Francis Wright's Weblog

FRANCIS WRIGHT: BIOGRAPHY

with 25 comments

I am a Londoner, born and bred. Until recently, I had no idea about the family history in my other pages.

I was born in St. John’s Wood in a private nursing home, and the family house was in Crescent Grove, SW4 – a battered crescent of handsome late Georgian houses built for the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Charlotte, as far as I recall.

We left Crescent Grove in 1963 – just after I started school – and moved to Station Road, Barnes, SW13, where we stayed for 20 years. My first school was Glengyle Preparatory School for Boys in Carlton Drive, Putney, SW15.

Glengyle Preparatory School for Boys
(photographed in 1965)

At the age of 9, I was sent to Colet Court  (St Paul’s Preparatory School), which was at that time (1967) still housed in handsome Victorian red-brick buildings in Hammersmith – Colet Court on one side of the road, and St Paul’s on the other, brooding at the end of its driveway.

St Paul’s Preparatory School, Colet Court
photographed in 1968 before the school’s move from Hammersmith to Barnes

Colet Court was an interesting and largely enjoyable experience, thanks in the main to one of the form masters, the always bright and good-humoured Alan Bateman (his initials ‘AJSB’ graced many an exercise book.)  This lively and stylish young man had the knack of inspiring creativity, and I don’t think any of us have ever forgotten him. As a class, we were very sorry when he left to take up a post in Canada, but the Canadians will have benefited enormously. He now lives and works in Kenya, where he has been a headmaster for many years.

Mr Bateman – always known affectionately as ‘Batman’ – was often responsible for ‘The Colet Court Play’ – an annual event which I was desperate to be part of. I was eventually cast as Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore – which suited my hystrionic tendencies, but probably did nothing to further the reputation of Coletine drama. The performance still exists on an LP – somewhere. Probably very scratched, and virtually unplayable. Just as well.

After leaving the senior school, St. Paul’s, I studied drama, and graduated with honours. I decided to specialise in puppetry, which seemed to be a good way of never being typecast and/or doomed to a life mainly out of work.

My professional writing credits began with the BBC’s long-running series ‘Morning Story’ – only 15 minutes of fame, but it was a start.

The first four years of my performing career were spent with a touring children’s theatre company, the excellent Playboard Puppets, playing everything from a tortoise to a granny.  Going ‘freelance’ then meant a year out of work – during which time I made ends meet by being a journalist, writing about British TV programmes and their stars for several European and worldwide publications.

I then became one of the two leading characters in a series for BBC Schools called YOU AND ME … My character’s name was Dibs – or the yellow one, as he was known to those who could never remember the names. The rather downtrodden Dibs, and his opposite number, the gruff-voiced Cosmo, carried on exploring life’s little ups and downs for eleven years. There’s a bit more about it in the main blog.

My credits include the Psammead in the BBC’s teatime classic children’s drama FIVE CHILDREN AND IT, the Phoenix in THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET, the evil Sybil Sludge in THE SPOOKS OF BOTTLE BAY, and the March Hare in Hallmark Films’ version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which boasted a cast more star-studded than the Milky Way.

I featured as ‘The Head’ in ITV’S ART ATTACK and ART ATTACK INTERNATIONAL for many years, and also co-wrote and performed three series (78 half-hours) of BUG ALERT! for Channel 4 and ITV. I even became an icon of sorts when I inherited the role of SWEEP in SOOTY. This involved having to squeak a lot, and frequently get covered in custard.

Other series included PANIC STATION, SPITTING IMAGE, MOTORMOUTH, GROTBAGS, MORTIMER AND ARABEL, JAYS’ WORLD,  BEACHCOMBER BAY, GOPHERS!, and many more over 20 years.

I also teach personal presentation and speaking skills – for anyone who wants to develop the way they come across in public. Clients could be performers, business executives, interview candidates who need a confidence-booster – or dad who has to speak at his daughter’s wedding.

After lecturing on communication to the Business Studies students at Middlesex University, I  was asked to take part in the Reality Show AMERICAN PRINCESS for Granada/NBC, which involved helping to turn ten American girls from all walks of life into young ladies.

