From Avon riverside to Swan!

From Avon riverside to Swan!

The Swan Hotel, Kineton
The Swan Hotel garden circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of David Beaumont)

IT was a welcome surprise to be reacquainted with Carl Harrison again recently.

Carl Harrison
Carl Harrison

I first met Carl a few years ago in his capacity as manager of the popular View fish and chip restaurant in Stratford, when his passion for his trade was quickly apparent.

He has worked in the fish and chips business for more than 15 years and knows a thing or two about running a restaurant.

It was good to hear then that, after being controversially forced to leave The View by the landlords, this popular Stratford man is making a success of his next venture a few miles down the road in Kineton.

He also runs two chip shops in Warwickshire – Brinklow Fish Bar in Broad Street and Chaplins in Abbey Green, Nuneaton but also ran the chippie in Kineton between 2002 and 2009.

Carl’s departure back in January 2017 dealt a blow for the local community with which he was very popular. That’s in no small part due to the fact that he did a lot to support that community, with fundraising events and giving over his free time to cook for the more vulnerable – and free time was already in very limited supply! You’d think the man would want a break from the kitchens!

But you can’t keep a good businessman down for long – and now in his second year at The Swan Hotel, in Banbury Street, Carl has already added his own stamp, including a new team and light refurbishment – and next has plans to step up the fundraising to support – and entertain – this new Kineton community.

And Carl doesn’t have to look very far to be reminded of his own family history. His mother and father, Tony and Marlene, were born and bred in the village. In fact Tony lived in The Chestnuts, the house opposite The Swan today. And the family owned Central Stores which is now Nifty Needles.

Carl and I will be working together to celebrate all that’s great about his business, including exciting news coming soon of a first for its diners! Thought I’d whet your appetites…

Of course he is the latest in a long line of mine hosts at The Swan, which dates back to 1668 – yes the former coaching inn marked its milestone 350th anniversary last year! And talking of stones, 1668 is still etched in stone above the door.

In celebration of the three-and-a-half centuries, I have delved back into some of the history of this building, which sits in the medieval part of the village.

* When a new landlord was sought in 1849, it was described in the advertisement as ‘An old established and well accustomed Commercial Inn and Excise Office now in full trade and comprising every requisite convenience, with excellent stabling, spacious yard and walled garden.’

It is likely to have served as a coaching inn but the history books also tell us that it was used to host the Petty Sessions Court alternately with the nearby Red Lion for much of the 19th century.

The Swan Hotel, Kineton
The Swan Hotel circa 1906 (Photo courtesy of David Beaumont)

The Swan also served as a meeting place for many Kineton organisations including the Old Friendly Society (established in 1785), the New Friendly Society and annual meetings of the Kineton Gas Company, the Kineton and Wellesbourne Turnpike Trust and the Horticultural Society.

During the First World War the licensee claimed to be providing stabling for 30 horses although when the inn was inspected for billeting purposes in 1917, it was said to be suitable for only 20 horses – but also 50 men!

No sign of any horses today! – But its history and charm remains  at the heart of the business in the 21st century.

I look forward to working with Carl in the coming months to help spotlight the great work he’s putting in behind the scenes and to, inevitably, further build upon its success.

In the meantime – and in true form, he is inviting nominations for local charities to benefit from the proceeds of his fundraising events throughout the year. (Stay tuned. . .)

Nominations, which close on Monday, February 4th, can be made here

Visit the hotel website here

* Information courtesy of the book Kineton, The Village and its History.

Big challenges for small businesses – invest in the help you need

Big challenges for small businesses – invest in the help you need

THERE are more than five-and-a-half million small businesses in the UK. This accounts for 99.3% of all private sector businesses – 99.9% of which are small or medium-sized (SMEs).

SMEs are growing in popularity and increasing numbers of skilled workers are taking the leap from employment to employer and setting up on their own.

