Monthly Archives: June 2020

What’s the School Play this year? (5)

The last year before the war, 1938, saw a marvellous School Play in “Knock ou la Triomphe de la Médecine”. The following year, though, saw, arguably, the greatest play ever in the long and distinguished history of the School Play. It should have been called “Androclès ou la Triomphe de la Zoologie”. Instead, George Bernard Shaw stuck with the tried and trusted “Androcles and the Lion”. Here’s the Great Man in his bathing suit, standing next to one of the great female impersonators of the era, Hermann Goering:

In 1938, the star of the show had been:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates, which very nearly stole the performance.” Not to mention those high heels:

That car had been constructed by Mr James Harold Norris, a builder, of 6 Hillside, Derby Road, TN 75331. Hillside is off Derby Road just before the junction with the Ring Road, and roughly opposite the end of Wollaton Hall Drive. The star of our show, of course, as always, is that debonair man about town, the Orange Arrow:

James Harold Norris was perhaps the third generation of this building and contracting firm. Before James, it was presumably his father or perhaps uncle, Mr William Thomas Norris, who was operating at either 3 or 333 Lenton Boulevard, TN 75423, as early as 1904. Before that, there was a William Norris at 60 Willoughby Street, New Lenton in 1891-1899 at least.

This year, then, 1938, the School Play was by George Bernard Shaw. It was called “Androcles and the Lion” and had first been performed in 1912. One peculiarity is that when it was published, Shaw’s preface was longer than his play.

“Knock” had given Mr Norris the Builder the opportunity to build “The car that nearly stole the show”, but “Androcles and the Lion” was way beyond the wildest dreams of the wildest optimist in the Dramatic Society. It was just wonderful. A creation, a creature, years ahead of its time.

Interestingly, the lion was played, or perhaps “operated” would be a better word, by Mr Norris’ fourteen year old son, James Harold Norris. I wonder if a deal was cut. Did Mr Norris and James come in one day and demonstrate what they had made:

“Yes, it is marvellous, isn’t it? Would you like to borrow our lion for your play? You would? Who did you have in mind to play the part of the lion? Billy Smith? Oh, dear.”

Well, that’s a pity because the lion is already booked for three birthday parties on those three evenings. How unfortunate.”

“What? Billy Smith is going to be ill on all of those three days? My son is his replacement? Why, that’s excellent news! For James, certainly, but most of all for the play. Now you won’t have to use that old army blanket and the papier-mâché head of a donkey from that other play years back.”

At this point, I cannot resist quoting one of the reviews in the School Magazine:

“What acting talents were shown by James Harold Norris, the fourteen year old son of a builder from 6 Hillside, off Derby Road. James made a remarkable lion, a lion of distinction and of individuality; a lion of understanding and of gratitude. What mattered a tail whose length varied from one night to another in a lion whose eyes could wink either separately or together at will? A delightful lion, the sort of lion anyone should be proud to know.”

And here he is. The only thing we have left of “The Lion”. A Photoshopped photograph. Unless, of course, he still roams the grassy savannahs of Ebay, waiting for somebody to recognise him and scoop him up for £15.13.

Here is that photograph in its entirety. Lots of Roman soldiers and, on the extreme right, the boy who had already played Madame Knock in the play about her husband, seventeen year old Eric Richard Gale:

In “Androcles and the Lion”, as Lavinia, though, Eric now had the biggest female part in the play. He was generally judged as “excellent” throughout, even though now, he did not have the benefit of those extremely elegant high heels of yesteryear. The Nottinghamian said:

“ER Gale was an extremely convincing lady in voice, manner and appearance; one of the best “ladies” the school has ever produced.”

Here is my best effort at a picture:

The programme for this production is still in the School Archives and, a very nice gesture, it actually lists the eleven members of the School’s Hobbies Club who made all of the: “armour, helmets, swords and other stage properties”. That doesn’t happen for every School Play. Indeed, I would take a wild bet that it doesn’t happen for any of them.

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (8)

Anthony Richardson’s third and final book of poetry was called “Full Cycle: Verses of the Royal Air Force” and was published in 1946:

Personally, I don’t like it anywhere near as much as his previous two books. He seems to have turned away from what I will call the “Forceful simplicity” of his first two books into something far more poetic and far more difficult to understand, almost as if he wants to show people that he has invented a special poet’s language all of his own. This is a very common fault among poets and it must lose them lots of ordinary readers. I have only picked one poem from this short book.

