Chas Ambler

It was a wonder that I was able even to see Chas Ambler. He was a mature student, in the third year studying theatre at Lancaster University when I had just arrived, a naïf first year student. Rumour had it that Chas drove round the town in a decommissioned London Taxi, that he had worked with counter cultural pranksters The Natural Theatre Company and that he smoked marijuana. We existed in different dimensions.

Theatre Studies departments of that vintage tended to be started by renegade English Lit. lecturers and as a result were perhaps rather more open to renegades than other departments may have been; hence Chas. As this was also a time before ‘A’ Level Theatre Studies was such a big thing maybe these departments were also rather more open to know nothing migrants from Psychology; hence me and Graeme Rose.

Last week brought the sad news that Chas died of oesophagal cancer. Graeme, who was in the year above Chas at Lancaster and knew him well, attended his funeral on Tatham Fells. He prompted this blog post so I should hand over to him now…

Visiting University Theatre/Drama departments in recent years I have found myself
lamenting the lack of diversity – by which I mean so much more than ethnicity or
sexual orientation. Theatre Studies at Lancaster threw together an
extraordinarily rich mixture of people from different parts of the country
(North, South and occasionally abroad), including many mature students who lived
lives beyond the bubble of the Bailrigg Campus. Many people who arrived there were switched
on, politically-engaged – willing to question, explore and debate. Chas Ambler
was the first person I think I had met who had already lived as an artist, or
more specifically musician. He had been in bands and had toured theatre with
7:84 and the ‘Naturals’. His was an alternative voice, anarchic, sometimes
angry, but also compassionate, considered and loyal. He had a wealth of
knowledge of music and pretty much anything you wanted to discuss. I found him

He lived In Lancaster in a converted van, which would be moored up on the
perimeter road, or frequently outside Andy Battell’s house
(Andy and Graeme were both members of the theatre company glory what glory[Ed]).
His death, and the interment of his body in a colourful, humanist ceremony (in a
beautiful spot up on the Forest of Bowland, with the fell-tops of Ingleborough
and the South Lakes all visible) has brought back so many memories and the
realisation of what an important influence he had on our generation at
Lancaster. We worked together on many productions while there. He performed
Cassius to my Brutus, and was next to me as Duncan in the Scottish play when the
broadsword blade of Ian Hobart’s bloodied Captain went spinning into the
auditorium, hospitalising an audience member. He raided Lucy Briers dad’s sacred
drinks store at a party, pleading political grounds (‘redistribution of wealth’)
and we talked Coltrane and spirituality, He seemed to take anything in his
stride fearlessly. As a composer and musician the same was true. There is a
piece that he wrote for glory what glory’s, ‘Inertia Real’, in 1990, that has never left my
mind, and will continue to revisit me regularly, despite there being no existing

Chas was born into a musical family; his mum was a singer and his grandad a
bandleader, I think. He became a linchpin in the Lancaster music scene after
Uni, and more recently created the touring Melodrome Stage – a beautiful looking
construction on which his decorated coffin was laid for the ceremonial wake
which preceded his burial. Chas lived just long enough to see his son Ben
graduate from LIPA in Liverpool, so the family ‘business’ continues.

Ian Marchant’s text for the funeral ceremony can be found on his blog and there is also a more formal obituary in the Lancaster Guardian, which indicates the standing Chas held in his community.

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