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Clifford Heap

Clifford Heap was a puppeteer and traveling performer. who started in the late 1940’s, performing with his son Douglas and two other puppeteers. The exhibition photos in his biography show a set of models he made for the play by Hans Andersen - “The Tinderbox” and are spectacular with their detail and cinematic lighting. “Fairground at night” and “explosion in the dungeon”, were just two of these amazing scenes! Clifford’s family hailed from Rochdale, Lancashire. As a boy he went every Christmas to see the Panto in the spectacular Theatre Royal and The Palace. After seeing these performances, he would rush home and try to create them for himself.

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He was more interested in the set design, than the puppets that acted in them, and would use simple dolls with wire around the neck. Later on, using bought German dolls, known as “Dutch Dolls”, with China heads and sawdust bodies. His brother Geoffrey was just as interested in performing in the small-scale theatre, and before long they found a local carpenter who built a table, tall enough to perform on. They used simple batteries, like a car battery to power the torch bulbs on set, which added drama to the lighting.

Small audiences of family and friends would gather to watch their performances and see what the Heap boys were up to this time! They started to make their shows more elaborate with gramophone records and sound effects including an old tin bath that was filled with water and then struck to sound like the rumble of thunder. One of the notable plays the brothers performed was a 1914 -18 War Melodrama- O.H.M. S (ON HIS MAJESTY’S SERVICE!) Which was set in Belgium, which involved the blowing up of railway bridge, with shell holes appearing in houses and even the entire roof caving in!

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A Cinematic experience on a small scale. He performed many plays including “Sleeping Beauty”, “Aladdin” and the “Tinderbox” models you see in his biography. Clifford Heap and his wife Alix gave nearly 25 years of professional performances in their miniature theatres. They managed to upscale and make larger versions suitable for 500-700 people. Clifford also got his son Douglas to perform with 4 others to put on a spectacular show, full of special effects. The photos shown are now part of the Purves Puppets collection. “The Tinderbox” models based on the Hans Andersen story, had its premiere at the Leas Pavilion,
Folkestone, on Boxing Day 1972.

The decor once more by Clifford and Douglas Heap. and built by Howard Dunn. Painted by Jennifer Heap, who also dressed the puppets. The spectacular effects include a Fairground at Night and an Explosion in the Dungeon. The play characters, including some woodland creatures, among them Mr. Mole, Bill the Lizard, Georgie Glow-Worm, Mrs. Winkie, a Scots hedgehog, Monsieur Reynard and Maurice and Miriam Mouse. The background music, arranged by Douglas Heap. The cinematic lighting in these models with their spectacular effects and magical performances, were enjoyed by Children and Adults in the 1950s.

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