It has come to our notice that a memorable Coventrian, Brian Saunders, has passed away unreported in the media.
Brian was a larger than life person who made a difference to the city in a number of different fields.
In his early life he was the first Head Chorister in the Cathedral choir, but he was perhaps best known for running Theatre One in Lower Ford Street. He was Chair of the Coventry Canal Society and the Coventry Canal Basin Trust amongst other things.
Brian’s supremacy as a boy soprano at the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral is perhaps not well remembered in the city. Mike Smith, who was a contemporary of Brian’s from that first choir, tells us the story:
“When Joseph Poole selected his choristers he wanted a good ear and a better voice. He hand-picked the best boy sopranos the Coventry area produced, so that you might have expected real jealousies and competition for soloist roles.
“I was one of those who might reasonably have expected regular solos, but then so were half the choir, but not one of us resented the fact that Brian got the lot. We were proud of our champion. He had a sublime voice, and would have been a contender for choirboy of the year, any year. In all my years I have only heard one rival – Brian would have held his own with Aled Jones. I cannot listen to a crackly old recording of him singing Stanford in G without the tears rolling down my cheeks.
“Brian was a deeply thoughtful individual. As the first Head Chorister, he was a little more in the know of things, and had a real insight into all that was going on during the Consecration and after. He was a fount of knowledge, and his reliable memory is now lost to us.”
Brian was the manager of Theatre One in the 1970s and when the owner Huge Orr died in 1979 Brian, with three other city businessmen, formed their own company, Welondale Entertainments Ltd, and took on the cinema. By October 1982, the company was forced to go into liquidation, but Brian was able to form another company and buy back Theatre One from the receiver. His small cinema went on to benefit from a new scheme in which it got one in eight new releases and also enjoyed a boom after the Cannon (formerly the ABC) cinema, in Hertford Street, closed in 1988.
Brian was a key figure in the Independent Film world and had connections with the great and the good in the film industry. Brian sold the cinema in 1991 and it was turned into the Mustard nightclub, which later folded.
Brian also owned Buster’s Nightclub upstairs in Market Way. The club was named after his dog.
In this voluntary life Brian was the Chair of the Coventry Canal Society and also a founder member and first Chair of Coventry Canal Basin Trust. In that role he oversaw the restoration of the canal warehouses in the 1980s. Brian had his own canal boat named Outlaw.
Brian went on to national fame as the star of Channel 4’s documentary series “A Place in Greece” in 2004, when over thirty episodes he was filmed starting a new life in Crete with his partner Andrew Stewart-Sutton. A Place In Greece followed the couple as they pursued their dream of building their very own home in Greece. Finances were tight, so to help get the project off the ground they entered into a partnership with friends Peter and Lesley Cardy, who were also keen to have a place abroad. The programme followed the trials and tribulations of the foursome as they travelled to Crete in search of the ideal location.
Brian is fondly remembered at the Canal Basin Trust. Alan Dyer, the Chairman and Financial Director of the Trust said “I’ve been in regular contact with Brian over recent years usually in long telephone conversations reminiscing about the time he was the chairman of the Canal Basin Trust and his involvement in the restoration of the Warehouse here in the canal basin. He got on particularly well with the group of artists here who regarded him with genuine affection. We thought he was a kind and generous man who did all he could to help with establishing the studios here. He made regular visits to London to the headquarters of British Waterways on the trust’s behalf and lobbied his contacts in the City Council.
“In our recent conversations he talked about the history of his involvement with the Canal Society and Inland Waterways and about his own childhood in Coventry – it was lengthy memory lane stuff and I learned a lot about him and his early years that I hadn’t previously known. He did a lot of good work with various groups and individuals around the city and nationally.
“When the Warehouse was opened by Princess Margaret in the late ‘80s Brian gave her a tour of the studios with the artist Mandy Havers. He seemed to get on remarkably well with HRH…
“He had been planning to visit the Warehouse here as soon as it was safe. We were all saddened that lockdown had prevented us getting together again after many years.
“Brian was taken into hospital April 4th and died April 7th.”
“The Trust arranged to have a plaque made and attached to one of our quayside benches at the Warehouse where hopefully it will remain for many years. The trust still has 90 years left on its lease but the building, being listed, will be preserved for many years after that. The benches are fixtures so the tribute to Brian will be here for a very long time…
“After the funeral Brian’s sister Gill, her husband and Brian’s partner Andrew came to the Warehouse to see the bench and plaque.
“Brian felt that his involvement in the restoration of the Warehouse had been a special period in his life and he was proud of what had been achieved under his chairmanship.”
His last generous gesture was to have contributions to his funeral made in the form of donations to be split between the Trust and also to one of his other great passions,The Midland Air Museum at Baginton.
That gesture came as a complete surprise to the trustees but knowing Brian’s generosity maybe not a surprise and will be used for the ongoing maintenance of the building.
Brian Saunders, 1949 – 2021