Category Archives: Literature

What’s the School Play this year? (3)

In the late 1930s came four plays which more or less enshrined the High School’s “Golden Age of Female Impersonation”. The first of the four was put on in 1936. It was that well-known Shakespeare rib-tickler, “Twelfth Night”. Here is the full cast:

And here is a smaller selection, although, strangely, I can’t find every single one of them in the previous photograph:

They all look pretty good, more or less, at least until you manage to see them in close up. This young man will die in the outskirts of Dunkirk 1n 1940. He has only four years left of his young life. He has such a strange expression on his face. If I didn’t know better, I would say he was well aware of his imminent demise. Or perhaps it’s the famous “thousand yard stare”. Here’s the actor:

And here’s the “thousand yard stare”:

This pious “young lady” (below) will be one of the two hundred or more parachute troops who were drowned when their gliders crashed into the sea during Operation Husky, the disastrous attempt to invade Sicily with airborne forces. Does that knowledge that he has only seven short years to live show on his face, too?

In 1937 the School Play was “The Fourth Wall”, a detective story in three acts by A.A. Milne. It was a marvellous opportunity  to get your hands stuck into a pair of plus fours made from the R101 (left leg) and the Hindenburg (right leg).

And just look at that wonderful dress on the right. It’s so frothy, so summery, so YOU !  Warm evenings in August or even September. Perhaps good for dancing. Perhaps even a Charleston or ten.

And this time, they actually want you to wear it. Your Dad won’t go crazy and offer to lend you his jodhpurs. And for the first time ever, your sister will want to borrow one of your dresses.  

And just ;look at the seductive whites of that pretty young man’s eyes. And those cheekbones. Somebody out there really knows how to give make-up some “oooomph!” :

 

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (6)

Last time, we were looking at Anthony Richardson’s best book of World War Two RAF, Bomber Command, poetry:

The next poem is “Spring 1942” and it is dedicated “To Vera : who always understood”. Richardson talks in the first two verses of how nature changes things when Spring arrives. “Pellucid” means “translucently clear, (of music or other sound) clear and pure in tone”. This is a daffodil, a word which is actually Latin and comes from “asphodilus”.

The natural world is teeming with babies for every creature. He calls their children “reincarnation of themselves”. So many animals and birds are out and about that even the owl, who normally sleeps during the day, has stopped his dreaming.

So too has Man changed his dreams and gone back to all the vile things that he was doing before the winter. These ideas are expressed by choice of words, all negative “pillage”, “death”, “fear” and “rotten”.

The last verse tells how we are now spending all our time doing nothing but killing, until the “tainted chalice” that is our lives is completely full of “…that red wine which only comes from killing”:

The last poem in this book is called “The Toast” and I am going to present just a few lines from it, with a little bit of explanation.

The first section of the poem for the most part talks of the Englishman’s heritage as a warrior. Much of it, I struggle to understand fully. But by the end, the poet invites his audience to raise their glasses in traditional fashion:

Then comes a reference to Lord Nelson’s famous signal before the Battle of Trafalgar:

“England expects that every man will do his duty”

Interestingly that famous sentence was not Nelson’s own original thought. The story is told by Lieutenant John Pasco, his signal officer:

“His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, “Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY“ and he added “’You must be quick, for I have one more to make. “ I replied, “If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the “confides” for “expects” the signal will soon be completed, because the word “expects” is in the vocabulary, and “confides” must be spelt, “His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, “That will do, Pasco, make it directly.”

“Confides”, incidentally, means  “is confident that”.

Thus, at around 11:45 a.m. on October 21st 1805, the famous signal was sent.

Richardson wrote in his poem, 137 years later:

England this Day expects . . .

Let the World crumble, if one of us forgets !

Gentlemen !

A toast ! Upraise each hand !

England, that shall be ours, this English land !

England whose seas we held, whose shores we manned !

Skies of England ! Cliff and fell and coast!

Youth of England, Gentlemen, your Toast !

Gentlemen, upon your feet !

The time is meet

For England !

