WHEN it comes to Frinton Summer Theatre, there cannot be many actors who have trod the summer rep boards more than John D. Collins.

John has been coming to Frinton since the age of 11 when his family bought a summer home in the seaside town.

“We came because of the tennis,” he smiles. “My father was a very keen player and his brother once played in the finals of Wimbledon. Back then Frinton was the second most important tournament after Wimbledon, so it was a big draw for people like my family.”

For Ian there was a very different attraction to Frinton.

“All through the summer weeks during my teenage years,” Ian continues, “was spent in Frinton. I loved it. I still do. I came back to live here six years ago and adore the place.

“Back then it was the theatre that I was interested in. I had put on plays at the tennis club mainly because I wanted Peter Hoar, who was running the Summer Theatre at the time, to come and see them.

“Basically if you could walk and turned up, you were in them but I directed each one. The first show was Midsummer Night’s Dream and I cast myself as Bottom and invited Peter along.

“Fortunately he came down and offered me a job. I was 19 at the time.”


And he’s been appearing there, off and on, ever since, the last time in Sleuth acting opposite Patrick Marlowe, who is directing him in his latest Frinton outing, Our Man in Havana.

“I suspect I’ve been in more than 50 shows here at Frinton,” he says, “although half of them were before I was 24 when you used to do the whole summer.”

So he’ll be more than at home playing the many parts he’s required to do for the show next week.

“I’m really looking forward to this one,” he grins. “It’s a four hander but we all play many parts. I’ve got nine or ten in all including a floozy and a pimp.

“I’ve seen the film and I know of the book by Graham Greene so it’s all good stuff but I’ve never done a play before where I perform lots of different characters. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

After graduating from RADA, John spent his first years on the stage at the Nottingham Playhouse alongside such acting luminaries as John Neville, Peter Ustinov and Ian McKellen.

It was while there he got to meet another legend, Spike Milligan. John worked as assistant director and as an actor on Son of Oblomov and the Bed-Sitting Room before going to appear with Spike in his Q Series on television.

John says: “I worked with him for ten years and learnt so much. It was never the same night twice and you had to listen all the time but what a way to learn.

“They didn’t really like him at the BBC because they didn’t know what he was going to do next but he was an absolute genius and I loved working with him.”

Another contact through Nottingham was David Croft, who then cast John in several of his and Jimmy Perry’s classic sitcoms, the most famous of which was ‘Allo ‘Allo, in which John played one of the British airmen.


John playing one of the airmen in ‘Allo ‘Allo

“After Milligan, I did a lot of programmes with David,” he continues. “He was very loyal to his actors and so as well as the eight series of ‘Allo ‘Allo, I also had a part in the Dad’s Army film and Hi-Di-Hi.

“But the best one was perhaps You Rang My Lord because the part I played was only supposed to be a walk-on.

“I remember David calling me up and saying ‘John, there’s this part, but there’s hardly any money and no lines’ and I said ‘of course David, no problem’.

“He was basically a silly ass with a ridiculous laugh and I was told later that a lot of people had turned it down before me. In the end he became quite a popular character and over time he got more and more lines and in the end he married the daughter of the house.

“Years later quite a famous actor came up to me and said ‘I was offered that role’ and I told him ‘well, that just goes to prove what I’ve always said, and that is you never turn down a role.’ Which I don’t.”

His next part, after Frinton next week, is a touring production of Hobson’s Choice, directed by another ex-Frinton alumni Matthew Townshend, which will be staged in Peterborough, Diss, the Frinton Technology College and then on to The Theatre Royal in Windsor.

“I’ve not done any telly or film for a while,” he says, “but then a lot of people I worked with our either dead or have retired. But I’m still performing on the stage and after Hobson’s Choice I’m back in panto, this time as Baron Hard-Up in York, which I always look forward to.

“I love being an actor so I’m not planning to give it up any time soon and having the chance to do it again in front of a home town audience is always a joy, especially when your home town is somewhere like Frinton.”

Our Man in Havana runs at the McGrigor Hall, Fourth Avenue, Frinton, from Tuesday until Saturday, July 17 to 21, at 7.30pm with a matinee at 3.30pm on the Saturday.

For tickets call the box office on 01255 676656 or in person outside the theatre.