Embarking on the challenge of building your own business is exciting and daunting in fairly equal measure – I know because I joined the ranks of the self-employed just three months ago.

I have spent 30 years working as a newspaper journalist and, come what may, the security of a monthly deposit into my bank account has been the reliable norm.

But, when you know the time is right (and it was) and are confident you still have a lot to offer – you know and enjoy your trade and you know exactly what your customer wants – and your gut instinct is screaming at you to follow your (new) dreams – it’s hard to ignore.

Small businesses

It’s not very long, however, before you discover that the secret to becoming a successful entrepreneur rests on more than just ‘knowing your trade.’

Because your own skillsets are just one factor. Suddenly a whole new bunch of learning curves are thrust upon you – and it’s at times like this that we need to embrace our ‘uncomfortable zones’ and shouldn’t be ashamed to outsource.

For instance, I’m a writer, my background is words. Expect me to balance my books or file my tax returns or design a website or design a logo or take a professional quality photograph or. . . you get the idea. . . and I lose all my confidence.

This is why then, there is an increasingly growing demand for professional help (and I don’t mean of the psychiatric variety!) for us SMEs.

Cue then the first of what I’m sure will be a series of training courses and workshops for yours truly, courtesy of FL1 Digital Marketing Company.

FL1 are a successful St Albans-based company expanding their training offering in response to the aforementioned growing demand – and the good news is (not least for me) they’ve just arrived in Warwick.

One of the very first bums on their training room seats, I was about to take my first foray into formal digital training. And it was Google Analytics on the agenda.

I quickly realised that building a shiny new website with all the bells and whistles was great in so far as it goes. But if I was to really let the site work for my business and gain maximum advantage, it had to come down to a better understanding of how to do it.

The prospect of digital training can bring on a cold sweat for many of us luddites. I’m one of these people who feel the need for an interpreter every time someone from the IT department opens their mouth! (I know I’m not alone in that.) I’ll remind you – I am a wordsmith not a techie!

FL1 Google Analytics WordPress
Jason Sammon.

FL1 co-founder Jason Sammon isn’t fazed by this. In fact he presented a potted version of Google Analytics for beginners if you will, with unintimidating clarity.

Our small group (I’ve always hated large classroom setting scenarios where the lecturers gallop off at high speed along the ‘information highway’) is taken through the following key areas at a friendly pace:

  • Installing Google Analytics – The rest of the course is pretty pointless without this!
  • Tracking Visitors – Important overview of visitor behaviour, such as how long they are spending on the site and the average number of pages viewed per visit;
  • Traffic Sources – How are visitors arriving at your site, eg: from search engines, referrals (other sites) or typing in url;
  • Content – What are your visitors looking at when they’ve arrived and what does this tell us about our products or services?
  • Measuring Performance Goals – You can set up and monitor specific events or actions within your website, eg. data analysis of completion of a sale or enquiry form;
  • Useful Tips – Does what it says on the tin! Really it’s all about getting into good habits by, for instance, checking your analytics every month, setting at least one goal every month and changing/adding content regularly.

This is all very well I hear you say, but what do these results tell us? None of it means a thing unless we have the wherewithal to interpret it.

Jason’s bitesize sessions and simplified language arm us with the confidence to go forth and do just that.

Far from being fearful of the murky world of digital, I’m now looking forward to my next FL1 workshop, on March 1st – WordPress Essentials. It looks at:

  • What is WordPress and how to use it;
  • Pages, Posts and Categories;
  • Tagging your content;
  • Customising WordPress;
  • Features and Plug-ins;
  • Tracking your readership and capturing statistics;
  • Integrating WordPress with Social Media.Learning your way around this widely used web platform is essential. Once the ‘nuts and bolts’ of it have been built for us – and without a highly-skilled IT team across the hall or at the end of the phone to troubleshoot – we’re on our own. So this is another valuable way to invest a couple of hours into your business plans. I’ll be reporting back on how I fared in that one in a couple of weeks.
    Further details on the WordPress course and how to book can be found hereLook out for news of more workshops being announced soon.