I was responsible for their public speaking and elocution, being a kind of Henry Higgins to their Eliza Doolittles. The role was repeated for AUSTRALIAN PRINCESS, and AMERICAN PRINCESS II.

Recent projects include narrating two 10-part series: B & B THE BEST (for BBC TV), followed by ROSEMARY SHRAGER’S KITCHEN SHOWDOWN  (for ITV Daytime), and appearing on THE PAUL O’GRADY SHOW – teaching Paul to ‘speak proper’!

I appeared as Thomas Becket in TS Eliot’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL. The production celebrated the 75th anniversary of the play’s premiere, and was – like the 1935 original – mounted by Radius (The Religious Drama Society of Great Britain.)

It was staged in the tiny 13th century Sussex church of St Mary, North Stoke, and was directed by Brian E. Cook. The following year, I was asked to take part in a performance of readings celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and recently played a variety of roles in SHAKESPEARE SOUP – a revue about the Bard and all his works.

FATHER NANDRU AND THE WOLVES was premiered at Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End of London. A folk-play written in verse by Julian Garner, the show featured gigantic wolves, puppets of all shapes and sizes, musicians and actors, and told the story of a village community in the last days of Ceaucescu’s Romania. It was a pleasure to be part of it …

 

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Written by Francis Wright

July 10, 2012 at 7:00 pm

25 Responses

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  1. Francis Wright
    My family history research of Martha Stephenson 1813 has brought me to your excellent website, about Marmaduke Stephenson & Co. My Martha Stephenson, born Mar 15, 1813 somewhere in Yorkshire, married John Shepherd on July 3, 1836 in Foxholes, East Yorkshire. They immigrated to Canada in about 1858.

    Someone on the Mormon Church Ancestry site has speculated that the parents of my Martha Stephenson were your Marmaduke Stephenson and Elizabeth. You can see this speculation by entering in the Mormon Church FamilySearch website: Martha Stephenson, birth/christening 1813, England. While, given your considerable research and that which I have recently done, this speculation is a long shot, I nonetheless want to explore it.

    This brings me to two questions for you. First, what hard evidence do you know of that your Martha Stephenson actually married Thomas Witty and not John Shepherd (born Oct 31, 1812, Wansford, Nafferton, East Yorkshire – IGI Batch No C106382, 1720 – 1812, Source Call No 0919202 Film)? The only sources I’ve seen are the Morman Church Ancestral File and your website, neither of which is an original source.

    Secondly, is it possible that there are actually two Marmaduke Stephensons in our data, one who had six daughters christened in Rise, East Yorkshire, and one who had children, John and Ann, living at home in the 1841 Census? Do you know of any data source that shows that these two sets of children belong to the same family? One possibility is that Marmaduke Stephenson in the 1841 Census is actually the father of my Martha Stephenson. For this to be true, there would have to be two Martha Stephensons born in 1813.

    I look forward to your response. Best regards,
    Glenn Parker
    Burlington, Ontario, Canada

    Glenn Parker

    October 6, 2009 at 12:49 am

  2. “Then there is only the decay that comes to every bit of latex that’s ever been cast”

    Hello Francis,
    I work part time at BBC Television Centre as a tour guide. There is a small display case at TVC with various items from the corporation’s broadcasting history. On view until recently was the Psammead from the 1990 T.V production of ‘five children and It’. The puppet had started to crumble a bit and one day I found him destined for the skip! I salvaged it and he’s now being restored by an artist friend of mine. Only after the salvage did I see him in his operational days from a ‘you tube’ clip. He’s an extraordinary work of art which you (with 5 others puppeteers it seems)brought so strikingly to life.
    As a performer and life long puppet fan, I would love to know more about how you made it all work. If you be of any help at all I would be so very grateful.
    Warm regards
    Ben

    Ben Whitehead

    November 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    • Hello Ben –
      How very nice of you to post this comment, and to salvage what’s left of the Psammead. He’s far too good for any skip.
      I will answer you by email, if that’s OK, rather than post on here.
      Cheers!
      Francis

      Francis Wright

      November 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm

      • Thanks Francis, I look forward to it.

