House Entertainments 1946
It was a Harrow County tradition, for many years, for the four school Houses to put on a show before Christmas. Here is the report, from The Gaytonian, of the House Entertainments for 1946, followed by some memories from Brian Hester:
"The House Entertainments are original." ... So says the note on the back of the programmes, and having read this, members of the audiences may have been not a little surprised when towards the end of the Welldon show they were treated to a liberal helping of "Variety Band-Box" and then a smaller excerpt from "Ignorance is Bliss," However, all is fair in love and House concerts and the writer only mentions the above facts, not because he demands "fair play" but rather because he is annoyed that his House did not have the idea first.
But surely there was more to it than that. Indeed there was. We were treated to a "costume melodrama" in which no punches were pulled and the plot moved quickly along. The story was simple enough as most good ones are, and the atmosphere was thoroughly "naughty-cal." But let no one assume that Welldon were "all at sea" - they knew what they wanted to do and what is more, they did it.
I am sure no one will grudge Pope hearty congratulations on a very fine performance as Captain Angus. His accent seemed (to a Sassenach at any rate) as genuine as the tartan he had borrowed. Everyone else in the cast backed him up magnificently. Pockett again played a female part: "Give a dog a name" ... As in the previous year, the Welldon costumes and the setting must have scored heavily. They probably inherit this "bent" from the design of their shorts.
Just to complete the farce, anachronisms abounded and the fun was fast and furious. All in all, it was a grand show and deserved its success. Yes, I'll have to write it--- "Well done---Welldon."
For the scene of their ambitious production, Preston recalled the haunts of "King Arthur and his Knights of the Card Table."
As Wizard Merlin and Sir Morbid plot to sell some of the Wizard's cough mixture, they decide that the crowds may be attracted by sticking the sword Escalliwag (Made in Japan!) into a rock, and proclaiming that who shall first pull Escalliwag out shall be made King of Gaytonia. As luck, and a series of accidents would have it, King Arthur is that fortunate person! Bang on! To mark the day, he decides to "institute a system of Knights," and enlisting the services of several gentlemen, knights them with due ceremony. Surely the time for a little celebration? Ah! a toast - "To King Arthur and his Knights of the Card Table - may they twist and never bust!" And so, after much horseplay, comes the high-light of the show, the Preston Band in their own soul-rending rendering of "You are my Sunshine."
Northwick House presented "Inside Information," a farce based on a prison in "Muddlesex." It opened with a shady individual appearing through the curtains brandishing a blunt instrument. He spoke to the audience, after all shrieks of horror had subsided, saying: "The prison has changed since you were there - you should see it now." He then disappeared and the curtains rose, disclosing various warders playing cards.
The wireless was on, and we heard Bing Poole Crosby, followed by the news - "a dangerous criminal has escaped." But the warders turned it off and planned to rob a jeweller's van, being interrupted by the new prison governor who addressed the staff (of warders). One warder (Oberst) was reading a shaggy dog story about a strangely familiar story - rather overdone. However, two electricians (Porter and Fox) made up for it by electrocuting everybody. Two convicts (Hollidge and Arnold) then recognised the "Guv" as a criminal; they plotted a robbery with him, the warders also plotting unobserved.
Suddenly a tiny convict (Whitmore) burst from his escape tunnel and ran off for his dinner being followed by the plotters. Then followed the Macbeth scene (Ellerby, Young, Whitmore). This was good (the armed head!) but needed elaboration. The next good touch was the Parliamentary delegation with the "Laber" M.P. (well portrayed by Phillips), who tried to form a Convicts' Union.
Policemen (Miles and Young) then appear, investigating a jewel theft and singing the "Gendarme Duet." They soon recognize the "Guv" as a criminal, but he evades capture by the convicts' escape tunnel, complete with his "Old Gaytonian" Scarf.
Mention must, of course, be made of the warder (Bannard) who progressively lost his garments and finished up the concert with "Who's pinched me script?"
There were many good points to the concert; but although some were marred by inattention to detail, Northwick House can be well congratulated on an enjoyable entertainment.
Kenton transported us to Sweeney Todd's barber's establishment, where Mr. Todd was up to his old trick of collecting corpses. However, instead of a dear old lady to help make the cries, we were introduced to a new character, Samson (by name if not by nature). This personage gave Mr. Todd many a helping hand in his "exploits."
Mr. Todd's subtlety must be admired for the way he obtained victims; namely, by asking the local Home Guard commander to send recruits needing a haircut. The extraordinary antics that these recruits performed rather left me in the air. Similarly for the disreputable person who kept wandering into the shop; he just didn't fit into the plot.
The end was retribution for Sweeney Todd; he was on the point of expiring when he realised the slip he had made.
On the whole, a creditable performance.
Brian Hester writes:
"The end of 1946 was my last year so I cannot be sure what transpired afterwards, but I believe these house concerts, which were Simpson's first, were also the last. The message in early January was that some of the turns were "not up to standard" and the whole concept of house concerts was being reconsidered. Each house put on a show lasting 20-30 minutes on each of three nights. Almost invariably each show was a parody in some way of school life.
"Mike Hornby and I wrote the Welldon one which was entitled "Mutiny on the County" with Page, cast as Captain Angus uttering such phrases as "a clear case for keel hauling'. Page had a cracking good Scottish accent and put on a good show but we were to learn later that he and Simpson had agreed mutually that he was to withdraw at the end of the term so we were on thin ice casting him!
"The concerts were always a lot of fun. I remember the curtain going up one year to reveal a group of knitters with a magnificent sweater with a long neck and everyone singing "We're knitting a sweater for Swanny..".
"The singing of the Gendarmes duet was a copy of what the Air Training Corp officers had performed at one of our dances a year earlier - Duke, Brister, Fooks and Robinson had sung the song without accompaniment to great applause. None of us was familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan at the time so it went over very well. From what I have read of Bigham's general behaviour I cannot imagine him participating in anything like that! The carnival aspect of the house concerts was clearly alien to Simpson's puritanical attitude to life and the practice was let go and apparently replaced with more formal staged shows."
(Editors note - there is no mention of House Concerts in The Gaytonian for the following year, 1947, although they took place again in 1948 and 1949).