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Peter Smith

Trio of NODA Awards for youth theatre group as they say fond farewell to cherished founder.

Peter Smith, life-time President and co-founder of Chelmsford Young Generation Amateur Musical Society passed away on May 8, 2012 following a brave battle with cancer.

Peter, a keen thespian, first trod the boards with the Chelmsford group CAODS in 1949 in the show ‘Bitter Sweet’ but it was as Fagin in ‘Oliver’ that he will be most fondly remembered, not least because it was that role which lead to the formation of Young Gen. The 1968 CAODS production of ‘Oliver’ attracted over 90 children to the audition, and during the show Peter recognised how much the children enjoyed and benefited from the whole process. In the words of Patrick Tucker, Musical Director of CAODS and life-long friend of Peter “Peter’s thought was what will happen afterwards. “These kids will go away with nothing to do.” So both he and Stan Parsons , the then Chairman of CAODS, decided it was a golden opportunity to keep them interested by forming a CAODS youth group later to become independent under the title of Chelmsford Young Generation – the first I imagine in this whole area. And what a fantastic legacy and tribute to them both that group has become. Their performances have become the yardstick by which all junior groups are judged or which they aspire to.” Chelmsford Young Generation staged their first production at Baddow School in 1968, ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

Peter Smith has remained at the helm ever since passing on his creative talents to take Young Gen from those early beginnings at Baddow School to become one of the most professional youth groups in the country today, performing two shows a year in the City of Chelmsford’s own West End. It was Peter who introduced the young director Ray Jeffery to CAODS and Young Gen, recognising his visionary direction. Arguably, it has been Ray’s direction that has taken both societies to critical acclaim and won them numerous awards. Young Gen collected 3 NODA Awards for their April 2010 production of Whistle Down The Wind, winning for the Eastern Region, Best Musical, Best Youth Performance for Kathryn Peacock as Cathy, and Best Overall Production, beating many adult societies including CAODS! ‘Whistle’ was a firm favourite of Peter’s and it is particularly poignant that it was the last Young Gen show that he would be actively involved with. Sadly, he did not get to see his young protégées picking up their awards but he would have been justly proud. As Peter so aptly put it “Young Gen really are something to sing and dance about.”

As Life-Time President Peter was very much involved with the everyday workings of Young Gen until his illness prevented him – much to his frustration and annoyance. He was a fatherly figure at Young Gen headquarters in Meteor Way, Chelmsford helping the young cast and offering welcome advice. He could turn his hand to anything creative and produced eye catching posters, displays, programmes – you name it he could make it. Wardrobe and props often turned to him to fashion something peculiar required – hats were his speciality! In Peter’s honour, Young Gen recently introduced the Creativity Trophy to recognise behind the scenes work created by its young members, such as photography, displays, costumes, make-up and props. Peter himself chose the winning entry to design the trophy and awarded its first recipient, Sam Toland, for his work on the Tin Man’s costume in The Wiz. It is doubly sad that he was not able to present the award before he died.

During show week Peter’s talents were deployed front of house welcoming the audience and entertaining dignitaries in his dress attire…but everybody knew he would have preferred to be backstage!

Peter continued to tread the boards himself, repeating his role as Fagin in CAODS 2006 production of ‘Oliver’ and enticing another new batch of much needed boys to join Young Gen. Then in 2010 he was persuaded by Ray Jeffery to play the part of Joe, opposite those same now slightly older boys, in Young Gen’s production of West Side Story. It was to be his last show at the Civic Theatre as he was diagnosed with cancer soon after. Many of those same boys took time out of school to be present at his funeral at Christ Church United Reformed Church on 28th May 2010, to say their goodbyes. He will be sorely missed. They just don’t make them like Peter anymore.