Drama in Pontypool

 

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You might have seen the recent TV series where the question is asked: “What have we done to our kids?” I suppose the answers to this question are many and varied, but I think one answer we can give is that we have robbed them of their sense of imagination. Today, with TV and excellent computer graphics, we supply them with the pictures; they don’t need to use their own imaginations to create pictures in their minds.

I cut my reading teeth on magazines such as the Wizard, Hotspur etc. which I’ve written about previously. They usually had stories with one graphic incorporated in the title; the rest was reading material, and I remember being shocked later on to discover that some of those magazines had turned into picture strip comics. Now we wonder why one in five seven-year-olds cannot read!

When I was a young boy, I never needed to be called in to tea twice when I knew Uncle Mac would be reading another instalment of the Coot Club in Children’s Hour. I loved those stories by Arthur Ransome and, in my imagination, I witnessed every adventure of the Coot Club on the Norfolk Broads.

Although I think I must have been last in the queue when the acting talent was given out, I always seemed to be one of the children chosen for any play being performed in Town School. It started even in the Infants’ section when I was dragooned into being a herald. I had to stand at the side of the stage and shout out the names of the various characters as they came on stage. I didn’t get an Oscar for my performance but that didn’t stop me being picked as one of the characters in “The Pearl of Great Price” when I was in the Junior section. My enduring memory of that performance was not any of the acting but the action of one of the backstage hands. She was Joan, a girl in my class who was given the task of playing “In a Turkish Market” on a gramophone at a given spot in the performance in order to create an Eastern atmosphere.

The gramophone was one of those old wind-up affairs with a handle on the side. When fully wound it lasted long enough to play a 12 inch record. I was offstage during this part of the performance and was standing in the wings near Joan as she operated the gramophone. Sure enough, right at the appointed time, she wound up the gramophone, put the record on and the Eastern music floated out into Miss Brooks’ classroom. But for some reason I’ve never been able to fathom, Joan decided that, as soon as she’d wound up the gramophone and put the music on, it was also her duty to take the handle out. I saw her starting to struggle with the handle but all to no avail. It stubbornly refused to move. So she decided to turn it the opposite way in order to remove it. Unfortunately this had the effect of unwinding the gramophone, and several seconds later the Eastern music entered a very minor key getting flatter and flatter, and sadder and sadder as she, in desperation tried to remove the handle. The effect of all this was to cause a titter amongst those of us standing in the wings which developed into raucous laughter from the audience, who, fortunately, were mainly sympathetic parents.

At Park Terrace Methodist Sunday School I was invariably required to take part in the annual Nativity Play. For some reason unknown to me, I always seemed to be cast as one of the shepherds. I started off as a shepherd boy but did eventually get promoted to a full-blown adult shepherd when I was older. But I always cast envious eyes on the glamorous wise men in their very colourful costumes. I always wondered why shepherds only wore potato sacks which, as far as I was concerned, definitely lacked both colour and glamour. However, when I was a little older, I did manage to graduate to become a wise man.

My brothers and I had an Aunt Gwen, Uncle John and cousin John Plumley who lived at 13 Club Row up the Tranch. Often on Sunday, after Sunday School, we were invited there to tea. Aunt Gwen always provided generous helpings of food and we loved going there. After tea we went into the front room to play games. Sometimes a young lad named Billy Challoner was also invited to tea and he was very keen on drama. As there was a bay window at the front of the house with curtains to draw across to keep out the draught, Billy would often organise some sort of dramatic performance using the bay window and curtains as the “stage”. He was a real hoot but was so enthusiastic, with a vivid imagination, that we all went along with his dramatic exploits. Often our audience of two were doubled up with uncontrollable laughter. 

Despite my less-than-enthusiastic forays into the world of drama, my friend Eric Smith and I, together with his cousin, Royce Pritchard, decided to let our imaginations run riot and build our own mini-theatre in Eric’s backyard. By using a combination of a clothes horse, a few blankets, a few lengths of wood and some rope we managed to construct two curtains to pull across and a concealed passage across the back of the stage which gave us access to Eric’s kitchen and entry to the far side wings.

We managed to get hold of a small book of dramatic sketches, some of which were humorous, which appealed to us. We persuaded our mothers to let us borrow some clothes to use as costumes. One of the items was a woman’s dress and we bullied Royce into playing this part. Then we needed an audience so we went to call on other boys we knew whom we played with from time to time. We knew they would most certainly not be prepared to part with any cash to see our show so we decided to let them pay in cigarette cards. This display of generosity gave us an audience of five or six.

All went well as we kept the audience interested in our jokes and sketches. Then came the main item, our sketch with Royce playing the part of a woman. It was meant to be funny and when Royce appeared in his dress there were huge guffaws all round. Then came the part when he had to sit on a chair, and the boys in the audience erupted into uncontrollable mirth. Eric and I were rather puzzled by this as it wasn’t meant to be a funny part of the sketch. However, we afterwards discovered that when Royce put on the dress he omitted to wear his underpants.

So I suppose our real claim to dramatic fame was to introduce X certificate drama ten years before the rest of the country.

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One Response to “Drama in Pontypool”

  1. peter jefferys Says:

    I submitted a comment on the West Mon story about the sad drowning, but forgot to give my complete e-mail address I forgot the number 1 which should follow my name, in the hope that I may get a reply.

    My address is peterjefferys1@tiscali.co.uk I am not sure how to get this corrected.

    Can you help on this? Regards

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