        Ben Whitehead

        November 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm

  3. Hi Francis,

    I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon your website. I am a primary school teacher and have decided to base my latest Literacy work for my class on ‘5 Children and It’ as I remember enjoying the programme when I was younger. I have bought the DVD and was looking for some lesson ideas when I found your site. Not only did I find that you were the puppeteer but you also provided the voice which really made the character – loved the posh and aloof tone. Add to this the fact that you were also the voice of Dibs in ‘You & Me’ and that blew me away. Brilliant stuff.
    Do you think there would be any chance that my class could email / send letters to you? I am sure that they would love to share their new Psammead stories they are writing to the man himself! I am sure they would also like to ask some questions about your work.

    Thank you for providing such happy memories of my own childhood,
    Kev

    Kevin Payne

    February 1, 2011 at 9:43 pm

  4. Hi Francis,

    I also feel lucky to have come across your site. I am decended from the Muzio Clementi/Emma Gisborne line and will forward this information to my father who will enjoy reading it to. With so many wonderful pictures I wished there was one of Emma but will keep looking. Thanks again for the wonderful information. It helps to have some info from “across the pond”.

    Regards,
    Linda Gifford Goss
    Granbury, TX USA

    Linda Gifford Goss

    June 9, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    • Linda hello –
      I still haven’t found a picture of Emma – though i do look!
      Happy New Year!
      F

      Francis Wright

      January 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm

  5. Hi Francis
    I’m new to geneology and have found your website via Driffield on-line. Somewhere along the line my ancestors are Thomas Witty who married Martha Stephenson in 1835. You must have collected lots of photos of your family ancestors but if you’re interested, I have a photo of Thomas Witty and a couple of Susannah Witty (who married John Hebb of Leven in 1867). I don’t know if people are interested in completing family trees in the ‘forwards’ direction but I may be able to help on the Hebb side if you’re interested.
    With best wishes
    Carolyne Horner (Smith>Counter>Secker>Hebb>Witty!)

    Carolyne Horner

    August 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    • Hello Carolyne,
      Fristly, I think I must grovel for having taken over a year (yes, really) to answer your very nice note.
      Unfortunately, I simply missed it on WordPress.
      However, assuming you forgive me, it’s never too late!
      I would LOVE a photo of Thomas Witty, as my family pictures are far from plentiful. I don’t think any of my lot got on with each other sufficiently well to ‘watch the birdie’.
      I have a certain amount of Hebb tree information – actually the Hebb descendants have proved the most charming correspondents (do you know June Flowers – I found her on Roots Chat, another wonderful site, if you don’t already know it.)
      Hey ho – I am so sorry about this delay. How silly. i think it’s largely because I didn’t get (or didn’t notice) a heads up from wordpress. they’re normally pretty good about things, but on this occasion … Oh well.
      In the meantime, all the very best,
      Francis

      Francis Wright

      October 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm

  6. Sybil Sludge terrified me as a child, but has also been a huge inspiration/psychological scar. Any idea if there will ever be a dvd release of spooks? The show really shaped my childhood!

    Ryan Brown

    August 27, 2011 at 2:36 am

    • Hello!
      She terrified me too, and I played her.
      As far as I know, ‘The Spooks of Bottle Bay’ has never been merchandised
      at all. Least of all DVD – which is a great pity. I have no idea why such a good
      show should have slipped through the proverbial net but that’s how things are
      in this weird and wonderful business.
      I have fond memories of it – especially of the first series,
      Many thanks for your comment – I hope that various therapies have got you through
      the traumas of Sybil and Co.
      Cheers!
      Francis

      Francis Wright

      August 27, 2011 at 7:30 am

  7. Dear Francis,

    I am absolutely fascinated by your website and the various connections to my husband’s ancestry. I am so delighted to find on your most recent page dated 29th Dec 2011 – pictures of my husband’s ancestors and their various family homes. My husband is called Gary John Gisborne Saul-Paterson. According to his father, Gary’s paternal Great grandmother is Caroline Sarah Gisborne and her father and mother are John Sacheverell Gisborne and Estelle Gisborne – formerly Beaumont. I have a copy of her birth certificate. According to Gary’s father, Ian Gisborne Paterson, Caroline ran away at the age of 17 and married a Paterson although there is no record of his Christian name. Although I note that Caroline’s brother Henry Gisborne(b.1860) married a Janet Weir Paterson so possibly a relation of hers?

