TO Percy Monkman, the Bradford Civic was more than just a theatre.

He joined the Little Germany theatre in 1935 and was a fixture in its cast for more than 20 years, appearing in 27 productions. His highlight was When We Are Married, by Percy’s boyhood friend, JB Priestley, revived five times over 20 years at the Civic.

A bank clerk for all four decades of his working life, Percy was also a well known amateur actor and comic, appearing at several Bradford theatres. He epitomised the repertory theatre movement that Priestley refers to in his 1934 travelogue, English Journey: “The people who work for these theatres are hard-working men and women...whose evenings are precious to them...and they are tremendously enthusiastic”.

Percy’s life on the stage - which began when he entertained troops in First World War concert parties - unfolds in an affectionate and evocative memoir, Percy Monkman: An Extraordinary Bradfordian, written by his grandson, Martin Greenwood.

Treading the boards at the Bradford Civic was a far cry from Percy’s ‘apprenticeship’ in the 1914-18 war, performing on makeshift stages as enemy shellfire rained down, close to the battlefields of northern France.

But soon after Percy joined the Civic (now Bradford Playhouse), a fire destroyed all its records and, having broken away from its parent company in Leeds, it was without a base. Fundraising became a priority, and following a generous donation from a patron, a new 229-seater theatre was opened in January, 1937, equipped for both films and play, in Chapel Street, Little Germany, where the Playhouse still stands today.

In 1938 the Civic presented We Are Married, with JB Priestley (the theatre’s president) waiving royalty fees for the amateur production, which started on the same day as the play’s first professional run in London.

A Telegraph & Argus reviewer, attending the ‘Yorkshire premiere’ at the Civic, described it as a “rollicking, unpretentious comedy”...”an admirable example of teamwork in which each part dovetails into the next with a finish that never fails to please”.

It was a sell-out every night of its two-week run, and a third week was added. Percy, playing henpecked husband Herbert Soppitt, was in each revival of the play at the Civic; in 1940, 1942, 1952 and 1958. “There is little doubt that When We Are Married was the most successful production at the Civic Playhouse in Percy’s life, both commercially in its contribution to the theatre’s finances during difficult times, and professionally in the reputation of it being one of the best amateur theatres in the country,” writes Martin. “It was certainly the highlight of Percy’s acting career.”

T&A theatre critic Peter Holdsworth said the Civic “owed a great debt” to When We Are Married. “It saved the theatre financially because you could guarantee a packed house every time, on every performance,” he wrote.

At the start of the Second World War the theatre suffered a steep decline in membership, partly due to military call-ups and the blackout. But it stayed open throughout the war, and in 1940 Percy became chairman of the Bradford Voluntary Wartime Entertainers Association which ran the Bradford Civic Playhouse Concert Party, entertaining injured servicemen in convalescent homes across Yorkshire. Among the shows was the first ever concert party at Cartwright Hall, with JB Priestley a special guest.

Over the years, the Civic was where big names in stage and screen, including Billie Whitelaw, Bernard Hepton, Tony Richardson and Edward Petheridge, cut their teeth. Percy rubbed shoulders with many of them. Productions he appeared in included Moon in the Yellow River (his first play there, in 1935), Russian classic The Inspector General in 1938, Restoration comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem in 1943, The Corn is Green in 1944, for which Percy and the cast were praised for ‘perfect rendering of the Welsh dialogue’,The Tempest, playing Trinculo, in 1946, and Hobson’s Choice in 1956.

Martin describes the Civic as Percy’s “second home”. Not only did he appear on stage, his skills as an artist were also snapped up and he was involved in set design. Percy recalled once being contacted by a director, Philip Robinson, with an urgent request: “He rang me one Monday teatime, ‘Could I do a painting for a play they were doing?’ Yes, I said, when do you want it? ‘Tonight!’ It had to be a mountain scene typical of Norway, so I found posters and cards to copy and went down to the theatre for 6pm, painted the mountain scene in poster paint, got it finished by 7.30pm when the curtain went up. We dried it out over a radiator for Act 2 when it went on the set.”

Percy, who died in 1986, aged 93, organised regular exhibitions of paintings by Bradford Art Club in the Civic bar, and often sold his own paintings. He also performed at other Bradford theatres, including the Alhambra, with the Bradford Players, and later, with the Baildon Players. One of his final acting roles was in a film called The End, voted one of the 10 Best Cine-Films of 1960. The only actor in it, Percy gives a highly acclaimed Jacques Tati-like mime performance.

* Percy Monkman: An Extraordinary Bradfordian, published by PlashMill Press, £24.49.