Thursday, November 23, 2017

Gone with the little girl up the horse's arse

Next out of the pile. Costume design for India Wilkes in the Drury Lane production of the musical made from the famous novel and film, Gone with the Wind. An umpteenth example of a great story, play or piece of cinema trivialised as a musical.

This show was produced by my beloved Harold Fielding in 1972. Well, we all make mistakes. I didn't see it. I was not yet a member of the clan. But, of course, Ian was involved. He didn't talk about it much in after days. No one around the office did. Harold spluttered (as he was inclined to) when it was mentioned. I got the feeling it was deeply unloved by all. As was its apparently objectionable composer. Anyway, I didn't find anything much concerning it in my prowls through the firms' archives, except this design. I thought I had thrown it out. But the show lives on in anecdote thanks to Noel Coward's famous line to Ian on opening night concerning the child over-actress and the defecating horse... "If they'd shoved the little girl up the horse's arse, it would have solved both problems".

So, here is this trophy of a flop, for google to gobble up, and now can I chuck it?

Singin' in the Hungarian Rain

This little item will just help to set history straight. It is the programme for the original Hungarian production of Singing' in the Rain.  See the credit at the top? Harold Fielding [in association with] Maurice and Lois (we're not Jewish) Rosenfield.

Oh! that they had been disassociated. Mrs Rosenfeld did nothing, during the whole process of creating the show, except scare the Fielding office staff (me, included) out of their wits with her towering concrete hairdo. Mr Rosenfeld did nothing but get the stage-rights for about half the songs from the film and then just talk. Of course, we were all glad when he brought the project to us ... but then he disappeared off to go a-perverting the law in Chicago. Great. Let the professionals get on with creating the stage production. And as far as I know he did. And we did.

Tommy Steele arranged an excellent libretto (surprising, after the pig's ear he had made of Hans Andersen), Ian Bevan chased round, to excellent effect, to find songs to replace the all-important ones Mr Rosenblum had 'lost', and -- with Tommy cast, and dear Roy Castle as his suitably non-scenestealing oppo -- the boy round the office, who had shown an unexpected talent for casting, was set to find a Debbie Reynolds who could really sing, dance and act, a Jean Hagen for the 20th century, and a host of minor characters ... go for it, Kurt.

And legal papers were, of course, drawn up. The first lot. Binding the Rosenkranzes in with HF for the future life of the stage show.

As history tells, the London/Steele/Fielding edition of Singin' in the Rain was a very, very big and lucrative hit and made lots of money for all concerned. And we began to plan the American production, only to find we'd been forestalled. Honest Mr Rosendingle had gone ahead and had a new version written (by Comden and Green, no less) and was planning, against all agreements, to go it alone on Broadway. And just to give his erstwhile 'partners' something to think about he slapped expensive lawsuits on everyone in sight. Yes, Ian and I included. Of course, just to answer his legal papers cost tens of thousands of pounds ... getting mixed up with Chicago lawyers of even a degree of honesty doesn't come cheap. We were out of our depth. We had to give in and let him go.

As history salutorialy tells, the Rosenfield/Comden and Green/New York Singin' in the Rain (feebly cast!) was a full-scale flop, had to be re-financed to keep afloat, and sank in a mess of pottage somewhere on the provincial road.

And so, a new agreement was arranged. The 'American' version would have the right to be played henceforth anywhere in America. The Tommy Steele version would be licensed by Fielding in the rest of the world. Well, it started that way, but it didn't quite turn out that way. Hungary did the proper version, in 1989, as the above playbill testifies. But then?

Some years later I was asked to look at an amateur production, of fair standard, in New Zealand. What had they done to the show? It was, to be polite, pretty dire. And then I realised. They were doing the 'American' version. But hang on, this was New Zealand. New Zealand, when I was a lad, was part of the 'rest of the world'. Who had 'licensed' this sad version to Christchurch am drams? Guess. Do the words 'rip off' and 'broken contract' and 'illegal' ring in your ears. They sure rang in mine.

Is there something I don't know. Huh! Unlikely.

Well, Harold is dead, Ian is dead, I suppose the Rosenfelds are dead, Comden and Green are dead, but I'm not dead yet and neither is Tommy Steele! If I were he, I'd have my agent or my lawyers coming down on Music Theatre International with a multi-million dollar bill. Royalties for every time the show has been played in its 'American' version outside America. Me, I can only make a noise.

Now, where ARE those contracts? Have I already given them to Harvard or are they in one of my cupboards with the Jesus Christ Superstar ones ... ah me! contracts are strange things, they have a way of appearing and disappearing ...

Anyway, thus was killed the goose that was busy laying golden eggs. By greed and vanity. And thus was a merry, unpretentious, lively show squeezed out of the world repertoire. Oh, well, it's not the first time and it won't be the last that lawyers and other conniving men decide the fate of a theatrical piece. Remind me to tell you sometime the true story of Robert and Elizabeth ...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A delicious heap of old musical-theatre music!