    It was also lovely to note that Guillaume Beaumont was a Headmaster – my husband Gary has been a Headteacher of several schools in London and Reading and now supports Headteachers as an adviser in North Somerset. We live in Redland in Bristol and feel very at home here so it was wonderful to read that Estelle his great, great Grandmother was also born in Bristol. Gary longs also for a house in France, did well speaking French at school so the connections and coincidences seem uncanny. We have also named our second daughter Charlotte which I believe is a derivative of Caroline. Finally, I have a dual heritage background with a father originally from Guyana and my mother’s family from Ireland. It has not escaped my notice that I am likely to be a descendant of an Africa Slave and that my husband’s family the Gisborne’s had connections with the Abolishionists movement in England or that we chose to come to Bristol not because of work but simply because we wanted to live here.

    I believe there must be some connection between the Wright family and my husband’s but I am not entirely sure of the link perhaps you could enlighten me, please of how the two families are connected. I do look forward to hearing from you.

    Many thanks particularly for compiling such a wonderful record of these family histories.

    Kind regards,

    Jayne Saul-Paterson

    Jayne Ann Saul-Paterson

    December 30, 2011 at 8:59 am

  8. Hello Francis,
    I accidantly found your website on an english web.
    My name is Hana and I remember you from Station Road.
    I lived in Holland and now I live in the Czech Republic.

    Please contatct me, if you want.

    Hana Plosova

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    • Hello Hana –
      I’ve replied directly to your email address,
      and I hope it got through!
      All the best,
      Francis

      Francis Wright

      March 30, 2012 at 5:58 am

      • Hello Francis,
        I am Researching my family tree, and believe I may also be a descendant of the same Beaumont line of Guillame and Sarah by way of their son Alfred ( a brother of Estelle’s) who emigrated to Canada. My compliments on your research as well as the presentation and format of your blog. I would appreciate it if you could please contact me at your convenience, Thank you!
        Best Regards, – Craig W.

        Craig Weber

        May 31, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      • Hello Craig,

        Good to hear from you, and thanks for getting in touch.
        Thanks also for the nice comments – much appreciated.
        I will write to your email address directly.

        Best wishes,
        FW

        Francis Wright

        June 1, 2012 at 5:48 am

  9. Hello Francis,
    I am researching a history of the blind in Irish society and in this connection I wish to write a chapter on the Armitage Family of Noan, Co. Tipperary and 33 Cambridge Square, London. I am almost certain that they are related to your Whittenbury’s of Manchester/Lancs. here is the list of the children of John Whittenbury who was in partnership with the famous Arkwright) —
    Children of JOHN WHITTENBURY and ALICE ROBINSON are:
    8. i. EBENEZER(6) WHITTENBURY, b. 1774.    (12 Jan 1774 in London)
    ii. JOHN WHITTENBURY, b. 1776.  (20 Feb 1775 in London)
    9. iii. SARAH WHITTENBURY, b. November 25, 1778.     (17 Feb 1778 Aldermanbury, London)
    iv. ELIZABETH AUGUSTA WHITTENBURY, b. 1782; m. JOSEPH SMITH. (bapt c.1780 m 12 Feb 1800 )
    10. v. MARIA WHITTENBURY, b. 1784.  ( I have no date  but m. 10 Jan 1806 Joseph Robinson)
    vi. PATIENCE WHITTENBURY, b. 1786; m. JAMES HURRY.    (c1784 m 26 May 1808)
    vii. SELENA WHITTENBURY, b. December 18, 1786; m. CHRISTOPHER HIND JONES. (HIRD not HIND)   
    viii. JEREMIAH WHITTENBURY, b. 1789.
    11. ix. MATILDA WHITTENBURY, b. March 13, 1791. (20 Nov 1790 m 28 Nov 1810  Rev Thomas Waters)
       (Nathaniel 1788 Manchester m 3 Jul 1811 Sarah Ann Barrow
    (Rev John bapt 1789 d 1845 m Ann Maria Williams )   
     
    There may be some conflict in JEREMIAH’s (b.1776’s) birthdate see above. Here is my source for it: (jackie nicholson jackienich52@yahoo.co.uk
    6/1/11
    to me
    Hi Frank, this is the tree of Whittenbury’s.  At first I thought they were all from Manchester, but I got in touch with a Whittenbury researcher some time ago, and she had the family tree back into Hertfordshire. 
    Hope this provides enough info for you to link the family you are looking for with the larger Whittenbury history.  They have much of Manchester industry in the family, connecting to Arkwright, Waters, Ollivants, as manufacturers, merchants and suppliers). 

