Whilst there was plenty of mischief to be had growing up in Balham and Tooting, I was fully occupied during most evenings as I sang in two choirs (they met Tuesdays andridays and because of some event on Mount Sinai some years before, twice on Sundays – although you did get wine) and attended an amateur dramatics group Mondays and Thursdays. I knew all the words to Hello Dolly by the age of sixteen, but ironically went on to have three children.
Every year the Am Dram society to which I belonged would perform a pantomime or musical once a year as these would create the biggest interest to the not-too-discerning musical public of SW12/7.
My first thespian part was as the man servant in Me and My Girl. I had one line, “This way, Mr Snibson” as I ushered the star of the show into the front room for him to introduce the upper classes to The Lambeth Walk. It took me several weeks to master the line and to decide the correct inflection on each word: “THIS way, Mr Snibson”, “This WAY, Mr Snibson”. I even contemplated method acting and becoming a man servant for a year, but the play was set sixty years’ prior as manservants were fast becoming a thing of the past.
From this, I slowly progressed and, because I could sing, was given the part of Buttons. Luckily it was Cinderella. A mate of mine was also in the group, but not a good an actor; he got given the part of Pontius Pilate. It took him until the end of the final show to realise this wasn’t the biggest part he could have got.
One of the songs I had to sing was “The Ugly Duckling” famously performed (and written) by Danny Kaye and latterly Mike Reid. It was in the style of Mike Reid – bringing Danish folklore into Cockney reality – was what the producer expected of me. Because I could read music, I sang the song using all the notation suggested on the sheet. After I’d sung the song the producer complimented me and said I’d sung it wonderfully. Sadly, he added, I’d made it sound like a church motet. Think Chas ‘n’ Dave singing the Mozart Requiem only in reverse.
One of the disadvantages of Am Dram was having to wear make-up (I was never allowed to use my own) which showed up under strong lights. The smell still lingers (like Virol or calamine lotion, which was liberally applied when you had chicken pox) as did the make-up itself if you were mid-teens and hadn’t quite discovered washing (or girls). During show week and after every performance I’d go into school the next day. I think I was the only person at Bec Grammar ever to play an entire house rugby match wearing full stage make-up.
The zenith of my amateur thespian career came when I was given the part of John/Ernest Worthing in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest”. Luckily there were no songs to sing inappropriately, but there were many lines to be learned. However, and not for the first (or last) time in my life, work got in the way and a consequence of me having to be on some advertising course and missing several dress rehearsals, the play never went ahead. Oh well, that’s showbiz, I guess. Plus, I never got to say the words, “This way, Lady Bracknell”!