PLAYWRIGHT AND THEATRE HISTORIAN
- - George Spence was born on
29th August 1905 in London, where his Scots father was sub-editor of a
major daily newspaper.
School holidays at the
family home at Garmouth, Morayshire, as well as scouting expeditions
in the Highlands, kept the Scottish connection well to the fore
throughout his youth, to be retained for life.
He trained and worked
first as a journalist.
Possibly it was the
existing connection with the Highlands which led to one of the more
glamorous projects, the coverage of an outbreak of 'Lock Ness Monster
Frenzy', during which George investigated various reported sightings
There emerged an early
African link when some alleged Nessie footprints were found to have
been made with the aid of an elephant's foot umbrella stand.
In 1931, he married
Marjorie Dalglish, a petite, vivacious Canadian redhead, who was in
the newspaper business like himself.
Their only son, "Mac",
was born in 1936.
From journalism, the
transition to public relations was a natural one for George and led,
in the fullness of time, to a job offer from the East African
governments, to publicise and promote the region as a tourist
However, as soon as his
probation was complete, and Marge and Mac joined him in Nairobi in
1939, 'Herr Hitler' and 'Signor Mussolini' brought tourism to an end.
The Director of Manpower
(Lord Errol, no less !) decreed that, being too old for the K.A.R.,
Spence must become an Assistant Inspector in the Kenya Police.
In that capacity, and as
O.C.S., Kilimani, George made further contact with Joss Errol upon
being called to the scene where the murdered body was discovered.
He was not best pleased,
when the investigation was immediately whisked out of his hands and
into those of Chief Inspector Poppy of the C.I.D. - George maintained
to the last that he could have done better !
After Kilimani, George
was posted to Mombasa Central Police Station, and thus began the love
affair with the Island and the Coast which lasted, in reality, for the
rest of his life.
There was another police
posting back to Nairobi, followed by stints with the E. A. Power &
Lighting Co. Ltd, and the Donovan Maule Theatre, but the
Spences were delighted to return to Mombasa when George was appointed
Executive Officer of the Coast Rent Control Tribunal around 1950.
George remained in
Mombasa until 1982, when he left to join Mac and Jannett up-country.
A couple of years later,
they emigrated to settle in the U.K., first in Gloucestershire, and
When an attack of
shingles landed George in the Jersey General Hospital, he tried in
vain to discharge himself "... to go home."
The sister told him that
he was not well enough to go back to St. Peter.
"To the devil with St.
Peter !" he roared. "I'm off to Mombasa !"
Returning to earlier
days in Mvita, the appointment with the Rent Control Board came to an
end when the law in that area changed, and George returned to writing,
his original vocation, and one at which he excelled.
There were long and
fulfilling years 'Covering the Waterfront' first as Roddy's Man
George, and later on his own account, when he epitomised the maxim,
probably not of Confucius, that:
"The man who work for
himself has a really hard boss" !
George drove himself
hard, often on foot as well as in his battered little Fords, and was a
well-known figure all along the Kilindini Docks, as well as the town,
and of course, Mbaraki.
There were various
Spence residences at different times, from a big, white double story
house above the lighthouse, requisitioned from the Kassam Kanji family
during wartime Police years, to a flat above a firm of impecunious
advocates in Treasury Square (on a site where the Central Bank of
Kenya now stands) via another flat above the late Fontanella, whence
essential supplies could be raised on a rod and line !
But the 'Mbaraki Bandas'
were home for most of the time, and the place where George seemed most
at home, not least because of the proximity of the Port, and of the
Many an evening, George
would stroll down to the L.T.C., 'kikapu' containing half a
dozen empties in hand; take in the current rehearsal and shoot a few
snaps for his press reports, and then return, the empties duly filled,
to his home near the Mbaraki Pillar.
Apart from his
journalism and PR work, George's great love was the theatre.
The Donovan Maule
Theatre has already been mentioned, and at the LTC he produced "three
and one third" plays:
'I Have Been Here
Before' (surrendered to Phyllis Jones when he had to take over the
lead part himself - 1954); 'The White Sheep Of The Family'
(1955); 'Outward Bound' (1956) and 'My Three Angels'
In addition, he wrote no
less than three Melodramas.
The second, 'The
Cru-el, Cru-el Snow', although in George's estimation, not the
best but had become the only surviving script, was still accounted
good enough to be staged by Dennis Sandall in Dar es Salaam, and by
James Falkland at the National Theatre in May 1976 as a 'double bill'
with Terence Rattigan's 'Harlequinade'.
Luckily, James put on
the "Snow" first, and the audience stayed through to the end.
For the L.T.C's 25th
Anniversary, George was commissioned to write the 'History of the
Little Theatre Club', and although this was to have been an opus
of some 20,000 words, he was eventually constrained (for financial
reasons) to reduce the length by two-thirds.
The resulting booklet,
"L.T.C. 25 years of theatre - Mombasa, 1952 - 1977" is still
referred to as 'The Blue Book', and remains the definitive
history of theatre in Mombasa.
Now out of print,
remaining copies are priceless !
In it, George underplays
his own contribution to theatre at the Coast, and he was very
deservedly elected an 'Honorary Life Member' of the L.T.C. shortly
before he left Kenya with his family.
By the time George
retired in 1982, the miles of trekking had begun to take its toll in
the form of osteo-arthritis.
Marjorie died in 1976,
and the development of Mbaraki was bringing the 'Bandas' down even
faster than the crypto-termites !
After a few months in
one of the rooms let by Elsie Nourse in what remained of the 'Moorings
Hotel', George moved to Kiambaa to join Mac and Jannett.
In 1984, he moved on
with them to Gloucestershire, and ultimately Jersey.
The arthritis increased
its hold, inexorably, and reduced his mobility over those last years
until to his extreme frustration, he was admitted to Overdale Hospital
There, he never quite
lost his sense of humour and of history, and he endeared himself to
the Staff with stories and quips until very near the time when,
finally and peacefully, he passed away on 27th may, 1999.
Mac, Jannett and Family
kindly hosted a 'Wake' at the Mombasa Little Theatre Club in the
evening of 17th June this year for George's Kenya Rafikis.
While the L.T.C.
continues, George's labours, and those of Thespians who have come
after him, will not be in vain.
W. R. McA. S. & P. D. with grateful assistance from 'The