Goodness, I wonder where I got these from. France it seems. Well, I'll put them up on here, and then I'll find a home for them ...

The first one is from 1845. Its a quadrille, composed by Oscar Commetant, written on the themes of Nicolo Isouard's fairy opera Cendrillon. Now, Cendrillon was first staged in 1810, and very successful it was, but things like Napoléon and the Battle of Waterloo got in its way and when it was revived it flopped. But in 1845, the Operatic-Comique decided to revive it. Of course as revivers do they fiddled with it, the critical result was muted, but it did all right. This engraving shows us what I presume is Cinderella (Mme Darcier) doing a tambourine routine before the Prince (Audran, father the composer), Dandini (Sainte-Foy) and sisters Clorinda (Mme Casimir, with an interpolated frilly air by Adolphe Adam) and Tisbe (Mme Révilly).

The next engraving is from 1863. It is a grandiose production of the old faerie, Peau d'âne, mounted by Harmant at the Théâtre de la Gaïté. The old libretto was given a smarten-up by the spiritual Clairville, the all-important decors were by Cambon, Fromont and ... Jules Chéret. The less important music seems to have been credited to the conductor Louis Fossey, Edmond L'Huillier and Victor Chéri. It was Fossey who got the traditional conductor's perk of arranging the show tunes in dance music such as this quadrille. And the illustration was Chéret's design for an 'Aquarium' scene.

This one is a slight puzzle. La Famille Benoîton, by Victorian Sardou, produced at the Vaudeville 4 November 1865, was not a musical. It was a straight comedy. But comedies in the good old days had an orchestra, and even odd songs, so maybe this one did too. Anyway, Adolphe de Groot was the theatre's conductor, and he is credited for the, probably arranged and selected, music for this highly successful play. And, with the addition of a nice 'cast photo' litho by Léon Loire, the score of incidental music seems to have been made up into a saleable quadrille by inveterate dance-music arranger Henri Marx.

Cocktail time ... then I'll see what else is in that pile!

1865. Christmas is a coming... with its seasonal entertainments ...


Looking for some old designs for Michael Green, I dug in the bottom pile of stuff in the cupboard ...

This is nice...

Fantasia by Olivier Métra on the melodies from the Folies Marigny (formerly Offenbach's Bouffes-Parisiens) seasonal revue of 1865 (15 December). Ah! Those were the days when a 'revue' could really be called a 'revue'. A meet tongue-in-cheek, end-of-term show 'reviewing' the events of the year. The star of this one was the splendid Montrouge, the theatre's manager, and its title was BU... QUI S'AVANCE in reference to the year's huge hit opera-bouffe LA BELLE HÉLÈNE ...

The engraving seems to be of the more 'picturesque' members of the cast: the typical quartets of 'boys' and 'girls' danced by the chorines of the company. But, goodness, who is the pretty fellow in the middle? Most unusual.

It just might be the dance of the little boatmen, music by Henri Cellot ...

Anyway, this what Parisians got for their Christmastide entertainment 150 years ago. I feel things have not improved in a century and a half ...

I think I shall dig a little further into this pile. Can you wait a bit, Michael?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Summer is icumen in ...

I arrived back at Gerolstein in late September. And it rained. And rained. Big, soggy puddles all over the place. Muddy paddocks. Slush. Please, please may we have some warmth and sunshine so that little things can grow?

It's now late November. And the sun is powering down. The two-week forecast says no rain in the next fortnight. Please, please may we have some cool and rain, so that little things can grow?

Who'd be a farmer?

But it's summer. It's the time to start the clean-up, and the planting ... so here we go. Off to the delicious country nursery 'Roses at Cust' to stock up the flower garden, replacing the plants chewed by the flock of 40 peacocks *thus, standard roses ONLY), drowned in the flooding, died inexplicably, and so forth.

Roses at Cust

Loading up a few beauties
This year, we've revamped the gardens. We started with mine ... When we arrived 15 years ago, it was a formal rose patch with a flowering cherry tree in the middle. Colourful. Also labour intensive. Then the cherry tree gave up the ghost. But it was still pretty enough that we chose to bury Ian's ashes there, with some lovely golden lilies around the grave.

But roses don't last forever and now there is just one of the originals left. So we've chosen to make it an informal garden instead. Just a few roses, here and there, with Ian's golden lilies, which have come back staunchly for eleven years, yellow irises, tropicannae, an azalea bushlet, lobeliae and so forth ...

The veteran white and last year's 'Hamilton Gardens'
'Crimson Glory' originally bought for LITE GASP's first win

What was a decrepit orchard with a tin shed, alongside the river, has been cleaned up bit by bit. The old plum tree still yields a few fruit, but the scraggy grapevines and ivy-strangled apple trees are gone, every touch of antique shadecloth has been consigned to the fire, miles of old wire and fencing and polythene piping to the tip ... instead we have a brightly growing little walnut tree and drapes of honeysuckle ...

