Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tordie in wartime

At the outbreak of war Tordie was at Penrhos, where she stayed until she played Gretel in Hansel and Gretel in Hastings and Eastbourne the last week in December 1939 and the first week in January 1940, with Constance Stocker as the witch. Immediately after, with barely time for rehearsal she was in The Snow Queen at the Chelsea First Aid Post, and in February to April 1940 she was telephonist at the FAP. Then in May 1940, at the time of Dunkirk, she was in The Two Bouquets at the Oxford Playhouse, which lasted four weeks. (She told me in 2005 that she remembered every word and note of the part). Marraine was living at 97 Onslow Square, and in June 1940 Sir Henry Grayson offered her one of 3 summer homes he had built in Trearddur Bay. In June she moved there, accompanied by Tordie and Hilly, Marraine’s maid. Tordie stayed there until October, when she got the invitation to play Tilly in Lilac Time from Constance Stocker. They did two weeks at Richmond and two at Kew.

In November Tordie auditioned for ENSA and went on tour December 1940 – January 1941 for four weeks in The Best of the Bunch, a variety show which wasn’t a great success. It included Phyllis Brooks, soprano, and Chris ?, a New Zealander, singing the Barcarolle frm Tales of Hoffman. The tenor George Israel (who had a good voice and was successful later on) had to sing an awful song containing the words

“The cello is my sweetheart. Yes! And I’m her faithful beau”

His other song was “I am but a poor blind boy”

Not surprisingly, he got the slow handclap in Aldershot, and the show was recalled to Drury Lane for modification. The cellist and the solo pianist were eliminated, and a contortionist/dancer called Bobby Something-or-other was brought in. The six dancing girls were retained, as were comedians Jimmy Godden and Mona Vivian, and two new comedians were recruited. Leyland White, baritone, sang Ring up the curtain from Pagliacci, and Tordie sang My hero, I love you only from The Chocolate Soldier, the only solo numbers. The ill-fated George Israel was still in the cast and among the new singers were Angela ? an Italian mezzo, Alec ?, baritone, Jo White, Leyland’s wife, soprano. The manager, who also sang, was Eric Richmond.

All the singers (except Leyland White, who was far too grand) sang the sextet from Flora Dora, a medley of songs from Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and ‘You’d be far better off in a home’, with two of the comedians. The finale of the first half was The Lambeth Walk, with the whole cast. At the end of the show they sang a medley which included Me old cock sparrow, Daddy wouldn’t but me a bow-wow, The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, and Roamin in the gloamin.

The revised show was well received, and continued until September, when Tordie left to stay at 14 Lowndes Square with my parents before attending Pamela’s wedding on October 7, 1941. It was at Lowndes Square that she met Jade. Immediately after the wedding she went to Manchester to meet Joan Cross, who was playing Madam Butterfly there, and had invited her to audition for Sadler’s Wells in London. But she had said she would return to Trearddur Bay, and Joan Cross then asked her to come back to Liverpool for a special audition there a few days later, which she did on her way to London.

In London, she joined Edgar Scrooby, comedian, and Albert Cazubon, violinist, on a further ENSA tour. After four weeks an offer to join Sadlers Wells arrived from Tyrone Guthrie. T wrote to Kenny Barnes at Ensa asking if she could be released from her contract with ENSA, and he referred the decision to Walter Legg, head of classical music at ENSA and later the husband of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. He agreed immediately, and Ken wrote T saying that if for any reason it didn’t work out at Sadler’s Wells, she was welcome to return to ENSA at any time

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