Doncaster singer John Metcalfe's grandson hopes to hear his grandfather's voice

The grandson of a Doncaster musical performer is hoping someone can help him to hear his grandfather singing – something he has never been able to do for himself.

Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 8:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 8:25 am

Christopher Surfleet wrote in, saying: “My grandfather, John Metcalfe was an amateur opera singer in South Yorkshire in the 1930s-1950s.

“He was a member of the Mexborough operatic society, Dearne operatic society and Goldthorpe operatic society as well as being well known in the area for other concerts and performances.

“Sadly, he died when I was very young and I have never had a chance to hear him sing.

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John Metcalfe as Fairfax in The Geisha in 1934 for Bolton, Goldthorpe and District Operatic Society

“This is a plea to all your readers asking if anyone has a recording of any concert he may have performed in all those years ago.

“I have a scrap book of newspaper articles, photographs and concert programmes including a number he did in aid of rebuilding churches after World War Two.

“I really do hope someone out there has a recording of him, and I would be eternally grateful for any help in tracking one down.”

Christopher included some photographs and cuttings about John.

The Gondoliers: Dorothy Dickinson as Gianetta and Mrs Mais Gregory as Tessa, John Medlock (Marco) and John Metcalfe as Giuseppe

He got a rave review in an April 1932 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers from the Sheffield Telegraph and Star.

The reviewer for the show, produced by Bolton, Goldthorpe and District Amateur Operatic Society at Goldthorpe Welfare Hall, said: “Mr John Metcalfe as Giuseppe worked hard and caught the spirit of the opera.

“His impressive singing was one of the most enjoyable features of the show.”

Similarly, the Sheffield Independent said that he and John Medlock, playing Marco, blended their voices well as the gondoliers”.

John Metcalfe, right, as Giuseppe in the 1932 performance of The Gondoliers

A report in the Telegraph and Star said that the show raised £30 for local charities, mentioning John and Miss Dorothy Dickinson as among “the youngest and most talented principals of the society”.

The article mentions that the society intended to extend the stage and dressing rooms in the hall the following year.

John Metcalfe was born in 1907 and lived in Mexborough and Swinton all his life, said Chris.

“He was an engineer by trade and singing was his great passion. It was the Second World War which really scuppered things.

“I didn’t know him terribly as I was very young when he died. He started singing at a better level in the 1930s and was doing very, very well.

“Looking at all the scrapbooks, after the war he didn’t bother going back to the operatic societies.”

Chris added: “He was clearly a very well thought of and noted Yorkshire baritone.”

John, who worked in Sheffield, served during the war on the homefront as ‘his majesty’s inspector of fighting vehicles’ and received the Imperial Service Medal.

After the war, he still sang in concerts, mainly for charitable causes.

The family have mementoes including a letter thanking him for performing at the Montagu Hospital in Mexborough on Christmas Day 1946.

Chris, who lives in Torquay, said he thought John retired in the 1970s and he died in 1988.

John’s only daughter, Christine, is now 82 and lives in Surrey.

She trained as a nurse but changed to teaching and at one time taught at Rotherham Girls’ Grammar School.

Chris said his grandad's other great interest was cars.

He bought a new Rover every year, a ritual that he kept up almost to his dying day.

“My last abiding memory of him is mum picking him up at the hospital so he could buy a new car.

“He sat in it, then went back into hospital and died a couple of days later.”

If you have any memories of John, or better still that recording, should one exist, get in touch with Chris via reporter Julia Armstrong.