It is called “Request September 1939” and the poem lists the requests to Death, or God, made by a member of the armed forces, about to go to war and likely to die in the struggle ahead:

When the Judgment Day trumpet sounds, he would not want to be sent automatically to the battlements of Heaven to fight the armies of Satan, but would prefer to linger closer to Earth where everybody has always been so nice to him.

I do not know, incidentally what “earthy bred” is, and neither does Google. I suspect that “bred” is one of those words which, over the centuries, has suffered a reversal of a Consonant-Vowel combination inside it. “Brunley and brid” swapped their Vowel-Consonant combination round to become, “Burnley and bird” respectively. “Bred” would then produce “berth”, which is nowadays a specialised name for a place where you sleep. “Earthy bred” then becomes your grave.

Here are the six things he would like to hear:

But most of all, he used to be a fisherman:

Anthony Richardson seems to have given up poetry at this point. He moved to writing novels of various kinds, mostly about crime.

He must have made quite a bit of money from two very successful non-fiction books.

They were “Nick of Notting Hill: The bearded policeman. The story of Police Constable J. Nixon of the Metropolitan Police”:

Probably the most successful was “Wingless Victory” with Sir Basil Embry (1950), the story of Sir Basil’s escape from Nazi occupied France after his Lancaster was shot down. Even now, it’s a good read:

I have a hankering to return to the subject of poetry in RAF Bomber Command during World War Two. John Pudney is an obvious candidate, along with Henry Treece and the relatively little known George Eades.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (5)

After a short respite (or perhaps, time off for good behaviour), this is another story about the man-sized evil fairies of Cornwall. We met them for the first time quite a while ago.

This is another typical Droll Teller’s tale . It concerns the behaviour of the fairies towards a Mr Noy,  a farmer who is travelling from his distant home to a particular village, on the night before the village’s Harvest Festival. There’s an especially fine crop of biscuits this year:

Mr Noy goes down to the pub, sinks a few pints, and then, cue Droll Teller….

“……. eventually, Mr Noy, with his dogs, left the public house to go home, but he didn’t arrive there that night or the next. It was thought at first that he must have enjoyed himself at the inn until late, and only then have gone home. Mr Noy had no wife or anybody else to be much alarmed about him, as he was an elderly bachelor.

The next day people from the village of Pendrea along with scores of neighbours from other farms came to attend the feast at the Harvest Festival, but none of them had heard or seen Mr Noy from the time he left the inn. They became somewhat uneasy. Yet they still supposed that Mr Noy might have gone to some merry-making down near the village of St Buryan. (about eight-ten miles away, look for the orange arrow)…

In the meantime, a local woman, Dame Pendar, sent messengers to all the places where she thought Mr Noy might have gone, but they returned, just as the Harvest Festival feast was coming to an end, without any news of him. At this everyone became anxious, and they all volunteered to search everywhere they could think of, before going to bed. So away they went, some on horseback and some on foot, to examine pools, streams, cliffs and other dangerous places, both near and far away. They returned at night, but nobody had seen or heard of the missing gentleman.

The next day, horsemen were despatched to other districts, and, as Mr Noy was well known and well liked, there was a good general turn out to hunt for him. But this day too was passed in a fruitless search.

On the third day, in the grey of the morning and very close to Mr Noy’s own farm, a horse was heard neighing and dogs were heard barking, among a dense group of trees and bushes on a dry piece of ground almost surrounded with bogs and pools on the side of Selena Moor (which is between Penzance and St Buryan):

Nobody had even considered looking for Mr Noy so close to his own home, but when a score or so of men discovered a path onto this island in the bogs, they saw Mr Noy’s horse and hounds. The horse had found plenty of grass, but the dogs were half starved. Both the horse and the dogs were excited and they led the men through thorns and brambles that might have been growing there for hundreds of years. Eventually they came to some large trees and the ruins of an old sheep fold that nobody knew was there. In winter, hunters never attempted to cross the boggy ground that almost surrounded this island of dry land, and in summer nobody was curious enough to penetrate this wilderness of bushes which was swarming with poisonous snakes:

