Acting out real sea drama

One of the most controversial stories in Norfolk lifeboating history will be told in a new play set to awaken painful memories.

One of the most controversial stories in Norfolk lifeboating history will be told in a new play set to awaken painful memories.

Feelings were running high in Sheringham in 1990 when the lifeboatmen were told that the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows – or 'big boat' as it was affectionately known – was to be replaced by a much smaller and faster inshore model.

That decision precipitated a change, with many men who had worked on the boats for decades told they were too old to transfer.

Now an East Anglian theatre group is set to put the tension and upheaval of that time on stage – including four performances in the town itself.

Yesterday, the company was in Sheringham to meet lifeboatmen past and present. They were given a tour of the lifeboat station and talked through what happens when the crew are called out.

Ivor Cutting, director of Beyond the Breakers, said he wanted to write a play about the history of East Anglian lifeboats and thought the Sheringham incident was one of the most dramatic.

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“The old boys were devastated when RNLI took away their 'big boat',” he said. “Quite a lot of them would now acknowledge that the 'fast boat' is successful but it means Sheringham isn't quite so high-profile any more.”

The play is being staged by Eastern Angles, a company based in Ipswich and run by Mr Cutting, which has been producing locally-themed plays for 23 years.

Watching the five actors yesterday were three old-timers – Joyful West, 81, Bill Thirtle, 74, and Brian Pegg, 73, all former fishermen who had to quit the boat in 1990.

“We all wanted to continue,” said Mr Thirtle. “But because of our age, none of us were given a choice – we were all told we were too old to crew the fast boat.”

Mr Pegg said: “It was a difficult time for all of us, but we had it very easy on the 'big boat' compared to those crews before us who had to use rowing boats.”

And Mr West added: “I'm looking forward to seeing what they've done with the story – I'm sure it will bring back lots of memories for us and many others in the town.”

t Beyond the Breakers opens in Lowestoft on March 2 and plays almost 50 locations until May 28. Visit or call the box office on 01473 211498.

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