 

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What’s the School Play this year? (2)

Last time we had a brief look at The Dramatic Society’s production of Aristophanes’ “The Frogs” in 1924. Just look at those beards. And is one boy in the centre of the back row wearing a white burqa?:

Seven years later, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, February 23rd, 24th and 25th 1931, the School Play had been “She stoops to conquer”. Here is the cast who contain, perhaps, a few more convincing women than is usually the case. This is because, I suspect, the Dramatic Society were being forced to use many more young boys, not least because the School’s Sixth Form was much, much smaller  during the 1930s than it was to become, say, in the 1960s:

Any proceeds from the play, after the deduction of expenses, were used to help finance the Dame Agnes Lads’ Club in Norton Street in Radford.

Another popular School Play around this time was “The Rope”. Looking at the photograph below, it seems to have starred Borat and his balding brother. On a more serious note, the young “lady” on the left, within five or six years, will be killed trying to slow down the German advance towards Dunkirk:

This young man, Alfred Warren, was, in  actual fact, a most accomplished female impersonator. His first ever role was as Anna Waleska in “Andrew Applejohn’s Adventure”. Witness his review in the School Magazine:

“The School stage has rarely been graced by a more charmingly seductive figure than Anna Waleska. His performance was astonishingly good, especially when one remembers that it was his first appearance. He contrived to give to his impersonation just the right shade of exotic fascination, and if his accent was neither Russian nor Portuguese, it had at least a foreign quality and was sufficiently intriguing. This young man betrayed a knowledge of feminine wiles amazing in one so young, the manipulation of his eyebrows alone being worthy of a Dietrich. One can hardly blame Ambrose for becoming as wax in the hands of such a siren.”

Two years later, in GB Shaw’s “Captain Brassbound’s Conversion”, the School Magazine said:

“The presentation this term was an act more daring than any of its predecessors. There was only one person fitted for the: “prodigious task of portraying so gracious a personage as Lady Cicely. His voice, now at breaking point, just suited her position as mistress of Brassbound’s crew: his seductive manner fitted the beguiler of a dozen men. His part did not allow him this year the opportunity to display those feminine wiles of which, as Anna Waleska, he had shown himself so complete a master, but his expression, now wheedling, now indifferent, was no less successful in enticing the unfortunate victim into her trap. He perhaps tended to overdo that half crouching feline posture which he so often employed against Brassbound. Nevertheless, clad in exquisite garments, which must have cost the society a small fortune, he contrived to overcome the artificialities and discrepancies of Lady Ciceley’s rôle, and for that achievement alone he deserves high praise.”

The young man would not carry forward his talents into the worlds of either stage or screen. He will be killed “somewhere along a canal” near the village of Oostduinkerke, trying to slow down the German advance towards Dunkirk. Not every soldier with the British Expeditionary Force had a free trip back to Blighty:

 

 

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (5)

Last time, we were looking at some poems from the book “These – Our Children”, by Anthony Richardson, published in 1943:

“At a party” and “Grounded” are a pair of poems that go together.

In “At a party”, an heroic airman is in attendance, complete with his braid and his medal ribbon. But it was just fate, just luck, that saved his life. It was certainly not his own courage. Somehow Death fumbled and failed to pull him through the door.

The airman, though, does not have the appearance of anybody who has been so close to death that his past life has flashed past his eyes. But his companion knows nevertheless, that fear eats at his heart, that he has not yet managed to kill “those groping, grey cold thoughts” that would “paralyse his stubborn will” to do any more flying. Was she the only one to notice? Was she the only one to know that his cup was full, that he’d had enough, and that his lips were not laughing but anguished ?

“Grounded” is the poem where the airman, completely unable to carry on, has had to be taken off flying. Despite this, he does not have to stand aside. He has been forgiven by “these captains”, other heroes who understand that it is “no disgrace that boldly one confessed he was afraid!”

Members of Bomber Command, my own father included, were absolutely terrified of being thought a coward. This meant that they would have “LMF” stamped on their record. LMF stood for “Lack of Moral Fibre”, and it meant that you would be extracted from your airbase as quickly as was humanly possible, lest other pe0ple catch your infection. You might be sent to a psychiatric establishment, such as used to be at Rauceby Warren in Lincolnshire, for example. Nowadays, it’s a long abandoned building:

You might be posted to somewhere like the freezing cold rain- and sleet- lashed grey boring Outer Hebrides, Orkneys or Shetlands. Somewhere where you could be rained on, somewhere where you could experience cold, boredom and perpetual darkness:

In contrast, in the poem, “these captains”, are completely willing to have the frightened airman among their company because they know their own torments, and that “thus, but for God’s grace, goes any man?”