RSC Winter season announced

RSC Winter season announced

David Walliams

THE Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Winter 2019 season includes the world stage premiere of a new musical adaptation of The Boy in the Dress, based on the best-selling novel by David Walliams with songs by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers.

The new musical, directed by RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran, plays for 18 weeks in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from November 2019 to March 2020.

David Walliams said: “I’m delighted to be working with the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring this, my first children’s novel, to the stage. It’s now 10 years since The Boy in the Dress was first published and we’ve come a long way in that time. Ultimately, I wanted to write a story that encouraged people to recognise that difference can be celebrated, that it’s ok to be yourself.

“I’ve always loved musicals and, somehow, I’d always imagined this book to be made into a musical so to be working with the RSC, Mark Ravenhill and song-writing partners Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers on this new production feels like a dream collaboration.”

Robbie Williams. Boy In A Dress
Robbie Williams.

Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers added: “We’re beyond excited to be working with the RSC on our first musical theatre collaboration. We are both big fans of David’s books, so when he approached us about writing the soundtrack to a new musical version of The Boy in the Dress for the RSC, we were genuinely delighted.

“There’s a real freshness, cheekiness and heart to David’s writing which we’ve worked really hard to capture in the music.

Guy Chambers Boy In The Dress
Guy Chambers

“It’s been a really exciting and rewarding journey and we can’t wait to share the show with audiences when it premieres in Stratford-upon-Avon this winter”.

Meanwhile, over in the Swan Theatre, Deputy Artistic Director, Erica Whyman, will curate a new season of work including King John, directed by Eleanor Rhode; A Museum in Baghdad by Hannah Khalil, directed by Erica Whyman in a co-commission with Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre; and The Whip by Juliet Gilkes Romero which will be directed by Kimberley Sykes.

Gregory Doran said “Continuing our commitment to producing theatre that is relevant to everyone, this season brings together perhaps Shakespeare’s most contemporary of history plays and three new works, each of which – in their own way – channel Shakespeare’s spirit through beautifully crafted storytelling, richness of character and looking in the eye the biggest questions of our time.

Gregory Doran RSC
RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran

“We are now two thirds of the way through our project to stage every Shakespeare play in the First Folio. For our 25th Shakespeare production in the canon, we welcome emerging talent Eleanor Rhode in her RSC debut directing King John in the Swan Theatre.

“When I directed this fascinating play in 2001, it was only the fourth time the play had been produced by the RSC in its entire history. Since then, it has been explored much more frequently which surely attests to a growing interest in how the play speaks to our world today.

“The cross-fertilisation of the classics and new writing has always been part of the RSC and Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman will curate a new season of plays to accompany King John in the Swan Theatre.

“Together, these plays shine a spotlight on two fascinating – if overlooked – moments in British imperial history: the founding of the nation-state of Iraq and the government bail-out of British slave-owners to secure the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. As with all great history plays, Hannah Khalil’s A Museum in Baghdad directed by Erica Whyman and Juliet Gilkes Romero’s The Whip directed by Kimberley Sykes demonstrate a deep respect for telling untold stories, exploring issues of power, responsibility and identity through the lens of a group of remarkable human beings, navigating their own place within a changing world.”

Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman added: “As we approach 2019, there’s no way of escaping the fact that we, as a nation, are looking long and hard at our position within the wider world, which is why it feels like an appropriate moment to reflect, not only upon the state of our own nation, but also upon what nationhood means to us today.

Like Shakespeare’s King John, A Museum in Baghdad and The Whip are plays which aren’t afraid to confront big issues and ideas. What does it mean to be a post-imperial nation? Black-British? Middle Eastern British? Fundamentally, this is a season about what it means to be ‘British’ and what responsibility must we take for our past as we embark on an uncertain future.

