Pomp and circumstance in Balham

Listening to “Zadok the Priest” last week during the coronation, reminded me of one of the many times I’d sung it.

To celebrate various Royal happenings during the 70s, our Balham church twice put on pageants.

Because I could sing and act I was involved in both.

Having won the RE prize when I was ten, I believed I was a shoe-in for any major acting part (in fairness, this should have been given to Neil Pearson, a Tooting resident when we were all growing up – and marginally better actor).

We regularly inflamed the vicar’s anger by messing about during rehearsals.   This wasn’t helped by one line in a sketch where the vicar’s daughter had to deliver a line: “Peter, pass me your crutch”.  When you’re a teenager, and you hear the word “crutch”, it’s similar to hearing the word “sausages” when you’re six.  Sadly, for the vicar, we were all still mentally about six.

We sang many choral pieces in the two pageants – all of them related to royalty. But, for me, the best thing to come out of it was through a fellow chorister from Jamaica.  During the rehearsals and singing “may the King live forever”; “amen, amen, amen” and “alleluia” more times than you can shake a stick at, my West Indian mate taught us the entire lyrics to “The Israelites”.

If the vicar had known he’d have torn up our shirt and taken away our trousers, as the great Desmond Dekkar suggested.

Ballet High

It was November 1973 when I decided never to wear women’s clothing again. 

At the tender age of sixteen, I was asked to appear in a sketch my Balham amateur dramatics society were producing.  I’d been overlooked for many large parts, so this was my chance for glory. 

The sketch was entitled: ‘We’re the only girls left in the ballet’.  It was a three-handed sketch.   The other two were six inches taller than me, a generation older and had beards.  I didn’t start shaving until I was around 35, so could not compete in the facial growth stakes.

Aside from performing in the church hall, we would travel with our revues; these were invariably held in local mental homes (that’s showbiz!).  The downside to this was that the audience rarely laughed at what we thought were the right places.  We could have performed King Lear and they’d have probably complained that was too funny.

Meanwhile, with my first venture (that I’m admitting here) looming, I had to be helped into a tutu.  If Margot Fonteyn had ever visited SW17, she’d have had kittens. 

The dress cut into my crotch (almost acting as a vasectomy); I’ve still never taken to blocks of wood in the ends of my shoes and a mixture of muslin, gauze and nylon brings me out in a rash.

So, if ever you go to the ballet to watch Romeo and Juliet, if my stage career had taken off, I could have played the latter – although I’m not good with heights, so they’d have had to have cut the balcony scene.

Horsing around

I knew I was destined never to become a professional actor when, after my first audition for the local Am Dram society, I was offered the part of the front end of a pantomime horse. On reflection, I realise that this wasn’t (actually) starting at the very bottom.

The disadvantages of this are that you have no lines (just the odd whinny and comedic shake of your mane); there’s no chance of being spotted by talent scouts and it’s tricky signing autographs as hooves aren’t renowned for gripping writing implements.

I was determined to make the most of it and introduced method acting into my theatrical learning.

I’d spend a lot of time watching episodes of Mr Ed, eating hay and trotting, like Arkle, up and down Balham High Road; I’d have popped into the local Sainsbury’s, but they had a no horse allowed policy. Ironic, really, given that Princess Anne had actually opened the store – and if any member of the Royal family is half-horse, half-princess, it’s her.

Due to work commitments, allergy to stage make-up and metaphorically being sent to the acting glue factory, my “career” was short-lived.

If I hadn’t given this up, we would never have witnessed the greatest acting talent to come out of Tooting, Neil Pearson, treading the boards. There was only room for one thespian in SW17 in the mid-seventies.