Eulogy delivered by Ralph Oswick on the occasion of the funeral of Charles Ware 21/7/15
In 1972 the Arts Workshop, already a major creative force in Bath, was holding a meeting about the next Bath alternative festival. The usual faces were there, but lurking silently at the back was a snappily dressed long haired gentleman. After much discussion about tents, stages, street theatre and face painting…all essential ingredients of an alternative festival, the gentleman spoke up. “I’d like to help. I can lend you a whole empty hotel as a twenty-four hour venue. If you want it.”
What a spiv I thought.
But it was true. Charlie, for it was he, did make an entire 60 room hotel available for what Sir Michael Tippett, on a flying visit from the rather straight main festival, said “was everything a fringe festival should be”.
The Cleveland Hotel, in Bath’s grandest street, awaiting conversion to apartments, became Cleveland Circus. The Arts Workshop and others created a cinema, a theatre space, an art gallery, a restaurant, the famous Upside-down room and countless happenings, discos, installations and rock concerts.
The thing about it was, the place was in a sort of glorious limbo, as fully operational as a hotel as on the day its former owners left. There were kitchens, still with ham in the freezer, and beautifully furnished lounges including the exquisite Golden Lounge with its gilded pillars and mirrored shutters. Even the bedrooms came with crisp white sheets and bedside lamps and Gideon bibles in the drawers. Spending weeks in residence preparing for the event, we dined nightly on instant mashed potato purloined from the basement larder!
During what was known as The Other Festival, my mum stayed in one of these bedrooms and famously at 2am marched into the room occupied by heavy rock merchants Hawkwind in her Winceyette nightie and told them to keep the noise down as she was trying to sleep. They shut up immediately.
The following year, astonishingly, Charlie lent us the Theatre Royal. That bastion of straightness, also awaiting renovation, hosted off-beat choirs, spoof rock bands, community variety shows, a bird impersonator and even a concert featuring beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
All part of one of the most exciting and artistically innovative periods that the creative glitterati of the city had ever seen. And though I’m sure some people thought Ha, here’s some rich bloke flashing the cash, I’ll have some of that, it was actually quite hard to get money out of Charlie.
What he did was facilitate. He looked at suggestions, opportunities and cultural /creative deficiencies and matched what he had with those needs. Theatre company desperate for storage space? I’ve got a row of empty houses. Need to raise funds? Why, Roxy Music owes me a benefit from way back, let’s call in the option. Need a spectacular space for an event? Borrow my house in the Royal Crescent. Staging a publicity stunt? I know someone with a helicopter. Perhaps most excitingly, you want to take the festival to the outlying suburbs? Let’s build a series of temporary domes around the city!
And so on and so on. It seemed that everyone was working with Charlie or working for Charlie on one of his restoration projects. And jolly exciting it was too. One moment one might be digging wet clay out of the Georgian basements of the derelict but now glorious Kingsmead Square, the next arriving by Rolls Royce all glammed up in a stunt that took the wind out of the sails of the official relaunch of the Theatre Royal by the Duke of Kent.
The Natural Theatre Company arrived minutes before the royals, in a better car and wearing better frocks. Later the chief of police told the Bath Chronicle ‘I started to suspect they weren’t a real royal party when they got their own red carpet out of the boot!’
There are so many great stories to tell. And Charlie was invariably the catalyst. He showed the way for a new attitude to the preservation and use of Bath’s sadly crumbling terraces and also unlocked myriad creative possibilities in this staid old maid of a town.