John's company and to have been inspired by his consummate art, determination, patience and humility

I have been trying to remember how I first met Rolfy. I failed to recollect which production brought us together, but I did go through many memories of the man I affectionately referred to as "the old git". As he never complained about the title, I can only assume that he didn't mind too much. Failing that, it could have been due to the constant problems he had with his hearing aids. Cries of "John, you
are whistling" could often be heard during the rehearsal period, John's response being to insert his finger in his ear and commence fiddling to find improved reception.

I think that the time I really started to know John was on the death of his wife. He never showed his grief publicly, but it was clear that he always missed her. It was not long after this I think that we started on a policy of hugs when we met up. I recollect John telling me that having three sons meant that he never got many hugs. From then on it was hugs all the way with us.

In the last few seasons John and I have worked as designer and stage manager, although on one occasion he did tread the boards along with Brian Ingram. It was an Oscar Wilde production and their job was to "direct" the scene changes whilst appearing to be standing passively by. This was far from the case. On most nights they would manage to upstage any other action that was going on at the
time, and from Brian's accounts I believe that John spent most of his time endeavouring to make Brian corpse — it involved language of an adult nature I believe!

We were also involved in several tours to the Minack Theatre and John was always a complete charmer with members of the audience. Problems with his knees did make it difficult to get down to the stage but he was always there. Back at The Questors, he was always very reluctant to accept help from others, at least until he knew how capable they were. He did not suffer fools gladly, something we had in common.

The last production we worked on was Duet for One (2004) and as usual John was really involved. Not only was he designing the show but also he did like to offer his little pearls of directorial wisdom every now and then. I was actually away for the run of the show, but am happy to say that my last memory of time with John was us putting books fascias into the "library" on the set. It was a very calming
experience and I was glad that he finally let me help.

John I send you big hugs on your final journey and hope that you will continue to watch over us all safely.