Forces sweetheart Vera Lynn, now one hundred years old had a warm welcome in Chester back in 1943, when she arrived in the city to be at the world premiere of her film Rhythm Serenade, screened at the Gaumont Cinema on 30 August 1943.
She arrived by train and was greeted by the sheriff of Chester Bert Reynolds. There was a large crowd to see her, many with autograph book and pencil in hand.
From the station she was whisked away to Chester Town Hall where another excited crowd was waiting to see her close up. From there she went to entertain troops at a nearby military hospital.
Her film was the first premiere held in Chester and it was the first time Vera had made a public appearance in a cinema, and did it on the condition that she should see the film herself, as neither she or her pianist had seen it.
On her arrival at the Gaumont another crowd was waiting to see her. Every seat was taken in the 2000 seat cinema, and Mr Ronald Padgett, the manager announced that she would be appearing on the stage. The applause at that point was deafening.
She was introduced by the sheriff, who apparently had been wondering why Gaumont British and Columbia pictures had chosen Chester for the event.
The only conclusion he could come to was that Chester was famous as an ancient and loyal city, depicting a true English spirit.
The sheriff said, “Before coming on to the stage I asked her whether she would sing to Chester people, and she agreed to do so. I welcome her to Chester on behalf of you all.” This was followed by loud applause.
After her terrific reception, she said: “Thank you very much everyone. I cannot tell you how happy I am to be here, because this is my first appearance with a picture of mine in England in any cinema, and I am happy to make my appearance in such a lovely old town.”
To everyone’s great delight she then burst into song with Sincerely Yours from her first film ‘ We’ll Meet Again, which was screened at the Regal.
She then sang I had the Craziest Dream and Yours, as an encore. Before leaving the stage, after being called back twice, she led the audience in a medley of popular tunes, to which the full house responded heartily.
She was accompanied by a Mr Len Edwards on the piano.
A Mr Bill Luckwell, publicity manager for Gaumont British said that the selection of the Gaumont Chester, for the presentation of the world premiere was a tribute to the efforts of Mr Padgett, who had worked ceaselessly since taking over management of the cinema.
Vera was a guest at the Grosvenor hotel.
See full story in the Chester Leader