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The Seventies - Part One 1970 - 1975
By this time I had also joined Ricky Players and during rehearsals had got to know Tony Jaffe. We became very good friends and still are to this day. Tony was an entrepreneur par excellence and had recently built a large and ultra modem house in Radlett. Called “Skybreak” it was built at the side of a small bungalow which Tony had bought primarily for the 2.1/2 acres that went with it. “Cushy” was the name of the bungalow.
Tony had rented it to a group of students from Handley Page but was far from happy with his tenants and knowing of Mollie’s and my plight offered to rent it to us for a nominal sum. We went over to look at one dark and windy March night. Frankly it looked pretty grim. This inside was in very poor condition, dirty and somewhat smelly. Outside the garden was like a wilderness. However love will overcome all. We agreed to take it. The deal was that we would pay only £10 per week but in return for this low rent we would renovate both inside and outside at our expense.
The Big Move
Radlett is a village in Hertfordshire located some 15 miles north of London. It straddles what was a major trunk road, the A5, or Watling Street as it is known. This old Roman road used to be one of the main arteries from London to the North West. With the advent of the Motorway network it has long since ceased to be a main highway. It has even been re-numbered and now bears some totally unremarkable four digit number. A regressive and unnecessary piece of bureaucracy in my opinion! In 1970 the population of Radlett was around 17,000. It had been quite famous for the Handley Page aircraft factory situated just to the north of the village on the A5. Due to a downturn in the British aircraft industry Handley Page finally closed it’s doors in the early seventies. Today Radlett is primarily a dormitory for London and to a lesser extent for Watford.
More about “Cushy”
CUSHY The Warren, Radlett was built in 1948. The Williams family were market gardeners and owned a large part of the land forming the east side of the Warren. They gradually sold off lots for building and left themselves with the 2.1/2 acres at the northern end upon which stood the three bedroom bungalow known as “CUSHY”. It is believed that it acquired it’s name though one of the William’s business’s, bicycle saddle manufacturing. They produced the first rubber padded seat and reputedly named it “The Williams Cushy Saddle”. Apparently it was a great success and Cushy was built with the profits. Tony and Shirley Jaffe bought Cushy in 1968. At that time Tony was successfully running Polyfoto and they moved from their small house in Elstree to build their dream home in Radlett. Since Cushy stood on 2.1/2 acres there was plenty of room for “Skybreak” as it was called, to be built next door. Having moved into Skybreak Tony rented Cushy to a group of Handley Page students. Naturally the students were not particularly “house proud” and the property was allowed to decline badly. The interior was incredibly filthy and outside the garden was a wilderness. When Mollie and I first saw it in the late winter or early spring of 1970 it presented a somewhat depressing sight. But we were desperate and here at least was an opportunity to set up some sort of home. Furthermore the price was right. Tony agreed that for the trivial sum of £10 per week we could rent Cushy on the understanding that we would renovate both the house and garden at our expense. This would enable Tony to sell it in a year or so’s time. We jumped at the chance even though I think at the time neither Mollie nor I could imagine living in what seemed to be a hovel!. The house itself was a double fronted bungalow and by the time Skybreak had been built it (Cushy) was left with a lot of approximately 1/2 acre. The house was set well back from the road and protected by a high laurel hedge along the front. A downward sloping drive led to the single garage and also extended round in front of the house. The front door led to a small but pleasing hall, to the right was the single living room about 14 foot square with a bay window. Behind the living room was an extremely large kitchen with windows all along the back. The view from these windows was across fields and rolling hills, there were no houses behind us at all. The kitchen had obviously been more than one room at some time but the walls had been removed. It was now some 15 feet long and about 8 feet wide. Along the back of the house and to the left the kitchen was a good sized 3 piece bathroom and next to that a single additional W.C. Completing the back wall was the master bedroom, this also enjoyed the same rural views as the kitchen. There were two other bedrooms to the front of the house, one double and one single. From the hall there was a loft ladder to gain access to a further bedroom built into the roof plus an unfinished room which I originally used as a workshop but which later became just a storage area. The house had central heating, comprising a few antiquated cast iron radiators fed by a fairly modern gas fired boiler (furnace) in the kitchen. Behind the single garage there was a brick built workshop which I eventually re-finished making it very cosy with a couple of work benches and shelves etc. As I’ve remarked several times everything was in a pretty poor state of repair. Several windows were broken, incidentally they were all genuine leaded lights, some were too far gone to be repaired and had to be replaced with plain glass. A pity really but the cost of repairing leaded lights was prohibitive for us.
When we moved in; the back yard (garden) was just grass and sloped evenly down to a yellow privet hedge at the bottom. There were the remains of an old steel greenhouse and it’s foundations halfway down the right hand side of the garden and immediately behind the workshop several dilapidated coal bunkers. A narrow concrete path ran down the right side of the garden past the greenhouse, through the privet hedge and to an old “Nissen” hut which was actually in Tony and Shirley’s garden. The left hand side of the garden was bounded by a tall laurel hedge.
Still more about Cushy
The pictures above show some of the stages of the landscaping of the back garden of Cushy. It all started on Saturday afternoon when I was sitting having lunch in the kitchen and gazing at the extremely boring and dull back garden. I had nothing to it since we moved in and suddenly I saw it all - the pathways, the terrace (patio) the pond, the vegetable garden and so on. I did a quick sketch and on Monday started negotiations with the owner of a back hoe to come and change all the levels. I have to admit that 30 something years later (at the time of writing this segment) I don't remember the exact process and certainly don't remember the amount of work involved. However id did get done and as witnessed by the "Finished" picture above it was totally transformed. In 2006 we re-visited Cushy and thanks to the courtesy of the son of the new owners we had an opportunity of looking round both the house and garden. Stuart took some pictures a few of which are below...
During the late 60’s and early 70’s I found myself increasingly involved in Amateur Dramatics with particular reference to musical productions. The next section covers these adventures and although its not strictly in chronological order it does form a sequential history of my “am dram” activities.
I suppose I’ve always had a frustrated desire to get on a stage and make a fool of myself. My big problem was my inborn inferiority complex. This statement may be hard for the reader to justify if they know me now. And yet deep down inside there is still the “little boy” who is very unsure of himself. Of course I’ve acquired a thick veneer of self confidence and to an outsider they would be certain that I didn’t even know the meaning of inferiority.
