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How Norfolk couple’s stage affair turned into a lifelong love

PUBLISHED: 13:28 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 13:28 18 August 2020

Ashley and Aileen Gray, who met when they were both involved in a performance at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the family

Ashley and Aileen Gray, who met when they were both involved in a performance at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the family

Archant

The touching story of a theatre romance that led to a lifelong love has been uncovered as a theatre delves into its past.

A scene from the production of Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the familyA scene from the production of Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the family

Ashley and Aileen Gray took the roles of newlyweds in a play that was part of the first summer season at the Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. They later married, and lived happily until Mrs Gray died in 2010.

To mark the venue’s anniversary, actress and long-time supporter June Cooper donated programmes from the 1960 drama season she had in her collection back to theatre, prompting Mr Gray to recall the crucial role those early performances had on his life.

Mr Gray met his future wife when he was designing posters and brochures for a production of Beside the Seaside - which Mrs Cooper, then Miss Wade - was directing in 1965.

He said: “June told everyone that unless we could find two extra ‘stars’ – a couple of girls – the play couldn’t go on.

Ashley and Aileen Gray, at their actual wedding in 1967. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the Gray familyAshley and Aileen Gray, at their actual wedding in 1967. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the Gray family

“I left feeling down, as I didn’t know anyone suitable. Once back home, I told my parents about the problems. My dad told me he thought he had the answer, as there was a new family in town who had just moved there from Solihull in Birmingham.”

Mr Gray’s father told him to pay them a call, and when he did he met Aileen and another girl, Janet Bell, who used to work in Cyril Nunn’s shop selling photographic supplies.

He convinced them to join the play’s cast, and ended up taking a role himself.

Mr Gray said: “It didn’t take long before Aileen and I became romantically involved. In the play she was cast as Daphne Pepper, one half of a honeymoon couple. As Aileen and I became more ‘friendly’, and as I also had a copy of the script, I learned the part. Subsequently, June gave me the part and I became Yorkshire man Henry Pepper.

June Wade, right, and the future Mr and Mrs Gray, seated on the right, in rehersals for Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the familyJune Wade, right, and the future Mr and Mrs Gray, seated on the right, in rehersals for Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the family

“The play was a great success and we got a really good review. And, playing newlyweds, Aileen and I became engaged late in 1966.”

They married in Solihull the following year, and had “many happy years together”.

The Grays lived in North Walsham and Wymondham and had a son Julian, and daughter, Samantha.

Mrs Gray sadly died at home in 2010 after coming home from swimming and not feeling well, just six days before their wedding anniversary.

Ashley and Aileen Gray, who played newlyweds in the production of Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960, in rehersals. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the familyAshley and Aileen Gray, who played newlyweds in the production of Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960, in rehersals. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the family

Mr Gray said: “I got her to sit down for a minute, and she died in my arms. I was heartbroken.

“Ten years on, I still miss Aileen every day, but thanks to the Sheringham Players, I am greatly pleased to have been able to share my life with such a wonderful person.”

A newspaper review for the production of Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the Gray familyA newspaper review for the production of Beside the Seaside at Sheringham Little Theatre in 1960. Picture: Supplied by SLT/the Gray family

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