Thursday, 27 February 2014

Plays What I Have Saw

A couple of memories from the box of theatre ephemera from the 1980s. I very rarely go to serious theatre plays. I'm not really sure why. I love comedies and have a real nostalgic love for farce of the caught-with-trousers-down Brian Rix sort. And I can sit through musical shows any time as long as there's a proper band playing live and not a recorded backing track. But plays that tell a serious story, whether designed to provoke thought, horror or whatever - you don't normally find me at them.

But for whatever reason, we decided to go to this one in late October 1983 at the Grand Theatre. Starring the lovely Kate O'Mara who had a lot of success on TV in programmes such as Triangle and who did the odd Hammer Horror and Norman Eshley who played the father of the precocious son who lived next door to George and Mildred, the spin-off programme from Man About The House.

This was a horror story - no great special effects, just some really well co-ordinated reactions from the cast who were gathered for a Christmas meal only to be beset by lots of ghostly goings on. It was really well done and with just a simple stage set, no resorting to shock tactics or plunges into darkness, it set up an atmosphere of suspense as Kate's character was slowly taken over by a malevolent spirit that ended with dire consequences for the four would-be diners.

I met Kate a couple of times years afterwards, through my friendship with actress Ingrid Pitt. The first time was in 2003 at a Memorabilia show in Birmingham, where Tony, Ingrid's husband asked if I'd take some photos of the two together. Kate was the school governess, one of Ingrid's victims in the Hammer film The Vampire Lovers.

The other flyer for this time dates from April 1985 and was a farce starring Don MacLean, a familiar face from the childrens' TV show Crackerjack (pause for readers to shout out "Crackerjack!" - if you don't understand that joke, you're far too young...) and a certain glamourous lady called Mandy Rice-Davies. Some twenty four years earlier she had been involved in (in her words) "a spot of bother" with Christine Keeler and Secretary of State for War, John Profumo.

By 1985 she was a very glamourous 40-year-old, definitely adding sparkle and allure to a tale of misunderstandings and a double-booked hotel room.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Blackpool's Night Time Postcard Fantasies

This week I received an email from that good friend of this blog, Jim Exley. Jim has sent images from postcards for use on the blog before and was good enough to send me one through the post where I had several other postcards, from the same source.

This week Jim sent me two images which had originated from the same photograph. As near as I can tell, this would have been taken from a point between Central and South piers and probably from close to the junction of Lytham Road with the Promenade at Manchester Square.

It's hard to take anything on trust with these postcards. I admit I am going off the size of the Tower as much as anything - the terraced rows of guest houses and hotels along the Promenade were very similar to each other. But there's no guarantee that the Tower was not added into the photo by the company artist...

Take a look at the illuminated tram on the left. The photo was taken in broad daylight - you can clearly see the shadows of the parked cars on the left. So the tram must have been added at the "artistic" stage. In fact if you look closely you can see it appears to be somewhat more narrow than the rails it is supposed to be travelling along...

Actually this postcard looked very familiar and a quick look through my own collection turned up another very similar version. Yes the colours are a bit different, but after a hundred years they are probably both faded anyway. But the paintwork on the globes on top of the arch is slightly different also, so the company artist must have had another shot at it at some point!

And then in Jim's other image, the artist has gone just a little bit berserk, removing the arch for a far more ambitious piece of frippery and adding a toastrack bus adorned with some rather spectacular illuminations of its own which may well have taxed the batteries and generator of a bus of that vintage...

But harking back to my comment about wondering if the size of the Tower was a definitive way to gauge the location of the photographer... Ah... it's gone... Interesting too that this version betrays a bit more of the photo's daylight origins. Right at the left hand edge is the staircase rail of one of the huge Dreadnought tramcars. But it is still being followed by the not-quite-true-to-scale lifeboat tram!

