A little less lifelong learning

KING-SIZE TALENT: Elvis tribute performer Craig Memphis King is performing at Thornton Little Theatre
KING-SIZE TALENT: Elvis tribute performer Craig Memphis King is performing at Thornton Little Theatre
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Are you lonesome ... this afternoon? Whether Elvis would have signed up for Lifelong Learning had he actually lived is questionable, but what is beyond doubt is ... it would have changed his life.

Just look at the example of 150 members of Lifelong Learning established in Thornton in 1987, who pay £10 a year to meet twice a month, getting far more out of a fairly bleak midweek afternoon than daytime telly or a nap.

All are in pursuit of good company, chat, education, entertainment, edification – and a cuppa, for 50p a time.

When they’re not under one roof, here in Thornton’s Little Theatre, they are out and about... walks as well as talks are organised, outings as well as a good innings as the chaps talk cricket and National Service, and the women pick up gardening tips, discuss the latest trip out, and, well, the list of subjects covered is endless.

A good cross-section of ages, anything from 55 to 97, with quite a few Ladies, and laddies, of Uncertain Years. Today’s special attraction: Elvis, or rather one of his busier reincarnations: Craig “Memphis” King, former Royal Engineer, of 12 years active army service, tours of duty in Bosnia and Afghanistan, turned tribute act.

Not so much “stress and pressure” as in mine clearance, Craig tells me.

He’s not having to negotiate the minefield of ages ... a touchy subject, for here are people tired of a society defining others by occupations or ages. Life is all about learning, says George, who tells me his age, 94, but not his surname. “And I’m still a lad – Bill’s 97!”

Dorothy Kinsella, treasurer of the group, started coming to Lifelong Learning after she lost her husband 10 years ago.

“I needed something to get me more involved in life again,” she admits. “I like the talks, but I love the walks we do – anything from three miles to 11. But this is a real treat, having an Elvis come to sing to us. And he’s very handsome. Although I preferred Freddie Mercury myself.”

Jean Bromelow, one of the keen card and cribbage players in LLL ranks, signed up with the group 14 years ago and, while quite taken with Craig’s hairy chest, which is real, and the white rhinestone-studded Vegas outfit, admits: “I much preferred Frankie Vaughan.”

It takes a quick croon of It’s Now Or Never for Craig to make converts of them.

“When I see eyes go a bit dreamy I know I’ve got them,” he admits. “Only music has that ability to transport you. You become someone else.”

He fell for the King at four years old, listening to his auntie’s vinyl collection and watching Kid Creole. “He had it all.”

His parents act as roadies, escorting their talented son on theatre, club, and bar tours, and private bookings, with a show spanning the classic Vegas show years.

Craig even married in Gracelands – although wife Alison, he admits, “is younger than me and prefers different music.”

Elvis himself would have been 76 had he not gorged himself and died at 42, slumped in his hotel bathroom with a veritable pharmacopoeia of 14 drugs and far too many burgers in his system. Heartbreak hotel indeed.

Here are men and women old enough to remember Elvis at his best, and worst. It’s a taster for “Elvis” at the Little Theatre tomorrow, 8pm, tickets £6, Craig admits some of his Army mates are over from Afghanistan to give him a “good barracking!”

The price and range of allied activities at the theatre, from Lifelong Learning one day, to Elvis the next, with Poulton Drama’s Stepping Out to come and Scarecrow, a play for children, lined up later this month, shows how a small but perfectly formed theatre can weather a recession. It’s run today by the Paul Nicholas School of Acting. Karen Roberts, local managing director, admits she’s an unpaid worker, other than for the acting school for children, aged from four to 18.

The theatre had a £220,000 makeover last year when it became the school’s national headquarters, creating a multi-function room, foyer, and new entrance with the proviso the school ran it for the community, reducing council subsidies, but offering programmes for all.

It’s the sort of community asset under threat elsewhere, if you look at the giants of theatre currently being chopped off at the knees, Preston Guild Hall, and King George’s Hall, Blackburn, with touring companies cut from one, and three months lost to the season at the other.

Karen says it’s a facility cherished by the community who use it whether Lifelong Learners or Friends of Little Theatre.

She says: “We’re lucky here. Times are tough but this little theatre stays at the heart of the community. Our challenge is to get the children coming through, so they can discover the magic for themselves, and safeguard the future.”