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Obituary: Peggy Ann Wood

PEGGY ANN Wood made an important contribution to theatrical life in Bristol and beyond, in partnership with her husband Ronald Russell. Together they ran the Rapier Players, managing the Little Theatre at the Colston Hall in Bristol for 28 years between 1935 and 1963, presenting over 900 productions (ranging from Strindberg and Chekhov to Coward and Rattigan, and including nearly 50 world premieres) and employing dozens of actors who later established themselves elsewhere as well-known names or useful company members.

Among them were Michael Hordern, Mervyn Johns, Constance Chapman, Peter Jeffery, Clifford Rose, Jean Watts, Malcolm Farquhar, Sheila Allen, John Warner, and Lockwood West, whose actor son Timothy recalls:

The Rapier Players kept going all that time without any kind of subsidy from local or central government. While Ronnie was in the police force during the [Second World] War - along with my father,

who was their leading man at the time - Peggy Ann practically ran the theatre single-handed and kept going with one show a week. We've lost an important link with a theatrical past that young people can hardly recognise or scarcely believe in - the world of constant weekly rep, 48 shows a year.

Born in 1912, Peggy Ann Wood was the daughter of Arthur Wood, a conductor in London theatre and, incidentally, the composer of "Barwick Green", the long-lasting theme tune of the radio soap opera The Archers.

Educated at St Paul's School, in London, she first met Ronald Russell in 1931 in repertory at Rochester, in Kent, where they became a much-loved pair of juvenile leads. She came to Bristol to join his first company at the Little Theatre in 1935, and they married in 1937. Constance Chapman, who was one of the Rapier Players between 1942 and 1947, recalls:

All through the war, the Rapier Players were a little beacon of light, lifting the spirits of the audi-

ence. Peggy Ann not only played dozens of leading roles - in anything from a Ben Travers farce to Ibsen's A Doll's House - but she often directed the productions, and had a hand in the management and the programming. The company was a Bristol institution - even when I was appearing on television, members of the public who approached me would more often talk about the famous Rapier Players' "two for the price of one" Monday night shows!

When the Colston Hall burnt down in 1945, the Little Theatre reopened within five days despite losing all the records, costumes and properties in the fire. From 1949, the Rapier Players worked as a fortnightly rep until 1963 when the Little Theatre was taken over by the subsidised Bristol Old Vic (BOV) Company.

With money left over after the Rapier Players were wound up, the Russells set up a lasting scholarship for the benefit of Bristol University drama students who went on to the BOV Theatre School for vocational training.

Wood continued working as an actress until shortly before her husband's death in 1994, her last television role being Vera Poling, the grandmother's diffident friend, in the ITV series After Henry, with Prunella Scales.

Peggy Ann Wood, actress, director and theatre manager: born London 14 June 1912; married 1937 Ronald Russell (died 1994); died Bristol 30 May 1998.