Thursday, 2 April 2009

27 July 1942

Washed pyjamas, towel, undershirt and socks. Did some mending and darning. Not very neat jobs. Out 5.30 to 6.30. Usual routine.


Gus Stratton was a much younger man, about 30 at that time, I suppose, and was the real mainspring of the troupe. He was of a medium height and proportionally built with the mobile features of the born comedian. He was extremely energetic and had all the aplomb and self confidence, amounting practically to self conceit, which is quite a usual characteristic of the professional comedian. The skin of his face always struck me as having been made specially for the reception of grease paint. He was certainly a live wire both on the stage and off it and thanks to him in the main, I feel, the general organisation of the tour left nothing to be desired. Whether transport, ‘digs’, or getting hold of a lorry to bring Mrs Macdougal’s hired piano to the hall, he arranged everything perfectly and in fact displayed to a marked degree those qualities of determination and getting things done which were later to carry him to the top of the profession. The Scotch act performed by Gus and Mrs Stratton was definitely one of the very best on the program and consisted of humorous dialogue, song and dance. An incident in the act where Gus, after a mock quarrel with his ‘Bonnie Jeannie’ (Mrs S) used to jump off the stage and walk up through the audience to the front door of the hall until recalled by a plaintive ditty from the lips of his Jeannie, was one which never failed to thrill and amuse the country folks greatly. Mrs Stratton was a dainty little woman with a very sweet oval face. She had also a very sweet disposition, rather timid, and somehow or other I always had the impression that she stood rather in awe of her husband, whose energy was certainly enough for two and whose forceful personality no doubt impressed itself very strongly on her much softer nature. Little Gladys Stratton certainly, had from a child’s point of view, a rather wonderful time of it. How Gus managed it I do not know but presumably had a dispensation from the School Board authorities which allowed her to travel and perform, but with the stipulation that she would attend the local school in whichever town or village we happed to stop at. It speaks for itself that the exigencies of travel very often interfered with the routine, but even when she did attend the local schools it must have been quite a pleasant and interesting experience, what with a class of new schoolmates every time, not to mention the homage and respect paid to her by her sister pupils as a real little actress. But it did not spoil her in the least. she had been accustomed to the footlights since her birth practically and her position was so natural to her that I do not suppose it ever occurred to her that she was very different from other children, or the same age in the matter of her upbringing. she was then about 10 years of age, I imagine, a pretty little girl with lively brown eyes and long brown ringlets, with her mother’s sweetness of face but the softness qualified by a trace of her father’s determined character about the chin. She was a clever child and I do not doubt but that her training as Thelma had much to do with her ability to learn and remember her lessons so well.

Heartie Collins, our pianist (I remember her name now) was a frisky young thing of, I suspect, rather more than 30 summers. She was slightly built, with a mass of fluffy fair hair dressed with bow on top of her head and rather protuberant china blue eyes. Poor Heartie was rather susceptible to male attention and lost her heart to one swain or other at every place. She was a capital concert party pianist and did yeoman service every night after the performance as well. It was the custom, and a very good idea it was, to hold a dance or ‘shilling hop’ after the show. From the management’s point of view it was a golden opportunity for increasing the takings and as far as the audience was concerned it was an additional inducement to make a night of it after having come miles, many of them, to attend the show. The only new fangled dance on these occasions was the ‘one step’ which had just come into fashion. For the rest, the dance programme consisted of the real hefty stuff, like ‘Strip the Willow’, ‘Highland Scottische’, ‘Eightsome Reel’, ‘Lancers’ and ‘Quadrilles’, etc. and how the lads and lasses used to go at them. None of your fancy dancing pumps on these occasions, but good solid low heeled shoes and heavy tacketty boots which used to make the floorboards crack and skirls and hoochs enough to lift the roof clean off!

1 comment:

Mickey said...

I love this series.