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Obituary: Helen Davison – leading light of theatre scene founded Milton Musical Society

Helen Davison
Helen Davison

HELEN Davison, a former director of New Milton’s Forest Arts Centre and founder of Milton Musical Society, has died aged 93.

Helen was well-known and hugely respected in New Milton’s amateur dramatics scene, producing and directing musical theatre productions throughout the 70s and 80s.

As director of Forest Arts Centre in Old Milton Road, she expanded the resident Capricorn Youth Theatre from a small band of youngsters to a 30-strong group which performed shows such as West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Jonathan Shiner, chair of Milton Musical Society, said the current pre-Covid success of the town’s performing arts can in part be attributed to Helen.

“She was prodigious in her commitment and efforts and leaves us a legacy to be proud of,” he said.

Helen was born in Bristol and grew up in London where she attended, against her parents’ wishes, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

Whilst there, aside from kissing Roger Moore in one of their productions, Helen appeared in West End shows including Belle of New York in 1946. She also attended London’s Royal Academy of Music and sang professionally.

Helen met and married David Lord, with whom she had two sons, Lawrence and Mark. The marriage ended after two years and Helen subsequently started secretarial work at a scientific glassware manufacturer in the Midlands.

It was here she met her second husband, Gregory Holden-Dye, and they had a son, Jon.

The family moved to New Milton in 1960, and Helen returned to secretarial work at former building firm Drew Construction. She later joined Heppenstalls solicitors.

After nearly 20 years away from the stage, Helen had become involved in local amateur dramatics, and when Greg was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s she combined her passion for drama with earning a living, taking up a teaching post with Forest Arts Centre.

A few years later she took on the role of director, taking drama to the local schools and developing the youth theatre and centre itself with the help of local government grants.

After stepping down from running the centre, Helen threw herself back into plays and musicals, gathering awards along the way. Her most notable production was Effie’s Burning, which she took to venues across the south coast.

Paying tribute, Mr Shiner added: “Helen certainly brought her professional experience to bear in her patronage of the arts here in New Milton.

“Many will remember her involvement in youth projects, helping to bring the joy of performing to children from the town, whether it be dancing, singing or performing live on stage.”

Mr Shiner said she came up with the idea for Milton Musical Society while drinking coffee with her friend Hazel Goddard in 1968.

“From small beginnings with shows at the British Legion, to using the hall at Arnewood School, the society developed. These days it performs at the Regent Centre in Christchurch, where audiences of up to 500 can enjoy the shows.

“Helen’s credits are evidenced in the numerous programmes for musical theatre productions in the 70s and 80s, where almost every show staged had Helen as the producer/director. Her output was always varied and challenging.”

Later in life, Helen met Ken Davison, a retired Shell executive, whom she married.

Her son Jon said she was able to “finally relax and see a bit of the world”.

At the age of 81, Helen started Spotlight Theatre Company specifically to raise charity funds for deserving causes in the district.

Helen later developed vascular dementia, spending the final two years of her life in Linden House care home in Lymington. Needless to say, she enthusiastically took part in all musical and cultural activities held there.

She is survived by two sons, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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