The Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War II. ENSA operated as part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes. It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC).
The first big wartime variety concert organised by ENSA was broadcast by the BBC to the Empire and local networks from RAF Hendon in north London on 17 October 1939. Adelaide Hall, The Western Brothers and Mantovani were amongst those entertainers appearing on the bill. A Newsreel of this concert showing Adelaide Hall singing We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line accompanied by Mantovani and His Orchestra exists.
Many well-known stars have performed for ENSA, including Sir Seymour Hicks, who led the first show in 1939; also in demand were the other original ENSA. organisers, Beatrice Lillie, Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Sir Harry Lauder; other popular artists performing for E.N.S.A. throughout the war years were Peggy Ashcroft, Arthur Askey, Hermione Baddeley, Josephine Baker, Leslie Banks, Webster Booth, Chili Bouchier, Al Bowlly, Dame Lilian Braithwaite, Wilfrid Brambell, pianist Ronnie BridgesClive Brook, Dora Bryan, Jack Buchanan, Douglas Byng, Rebecca Cantwell, Robert Carr (baritone) Belle Chrystal, John Clements, Charles Coborn, Billy Cotton, Cicely Courtneidge, Noël Coward, Bebe Daniels, Frances Day, Betty Driver, Madge Elliott, Fred Emney, Edith Evans, David Farrar, Gracie Fields, Flanagan and Allen, Florrie Forde, George Formby, Leo Franklyn, Will Fyffe, Geraldo and His Orchestra, Gert and Daisy, John Gielgud, Hermione Gingold, Stewart Granger, Joyce Grenfell, Binnie Hale, Sonnie Hale, Adelaide Hall, Alec Halls MBE. Tommy Handley, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Gordon Harker, Jack Hawkins, Will Hay, Richard Hearne, Leslie Henson, Stanley Holloway, Victoria Hopper, Bobby Howes, Claude Hulbert, Jack Hulbert, Leslie Hutchinson, Jack Hylton, Jimmy Jewel, Yvonne Jolly, Deborah Kerr, Hetty King, Lupino Lane, Gertrude Lawrence, Evelyn Laye, Vivien Leigh, Josef Locke, Margaret Lockwood, Bessie Love, Arthur Lucan, Claire Luce, Vera Lynn, Ben Lyon, Mantovani, Jessie Matthews, Helen McKay, John McCormack, Spike Milligan, Billy Milton, Clifford Mollison, Richard Murdoch, Anna Neagle, Nervo and Knox, Ivor Novello, Vic Oliver, Tessie O'Shea, Sandy Powell, Ella Retford, Arnold Ridley, Robert Rietty, Cyril Ritchard, Sir George Robey, Margaret Rutherford, Paul Scofield, Margaretta Scott, Winifred Shotter, Alastair Sim, pianist Cyril Smith, Dorothy Squires, Terry-Thomas, Ernest Thesiger, Tommy Trinder, Jack Warner, Naunton Wayne, Elisabeth Welch, The Western Brothers, Michael Wilding, Emlyn Williams, Maurice Winnick, Googie Withers, John Wood, Diana Wynyard and Anne Ziegler.
Despite many extremely talented entertainers and movie stars working for ENSA, the organisation was necessarily spread thin over the vast area it had to cover. Thus many entertainments were substandard, and the popular translation of the acronym ENSA was "Every Night Something Awful".
The 1959 film Desert Mice follows the fictional escapades of an ENSA troop starring Sid James assigned to the Africa core.
The television sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum concerned the misadventures of a group of soldiers providing entertainment for an army barracks in India. These were known as the Concert Party and were not ENSA members at all as they were all members of the Royal Artillery and were members of the Army (in fact in the early episodes, they were all in danger of being sent to the front by the Sergeant Major (Windsor Davies.)
ENSA also featured in the television sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart, in the episode "How I Won the War".
The only known ENSA theatre to have survived in its original condition is the Garrison Theatre at Hurst Castle in the New Forest National Park. Created by servicemen in 1939, the proscenium arch still bears the badge and grenades of the Royal Artillery, and the curtains still hang from an original galvanised gas pipe. Shows are presented from time to time by the Friends of Hurst Castle.
In the Are You Being Served? episode entitled "Camping In", Mr. Grainger told a story of being a member of ENSA which Mr. Humphries said stood for "Every Night Something awful 'Appens".
In the BBC sitcom Up Pompeii episode "Lysistrata the Peace Treaty", The main character Lurcio (Frankie Howerd) is conscripted into the army. He is told by Captain Bumptius that he will be assigned to "ENSA". Lurcio responds that it is not that bad and starts going over show ideas. Captain Bumptius then tells him it stands for the "East Naples Suicide Army"!
Please see your own entry for "Privates on Parade", the plot being based on ENSA although the name of the group has been changed.