My first memorable foray onto a stage was around 1938 or 39 when my father took me to the Golders Green Hippodrome to see “The Great Lyell”. This was an illusionist show with all kinds of things like sawing a lady in half, disappearing people, chains and locks and all that kind of thing. We were there because Pop had free tickets from his friends Rawicz & Landauer. the duo pianists. who were appearing on the same bill. We sat in the second row of the stalls and dead centre. There came a point in the performance when the great man needed the assistance of someone from the audience. Whether or not it was a put up job I will never know, but I was selected. Wearing my dark blue school overcoat I ascended the steps and onto the stage. Shaking with fright I stood next to the great man continuously buttoning and unbuttoning said overcoat. He was immensely amused at this activity and stood peering round and down at my fumblings. This brought shrieks of laughter from the audience. I think that was the moment that I instinctively felt the joy of audience reaction. The trick that I so ably assisted with involved a pocket watch, a silver revolver and a rabbit, the exact sequence eludes me. I know I nearly screwed the whole thing up when he handed me the supposed watch wrapped in a handkerchief and asked me to confirm it was still in there. It no more felt like a watch than a piece of plastic or cardboard. I paused should I tell the truth and saw that it didn’t feel like the watch. Something told me that if I did I’d probably be killed or made to disappear! I was only 6 or 7 after all! I took the line of least resistance and confirmed the watch’s presence. I felt that the least he could have done to reward me was to give me the silver revolver...needless to say all I got was an autographed photo of him. After all he was quite famous in those days
My next appearance on the boards was at the age of 15 during the time that I was a member of the Air Scouts. For some reason we sang ‘Nellie Dean”, I was amongst the singers. The only abiding memory I have is that there was a girl in the audience whose eye I caught, it was love at first sight. She left shortly after the performance and I never saw her again!.
There was some activity at school for some dreadful sketch, something about a doctors office. It got completely out of hand and was a disaster. It was not until 1968 that I joined Ricky Players. Mollie had been in a couple of shows, a 20’s review and a play in which absolutely no one knew their lines!. She then performed in “Little Mary Sunshine” and it was seeing this that decided me on joining. In those days you had to audition to become a member. This fearsome ordeal took place in front of the committee and you were required to sing a bit, read a bit and act a bit. I chose “Luck be a Lady” from “Guys & Dolls” for my audition piece. This was to be the next show so it seemed appropriate. Mollie helped to rehearse and in due course the dreaded night arrived. To say I was nervous would he the understatement of the age. Unknown to me they were so desperate for men that the whole audition was just a formality.
The Rickmansworth Players
Guys & Dolls
Dawn Spence was the producer (director) for Guys and Dolls a very talented and fearsome lady. She was able to reduce grown men almost to tears with her biting sarcasm during rehearsals. The net result was a tight well rehearsed show with everyone doing their absolute best. My part in Guys and dolls was that of one of the gangsters, I can’t remember what my character was called but I do remember that I had a few lines and of course sang in the chorus. These annual shows of Ricky Players were performed for a whole week at the Palace Theatre in Watford. This was an opportunity to “play” at being a professional performer and in fact for this, my first show, I took the week off from work, rose at a late hours, bathed and arrived at the theatre in good time to get into costume and made up. I loved every minute of it even thought it was very nerve racking.
A Heavy Dragoon
Each year Ricky performed a G & S (Gilbert & Sullivan) Operetta. This was performed in a local village hall at Croxley Green and not on the stage of the Palace. The stage was, naturally very much smaller with extremely limited facilities. However G & S productions lend themselves to this kind of facility. Instead of a full orchestra in the pit, we had to be satisfied with a piano and drums set on the hall floor to the left of the stage (stage right). My first G & S was Patience the story of a ward of court, Phyllis, played by Mollie in love with Strephon a young man who was half a fairy (the mythical sort!) played by Paul Unrau who was a Canadian living in the UK.. I was one of the Heavy Dragoons and performed resplendent in a full period costume including a brass helmet. This was a good show to do as a first since we spent almost the entire second act in the dressing room and only appeared for the final of the show. We had some good songs in the first act that more than made up to this enforced “rest”. I also played the same part in the Radlett production about which more later.
The second Palace Theatre show was Desert Song written by Sigmund Romberg in 1926. This show has some real classic tunes and was also a delight to perform. I played a “marauding riff” in other words a member of the male chorus. I believe we also doubled as soldiers of the Foreign Legion which involved an extremely quick change of costume. I have no outstanding memories of this show.
My third show at the Palace was Calamity Jane. An American musical based Energetic musical about the unlikely romance of famed Western tomboy Calamity Jane and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok. Written by Ronald Hanmer and Phil Park from the stage play by Charles K. freeman after The Warner Bros. Film written by James O'Hanlon Movie of 1953. This was my famous “one liner” show. It seemed that whenever the script called for some kind of one line statement from some insignificant member of the chorus, Dawn gave it to me. Trying to keep these multitude of brief lines in order and remember when to shout them out really taxed my limited thespian ability. Well known tunes include, “The Deadwood Stage, The Windy City, The Black Hills of Dakota and of course Doris Day’s great hit “Secret Love”.
Then the big event “Tenderloin” Nick Thorogood had come across an LP of the original Broadway cast recording of this Harnick & Bock Musical. They were the ones who wrote Fiddler on the Roof He was so impressed by the score that he wrote to the authors agents in the USA and by some miracle obtained a complete hand written score and libretto. After much negotiation Ricky Players obtained permission to Premiere the show in Europe. No mean achievement for an amateur group. There are some fantastic musical numbers in Tenderloin and it has always amazed me that it wasn’t produced professionally in England. The story revolves around that part of New York City, on Broadway known as “The Tenderloin”, which was famous for prostitution and police corruption. An unlikely tale for a musical perhaps but it lends itself to all kinds of interesting characters and situations. There is for example the ‘smart alec reporter’ who joins a reform group to try and get closer to the light of his eye, the leading lady. The local vicar is the head of the reformers and his protagonist is the corrupt and slimy chief of police. John Eacer played Tommy the reporter. Iris Dey; Laura Crosby, a society broad! Ron Wood was the vicar Reverend Brock and Peter Boffin was the chief of police, Lieutenant Schmidt. Tony played a bumbling country hick, Joe Kovacs who is taken for a ride by the hookers in the brothel and just about everyone else. The ‘Madame’ or head whore as we affectionately called her was played by Julia Hill, a school teacher by profession, she thoroughly relished her temporary role. I played Aloysious Dupont-Smythe the Second, Laura’s boy friend. As such I had two whole lines and then exited to change into one of the chorus and play various bit parts with a few lines as well as being one of Dawn’s dancers. Yes I danced, and how I danced. We had extra rehearsals every Sunday for limbering up and exercising. The dance routines were extremely energetic and complex. One involved a race in the brothel with the men carrying scantily clad girls on their shoulders. My “rider” turned out to be a particularly athletic young lady who loved horse riding. I can still feel her thighs tightening around my neck urging me on as if I were a stallion!
