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My Exciting Life In ROCK (part 3): An Impresario Is Born
Having fought The Man to a One All Draw in the world of Print Media my next great act of teenage rebellion was to take on the world of THEATRE. The arena in which this MIGHTY BATTLE would take place was, of course, The Deacon's School Junior House Plays.
As I said before, my school was a Comprehensive but had been a Grammar School about ten years before and still clung to certain POSH ideas above its station, such as "Houses". These were, basically, TEAMS which we were all put into to compete at SPORTS and, at Christmas, the House Competitions, which included various music and poetry recitals for Senior and Junior years (11-14s, 14-18s basically) and, crucially, THE HOUSE PLAYS.
I volunteered to direct BOTH of our House Plays, along with Mr Robin Hare from The Masters Of Nothing. We wrote a HILARIOUS, CHALLENGING and... well, childishly RUDE play for the younger tykes. We thought it was EXTREMELY funny to watch them unknowingly recite our parade of double entendres and FILTH, right up until the point when we had to put it on in front of teachers who would VERY MUCH understand exactly what was going on when we had a character called William die and go into rigor mortis. It had all seemed so jolly in rehearsal, but when we got an innocent 10 year old to say loudly and clearly "Oh no! We don't want a stiff willy on our hands!" (and yes, that was the best joke we had) in front of the entire teaching staff we suddenly realised we might NOT have been quite as clever as we thought.
We did just about manage to get away with it, apart from a few Theatrically Raised Eyebrows from the English Department, which is more than could be said for our Senior Presentation: "The Hitch-hikers Guide to The Galaxy." You know how Hollywood spent twenty years and millions upon millions of dollars trying to work out how to convert Douglas Adams' sprawling masterpiece into some kind of dramatic shape? We did it YEARS before with a couple of quid and some poster paints.
All right, we did have to compromise a little bit, restricting ourselves to the bit on Magrathea, but that did include a whole HEAP of EXTREMELY ambitious special effects, including a two headed man, a ROBOT and a massive talking computer, which we'd hoped could be voiced by our headmaster. He said YES with surprising enthusiasm ("though I'd rather be Slartibartfast" - how did a man at LEAST 800 years old KNOW such things?) but eventually had to pull out, to avoid favouritism.
We did, however, achieve our GREATEST feat of CHEEK when it came to the Zaphod Beeblebrox costume. I'd managed to get hold of an extra head from a shop dummy but was having difficulty getting a two headed three armed suit, so we wrote to the BBC to ask if we could borrow the original one. Astoundingly, they agreed! We got a nice letter saying of course we could borrow it, so long as an adult agreed to insure it for us. "Our headmaster would be happy to!" we replied, and I'm sure he would have been, if we'd dared to tell him about it.
Thus on 18 November 1987 myself and my friend Scotty (his real name was Mark, but he was from Scotland, and we were nothing if not BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS in our allocation of nicknames) headed down to London and then to Television Centre in our cleanest shirts and ironed ties to pick up the jacket. My clearest memory of the trip is having a wee in the toilets off reception while we waited to go upstairs, thinking "Terry Wogan probably uses this VERY URINAL!"
The jacket itself was fantastic and had clearly not been taken out of its bagging since the show was made - I found a note in the pocket saying "Is this guy boring you? Come and talk to me instead, I'm from another planet" which MUST have been used as a prompt. I KEPT it!
Coming back we nearly missing our train and so very VERY nearly got ourselves involved in one of the biggest tragedies that ever occurred on the British Rail Network. The reason I know that this all happened on 18 November is that less than an hour after we got off the tube at Kings' Cross, the entire underground station was ravaged by fire, killing 31 people. Everyone in Peterborough knew somebody who commuted regularly through that station and who could very easily have been killed - nobody was in much of a mood to hear about Terry Wogan's toilet the next day.
Still, life went on and come the big day we were CONVINCED our THEATRICAL EXTRAVAGANZA would STORM the awards. How we guffawed at the other entries, DULL efforts where people simply SPOKE WORDS! RUBBISH! Did any of THEM have a giant sperm whale descending from space? NO, they did NOT!
The giant sperm whale may well have been an effect too far. It was achieved with a LOT of poster paint and cardboard and raised to the ceiling on several rolls of garden twine, where it hung MAGNIFICENTLY above the audience until it was time for it to fall dramatically to the earth. To be exact it hovered above the heads of the two judges who watched it nervously throughout - I don't know what they were worried about, it was only cardboard and only thirty feet in the air. The child who it DID eventually fall on wasn't SERIOUSLY hurt.
You can imagine our surprise, then, when the results came out and we were LAST. LAST!?! Nobody else had painted ANY of their cast with silver car spray paint (which would take a week to wash off completely), what were they THINKING of? No, it DIDN'T make any sense whatsoever, and no, none of us HAD actually learnt all of our lines or even where to stand, but this was EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE! Didn't they UNDERSTAND?
Clearly, they didn't, and I knew that only one course of action was left open to me. ROCK AND ROLL!
An Artists Against Success Presentation