ENSA playbill for Two's a Crowd

ENSA playbill for Two's a Crowd

This flyer advertises A Character Parade of Comedy and Drama by the Grant Andersons. The company toured South East Asia for six months under the direction of ENSA, who organised entertainments for the troops. The Grant Andersons became one of the more popular and well established ENSA companies. They usually toured with about six actors, although it looks as if they did not have their full quota for this tour, as it is billed as ENSA's 'smallest production'.

Organising entertainment on this scale was not easy, given transport in wartime, nor could every act be guaranteed to be of high quality. ENSA, which actually stood for 'Entertainments National Service Association' was usually known as 'Every Night Something Awful'. Jack Hawkins, who administered ENSA's shows in India, complained that he was only sent the 'flotsam and jetsam no one else wanted'. By the end of 1944 ENSA had employed over 4,000 performers who had played to millions of soldiers. Four out of five members of the acting profession appeared in an ENSA production at some time during the war.

Conditions at different camps in different countries were varied. Performers might find themselves billeted in a pleasant hotel in Rome, and a few months later, sleeping under canvas in the jungle in Burma. They were usually invited to the Officers' Mess (where the officers were served their food, separate from the men). Sometimes this could be rather a trial, since after a long journey and at least two shows they were tired, and the last thing they wanted was to have to be chatty and entertaining. Everyone wanted to hear news from home. It was especially difficult for the women. The officers welcomed new female company and actresses were always thought to be glamorous and exciting - neither of which was always possible in a rainy jungle.

Anderson and his company performed for Allied troops all over the world under the direction of ENSA. When ENSA was started its director, Basil Dean, intended to include plays in the repertoire, as well as variety shows. The first play to be performed for the troops was called Eight Bells and the soldiers stayed away in droves. The average audience over the first five shows was ten people. By its sixth performance, only one soldier bothered to turn up and the play was withdrawn. Dean persevered and plays, opera, ballet, and orchestral concerts later featured in ENSA programmes. However, variety 'concert parties' remained standard ENSA fare, made up of solo performers or double acts who then worked up some group numbers as well.