The horse stopped at an old doorway and whinnied. The dogs, with several people, pushed through the brambles that choked the entrance, and inside they found Mr Noy lying on the ground fast asleep. It was a difficult matter to wake him up. At last he awoke, stretched himself, rubbed his eyes and said, “Why, you are all from the village of Pendea! Why have you all come here? Today is the Harvest Festival and I am miles and miles away from home. What district is this? How could you have found me? Have my dogs been home and brought you here? Mr Noy seemed like one dazed and numb, so without staying to answer his questions, they gave him some brandy, lifted him onto the back of his horse, and then left the animal to pick its way out, which it did without hesitation and even discovered a shorter way out than Mr Noy’s rescuers had.

Though he was on his own land and less than half a mile from his farm, Mr Noy was unable to recognise the countryside, until he crossed the running water that divides the farms. “I am glad,” said Mr Noy, “however it came about, to have got back in time for the Harvest Festival”. When they told him how the Festival had taken place three days previously, he said they were joking, and wouldn’t believe it until he had seen all the mown hay in the barn, and all the harvest tools put away until next year.”

Another fairy abduction, then. For what reason we do not know, but Mr Noy had been absent for several days. He was then found right next to his own home, although he didn’t recognise any of the landmarks he could see. Only crossing running water restores normality. Vampires then, are not the only supernatural beings who can be thwarted by water.

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (4)

One point the author, Roy Irons, makes very strongly in his excellent book “The Relentless Offensive”, is that at the beginning of the war, Bomber Command had some really dreadful aircraft in service. The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley had, according to pilots, “little inherent stability”. It was “heavy and unpleasant on the controls” and “fatiguing to fly”. It was “difficult to navigate” and the most subtle of all, “as a flying machine, the Whitley has a very good undercarriage”. The Whitley also flew habitually at around 30° below the horizontal which caused an enormous amount of drag and very poor fuel consumption because of it:

The Hampden was a shocker, and a very narrow shocker at that, with a fuselage only three or four feet wide. Members of the crew could not pass each other, the body of the plane was so tight:

When the heavier bombers came in, two of them, in Harris’ view, were pretty useless. These were the Short Stirling and the Handley Page Halifax. Here is the Short Stirling:

The Short Stirling had “some vicious flying characteristics during take-offs and landings”. On take-off it exhibited a dreadful tendency to ground loop, which usually involved a collapse of the incredibly complex landing gear and the subsequent detonation of the bombload which would take the fuel tanks with it. On landing the Stirling had an unfortunate tendency to drop the last few feet, rather like the abrupt delivery of a hundred thousand bricks off the back of a lorry. This too would cause a collapse of the landing gear and a fire. Notice in this crash landing, how the front of the aircraft is completely burnt out. That, of course, is where the crew would have been:

It should perhaps be said that the argument could be put forward that the Stirling might possibly have been a much better aircraft if the original design had been followed. It was meant to be essentially a land-based Sunderland with a number of other modifications. This might well have produced a decent aircraft, but the Air Ministry also demanded a number of “extras”. It had to be easy to convert the bomber into a troop transport and there was a maximum figure not to be exceeded for the wingspan. With those “add-ons” the Stirling stood no chance.

Harris, though, was in no doubt whatsoever. He laid the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of the  the people in charge at Shorts:

“We shall get nothing worth having out of Shorts until Oswald Short and a good many others in the firm are thrown out on their ears. Sir Oswald Short is just an incompetent drunk. There should be a wholesale sacking of the incompetents who have turned out approximately 50% rogue aircraft from Short & Harland Belfast.”

Don’t hold back, Arthur, tell it to them straight!!

Here’s Sir Oswald:

As it was, Short’s didn’t do a great deal in six whole years of war. In satellite factories at Aldergrove and Maghaberry near Belfast they produced just under 250 Stirlings with a further 600 produced at Austin Motors at Longbridge in Birmingham. Blackburn Aircraft in Scotland produced 240 Sunderlands and a number of Handley Page Herefords which was a variant of the Handley Page Hampden. Both aircraft were shockers.

Can you spot the difference? No, it’s NOT that one of them is in the sky.