We received a great deal of publicity in both local and national press and the opening night was quite a gala affair with many dignitaries from show biz attending The B.B.C. broadcast an interview with Nick on it’s early morning magazine program and it seemed as if Ricky Players were destined for great things. An obscure impresario suggested that he take the entire company to the West End and put the show on. Needless to say nothing transpired. The excuse being that there were no free theatres at the time. One thing that came out of all this publicity was our appearance on Television.
There was and for that matter may still be for all I know, a program called “Opportunity Knocks” on commercial TV in England. It was sponsored and hosted by Hughie Green, a Canadian broadcaster and entertainer. This program ‘showcased’ amateur and sometimes professional talent The various acts were adjudicated by the amount of applause from the studio audience. We decided it would be good publicity for the show and also Ricky Players if we were able to do a short except from Tenderloin. We approached the TV company and they asked us to audition. A small group of the company went to Chelsea Barracks on a Sunday morning; Dawn had selected a few well chosen excerpts and choreographed them into an interesting five minute performance. We were all as nervous a hell, but we must have hit a chord somewhere. Whereas most other acts that day were given the usual “thank you we’ll let you know”, we were signed up on the spot.
Rehearsals for the TV performance were most exciting and were held at the studios in Shepperton. We had one full day of rehearsing followed by the taping next day. Surprisingly we won the top spot in the program and had to repeat the performance for an all winners program a few weeks later. It was a great insight into how TV shows are put together, for example the orchestra, conducted by Wally Stott, was located on the third floor of the building, whilst we performed on the ground floor. We watched the conductor on TV monitors strategically located above our heads and heard the sound through enormous speakers on castors that were wheeled around in front of us. The set they built for us puzzled us somewhat since it stopped short just above head height. In order to give the illusion of a top to the walls and a ceiling the camera shot through a fixed glass screen on which was painted the wall tops and decorative ceiling. This fake scenery was carefully lined up and when seen on the screen was indistinguishable from the real thing. One of the most dramatic memories was of Hughie Green himself. He was famous for his incredible ability to ad lib with the introducers or sponsors of the acts. He would have a short chat with each before the acts were presented. In our case Nick Thorogood or Dawn, I forget which made appropriate noises In answer to Hughie’s ad lib questions. At least we thought they were all ad lib until the day of the taping. We had rehearsed all morning and taping was scheduled for 2 pm. At 5 minutes to 2 Hughie walks in, made up and ready to go. This was the first we had seen of him. He obviously had no idea what acts were in the schedule and then completely ‘blew’ his spontaneity by complaining bitterly that he had left his glasses in the car and couldn’t read the Teleprompter. This latter is a machine fixed to the front of each camera that enables the speaker to read his lines whilst looking directly at the camera. Every word, every sharp and witty crack
had been previously scripted for him. Hughie just walked in, read it and left with equal promptitude. Whilst this somewhat shattered one’s illusions about the man; you had to admire his sheer skill at being able to just walk in like that and make it sound totally spontaneous.
So much for Tenderloin. It was a great success and we all enjoyed it immensely. However it seemed to “drain” everyone and Ricky Players seemed to go down hill thereafter. I was only involved in one more production with them. This was a one act play called “Play Strindberg”. A clever piece that again called for complex sound effects. Produced by T.H.E. Craigs ( alias Hazel and Allan Craig) I was responsible for both making and running the fx tape. We performed the play several times winning many early heats of the One Act Festival. We reached the semi finals but were just beaten by some local group. We were performing “away” somewhere in South London!, and we suspected local partisanship.
During my membership of Ricky Players I inevitably got very involved in the running of the Society. Within a year of joining I was voted onto the committee and held various positions thereon for many years. I helped build the new scenery store, a considerable steel framed structure that stands to this day. We spent many hours digging the foundations, shovelling gravel for the underfloor, humping ready mixed concrete etc. I designed and built the wardrobe room with the help of Richard Lacey Smith. I was Chairman of the 200 club, a fund raising lottery. I also helped build sets for the various productions and learned a great deal about set design. Life was very full indeed. All this happened at the same time as Mollie and I were “courting”. As we were both members it suited us very well.
Radlett Light Opera Society - The beginning
In 1971 Tony and Shirley and Mollie and I decided to form Radlett Light Opera Society. We were somewhat disenchanted with Ricky and the journey to and from Radlett to Ricky for rehearsals etc. was becoming very arduous. We put an advert in the library; it read something to the effect...
Anyone interested in forming a Light Opera
Group in Radlett please come to a meeting
at SKYBREAK the Warren on -- March 1972 at 8.00 pm
On the appointed evening 41 persons turned up, several armed with music and scores. R.L.O.S. was formed that very night, a committee constituted, the first show decided on, a Musical Director appointed and a date for the first performance set for November of the same year. Tony would produce (Direct) The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan. Not only Direct but also play one of the leading parts, Marco! and be Chairman of the Society. I was in charge of Scenery, Lighting etc., Rosina Oram was Wardrobe Mistress and so it all fell into place. Really quite a miracle, especially when you consider that Radleft had a Population of only 17,000 in 1972.
