Entertaiment was a very important part of camp life and many ways were found to boost morale. There was a gym which was big enough to be used as a dance hall twice a week (very popular by all accounts with Bedford folk) and a cinema showing nightly programmes. Sport was also encouraged and regular boxing matches were arranged between the RAF and other Armed Forces. A talented entertainment troupe called 'The Balloonatics' put on regular shows for the camp.
Revues were a regular feature of wartime forces entertainment. This photograph shows one such revue held at RAF Cardington in June 1944. I have a sneaking suspicion that the dresses will have been made with parachute silk! Photograph shown is part of Bedford & Luton Archive Services Box 1872 - courtesy of John Day (Ampthill Images).
Above young Walter William Bygraves who volunteered to join the RAF arriving at Cardington in 1940. Whilst on the station it is said Aircraftman 2nd Class Bygraves performed an impersonation of Max Miller on stage leading to the nickname Max which he used ever since. Perhaps he won one of the weekly talent shows? We will never know.
The RAF Cardington troupe "The Balloonatics" performing to raise money for the Lord Mayors Air Raid Distress Fund.
Details of regular talent contests at the station as reported in the local press.
Ladies preparing for a show at the station (date unknown). Photo kindly supplied by Barbara Irwin who was a seamstress at the camp during the war.
A newspaper advert announcing an RAF Concert party.
A talented entertainment troupe called 'The Balloonatics' put on regular shows for the camp. Shown above the front cover of a Balloonatic show at the station in March 1940.
Shown above the programme for the show put on in March 1940.
This programme for a production of “The Astonished Ostrich” was sent in by Ian Verber. His father Benjamin Verber was a recruit at Cardington in March/April 1944 - see his Flight photo on the Servicemens 1944-1945 page. In Ian’s words “You have a section on entertainment on the website so I also attach a programme of a play put on whilst dad was in Cardington - starring Basil Radford, no less.” Thank you Ian!
Pat Gittings and friends working behind the snack counter at one of the many dances held at the camp in the late 1950’s.
RAF Amateur Dramatics at Cardington. 18 Jan 1943. BP Box1487
Mike's painting of the Astran cinema now hanging in Shortstown village hall.
I was thrilled and delighted to have been given this wonderful painting of the Astra Cinema at RAF Cardington by Michael Spavins who was a civilian worker on the camp between 1959-1965. I have since handed this to Shortstown village hall which lies opposite the old site so others can enjoy it. In his own words:
"Local civilians were permitted access to the Astra Cinema and it was on such an occasion that I met my wife Carol. One evening during Feb 1962 accompanied by my friend Alfie Bone we decided to go and watch the film - Two Way Stretch - starring Peter Sellers. On taking my seat I noticed a young lady sitting with friends in the back row. It developed that she was staying with a friend in married quarters. I was immediately attracted to her and recall using the phrase "are you a lone gooseberry?" She said yes so I replied "shall we be two gooseberries together?" This became our first date and we were married in Aug 1964. A big thank you to the Astra Cinema RAF Cardington for giving me the opportunity to meet my wife, some 48 years later we are still happily married. Over the years I have developed some artistic skills and in memory of our meeting I shall be happy to paint a picture of the cinema during that period to be displayed."
Thank you Mr Spavins!
Memories of the Astra Cinema at RAF Cardington - Alan Thomas
"RAF Cardington had a very modern Station Cinema (Astra) which was located behind the old gymnasium. It had provided entertainment for many a recruit, however, during 1963 it was in the main kept open from Sunday to Wednesday to provide entertainment for the Technical Apprentices who were not permitted to leave the camp. Whilst stationed at RAF Oakington I had spent some time working in the Station Cinema during my off duty hours and had completed an RAF Projectionist Course. This qualification for better or for worse soon had a bearing on my off duty hours. With a grin on his face Sgt Chambers quitely took me to one side and said that on the authority of the Station Commander I was to assume secondary duty post of Cinema Manager. This was normally a duty performed by a Sgt however in the absence of any volunteers this requirement had been waived.
At first I was not happy with the duty, however, when I discovered that I would be paid £2 per evening (£8 per week) the task became more acceptable. Not only did the duty double my salary it also gave me a quiet place to escape to during quiet periods. No one ever questioned my whereabouts as there were always films to be boxed or confectionery to be collected from the NAAFI. Whilst it lasted this turned out to be a very profitable secondary duty which enabled me to be one of the first airmen at Cardington to own a private car."
*Grateful thanks to Alan Thomas for sharing his recollections with us.