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What’s the School Play this year? (4)

Just one year before the outbreak of war, 1938 saw what must surely be one of Nottingham High School Dramatic Society’s greatest triumphs. It was the English version of the iconic play of the inter-war years, “Knock ou le Triomphe de la médecine” (“Knock or The Triumph of Medicine”) by Jules Romains. This was the school play where, according to the “Nottinghamian”:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates very nearly stole the performance.”

Perhaps you had to be there. The car with all those rattles, loud backfiring and laugh-a-minute number plates” was supplied by Mr Norris, whose greatest special effects triumph was now a mere two years in the future.

The play was produced by the Chief English Master at this time, Mr John Ward Roche, who had both an MA in English and a BSc in Economics from University College, London. He was nicknamed “Fishy” and he was a man of extraordinary energy. In School Drama, he instituted the Christmas form-play competitions, the best three plays going forward to be performed before the parents. This idea, slightly adapted to fit the circumstances, has been used throughout the High School ever since.

With “Knock”, Mr Roche was assisted by Mr Gregg, Mrs Roche, Mr Hubbuck the caretaker and his staff and the popular woodwork teacher, Mr Jack Mells. The School Magazine was suitably impressed:

“It is largely due to their efforts that the cast were able to give so satisfactory an account of themselves.”

Here is the full cast:

Overall, the play was stunning, despite Mr Roche having to get through a horrendous setback which occurred completely unexpectedly. One of the main actors had what is now, eighty years later, an unknown but extremely serious problem, most probably that of stage fright. Mr Roche decided to take the rôle himself. With only three days’ notice he had to learn all the lines and then play the part of Dr Parpalaid in addition to all of his many other commitments as the producer of the play. The review in the School Magazine said:

“He imparted to Dr Parpalaid, the rather vague, fussy and ineffectual country GP, the right air of admiration for, mingled with bewilderment at, his more successful, but doubtfully honest successor, Dr Knock.”

Here is Mr Roche:

All of the female parts were still, of course, filled by boys, so Mr Roche was in the rather uncomfortable position of being married, for the duration of the play at least, to sixteen year old Eric Richard Gale, who was “excellent” throughout. Much of this was because of his extremely elegant high heels. Eric was the probably mortified son of a civil servant from 19 North Road in West Bridgford. Here is Eric, looking both extremely pretty and rather seductive:

And here are what the Nottinghamian thought were high heels (bottom right):

Here is fourteen year old Philip Blackburn, looking every inch Knock’s beautiful nurse:

And here’s Anthony Oscroft from 7, Mount Hooton, playing the part of the hall porter:

Two of the cast were marked for death in the Second World War. Does it show in their eyes? This young man played the part of Madame Remy. He had only six years left of his tragically short life:

And this young man had one year fewer:

That terror, that anguish, it is there, isn’t it?

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (7)

Last time, we were looking at some poems from the book “These – Our Children”, by Anthony Richardson, published in 1943. I’d like to continue with that process.

The poem “Three went singing” is quite reminiscent of a previous poem called “There was an air gunner”:

In this poem, the three men, presumably fliers, are singing on their way back home down a country lane. Perhaps because they have been together in the pub, they are singing “Danny Boy” and other favourites.

“Dumpsy”, incidentally is a noun used in south west England to refer to twilight, and for Somerset folk it refers to “the quality of the light at dusk”. Sooo…. “the twilight is dusky”.

Other singers are better in various ways but slowly the three walk on and their voices grow first faint and then fainter still. The dusk grows dark and then darker until it swallows them up:

Clearly an almost mystical parallel with the fate of men lost on RAF operations. They are happy together as they laugh and joke, waiting to get into the aircraft and take off:

But then, Night claims them for her own and the men, whether three of them or seven, disappear and are lost for ever. Not even the tiniest stone retains an echo of their song . Night, aka Death, has them all in its grasp.

My last Richardson poem is called “To any Mother” and is simple to understand, even though it is “Poetry” and therefore may be perceived by many people as being way too difficult for them to enjoy. and indeed, nothing for them to be bothered with.

Here’s the beginning:

Then the poet asks if the mother taught her son what the parsons say, namely that it is just as easy for the spirit, the mind, to understand life at twenty as it is at eighty three:

So, it was not a dead end when he met “His Friend”, namely Death, because he also met his  comrades, his brothers from the crew, because they too, are now, all of them, dead.

And that discovery is no reason for misery.

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