The creation of “Gondoliers” was yet another miracle. A large proportion of the cast had never performed on stage before let alone in a musical. Several came from local Church choirs and were good singers, however when faced with having to act and move whilst singing several proclaimed it to be impossible!. One dear lady who shall be nameless (initials L.E-L.) suggested that to help both producer and cast to organise the movements; each member of the cast should wear a number, something like and athletes track number. At appropriate times the producer would call out something like “two paces downstage number 27” or “follow number 36 off number 3”. Imagine the chaos. Half of them didn’t even know the difference between stage left and upstage. We persevered. Giles, our M.D., did sterling work, firstly with the chorus and then with the orchestra. The latter was again recruited or perhaps press ganged would be a better word from all kinds of local sources. Giles was determined that the show should not “drag”. The result was the fastest Gondoliers on record. It is to his credit (Giles) that despite it’s breakneck pace the words were all beautifully clear and one local paper remarked this fact in it’s review. They also pointed out that the stage was a “trifle crowded”. Said stage measured approximately 25 feet square with a proscenium arch of only 19 feet. There were no wings to speak of, only 2/3 feet each side. Flying scenery was impossible as the roof was gabled above the stage. Dressing rooms comprised four tiny rooms, two on each side of the stage. There was no way of getting from one side of the stage to the other except across the stage itself or through the auditorium. To manage 3 5/40 people on this tiny stage was no mean feat. But we managed.
I designed and built the Gondoliers’ set with help from Stanley Cohen. The Cohens were building a large extension onto the back of their house and in it’s unfinished state it made a perfect scenery shed. We made flats from 1” x 2” timber nailed at the corners with thin spikes and covered with coloured felt. This gave us a light and easily erected structure. The two sets for Gondoliers are;
Act 1: The Piazzetta, Venice
Act II: Pavilion in The Palace of Barataria.
My sets were “representational”. Act I was basically monochrome, white painted cut out plywood arches and mooring poles were strategically placed against black flats down each side of the set. The Cyclorama, covered with pale blue felt had a large cut out skyline of Venice at eye level. A row of 18” rostra and steps completed the picture. When the colorful costumes were added the effect was extremely good. Good enough to warrant a whole paragraph in the local paper.
Act II required a throne and a general air of a palace. Again representation was the order of the day. We begged borrowed or stole a large wing chair from somewhere, painted it gold and draped some red and blue fabric around. I cut out a plywood crown and this was “flown” over the whole scene. Again simple but effective.
“a great deal of credit was due to the striking, imaginative and well conceived scenery designed by Richard Myers. The first act, portrayed in black and white, was symbolic of the gondolas of Venice. The second, rich with crimson, depicted the splendour of the palace of Barataria”
Quote from local paper review
The Great Lighting Escapade
One of our major problems was lighting. Funds were virtually non-existent as we had no income apart from the initial membership fees and a few donations from well wishers. Thus we were unable to hire (rent) lights. Radlett Players, the long established drama group kindly lent us their antiquated “board” and few somewhat dim lanterns. Whilst these were totally adequate for plays they were equally totally inadequate for a musical production. The requirements for the latter, in terms of sheer output, are many times that of the former It was the day before dress rehearsal, Monday to be precise. We planned to open on Wednesday with the dress on Tuesday. The set, such as it was, was in place. Tony came down and inspected the lighting. Hopeless he declared. Nobody would be able to see what was going on. My assistant, Don and I didn’t know what to do. As Radlett is next door to Elstree, the then centre of the TV & Film studios I suggested that perhaps we could ask one of them if they would lend us some lights. Incredible cheek!. We climbed into my car, a bright orange Capri with tail fins and a shade on the rear window. The significance of this will become apparent in a moment. We rushed over to ATV in Elstree. As we drove up to the security barrier it opened as if by magic and the guard saluted us. Strange we thought! Into the parking lot only to find the only other bright orange Capri in the area already parked there. Obviously the guard had assumed we were the owner of the other car who was a member of the staff and as such could be admitted without query.
We timidly entered the elegant and spotless foyer. An equally elegant and spotless receptionist looked us over with obvious disdain. I should mention here that we were in our scenery togs, dirty paint stained shirts and jeans. “Yes?” she deigned to inquire. I took the bull by the horns. “We are from Radlett Light Opera Society” and we would like to talk to someone about renting or borrowing some lighting equipment”. She was somewhat taken aback by this forthright and positive approach.
“I’ll see if I can get someone to help you” she said coolly. Picking up the intercom she cooed into it “There are two persons here from some opera society about lighting”. Her eyebrows elevated slightly and she said” very well” and hung up. “Someone will be out to see you.. take a seat” We preferred to stand and quaking slightly I wondered exactly what I should say. A pleasant lady appeared and said “Mr (I’ve forgotten his name) Head of Lighting will be pleased to see you in his office, please come this way”. We followed into the hallowed halls of ATV. We were shown into a large office with an equally large executive desk at one end, the occupant rose, came forward smiling and proffered his hand. “Hi! how can we help you ?”
I explained who we were and our predicament. “I’ve got good news for you” said the head of ATV lighting. “Sir Lew Grade (he was chairman of ATV) has instructed all of his executives to help local societies such as yours as much as possible. “Come with me”. We were taken through studios and all kinds of interesting areas not normally seen by lay people such as us, we ended up in a large room the floor of which was literally covered with stage lights of all kinds. “You’ll need a couple of four gangs that should see you all right. We don’t use them anymore so help yourselves”. It was like Aladdin’s cave. He then gave us spare bulbs, gels, cables and a pass to get us out of the gate. It was at that point he asked just how exactly we’d got through the gate. I explained about the car. It turned out the other orange beast belonged to a senior executive and naturally the guard didn’t even notice who was driving.
We rushed back to Radlett hall and erected out new gained treasures. Talk about “Let there be light”. Tony was delighted. We had a little trouble with the amount of current drawn by these TV monsters and I believe we ended up with hairpins across the fuses to stop them blowing. Also the heat generated was pretty formidable especially on that small stage with a cast of 35.
R.L.O.S. was well and truly off the ground. We played to packed houses. Incidentally the seating was all level at this stage and if I remember correctly we could only accommodate around 100 souls. We made a little money and were able to plan our next production. The Committee decided that we should do two productions a year. A G & S in the autumn and an operetta in the Spring. Since the first production was in the Autumn and was G & S we had to do an operetta in Spring of 1973. Tony had long wanted to play the tenor lead in “Die Fledermaus”. So that was it. An ambitious second effort. It was not without it’s problems Not the least of which was the departure, one week before opening night of Brian Rose who was playing Frank the prison governor. He departed under something of a cloud there being some doubt about funds for publicity. With one week to go Nick Thorogood, of Ricky fame, was co-opted into the role. Tony coached him almost 24 hours a day. His resulting performance stole the show. The finished product had both strengths and weaknesses. It was really far too ambitious for such a ‘young’ group.