Here's the same photo of that lifeboat tram, from another postcard in my collection, but again it doesn't look as though it really belongs in this photo. I like this for a number of reasons. The laburnum tree illuminations were actually real - I can just (only just!) remember them from my very early childhood. Painted on plywood, they were a regular feature of the illuminations for years. The artist has actually created shadows for one on the left and one on the right to make it appear as though they were cast by the moon (which in my experience never appears quite so far north). Unfortunately, having done that for the two illuminations pieces he decided it was too much like hard work and didn't bother with a shadow for the lamp post in the centre or, for that matter, for the tram... The cars seem to have a more realistic shadow coming from the sun which would have been over the sea. But the direction of their headlights seems to suggest they were a touring group from the Continent. Dipped headlights should point left in this country!

At least I can say fairly confidently that this photo was taken just south of Waterloo Road, which joins on the right opposite the windmill which survived until quite recently. Thankfully this doesn't require me to rely on the size of the Tower, which has been drawn in by the artist after he celebrated (with a few too many tots) his success with the shadows. The Tower itself leans drunkenly to the right and the zig-zag line was added by the artist's 3-year-old daughter as her daddy snored in a drunken stupor on the floor...

And lastly, a closer look at the illuminated lifeboat tram, which was real and was one of two illuminated special trams, the other being a Gondola. Many thanks for the postcard images, Jim!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The EMI Record Sleeves - The 78rpm Years Part 2

The second in what will be a trilogy of articles looking at the 78rpm record sleeves issued by the three companies that would merge under the EMI banner: His Master's Voice, Columbia and Parlophone. This is the one I've been most anticipating posting, because these are the record sleeves I most remember as a young child, when the record player would come out as a treat.

There are three sets of sleeves here which I always referred to as the "Brown One", the "White One" and the "Pop One". So let's start with the "Brown One".

These sleeves, along with the Pop sleeves are probably the best surviving sleeves and can easily be found in antiques shops today. Whether they hold their original records, or even a record from the same label as the sleeve, is not always to be guaranteed!

The White sleeves, with the possible exception of the His Master's Voice sleeve are the rarest of the sleeves featured in this article. We had just one example of the Parlophone sleeve (which held Jimmy Shand and His Band playing Bluebell Polka/The Veleta) and I only vaguely remembered the Columbia one which had held a record which got broken and the sleeve was thrown away with the record. Only recently did I find and add this example to my collection.

By comparison there are still lots of these to be found, although the Parlophone example is perhaps a little harder to find than the other two. These sleeves held the "Pop" or popular records - records aimed at the new and burgeoning teenage market. They came right at the end of the 78rpm era and overlapped with the new vinyl seven inch records that had to be played at what seemed a slow 45 revolutions per minute (rpm). It was so slow you could read the labels as they were spinning! The same sleeves were used on the new 45rpm records with the exception of Columbia who used the same colour scheme but a slightly different drawing.

These will feature in an article at some time in the future, but we still have one more EMI sleeve article to come from the 78rpm era yet which will feature a few variant and speciality sleeves from the "big three" labels. We will also have a look at some of the other sleeves from the 78rpm years and then present a few of the label designs themselves, as over the years many of them had many different versions. A few articles to go then before we exhaust the possibilities of these old records!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

2014 Reading Part 2

I cocked up my usual procedure last time by carrying over seven books from 2013 and only having one from this year. I should have finished off 2013 with just seven books. So to set me back on track I'm featuring just seven books now. Otherwise I'll be confused all year...

I'm starting with this one edited by one of my fave reads: Bill Bryson. The word "edited" is significant. The book is a series of chapters on either specific scientists or a specific topic within the scientific world. Together they form something of a history of the Royal Society from the days of Isaac Newton through to the present day (well alright, up to the publication of the book...) Being written by several authors the book is not as consistent as Mr Bryson's usual work, but the vast majority of chapters are fascinating if not always easy reading. The odd one is hard work. But I learned a shed load of science and remained entertained.

