He’s helped out behind the scenes for decades but now it’s Alan McFarlane’s time to take centre stage as he retires after 32 years.
Alan is the caretaker at The Montgomery Theatre in Sheffield city centre and the 68-year-old, along with his family, have lived in a flat within the theatre’s premises for the duration of his employment.
“It’s like a house within a building really because it’s on two storeys,” he said.
“My kids were quite young when we first came here and there was a bit of a problem with them not being able to play outside. But they were able to play at their friends’ houses so it wasn’t too bad.”
Alan first heard about the job through an advertisement in his church newsletter.
“The vicar rang me up and said there was a live-in job at the Montgomery Hall. I said I’d definitely be interested and I ended up having an interview the following day, which was a Friday. On the Monday, the boss came to visit me and offered me the job.”
Over the years, Alan’s role has changed dramatically and he is far more than a humble caretaker.
“I do the PAT testing, I’m a first aider, the health and safety officer, the fire officer – you name it,” he explained.
“I’m the theatre supervisor as well so I do a lot of work with the theatre.”
Alan’s work hasn’t always been backstage – he was once a singer in local clubs so the theatre groups have taken advantage of his singing skills on a number of occasions.
He can recall once being asked to play a role in one of the local pantomimes.
“I used to be a singer in the clubs so I thought she meant I would have a guest spot before the interval or something – but then she said she wanted me to be Buttons in Cinderella.
“It was great but I was upstaged by my granddaughter in the audience. Every time I went on stage I said, ‘Hi kids!’ And they all shouted back, ‘Hi Buttons!’
“But then my granddaughter stood up and said, ‘That’s not Buttons, that’s my Gramps!’ She got far more laughs than I did.”
Alan can also recall his sons getting involved in the dough-making scenes of one panto.
“As soon as the dough started flying, my kids were ready to throw it back and they were really good shots. One of them knocked Brian Platts’ wig off!”
Alan and his wife Christine, 67, have six sons and a daughter between them from previous relationships, and 14 grandchildren. After the pair move out of the Theatre they will set up a new home for themselves in Bridlington.
“It’s a bit daunting because whilst I have been here, for 32 years, I have never paid a bill,” said Alan.
“I haven’t paid rent, council tax, an electricity bill, water bill, or anything. Now I’ll have to start paying my own bills again!”
Centre manager Margaret Brown said: “He is great – he is part of the institution. It will be really strange without him. Everybody will miss him.”
n Alan is having a farewell celebration at The Roebuck Tavern from 7.30pm on February 21. Old friends and colleagues are all welcome.