“It’s particularly thrilling to have two ambitious, historical works by women performed alongside the epic yet intimate King John in the Swan Theatre. In doing so we are helping to ensure that new writing remains central to what we do and that we continue to channel the inquiring spirit of Shakespeare’s own age through the interrogation of our own history and place in the wider world, in all of its complexity and contradiction”.

King John plays at the Swan Theatre between September 19th 2019 and March 21st 2020. A Museum in Baghdad will play at The Swan between 11th October 2019 and 25th January 2020. The Whip plays at The Swan between 1st February and 21st March 2020.

First Encounters with Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice
Building on the success of the 2018 production of The Comedy of Errors, the RSC First Encounters with Shakespeare series continues with a new production of The Merchant of Venice directed and edited by Robin Belfield. The production will open at local schools followed by a week of performances in the Swan Theatre.

The production will then embark upon a seven-week tour of schools and regional theatres across England. Adobe will co-present the 2019 tour which, for the first time, will include a digital learning experience through Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud.

The Merchant of Venice plays at The Swan between 30th September and 5th October 2019.

Live at The RSC: Stand up Comedy
The RSC, in association with Underbelly, brings together some of the biggest names in UK stand-up comedy this Autumn as part of a fortnight of live performance on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage.

Underbelly last visited the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 2015 with Comedy Hullabaloo, a five-day festival which saw over 5,000 visitors watch 25 of the UK’s best comedians in iconic and intimate settings across Stratford-upon-Avon.

The programme, which runs from September 12th to 21st, forms part of Live at the RSC, which offers audiences the best in new music and comedy.

Further details of acts will be announced next month but past events have seen Al Murray, David Baddiel, Jenny Eclair and Russell Kane all taking to the RSC stages.

RSC’s triple treat

RSC’s triple treat

As You Like It at the RSC
Rehearsals for As You Like It

THE collaborative, cross-cast company is announced for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) productions of As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure, playing in a newly reconfigured Royal Shakespeare Theatre next summer.

All three productions will then tour in repertoire for the first time to six regional theatres in 2019 and 2020. The actors will each appear in two of the three plays performed as part of the Summer 2019 repertoire.

Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said: “Hamlet says the point of theatre is “to hold a mirror up to Nature”. If as a young person you don’t see your reflection in that mirror, why should you engage in that cultural offer?

“So this season we have worked particularly hard to assemble a company which reflects the nation in ways it has never done before. We have introduced a 50/50 gender balanced ensemble across the entire season for the very first time and brought together talent from all corners of the diversity of Britain today and those artists that are underrepresented on our stages.

“We want to create a season of work which places contemporary audiences at its heart, which speaks directly to the present moment.”

AS YOU LIKE IT – 14th February-31st August

(Broadcast Live from Stratford-upon-Avon 17th April)

As You Like It RSC
Rehearsals for As You Like It

Following her roles in Dido Queen of Carthage, Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra in 2017, Lucy Phelps returns to play Rosalind in Kimberley Sykes’ new production. She will be joined by David Ajao as Orlando whose previous productions for the RSC include The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Hecuba.

The full cast includes Charlotte Arrowsmith (Audrey), Patrick Brennan (Corin), Graeme Brookes (Charles/Forester), Antony Byrne (Duke Senior/Duke Frederick), Richard Clews (Adam), Tom Dawze (William), Amelia Donkor (Silvia), Laura Elsworthy (Phoebe), Sandy Grierson (Touchstone), Emily Johnstone (Amiens/Le Beau), Alex Jones (A Lord), Karina Jones (Martext), Sophie Khan Levy (Celia), Sophie Stanton (Jaques), Aaron Thiara (Jaques de Bois/Dennis) and Leo Wan (Oliver). 

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW – 8th March-31st August

(Broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon on 5th June)

Taming of the Shrew at RSC
Rehearsals for Taming of the Shrew

Claire Price will play Petruchia and Joseph Arkley will play Katherine in Justin Audibert’s reimagined staging of The Taming of the Shrew and will do so among a cast where women play the roles written as men and men play those written as women.

