Sheffield's theatres reminds me that I am home

Phil Brownhill grew up in Firth Park. He eventually went to Sheffield Polytechnic and did an HNC in business and finance followed by a post graduate certificate in marketing and the diploma of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. His career has been largely in the passive fire protection sector.

Thursday, 19th September 2019, 10:52 am
Phil Brownhill outside Sheffield's Lyceum Theatre

Since 1992 his main hobby and passion has been the Theatre. He is the chairman of STOS Theatre Company, where he also played many leading roles - everything from Ebenezer Scrooge to singing dustman Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady. This November he joins the company for Shrek the Musical at the Lyceum, where he will play a selection of roles, including King Harold. A father of two daughters, he lives in Chesterfield with wife Sue.

The Amateur Theatre Scene

Sheffield has a thriving amateur theatre scene of which I am extremely proud to be a part. I am currently chairman of STOS Theatre Company (formerly Sheffield Teachers Operatic Society) and we strive to present the best musicals in town, at one of Sheffield’s greatest assets - The Lyceum Theatre.That’s the top of the tree, but any sturdy tree needs good roots and well structured trunk and bows in order to be strong. The amateur theatre community in Sheffield is just that, with church hall societies producing pantos, reviews, plays and just about anything you can think of as well as numerous groups producing musicals at the Montgomery Theatre, and the University Drama Studio amongst other venues, and plays at the Library Theatre and Crucible Studio. These activities provide a great hobby for many in Sheffield and the surrounding area as well as wonderful live entertainment for the public of Sheffield.

Phil Brownhill playing Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Made in Dagenham

Green Spaces

Whenever I get into a discussion about my home town, the conversation usually gets round to what it is that I most like about Sheffield. I always mention the green spaces. Sheffield is full of great parks and open spaces that are there to be enjoyed. I grew up in the Firth Park area - Hamilton Road to be precise. Back in the 1960s and 70s through what seemed like endless hot summers, me and my mates used to wear the grass away playing football, cricket and just about anything else that captured our imagination in the park, and when we needed a change of scenery we would go to Concord Park or get on our bikes to Rivelin Valley or Millhouses. There are so many beautiful green spaces that are free and available to all inside the city boundries. A short drive from anywhere in the city and you are in the breathtaking surroundings of the Peak District, Hathersage, Bakewell, Matlock, Hope and Castleton. They all bring back happy memories and continue to be places that I visit on a regular basis.

Sheffield Fishcakes

Now let’s not argue about this. A fishcake is two slices of potato filled with flakes of cod or haddock, dipped in batter and deep fried. It is NOT some kind of fishy potato’y mixture covered in breadcrumbs and warmed up in the microwave, or any other such combination of nastiness. Full stop. No debate. Saturday lunch (sorry dinner) when I was growing up usually meant a trip to Firth Park on my bike armed with a five pound note. Chips and fishcake for me and my sister, chips, fish AND a fishcake for my dad - he had a steelworker’s appetite - and a fishcake for mum. What a feast - and yes, there would be change from the fiver.

Peace Gardens/Tudor Square/Leopold Square

I don’t know if it’s my love of food or the draw of the Theatre, but this part of town is the bit I like best. The changes made here since I was a child in the 70s, with the introduction of restaurants, The Winter Garden and the landscaping of the Peace Gardens serve to complement the old town hall building and the theatres in Tudor Square really well. I have travelled all over the world in my job, visiting most of Europe, Russia, the Middle East and America, and strolling around this part of Sheffield, with a ticket in my pocket to see something nice at the Lyceum is one of the best things in life and reminds me that I am home.

STOS Theatre Company

I have already mentioned the amateur theatre scene but I must mention the part of it that is most important to me. Since 1992 my main hobby and passion has been the Theatre. After doing a few pantos and comedy plays at Firth Park Methodist Church, a lovely lady whom I am eternally in debt to, Janet McGuiness, convinced me to give the musicals a go. “You got to be kidding, I can’t sing” was my first response. Anyway she talked me into it, I was cast as Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific and the great and good of Sheffield were subjected to my rendition of Younger than Springtime in the February of the following year. Stripped to the waist pretending to be in Polynesia whilst outside the Montgomery Theatre there was a blizzard blowing. Anyway, that was it, I was hooked and have been ever since. I joined one of the best amateur theatre companies in Sheffield - I would argue, the country - Sheffield Teachers Operatic Society ( now STOS Theatre Company) in 1995 and hit the Lyceum stage as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls in November of that year. I have been in all but two of STOS productions since then, and have been lucky enough to get cast in some great roles. Fagin, Scrooge, Daddy Warbucks and Doolittle in My Fair Lady. For the past eight years I have been chairman of STOS and the company continues to go from strength to strength despite increasing costs and the many challenges of presenting live theatre in a world of video streaming, 4d cinema and a bewildering array of distractions for our free time. We continue to provide the pubic of Sheffield with A* class entertainment. STOS is open to anyone who is interested in theatre. Look us up on Facebook and make your presence known. And don’t forget we’ll be back at the Lyceum this November with Shrek the Musical, which promises to be our most ambitious show to date - and very different to anything we have done before.

Sheffield’s football teams

I grew up following Sheffield United and the team that featured great players like Tony Currie in the 1970s. It was a fantastic time and fabulous to see football at its best. Then a few years later there was that time when Ron Atkinson was managing Sheffield Wednesday. These are teams that have played outstanding games and won the support of generations of Sheffield people. At various times both our city teams have aspired to great things. It’s great to see Sheffield United back in the premiership again and it would be good to see Wednesday back there too - I’m sure they will do it eventually. I don’t get to see much football live these days but I do follow both teams from afar.

Redgates and the Christmas lights

When I was a kid I remember we would get the 75 bus from Firth Park Library at Christmas and come into town to see the Christmas lights, which started at the Wicker Arches and went on right past the Hole in the Road and on to the Moor. We’d see them all from the bus and they were fantastic, much better than they are today. And then we would go to Redgates to see Santa. Redgates was the best shop in Sheffield, full of kids’ stuff. I seem to remember there was an entire floor almost full of Airfix models - Airfix was the go to present for me at birthdays and Christmas and my bedroom was covered in aeroplanes hanging from fishing lines. I liked the model trains at Redgates too. There was so much there that a boy of ten would like and you just don’t see anything like that any more. Redgates was was one of the great Sheffield traditions and one that is still missed by so many people.