Trial and Pirates
In the fall we did “Trial by Jury” and “Pirates of Penzance”. The latter was directed by Dawn Spence, also of Ricky. I stage managed and Mollie played the lead, Mabel. I still think this was one of our best efforts. I have recently listened to the tape; badly recorded since we were still experimenting with microphone positions and so on, It stands the test of time without a doubt. The Pirate King was played by a Chartered Accountant with absolutely no experience at all. Harvey was totally at home in the role and has been a staunch supporter of the Society ever since those early days. Mollie was just perfect as Mabel, in my opinion better than some so called “professionals”.
Shirley Jaffe produced “Iolanthe” in May 1974. Mollie played Phyllis and was, as ever superb, again I stage-managed. We did two G & S productions in sequence as the committee decided the larger operetta production would be better done in the fall. lolanthe saw some innovations in Radlett hall. We sought and got permission from the local council to make some minor structural alterations to the hall. We erected a lighting bar across the auditorium, this enabled much better lighting effects. We now had sufficient funds to rent proper lighting from Strand Electric. The next stage, initiated for La Belle Helene was to install our own control panel and a suitable cable to the back of the hall. This made it possible for the lighting man to see the effect of his changes from “out front”. Previously he was positioned on stage, but out of sight, and it was virtually impossible for him to judge effects.
La Belle Helene
La Belle Helene involved the most complex set to date. Produced in the fall of 1974 it was a most lavish affair. Neither Mollie or I were involved in the actual performances. I had to be away on business during the week of the show and Mollie was recovering from surgery. However I did design and supervise the building of the set. Designed with reversible flats we were able to portray the three scenes required, without the audience realizing (I hope) exactly how it was achieved. The climax of the action comes when Paris, disguised as a soothsayer, arrives on his boat to carry Helen away. We more or less succeeded with the aid of some sliding flats and one of my “representational” boats. By this time I was filming the shows as well as taping them. In the dress rehearsal of Belle Helene the flats stuck to the stage and it was only with great heavings and strainings on the part of the cast that Paris was made to appear astride the focsle of his ship. This incident is captured for posterity on my film. As I mentioned, I was away for most of the actual performances but managed to get back to see the end of the Friday night performance. I walked into the hall just as the cast are all onstage to welcome the arrival of the kings. The effect of seeing all the color and hearing the singing and orchestra was positively devastating. Tony came down the aisle and we clung to each other with tears streaming down our cheeks. I suppose that’s what Am-Drams are all about.
We planned to do Yeoman of the Guard in April 1975 but found out that Bushey was doing it and that it would be presented at Elstree Civic Centre. So we made a rapid change of plans and decided on Patience. This is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s slightly lesser known operettas. Just recently it has been enjoying something of a revival. It is certainly a leader when it comes to music and singing. Mollie performed the title role with a “Dorset” accent. The review in the local paper said;
“Mollie Myers, as Patience could not have
been better cast Her dizzying naiveté’
was a joy to behold, and her sweet voice
fitted the role exactly.”
By now Stanley Cohen and I had got the recording technique down to a fine art and we took the precaution of recording at least two performances of each production. I had also improved my filming techniques although still severely limited by the Super 8 medium. Nonetheless I have some enchanting visual records of our cavortings. I have since added sound to them and although it is not in sync, it helps to recapture the atmosphere of the proceedings.
One of my favourite Operettas has always been Franz Lehar’s “Merry Widow”. I cherished a ‘boxed set’ performance sung in German with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in the leading role. Many times I sat in a darkened room listening to that lilting romantic music and was transported to the Pontevedrian embassy in Paris. I finally persuaded the committee to have a go at it as R.L.O.S.’s Fall 1975 production. This lavish show called for some innovative thinking regarding the staging. We had long since built a temporary 4 foot extension for the front of the stage. This strange erection of Dexion and chipboard was installed for each show. However it wouldn’t work for Merry Widow. I redesigned the front of the stage putting the Orchestra to one side and building an angled extension out into the auditorium on the other. This extension linked up with a false wall built out from the front of the proscenium arch and thus to the front door of the dressing rooms. In this way we had a much larger area to play with as well as another entrance and exit downstage left. Also by this time I had designed and built, again from the redoubtable plywood, a system of portable raked seating. This not only increased the seating capacity to 180 but also allowed the people at the back to see properly. At one time we considered excavating the area in front of the stage to make an orchestra pit but abandoned this as being too complex. It is interesting to note that Radlett Hall was originally built as a Cinema and did in fact have a raked floor. However when it was converted to a multipurpose hall they (the Council presumably) raised the front of the floor to level it all out. This “raising” meant that the stage was only 19” above the floor, a further limitation to our activities.
But I digress. Back to “The Merry Widow”. The plot calls for a large staircase to be built on stage to simulate the interior of the Pontevedrian embassy. Act two however requires the action to be in the Gardens of Madam Glawari’s Residence. Act three is the same as Act two but dressed ala Maxim’s. To make such an elaborate transition from Act Ito Act II proved to be impossible on Radlett stage. I opted for a large and impressive staircase that was firmly nailed to the stage and a minute change to the dialogue
Anna “You are all invited to a party at my house tonight” was changed to Anna “Baron Zeta, May we borrow the Embassy for a party tonight?”
Ingenious, but simple. For the final Act, ala Maxims, we added coloured lights and a few tables and chairs. Only the veriest purist in the audience might have noticed. As far as I am aware no one even commented on the small change.
The Merry Widow was quite simply the best thing Radlett Light Opera Society had ever done. Everything worked. The orchestra were superb under the never flagging baton of Giles. The cast excellent, not a weak character among them. The set, costumes, lighting all most professional. Again I have a movie and tape to prove my assertions. By this time Canada was looming on the horizon and as a result “Widow” was the last thing that I was deeply involved in with R.L.O.S.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore was the last R.L.O.S. performance that I saw before leaving for Canada. It was a great production and all I contributed was the sound recording and Super 8 filming. My most vivid memory is of the superb set which had a wonderful cyclorama cloth which was painted by one of the members.
