I’m sure there are a lot of men of a certain age who remember a children’s TV presenter / folk singer called Toni Arthur, well her son went to our school.
When she heard about our exploits in Dramatiks Mime Workshop, she got in touch and asked if there was anything she could do to help our campaign to play a two week show in a theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Well, we could hardly turn down an offer like that, and from a bona fide celebrity into the bargain.
The next thing we knew, we were on our way to the dizzy heights of Sensational BBC Radio One to be interviewed by none other than Tony Blackburn.
We had to stand around in the control room of the studio for a while, waiting for the great man to arrive, and when he did it was a bit of an anticlimax.
He grunted hello and disappeared into the studio proper – the interview was to be conducted around the legendary Round Table, where the week’s singles releases were picked apart by guest celebrities every Friday – and we trouped in after him.
Once seated around the hallowed furniture, a hush descended, and Tony went into his warm up – head bowed, eyes closed, both hands, forefingers extended, making circular “winding up” motions an inch or two from his temples.
After a few seconds, his eyes popped open, his head snapped up, and that Sensational voice appeared, along with that huge, sparkly-eyed grin.
We were in the studio for about 4 minutes.
I don’t remember much of the interview itself, but I do remember dining out on it at school for a good while afterwards.
So, forward to August 1982, and we’ve been in Edinburgh, soaking up the thespian atmosphere, preparing the show, and exploring other acts that we were competing with in our theatre for a couple of days.
The show, IMAGES ON A BLANK STAGE began on the Monday, with an audience, if memory serves, of six.
It went well, and we mangaged to evade the mob at the stage door (that may be mis-remembered) and go about our business relatively unimpeded by hoards of adoring fans.
Images on a Blank Stage, rehearsals, 1982.
(yours truly in background, no make-up)
A busy week of putting on the show, going out leafleting, watching a show – Pookiesnackenburger anyone? – doing street theatre, and generally revelling in being this far from home, living the innocent life of festival novices.
That weekend we were invited – chosen from all the fringe acts, along with a select few others – to take part in the Festival Cavalcade, a daytime carnival along Prince’s Street, which along with much needed publicity, got us on the front page of the Scotsman newspaper!
That Cavalcade Line-up in Full
We also performed in the Old Town on Festival Sunday, on a makeshift stage on the back of a lorry. This bagged us a brief background appearance on Newsnight. We were on a roll.
The following week went even better, pulling in up to double figures in audience numbers, including the correspondent from the Times Higher Educational supplement, who, much to our delight gave us what we considered to be a rave review.
(I believe they described sketches in the show in the glowing terms, “comic, inventive, and short”)
On the Scottish border
Some of these people are now allowed out on their own.
By the end of our fortnight at the cutting edge of modern comic theatre, we were creatively exhausted, skint, and looking forward to a triumphant, ticker-tape strewn parade on our return to Sussex.
The reality was slightly more, well, real, and life returned pretty much to normal. But we did get our parade, sort of. We were invited to join the Crowborough Carnival procession, which we did with great gusto, dancing madly, in whiteface masks, along the whole route, behind the New Orleans jazz band that had played every year for as far back as I remember.
Some of the group went off to drama school – I got a place doing stage-management at Guilford, but was refused a grant, something that rankles even now – and one member and I put on three performances of the very well received VERY NEARLY ONE MAN MIME SHOW , but that was the end of my theatrical career, although some of the others went on to produce and perform shows of their own.
I still look back on it as one of the best times in my life – my dip, however brief, into the world that gave us so many of the actors and comedians who entertain us today.
Long may the Fringe continue.
Many thanks to Ho for providing believed-lost photos