Leighton Buzzard is mourning the passing of Andy Collier, the founder of the Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre, Youth Theatre and a leading light in the Canal Society.
Andy died on April 28 at Swiss Cottage Nursing Home, aged 70, as a result of Motor Neurone Disease.
Andy was born in August 1944 in Harpenden next to the Midland Railway, which shaped an interest in trains and later canals. An early love of music came from community singing round a grand piano at family parties leading to a place at The Royal College of Music to study singing.
He then trained as a teacher and worked at Gilbert Inglefield School and Fernwood Prep School in Woburn Sands – proud moments included winning the Bedford Schools Festival with his choir.
His musical theatre journey begun at Gilbert Inglefield with productions of his own musicals Out Of Time in 1978, Of A Star in 1979 and Once The Cut in 1980 assisted by Julie Knowles and Ian Crouch.
He left Gilbert Inglefield and opened a piano and singing service in a small room called The Office next to his flat in North Street. Andy went on to retail and repair upright pianos in the same space – with sometimes a dozen pianos – much fun and frustration was had by Tim, Andy’s brother, and Andy hauling and pushing the pianos up two slatted planks onto the first floor. Don Quick and the Patemans TV shop below used to joke about how they thought the ceiling would go some days!
In 1986 he started North Street Music Saturday morning children’s music and drama classes. In 1987 Andy booked the Bossard Hall and staged Once The Cut followed by many many productions.
In 1990 he had written new musicals Reopen The Line and Howzat, his cricketing musical.
Some of his musicals had social comment, Beeching’s Folly (about the closure of the railways) and Once the Cut, a story of families working the canal boats, from the 1930s, through the Second World War and up to the times of closing the canals in favour of road transport.
Space was at a premium on the Bossard Hall stage and Andy decided to form Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre to accommodate the younger members. He ran this until 1995 when it was taken over by Sally Allsopp as a move away from North Street was necessary.
Seven years of scenery and youth theatre props had amassed and were moved to a house in Rushden.
The Youth Theatre and Children’s Theatre went on to perform at The Leighton Buzzard Theatre and still continue to do so.
His love for canals led to a collaboration with his brother Tim, T and A Collier Canal Services.
Andy would spend hours bagging up coal for sale in paper bags supplied by Harry Sears Farm in Eggington.
Their days on the canal are well documented in their book An affair With The Cut. In 1984 Andy also started the Leighton Buzzard Canal Society. With three others he successfully led a campaign to save Brantoms Dock towpath bridge. The IWA took up the issue over derelict sector canals and made them more secure.
1994 was Andy’s last full year in Leighton Buzzard, he married Sandy Lickorish and the Youth Theatre did a sponsored tour of towns and villages along the ‘Obrac Line’ Oxford-Bedford with his railway musical Reopen The Line, said by Obrac founder to have led to East-West Rail trend 1995 onwards.
Also in 1994 Andy’s Youth Theatre and his musical Once The Cut won a place to perform in The Barclays Theatre Awards Competition staged at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London – this was a very proud moment for Andy and the group.
Georgina Hawkins won Best Actor for her character in the canal musical. Such was Andy’s enthusiasm for music and the stage, that he was able to bring out the most amazing performances from his young would be actors and actresses. Many from LBCT and the Youth Theatre have gone on to work professionally in theatre.
Andy continued youth theatre in Wellingborough and Northants until when he decided to spend more time on his own musical career.
He staged over 20 singing productions in places including Clapham, Stewartby, Heath and Reach, Flitwick, Cranfield and many more. These went alongside entertaining in care homes and at railway and canal events.
Highlights included performing at Braunston Church and in Stoke Bruerne World War 2 canal events.
He arranged a canal concert in the Leighton Buzzard Theatre with guest artistes including the Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre who went on to stage a production of Once The Cut at The Vandyke Theatre with Andy as musical director.
Andy’s last performance event was at the Somerset and Dorset Railway’s World War 1 weekend 2014 at Midsomer Norton Station dressed as an Army Major.
He had a fall the evening before the performance but instead of cancelling he played the concert as a wounded World War One soldier- such typified a brave career from which he always put music first.
Andy worked hard all his life and gave the town of Leighton Buzzard a wonderful heritage of youth and children’s theatre, excellent new musicals based on his passions of railways, canals and cricket with a lot of local references- these musicals have been performed by groups throughout the UK.
His canal days saw him working narrow boats Elstree and Lyra and the formation of Leighton Buzzard Canal Society. Both the railways and canals were subjects close to Andy’s heart. His knowledge and enthusiasm for those times were infectious.
Andy Collier’s funeral service will be on Tuesday, May 19 at 12noon at All Saints Church, Leighton Buzzard. No flowers please, donations are requested for his two favourite charities. a) Hospice at Home b) Leighton Buzzard Canal Society, c/o Dillamores, Old Road, LinsladeOld Road, Linslade, Bedss, Old Road, Linslade, Beds. There will also be MndA envelopes at side of church for their Andy Collier Tribute Fund.
For the purposes of catering at the wake, please indicate if you are likely to attend, by text/telephone 07818 288522. There is limited parking in Church Square, but a large multi-storey is 200 yards away in West Street; walk through to High Street, then downhill to Church Square.