    There is an index to John senior’s and Alice’s wills in: “An index to the wills and administrations (including the “infra” wills) now preserved in the Probate Registry at Chester, for the years 1801-1810, both inclusive”
    THE RECORD SOCIETY
    FOR THE
    publication of Original Documents
    RELATING TO
    LANCASHIRE AND CHESHIRE.
    VOLUME LXIII.

    N.B. Whittenbury of Failsworth Lodge,
    CO. Lancaster, by Alice his wife;
    bom 19 December 1778; marr. at
    the Collegiate Church, Manchester,
    6 October 1796; died 28 August
    1825. Will dated 12 October 1824,
    proved 29 August 1826 (P.C.C.
    449 Swadey).

    There are also some items relating to John Senior in The Robert Crozier Collection Miscellaneous Autograph Letters at the Rylands Library at Manchester University e.g. Letter from James Ward (1769-1859) [engraver and painter] to J[ohn] Whittenbury of Manchester. He explains that he is moving to the country, to Round Croft Cottage, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. He discusses one of his pictures, one of a dozen done for a “cattle work” in which he was engaged by Messrs Boydells under the patronage of George III and several noble patrons. Unfortunately, owing to their deaths and the agricultural depression this work was never finished. He asks Whittenbury to assist in the recovery of a debt due to him from the Jackson brothers of Manchester, printsellers and frame-makers.
    Dated at: 6 Newman Street, Oxford Street, London.
    Annotated in ink, “about the cows”.

    My interest in the family is focused on Jeremiah’s older sister Sarah who married Thomas Ollivant of Manchester. Send me an email address to f.callery@gmail.com or a message on my facebook page Frank Callery. I will garner any info I have and send on a .pdf of the relevant chapter. Fare well, Frank.

    Frank Callery

    June 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm

  10. Hi Francis,

    I’ve also stumbled across your site in my search for my Hebb relatives! I’m descended from Frances Hebb (b c.1863, d of Christopher & Ann) I’ve done quite a bit of research but it would be terrific if you could help me fill in any gaps? Perhaps you would be kind enough to reply to me directly by email,

    All the best,

    Chris

    Chris

    January 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    • Replying by email, Chris. Thanks!

      Francis Wright

      January 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

  11. HELLO FRANCIS,
    MY HOTMAIL ADDRESS SUDDENLY STOPPED WORKING,PLEASE CONTACT ME

    hana

    February 23, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    • I have written to you at your gmail address. Many thanks!
      I hope all is well with you.
      F

      Francis Wright

      February 23, 2013 at 8:02 pm

  12. Francis,

    I stumbled across this post because I am writing a piece for my blog on the Landed Families of Britain and Ireland (http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk) about the Armitage family of Farnley Hall, Leeds and Noan, Tipperary. But we must have been close contemporaries at Colet Court and St Paul’s! I arrived at CC in the autumn of 1968, when the school opened in its new buildings, and left St Pauls at the end of 1974 for a gap year followed by Oxford.

    Nick

    Nick Kingsley

    July 17, 2015 at 7:17 am

  13. I’m happy to have come across the photograph of colet court school , I was amused to see that I was in the picture and I surprised myself by being able to name many of my contemporaries , I would have been 8 or 9 in the photograph , thank you for posting it , bit of nostalgia for me .

    charliedharma

    December 26, 2015 at 11:25 pm

  14. Hi Francis,
    Amazing to read of your career, what a great blog. I wondered if you could help me, I’m looking for where the Phoenix and Psammead puppets have ended up? Would you be able to help?
    Thanks,
    Tom

    Tom

    July 7, 2016 at 1:40 am

  15. Thomas a Beckett is actually one of my direct descendants going back on my grandmother’s side! Impressive career and accomplishments, Francis.

    Michael MacVean

    September 14, 2017 at 12:14 am


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