So much for my career “on the boards” in the UK. There is a small amount more that took place in Canada and I’ll cover that after relating the various other events that took place in the first half of the 70’s.
Inevitably there were many problems with the setting up of a totally new family unit. Sheila and Stuart who were 13 and 11 respectively had been uprooted and thrust into a strange environment. Jenny and Carol ,14 and 8 respectively hade, effectively been deserted by their father. Mollie’s and my spouses suddenly found themselves alone, Brenda with 2 children and Malcolm with an empty house. Despite all these traumas, life went on. We tried to make the best of it and at least the dreadful traumas of the late 60’s had been banished and Mollie and I could begin building a proper relationship.
We hade been in Cushy for about two months and my work at Lloyd Duncan Laminates seemed to proceeding as it should. One afternoon Charlie Craig came into my office to see how things were going and made the statement “I’m not very happy with my investment in Lloyd Duncan Laminates” apparently he had expected it to grow more rapidly than it had and was concerned as to its future. In a moment of desperation I said “Well, how much would you sell it for?” He was somewhat taken aback but kept calm and said “Why? Would you be interested in buying us out?” I expressed interest in doing just that. This was really meant to indicate my confidence in the future of the company rather than a serous offer to buy him out. He said he would talk it over with his partner, Peter Lloyd, and get back to me.
They quickly realized that with my connections with Pirelli, the distributors and the advertising people I would be in a very strong position to keep the company running and they would lose out totally. A week later I was called down to Head Office and asked to pack up and leave forthwith. I must admit that I wasn’t totally surprised. I had seen the writing on the wall and already removed most of my personal possessions from my office.
I retired to Cushy with 3 months salary in lieu of notice and time to consider my next move.
At the time of my departure I was nearing completion of a major distributorship deal with The Merchant Trading Company of Southall. We had already been out to Turin together with Bruce Mead the Managing Director of Metco and most of the contractual terms had been agreed. There only remained the final inking of the contract. My sudden departure from L.D.L. really screwed things up for everyone. Bruce Mead made the statement “No Dick, No Deal!” and made it perfectly clear that without my presence the whole distribution deal was off and he would not sign the contract. Pirelli in Italy were horrified and pleaded with Peter and Charlie to reconsider their decision to fire me. All to no avail. Effectively the whole Pirelli Laminate UK operation was about to collapse around their ears.
I considered opening a Record Shop in Radlett and actually did some research into this possibility. I talked to a couple of major distributors who, at that time, were interested in offering very attractive financing deals to new stores. Radlett did not have such a store, the nearest of any note was in Stanmore about 5 miles away. There was an ideal vacant shop on the main street of Radlett. I went to see my “friend” who ran the Stanmore shop. He was very much against the idea of opening a Record store in Radlett, stating that he had done the research quite recently and that there just wasn’t enough population to support such an enterprise. I gave up on that idea and put my thinking cap on to see what else I could do. By the way, 6 months later the “Stanmore friend” opened his own record store in Radlett. Apparently he had already got this all planned when I went to see him. I was not particularly upset because by that time I had formed N.M.M.P. Ltd.
Newton Myers Marketing and Promotion Limited. (N.M.M.P)
A couple of weeks after leaving the employ of Lloyd Duncan Laminates I woke up one Saturday morning with my brain humming with a perfectly formed solution. I would form my own consultancy company.
This new company would act as consultants to Pirelli Laminates in Italy, Lloyd Duncan in London and Metco in Southall. We would be responsible for all activities related to the marketing of Pirelli Laminates in the UK. In return for these activities, Pirelli would pay us a consultancy fee, Lloyd Duncan would provide a company car and expenses and Metco would provide office accommodation and secretarial services. What a sweet deal! They all just loved it and I immediately set about registering the new company and getting organised. I turned part of Cushy’s attic into a small office, and also set about all the myriad of jobs related to starting a new company.
Peter Lloyd and I had lunch, he was impressed by my initiative and confirmed that I could continue to use the company car (they had allowed me to use it during the 3 months after my dismissal anyway so it was already in my possession) The deal with Metco was finally signed and I set about working on getting things up and running.
During the last few months of my time at Lloyd Duncan Laminates I had got to know a guy called Adam Wilson. He worked for a road transport brokerage company and was helping us with the delivery of laminate from Turin to the UK. He was a very pleasant man and we hit it off well. We had lunch once or twice and seemed to have very similar outlooks on business and life in general.
He arrived one day with a smallish white cardboard box (about 5” x 4” x 9”) which he told me was a kit to make 32 bottles of wine in 3 weeks. The advertising claim for this miracle product was “From water to wine in 3 weeks” It came from a Danish company called Larsen Wines. Mr Larsen was related to Adam’s wife, Bidden in some way and he was anxious to launch his “miracle” product in the UK. Adam was always on the lookout for something new and was in fact, so I thought, already a successful entrepreneur in the domestic lighting world. He told me that he owned a company call “YuBeDoo Lighting” who manufactured and imported domestic lighting fixtures. The significance of this lighting connection will become obvious later in this segment.
I was naturally somewhat dubious about the validity of the capabilities of these so called wine kits to produce a drinkable bottle of wine after only three weeks. Adam asked if I would take a sample kit and make it up to test it. I agreed and proceeded to follow the extensive 28 page booklet of instructions. One thing that was immediately apparent was that you required a constant room temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and since most English houses are much colder than this on average it was necessary to find a way of maintaining the brew at a constant and relatively high temperature. Research in various Amateur Wine making magazines located a company that could provide the necessary 5 gallon plastic bin and a suitable thermostatically controlled heater.
You added various bottles of fruit juice, packets of yeast and other ingredients into 5 gallons of water, added a vast amount of sugar (several pounds, I forget exactly how much and left this potion to ferment. At the end of the required period (21 days or thereabouts) you added a “magic” powder which almost immediately cleared the wine and you could then siphon off the resultant “finished” wine into approximately 28 standard wine bottles. The White and Rosé wines were ready to drink immediately but the red required a couple more weeks to “mature”. The wine was really not at all bad and we actually submitted several samples to various Home Brewing clubs around the area and always won first prize. Of course we declined the prizes since we were a commercial organization.
