FLASHBACK: ‘It was the best year of my life!’


From follow spot operator and dresser, to bar worker and cleaner, there weren’t many jobs that Isobel Mason didn’t do as a teenager at Poole Arts Centre, as Lighthouse was then.

“Well, I never did any ushering and nobody let me do box office, which was probably just as well, but pretty much everything else I did,” she says on the phone from her home in Kent, where she has lived for 35 years. 

In autumn 1978, aged 16, Isobel was persuaded by fellow drama students at the Jellicoe Theatre in Poole to take part-time work at the new Poole Arts Centre. One of her first jobs was to do the follow spot for The Jam. 

“You’d never be able to do it today, but back then I was shown a follow spot and how to use it and told I was to follow Paul Weller in The Jam on stage that night. I did The Jam twice and The Clash, Grover Washington Jr, George Benson, so many great names. 

“They had me in the roof void changing lights; I did Stage Door as well. One of my friends, Jo, used to do wardrobe and I was her assistant. I couldn’t sew, but I could do the washing and ironing.  

“That was how I came to do dressing. I think the first time was for Terrence Hardiman and I helped him change then felt like I had to get out of the room – I’d never seen a man in his underwear before – leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor!” 

Although she was born in Poole, Isobel grew up in New York before coming back to Dorset at the age of 13 to live with her grandmother in Alverton Avenue near Poole Park. 

“During the holidays I was working more or less full-time at the arts centre. In the summer of 1979, for example, I was cleaning in the morning with perhaps a lunchtime shift in the coffee shop and then worked on a production in the evening.  

“I did three touring productions of Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat, one with Jess Conrad. One summer it played in the Wessex Hall and I worked as a dresser and wardrobe assistant. I was 17 and I still tell people it was the best year of my life. 

“Absolutely everyone there was so lovely, so nice and so supportive. I really felt they were like my family – I practically lived there! My memories are so vivid – people like John and Chris the operations managers, Mr Covell’s secretary Sue, Petra, Jane, Robert and Sharon in marketing. 

“But I lost touch with my best friend from those days, Delia Sargent, and I’d love to know what happened to her.” 

For all the great memories, not everything went to plan all the time.  

“Once, I was working house lights in the Wessex Hall for a Judie Tzuke concert.  All I had to do was put the house lights up and down when told, by intercom, to do so.  Well, just as Judie was singing her huge hit Stay With Me Till Dawn, my friend who was working house lights in the Towngate rang me on the lighting box phone – an old heavy dial up as it was then. I reached out for the phone and answered it. The phone fell and I managed to catch it, but unbeknown to me it had knocked the house lights slider and abruptly turned the house lights on just as Judy was singing “I’ll show you sunset if you’ll stay with me till dawn”… apparently the house lights went on as she sang “dawn”. 

“Someone came on the intercom to let me know that the lights were on and I hurriedly put them down, but the damage was done. Judie’s tour manager came on the intercom and said, in a very angry voice, “I don’t know who you are, but I’m gonna find you and kill you.” The tech crew had to smuggle me out of the building.  I was mortified, but everyone laughed about it – and they continued to employ me!” 

Eventually though, Isobel did leave. At the end of the summer in 1980 she moved to London to take up a place at drama school in London, but after falling ill had to defer. Once recovered, she started auditioning for jobs and landed a role in a touring production of Wot! No Pyjamas!, written by Michael (brother of John) Pertwee under the name Simone St Clair, that opened in Poole! 

“I could not believe it when I got the tour dates,” laughs Isobel. “It was opening in the Towngate Theatre at Poole Arts Centre. I’d only left in the August and a couple of months later I was back in this comedy that was, well let’s just say it was of its time. I mean we had costumes, but they didn’t leave a lot to the imagination! 

“I lived with my grandmother for the run in Poole and forbade her from seeing the show, but she came along to a matinee with my great uncle and aunt. They said they’d never laughed so much in their lives!” 

The tour was a landmark moment for Isobel. Not only was it her first professional job in theatre, but she went on to marry the company stage manager and have three children. 

“I was always adamant that I wanted to work in theatre, but what Poole Arts Centre gave me was invaluable experience and lots of it – you just rolled up your sleeves and got on with it. I knew something about every job in the theatre and the people there were amazing, they really looked after me.” 

Isobel worked in theatre until 1985, clocking up three national tours of plays and a tour of New Zealand. She had a stint as a Windmill Girl, was in a dance group called The Wild and worked on the London Fringe. She last toured with the play The Nerd in 1985 as Assistant Stage Manager and female understudy before marrying and starting a family.

At the age of 40, Isobel Kerrigan (as she is now) was called to the bar having studied law as a mature student. She now works as an independent adjudicator. 

“It probably makes me something of a contradiction – I don’t think there are many barristers whose first job had been in theatre, never mind in a show like Wot! No Pyjamas! 

“Working at Poole Arts Centre taught me so much, gave me so much. It was the most wonderful opportunity and I’ve drawn on that experience throughout my life. 

:: Isobel would love to hear from Delia Sargent. If you can help them get in touch, please email us at marketing@lighthousepoole.co.uk 


Back in the day

Isbobel as she was when she worked at Poole Arts Centre 1978-80
Isobel's handwritten follow spot cue sheet and a flyer for Privates On Parade from July 1979
Isobel (right) with Poole Arts Centre marketing colleague Barney White (at the back) whose musical Dreamer premiered in the Towngate Theatre. On the left is Pat Lister and Isobel remembers the other guitarist was called Mick
Another local newspaper cutting relating to Isobel's appearance in Wot! No Pyjamas!