The full cast includes Charlotte Arrowsmith (Curtis), Hannah Azuonye (Pedant), Melody Brown (Vincentia), Richard Clews (Grumio), James Cooney (Bianco), Amelia Donkor (Hortensia), Laura Elsworthy (Trania), Amanda Harris (Baptista), Emily Johnstone (Lucentia), Alex Jones (Haberdasher), Alexander Mushore (Servant), Michael Patrick (Tailor), Sophie Stanton (Gremia) Aaron Thiara (Servant of Petruchia) Amy Trigg (Biondella) and Leo Wan (Widower).

MEASURE FOR MEASURE – 28th June-29th August

(Broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon on 31st July)

Sandy Grierson, who took on the roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles in Maria Aberg’s 2016 production of Dr Faustus, will play Angelo in Gregory Doran’s new staging of Measure for Measure.

Following his performance as Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, Antony Byrne returns to play The Duke. They are joined by Lucy Phelps in the role of Isabella.

Full casting for Measure for Measure includes David Ajao (Pompey), Joseph Arkley (Lucio), Hannah Azuonye (Lady), Patrick Brennan (Abhorson/Friar Thomas), Graeme Brookes (Mistress Overdone/Barnadine), Melody Brown (Justice), James Cooney (Claudio), Tom Dawze (Froth), Amanda Harris (Provost), Karina Jones (Sister Francisca), Sophie Khan Levy (Mariana), Alexander Mushore (Gent), Michael Patrick (Elbow), Claire Price (Escalus) and Amy Trigg (Juliet).

 Look out in a few weeks for my review of As You Like It.


Walliams story put to music for half term

Walliams story put to music for half term

Billionaire Boy The Musical
Dean Nolan, Ryan Heenan, Lem Knights and Sophia Nomvete in Billionaire Boy the Musical. Photo by Manuel Harla.

FRESH from the phenomenal success of its world premiere in Southampton over Christmas, David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy the Musical bursts into Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre this week, just in time for the half-term break.

Based on the bestselling kids’ book, this hilarious and heartwarming new show tells the story of schoolboy Joe Spud, who becomes an overnight billionaire after his dad invents a new kind of loo roll. It’s Bum Fresh – wet on one side, dry on the other!

Suddenly flush, Joe seems to have everything he wants, but can money really buy happiness? While his toilet roll tycoon dad spends, spends, spends on fast cars, 100-inch TVs and lavish gifts for his new girlfriend, Sapphire Diamond, Joe is left to fend for himself in the unforgiving world of the school playground.

Billionaire Boy The Musical
Sophia Nomvete and Ryan Heenan in Billionaire Boy The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Luckily, Joe’s new best friend Bob is on hand to help him navigate the assault course of school bullies and dangerously inedible canteen food. But when the impossibly pretty new girl Lauren seems to take a shine to Joe, things look set to get a whole lot more complicated.

Adapted for the stage by Jon Brittain, the family show features an original soundtrack by prolific pop song writers Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler, who have penned a slew of smash hit tracks for the likes of Sugababes, Girls Aloud, Alesha Dixon, Kylie Minogue and Gabriella Cilmi.

An all-singing, all-dancing cast includes Sophia Nomvete (Miss Littlewood, Vice Versa, RSC), Avita Jay (Bring on the Bollywood, Phizzical) as Sapphire, Lem Knights (The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, One Love, Birmingham REP), Dean Nolan as Len Spud (Brief Encounter, Big Fish) and Ryan Heenan (Peter Pan, Moonfleet) as Joe.

Lem Knights as Bob in Billionaire Boy the Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Billionaire Boy The Musical plays at the Belgrade Theatre between 20th-23rd February 2019. Tickets are available to book now by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055, or visiting

Review coming soon.