Talking of favourite authors... To date this was the last of the series about J Wells, the magical firm that I had still to read. I think in terms of the order of them being written it was the second, but they are all pretty much stand-alone stories anyway. This one does feature the two leading characters from the first in the series, The Portable Door. Multiple dimensions, murderous goblins, a couple of warring Viking kings, a frequent escapee from the world of the dead and a tale of unrequited love all come together satisfactorily in the end. As they would...

This is the second in Edgar Rice Burroughs' series about John Carter of Mars. In the first book (and film) he ended up back on Earth and in the intervening time before he manages to get back to Mars a lot has happened on the Red Planet. Lots of action, desperate perils, old and new alien races and a long search for his beloved Dejah Thoris (that's his princess wife for those who haven't read the first book or seen the film...)

The seventh and latest instalment in Bernard Cornwell's Warrior Chronicles saga sees Uhtred accidentally kill a bishop and he spends much of the book dealing with the consequences of that. However, he does have a way of getting his way, though there are a few surprises and setbacks for him in this book and the ending leaves the reader (well this one anyway) in an agony of wondering where the series will take us next. Since King Alfred died a number of significant dark age names from real life have featured and in this book the boy Athelstan plays a part. He was to become the first king of all England. But that is still for the future. This was another riveting book in the series with the clash of shield walls, Uhtred's attempt on Bebbanburgh and the reappearance of the enigmatic yet lovely Erce.

I was on a train and the journey was not going well... A two hour journey took eight hours and there were several points where I thought we would be told we could go no further. We love to complain but, given the conditions on Wednesday this week with 100 miles-per-hour winds and power lines coming down, Virgin Trains and Network Rail worked minor miracles to get my train from London Euston to Preston. Anyway I zoomed through a couple of Sherlock Holmes short stories, the first of a young lady searching for her betrothed who disappeared on the morning before their wedding and the second of a dastardly murder where the main suspect is the victim's son.

The seventh (popular number this time!) in Oliver Strange's series about Sudden, the western gunfighter, cowpuncher and all-round good egg. In this our hero intervenes in a case of rustling, a corrupt sheriff and an attempt to take over a ranch by foul means. There's gun play, ambushes, kidnapping and even more unrequited love. You just know that any dandy named Beau is bound to turn out a bad 'un...

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The EMI Record Sleeves - The 78rpm Years Part 1

There have been a couple of articles on this blog showing 78rpm record sleeves that were store bought to replace the rather fragile paper sleeves that came from the record companies. But now it's time to start off a series looking at some of the surviving examples of those record sleeves.

I can only show such sleeves as I have in my collection. I imagine some are missing and I also imagine some that I have contain records that were not originally issued in that design of sleeve!

Of all the many labels and record companies that emerged in those early days of recorded music, a number were to loom large and enjoy long life. Right through the 78rpm era and on into and beyond the days of 45rpm singles and 33⅓rpm Long Player (LP) records. I'm focussing in today on three of those labels who were destined to merge under the auspices of a new company: Electric and Music Industries, or EMI as it became known. Formed by a merger of The Gramophone Company, whose main label was His Master's Voice and Columbia which already had both the Columbia and Parlophone labels in its portfolio, EMI would survive records discs themselves and would eventually subsume even the three instantly recogniseable label names to release records in the 1970s under a new EMI label.

This article is about the 78rpm era though and even at that I have called it "Part 1". So let's have a look at just some of the labels of the 1930s that I have in my collection, that already demonstrate a family connection.

I know that there are earlier labels than these - some of them will be featured in due course. Others I don't have, but I suspect that there may have been both colours of paper used for each label. I only have both for the Parlophone label. Other labels, it is true, also had similar twin column designs. The central hole in the sleeve allowing the record label to be viewed made it almost inevitable that sleeve designs would take this form. Brunswick and Philips are just two of the labels that had similar designs on record sleeves. I'll save those for a future article, as I will the many different record label designs.