In actual fact, of the officers who survived the Bomber War, apparently 3% had been removed from flying because of LMF. That must have been quite a number of men. Being classified LMF signed a death warrant to any officers’ subsequent career in the RAF. And the RAF for their part took away the flying badge of any man with LMF “to prevent his getting a lucrative job as a pilot in civil life”.

“Black Marketeer” is self-evident. I know from my own father that the cowards who ran away from the war, and those who invented spurious health reasons not to be where the bullets were flying, were hated beyond belief by those who did their fighting for them. Even more hated were those who traded in forbidden goods such as whisky, cigarettes, petrol and so on. Most men in the RAF would not have hesitated in the slightest to have shot them, given half a chance. At the very least, they would have wanted their prison spell to have been twenty years in hell:

“Kites”, incidentally, is the RAF slang for aircraft, and “flak” is anti-aircraft fire, or, as the Germans so beautifully put it, “Flugzeugabwehrkanone”.

“Ground Crew” is another self-evident poem. The ground crew were the men who looked after the bombers and made sure that they would fly properly. Many of their duties are listed in the poem. In the second verse, the last two lines mean the occasions when the member of ground crew has to adjust the engines that make the aircraft fly:

Ground crew were normally called “erks” which was supposedly the Cockney shortened form of “aircraftman”. “Wings” are the badge of the pilot, and traditionally have a silver threepenny bit sewn behind them. A “gong” is a medal.

The member of ground crew, the “erk”, was the “ordinary man” whose contribution to the war was absolutely indispensable:

And finally, his hearing is so finely tuned that he can hear the first of the bombers to come back from the previous night’s raid:

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What’s the School Play this year? (1)

A high proportion of secondary schools in England put on an annual school play, and the High School, even back in the 1920s, was no exception. In the distant past, I have paraphrased the main problem faced by those who sought to put on a School Play, years before things changed for ever in the 1970s:

“The Dramatic Society would put on an annual play, usually, a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that Nottingham High School was for boys only, and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of satisfactorily filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

I also pointed out that even with the classics, the problems may only just be beginning. This photograph by the Reverend Stephens is from a post-war School Play, and shows one of the leading characters. The Reverend captioned it “Williams”, and, poor lad, Williams could almost stand there and represent fifty years’ worth of completely insoluble difficulties with School Plays. No matter how well he learns his lines, young Williams cannot change the size of his hands or the size of his feet or the firmness of his jaw-line:

Similar problems occurred in the same era with “The Rivals”. This was in 1953. Here is Miss Lydia Languish. Better hands, admittedly, (except for the knuckles) but that’s not a woman’s nose :

Here is Miss Julia Melville, perhaps the best so far:

And here is the famous Mrs Malaprop. Did you spot my malapropism in the previous post about Junior Plays?

What you can’t miss is that great wide barrel chest, ever ready to control a hard driven football. And look at that chin and that nose.  Those hands and those knuckles.

Things were no different by 1962 when Gogol’s “Government Inspector” came to call. Messrs Boyden and Taylor, try as they might, were still two strapping great lads, whether Russian Woman 1 was standing and Russian Woman 2 was sitting down :

Or whether Russian Woman 2 was standing and Russian Woman 1 was sitting down:

And just why does he/she have a table tennis bat? Both pictures, incidentally, come from the Reverend Stephens.

Just as a taster for next time, let’s think about some of the other problems faced by the School’s Dramatic Society. As we have seen, there were no girls from Nottingham Girls’ High School to play the female parts but, on occasion,  even the props and costumes could be rather unimpressive.

This is a very poor reproduction, by myself, of the School’s 1924 production of Aristophanes’ side splitter, “The Frogs”. I would contend that they should have called it “The Beards”. Or it could have been read out merely as “Black Beards 6 White Beards 2″. And while you’re trying to find all eight, don’t miss the two boys who are having to hold their badly behaved beards in place with their hands:

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (4)

We have been looking at the poetry of Anthony Richardson. His second book of poetry was “These – Our Children”, published in 1943. I think it’s his best work and I have found quite a few poems in it to show you:

The copy I bought, again for just a few pounds, had an inscription inside it. It reads, in a very shaky old man’s handwriting, rather like my own: “For Jean Eve from Charlie on the 30th anniversary of our Wedding. Jan. 20 1944”:

The first poem I selected is called “Aerodrome Landscape” and is exactly that…a portrayal of the empty flat landscape of a bomber base. Only a few words of vocabulary need explaining:

An armadillo I had never heard of, but Wikipedia says that it is

“an extemporised armoured fighting vehicle produced in Britain during the invasion crisis of 1940-1941. Based on a number of standard lorry (truck) chassis, it comprised a wooden fighting compartment protected by a layer of gravel and a driver’s cab protected by mild steel plates. Armadillos were used by the RAF Regiment to protect aerodromes and by the Home Guard.”