From this initial sample Adam and I decided to go into partnership together and we formed “Fresco International”, the name came from Adam who said he had once had a company called “Fresco International Marketing Agency” and that the word Fresco seemed to have some significance in connection with the wine trade. It seemed a good idea at the time but again the significance of this name will become apparent later in this saga.
The wine kits sold like wildfire, eventually we had a Post Office truck coming to Cushy virtually every day to collect the out going parcels, we sold the plastic fermentation bins, airlocks, heaters, siphon tubes and just about everything you needed except the water and sugar. Our company motto was “From Water to Wine in 21 days”. I negotiated a deal with the then popular Do it Yourself Magazine and Larsen was made the “Offer of the Month” at a special discounted price. I’ve forgotten how many kits we sold from this promotion but it exceeded several thousand. Eventually we split the shipping and administrative sections so that Adam handled the incoming orders from the London office of the transport company he worked for and I handled all the deliveries from Cushy. It was shortly after we took on a part time bookkeeper that problems started to arise. This gentleman was one of our customers who was a retired accountant and who offered to work for us and keep the books. As our business was entirely mail order we received cash in the form of Cheques, Postal Orders, Money Orders and sometimes pound notes before we actually shipped out anything. This made the business largely self financing. The bank account was held at the Westminster Bank in Radlett but the incoming funds were deposited in London by either John the bookkeeper or Adam.
Summer arrived and Adam declared that he needed to take his “wife”, Bidden, on holiday for a couple of weeks. This seemed to alarm John and so the three of us held a meeting to discuss strategy. It was decided that I would go to the London office 2 or 3 times a week to process the orders and check the banking etc. John felt this was unnecessary but both Adam and I felt it to be very necessary. During the first few visits several rather strange things came to light. Firstly John disappeared never to be seen or heard of again! On checking the so called books which were skimpy to say the least, there seemd to be a discrepancy between the number of orders that I was receiving and shipping out and the amount of cash being banked. A discrepancy so serious as to prompt me to write a letter to Adam requesting and urgent meeting to discuss the matter. I should mention here that Adam was not actually going away for a holiday but rather staying at home and having days out here and there. I delivered the letter personally to his house, he was out at the time. The next morning I received a special delivery registered letter dissolving our partnership, it also accused me of accusing him of fraudulent practice and saying that in the event that we ever met again he would “punch out my lights” or some such equally ugly phrase. A strange reaction to a letter of mine that suggested a meeting to iron out what appeared to be a bookkeeping error.
I decided to investigate further and found that the payment for approximately 1 out of every 3 orders was never going into our bank account. This was a simple matter of comparing bank deposits with order requisitions. I took the evidence to my solicitor who after examining the details said “ Shall I call the Fraud Squad, or will you?” He said it was a clear case of fraud and did Adam have any money since I should immediately sue him for the amount outstanding. It was my belief that he was always broke since he had recently bounced a small cheque that I cashed for him. My solicitor’s advice was to “cut my losses” have nothing further to do with Adam or Fresco International and to write back to him (Adam) and accept the dissolution of the partnership. This I duly did and have heard nothing further from him since that day. I did receive a demanding letter from Larsen in Denmark asking for payment of an outstanding invoice for supplies, but I just returned it saying that I no longer had any connection with the company and that Adam Wilson was now the sole partner. So ended the saga of my association with Home Brewed wine.
Two things arise from this saga. One the company name, “Fresco International”, in my opinion no bank would refuse to accept a cheque made out to Fresco International for Deposit to the account of “Fresco International Marketing Agency”. You will recall how the partnership got its name.
Secondly, some several months after the break up of the partnership I was manning an exhibition stand (booth) on behalf of my newly acquired client, Click Systems, at an interior design show at Olympia in London. The adjacent stand was of domestic lighting products under the banner of “YuBeDoo Lighting” . One morning before the show opened I wandered over to the stand and asked the fellow manning it “Have you ever heard of a chap called Adam Wilson” The recipient of this enquiry eyed me up and down and replied “You the cops?” “No” I said. There was a pause and he then said “How much did he take you for?” He then volunteered the information that Adam was black listed throughout the lighting industry and was considered to be a professional con man. Although known to the police they had never been able to pin anything definite on him. He was far too clever!
Being a Consultant
The first 12 months of being a consultant (N.M.M.P.) were spent in getting Pirelli Laminates firmly set up through Metco and arranging sub-distributors throughout the country. The plan was that Metco would import the bulk stock and hold them in their Southall (London) and Leeds (Northern) depots. Fro these centralized stocks they would offer a 24 hour “top-up” service to the Sub-Distributors. In theory this was an very good infra structure and agreeable to all participating parties. It meant that Pirelli only had to ship to two central warehouses instead of some 26 destinations, the sub-distributors, formerly distributors, did not have to hold large stocks since they could get virtual overnight delivery from Metco. Trade press advertising and Public Relations continued to be supported by Pirelli with their London Office’s cooperation and using the Derek Forsyth Partnership as advertising Agents.
In addition to my Pirelli activities I also carried out various other functions for Metco. I designed and Audio Visual presentation detailing their products and services. I then combined this with a specially designed touring exhibition which we took around various UK centers. At these shows I set up a rear projection system for the A/V show and also borrowed the Pirelli Film “The Tortoise and the Hare” which was also very well received. The set up of theses mini exhibitions used a new system of display materials made of aluminium called Click. More about this later.
I also totally redesigned the Metco Price list which was well received. It was about this time that they, Metco, decided to open a brand new custom built warehouse in Leeds. Their managing Director, Bruce Mead, wanted me to arrange a launch party in the Leeds Central Hotel and to invite all their customers from the surrounding area. I was against this idea, as I said” Who wants to come and see yet another steel framed building full of boring products. Then drink too much free booze, eat a few probably rather nasty canapés and then drive home somewhat the worse for drink”. I then had a brilliant, even if I do say it myself, idea! “Let’s send all your customers a party in a box”. This comprised a small real wood packing case with a cardboard outer box. The packing case contained a selection of miniature bottles of liquor, Scotch, Gin and Brandy & Sherry, some small mixers, a packet of peanuts, a party blower and a “Non-Invitation” designed by my pet designers Trickett and Webb. We made up over 400 of the packs and sent them to all Metco’s customers who would have been invited to the cocktail party. It was a resounding success, somewhere in the archives of Metco or their successors is a 3” thick file of unsolicited testimonials.
