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?