A primrose is a yellow flower that often appears in late winter.

As regards any technical terms, the perimeter-roadway is the concrete track that runs 360° around every airbase. Each bomber was left, when not in use, on its own “dispersal” point, often shaped like a frying pan, which was connected to the “peri-track” by a short concrete road. Bofors guns were used to defend airfields against German aircraft attacks. A Hudson is a two engined light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Wrack is seaweed that is placed on the shore by the waves, so presumably, “sky-wrack” is clouds, driven across the sky by the wind.

The same book, “These – Our Children”, contains “Aftermath”, which could equally well have been titled “Epitaph”.

The full title of the poem is “AFTERMATH (For Mac and his crew)”. It makes reference to a dead aircrew who are buried in Kristiansand, at least one of them being Scottish, or at the very least, having the Scottish name of “Mac Something”.

In today’s day and age, it is easy to trace to whom these details refer. Kristiansand is on the Skagerrak and is the fifth largest city in Norway. It lies, more or less, at the country’s southernmost tip. The Kristiansand Civil Cemetery has only twelve war casualties, just one of them being possibly “Mac”. This was Charles Peter Hope Maclaren, aged only twenty and killed on April 21st 1941. He was the pilot of an aircraft of 107 Squadron and came from Peebles, which is in the Scottish Borders region in southern Scotland. On the base of his grave is inscribed “His brave companions Sergeants Hannah and King have no known grave”:

The three men were in a Blenheim IV, Z5795, of 107 Squadron, RAF, of Leuchars in Fifeshire, operating as part of 18 Group. They took off at 1800 to perform a reconnaissance of the Norwegian coast. The Blenheim was piloted by Pilot Officer Maclaren, but they were shot down by enemy fighters and crashed into the sea. The pilot’s body was later washed ashore at Flekkero near Kristiansand, but no trace of his two comrades was ever found and their sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. 107 Squadron was normally part of Bomber Command but was on detachment to Coastal Command in early 1941.

Sergeant Anthony James Hannah was the observer. He was a New Zealander of only twenty and he was on his twelfth operation. The third member of the crew was Douglas Stevenson Hutcheon King, whose service number was 751304 but I could find nothing further about him, I’m afraid.

In the poem, Richardson introduces huge amounts of poetic licence. He talks as if Maclaren came from Dundee rather than Peebles. The Usk is a river, but strangely, in Wales. Fifeshire is a county near Dundee:

The question posed at the end, of course, is that if the dead men can still call to him “across two hundred miles of sea”. then how is it that they cannot “clasp our hands” across the thin veil between life and death?
I have spent the last six years researching the war casualties of the Old Nottinghamians, and a good many more, and this particular Blenheim is quite the most God-forsaken, long forgotten, aircraft, I have ever come across. Only one grave and two men lost for ever. No exact details of their mission, no exact details of who shot them down or how it happened. Nothing at all on the CWGC website about the two men who were never found. No ages. No parental details. No town of origin mentioned. The only detail I found out is that Mac was buried by some good Germans, who gave him a magnificent funeral with full military honours:

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What would you do ? (5) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

“There was only one possible thing the trapper could do. He shot one of the attacking wolves. The rest of the pack, ravenous with hunger, turned on the fallen beast. This gave the man time to make a dash for the safety of his cabin.”

The trouble is that I just don’t think that that would work. We know a lot more about wolves nowadays than we did in 1963. Wolves are known to be extremely loyal to one another and I cannot imagine that their first reaction to one of their number being shot would be to eat him, no matter how hungry they were. I know that a wolf will fight and kill a rival from another pack, but he would never eat him, even if he himself was starving. In that case, why would he devour a colleague from his own pack?

And they’re all so sweet and cuddly. Here’s Mummy Wolf:

And here’s Baby Wolf:

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