Back to Pirelli. There seemed to be a profitable gap in the market for Melamine Laminates like Pirelli (similar to Formica, Arborite, Warerite, Perstorp etc.) namely the D.I.Y. market. This area was extremely badly served by the retail trade their efforts usually comprising a few broken and dirty offcuts in a rack outside the shop or special orders only. I felt that there was a need to upgrade the marketing image of laminates to the retail market and thus designed the “Pirelli Fixit Pack” This concept was entirely new to the market and comprised the following:
3 handy sizes of laminate sheets, 2’ x 4’, 2’ x 6’ and 2’ x 8’, each size was available in 6 carefully selected popular patterns. Each sheet was sealed in a heavy gauge polythene back to protect it from dirt and scratches. With each ‘Handy Panel” you bought you got “free” the Fixit Pack which comprised a can of Dunlop Thixotropic Contact Adhesive and a specially designed, easy to use, foolproof laminate cutter. This latter item I hade designed by one of Britain’s leading tool manufacturing companies at a minimal cost in bulk. Also included in the pack was a comprehensive illustrated instruction leaflet. A complete product image was designed complete with P.O.S. material, a storage rack, window stickers and a suitable logo. Initial quantities of the entire product package were prepared and sent out to selected retail outlets. In particular we had a large D.I.Y. wholesaler who was very interested in handling the distribution to the whole retail market. We entered into negotiations with this company and things were progressing very satisfactorily, THEN disaster struck!
In recent past months Pirelli had entered into a partnership with the Dunlop Company, this was concerned with the manufacture of Tyres and Slippers. This “merger” proved to be disastrous for both companies. Why I do not know, suffice to say that Pirelli started losing money at an alarming rate and eventually the Pirelli parent in Milan withdrew all financial promotion support from the laminate project. This meant marketing death! The laminate market was and probably still is highly competitive and a supplier needed massive advertising support to have any hope of capturing a working share of the market. Without this support Pirelli Laminate “died” in the U.K. Metco lost interest and frankly so did I. So ended an interesting excursion into mass marketing of a product against some industry giants. Many years after this debacle I happened to be lunching with a fellow businessman who I didn’t k now, I believe we were trying to persuade him to use our newly formed consulting group. Myers, Conn & Rosen, to promote his company. On the way to lunch he remarked “I suppose you aren’t the Richard Myers” who was the ‘Pirelli Laminate King’ are you?” I admitted guilt immediately. ‘Well he said I used to be marketing director of Warerite”. “You know” he continued, “you really had us guys, Formica, Perstorp, Arborite and Warerite worried” . “In fact we all got together, something previously unknown in the industry, to try and figure out what to do about you”. “Of course you had 10% of the market by then didn’t you?” “Well actually, I replied, “we only had about 1% but an over enthusiastic reporter interpreted our goal of 10% as a market share”. He laughed, “well you certainly had use worried”. I suppose I can derive some small satisfaction for all my efforts and those of the team that helped launch Pirelli Laminates on the U.K. market, that at least we “rattled” the competition.
So what to do now, The wine business had “dried up” as described in the previous section. Metco was just getting rid of the remaining stock of Pirelli and I was still officially attached to the “Special Products Division” under Derek Hunkin’s management.
One of the products that Derek’s department handled was a relatively new Aluminium Shelving and Display System called Click. This was owned by a brilliant team of designers and marketers who traded under the name of Nexus Manufacturing. They had a factory in Nottingham and an office and showroom in Battersea. Metco’s connection was initially in the supply of ready made shelving for use with Click since they had facilities for making such a product from Melamine Faced Chipboard edged with a plastic strip. Ultimately Derek, with some persuasion from me, embarked on selling the entire Click range which included a range of Shop Fitting components as well as a comprehensive Exhibition Stand System.
During my early days with Metco I had produced an Audio visual presentation promoting their products. Click had seen this at the various traveling exhibitions that Metco ran around the country (another of my innovations) and they asked me if I could produce a similar presentation specifically for Click. This duly was produced, we used a very professional photographer who I directed and also a semi professional commentator, Peter Wickham who did the voice over. I mixed the slides using two Kodak Carousel projectors and a dissolve unit and added the sound and music. We made several version of this programme all with different language tracks. In particular we did a French Version for the upcoming launch of Click in Canada, (more later about this), a Dutch one for an exhibition in Utrecht Holland, which I supervised and a German one for an exhibition in Dusseldorf and another im Munich. I attended all these exhibitions on behalf of Click and was responsible for the setting up and knocking down of each stand. In the case of the Dutch one I drove to Holland on my own in the Click VW van and was joined for the duration of the show by Chris Sykes one of the directors and original designers of the system. All this exposure to Click led to me severing my connection with Metco and becoming a full time consultant to Nexus, i.e. Click Systems.
During 1975 the Directors of Click Systems had been negotiating with Daymond Ltd of Canada to produce and market Click in that market. Daymond were aluminium extruders of some stature and were particularly capable of producing high quality close tolerance extrusions such as those required by Click. Negotiations for their licensing the product in Canada were in an advanced state by the summer of 75 and it was decided that space should be reserved in the upcoming ‘Interior Design Show” to be held in Toronto in November of that year.
A suitable booth was designed, packed and shipped to Canada and Nick Boileau, the Chairman of Click, and I flew out to Toronto to erect and man the show booth for the 5 days of the show. This was my first visit to Toronto although I had been to Canada in 1966 with Churchill and Sim.
The show was a great success with a large amount of interest being shown in what was at that time, a revolutionary product on the Canadian Market. During my stay over there I was approached by the management of Daymond and asked if I would be prepared to return there in February 76 to help with the upcoming hardware show and also to design a marketing strategy for Click in Canada. Naturally I agreed and terms were also agreed, If I remember correctly they paid me $200.00 a day and all expenses for the 3 weeks I was there.
So now we move on the second half of the 70’s decade….