These labels were used in the 1930s in what I always think of as the "Dance Band" era. Yet at least His Master's Voice and Parlophone had special sleeves for that kind of record.

When I'm looking for 78rpm records I always like to try to buy them in their original sleeves if I can. Many of them are somewhat tatty now, after 70 or 80 years of being handled, rubbed by the record being taken out and reinserted, rubbed against other records, sat on, ripped by pets or children, torn by the sharp edges of broken records or stained by spillages or just simply being drawn on. I'm as guilty as any at having defaced them by scrawling my name on them or by adding sticky labels to denote which box and position they come from etc. Finding a sleeve in good condition and with a record of the same label in it is a bonus. And we'll have a look at a few more in the next article!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Blackpool Showtime Ephemera

Last weekend I was having a root through my "stuff" and came across an old box which had once contained 10"x8" photographic paper. I used to get through quite a lot of these sheets as I used to freelance to local and the odd national magazines.

In the 1980s I must have kept this particular box to store leaflets and pamphlets and posters from Blackpool's theatres. I'll add a few of these latter from 1983 to this article, but apart from shows there were posters from bus companies and advertisements.

Around this time some theatres were finding that the traditional and well established summer season show started to slow down as the summer season progressed. The Central Pier (top photo) for their 1983 show split the season into four and staged different shows for each. We went to see the Bachelors if I remember rightly.

We used to go to the Tower Circus pretty much every year too, but I gave wrestling a miss ever since going with a few mates in Margate around 1972. From our front row seats (that we were pretty excited about) we were able to see easily just how much wind there was between a forearm smash and a chin and also were sadly able to hear one wrestler saying to the other "Corner!" before he grabbed their arm and whizzed them off into the corner post. Sort of put me off wrestling, that. The main bout had been Les Kellett and Jackie Pallo and I'm willing to believe theirs had been a professional bout, but the icing on the cake of disillusionment was after laughing at the little old lady who came down to the ring to wave her umbrella at bad man Pallo, on our way out we saw the promoter paying her...

The Russ Abbott show was hilarious. By this time Russ was already an established household name and we had seen and enjoyed him several times with the comedy group The Black Abbotts.

Over at the Winter Gardens, Paul Daniels was doing his comedy show in the Opera House for the season. I can't remember going to this one - we must have missed at least one of the shows that year...

We did go to this one though! And before anyone scoffs, I have to say that this was in Keith Harris's heyday, but even years after he had hung up his duck we saw him come back to stand in for someone who was ill and that night he was absolutely superb. He was brilliant on stage. Also in the cast of the show was Bobby Crush who had written Orville's Song which went way up the charts and the gorgeous Jacqui Scott who married Keith Harris just before the season began.

I can't remember going to this particular show either, but we certainly saw Bernie Clifton on stage a few times and he was brilliant as well.

And I'll finish this time with the Sunday show from the North Pier. Again we didn't see this show, but Candlewick Green were another comedy group - there were several around this time, along with the Black Abbotts there were the Grumbleweeds, Barron Knights, etc. Anyway I do remember another year when we were sitting on the front row at a Candlewick Green show on the South Pier, being somewhat resigned to find the lead singer, in drag, sitting on my knee as part of the act...

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Welsh Postcards

January's a quiet month for photographers so that sort of leads to a quietish month on the blog as well. I can't let 78rpm records dominate the blog to the exclusions of all else, so here's a quick (and somewhat lazy) series of postcards from the Hayley Easthope collection. As they came from not too far from the Welsh border, I'll pick out a few postcards of that part of the United Kingdom and hope that the recent problems with weather particularly around Aberystwyth abate soon!

Hayley gave me a massive collection of postcards - I'm not halfway through them yet, but there's 260 of them scanned so far covering all sorts of places from the Wirral and Southend to Arab states and China! It'll keep me going for a bit!

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