Into the ex-orchard 
You are my honey-honeysuckle...
I had a little nut tree ...

Next it will be Wendy's gardens ...

2017 is a turn-around year for Gerolstein! And the peacock menace has been averted somewhat. Last week, Wendy and Nigel tricked eight peahens and one young cock into a closed horse float, and down the drive they bumped off to a new life somewhere ... anywhere! ... else.

Bye, girls!
This means of course that the Gerolsteiner population has become rather patriarchally balanced. As near as we could count, for the last three years we have had circa 21 boys and 21 girls. We lost two or three to 'natural causes', destroyed all the eggs, and, up till now (when I have discovered that peafowl eggs are mega-delicious) only one young lad escaped our Herodical rampage. But now, that young lad plus eight females have been white-slaved to places beyond the county line. So we have, at last count, a dozen hens and over twenty males. Some cocks are looking rather bewildered. 'Hey, where've all the chicks gone?'.

Sorry, mate!
In just a week the power balance has gone crazy. The boys have redoubled their displays and howls, and also started fighting. One large male is injured in the foot. We feed 'Hoppy' inside because the others bully him.

Hoppy knocks on the door for his feed
And this morning two of the young men measured up to each other. Tails up. Feathers shimmering. Was this romance, I wondered, or war? Given the anatomy of a peacock, I'm pretty sure it was war.

Well girls and guys, the Big Bad Horsefloat is coming back tomorrow. So let's see what the totals are at eventide. I can see another half-dozen overworked girls rushing for it!

Last year's tree-toppings ... wow! heat!
In the meanwhile ... well, while Wendy's been all day doing vast things in the garden, I did the fire (big needing-to-be-overseen bonfires in hot weather are NOT fun), so I think it's time for a wee whisky and some armchair... yes?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our lovely "ordinary" Grandad ...


Grandad. Our dear, lovable little grandfather (decisively shorter than Grandma, also a little younger). But that’s what he was … ‘grandad’ … and as children we were so culpably uncurious about his past and his family. He was just lovely grandad. I knew solely that he came from Scone in Scotland, and that he had been a tailor. I knew that, because my main memory – the main mind picture I have of him, still – is a little man in his 60s leaning over the big dining table at their gloomy clapboard house in Miramar, with a piece of tailor’s chalk, marking out a length of tweed to make mother a coat…

Grandpa and Grandma Welsh c1951 with Kurt and John
His name was Edwin Welsh (b Gowanbrae 5 January 1887;       ) and he was the youngest of the three children of James Welsh, tailor (d Gowanbrae 21 February 1910) and his wife Jane Steel Hudgston (b Arbroath 15 July 1847).

James and Jane Welsh, Gowanbrae c 1890, with David, Maggie Jane and Edward
Miss Hudgston’s family I can trace back, on the female side, to the early 18th century, but father James? I couldn’t find him. My best candidate was a James Welch, by Robert out of Mary, born in Scone 20 March 1853. And yes! There he is, Welch, in the 1871 census, in the Cupar Angus Rd, Scone, with mother Mary, siblings Mary Ann, Helen, Alexander and John, and listed as a seventeen year-old tailor! And in 1861, in Front Road, Scone with no less than 8 siblings, father having seemingly given up the ghost after John in 1857.

Jane Welsh and daughter Maggie Jane
Robert Welch (and its staunchly Welch) is there in the 1851 census, with his wife Mary (née Taylor) and the first six of his brood. He is listed as being 33 and a handloom weaver (cotton). And there is another Robert (b 1775 Kilspindie) down the street, also a handloom weaver (cotton) with a wife also named Mary whom I suspect strongly is his father. And he is. OK, the tree is growing.
Robert Welch born Scone 16 June 1817 to Robert Welch and Mary née Boyd … and, oh dear, that looks like him in 1861, not dead at all, but confined to James Murray Royal Lunatic Asylum … too many children …
But surely this father is the elder Robert, son of William Welsh (sic) and Catharine née McGlashan baptised Kilspindie 12 November 1775 …
Enough. So Kilspindie it is … it seems there is more there than the golf course.

Now, Jane née Hudgston (b 11 West Mill Wynd, St Vigeans 15 July 1847). Great-grandma number 4. Daughter of David Hudgston (b Arbroath, 1819; d St Vigeans, 18 November 1882), flax-dresser, and later foreman at Green’s Mills, of St Vigeans, and Jane Steel Cram(m)ond (b Arbroath, 22 February 1822; d 15 August 1890) who were married 31 December 1844.

East Mill Wynd, St Vigeans
I can follow the Cram(m)ond family, in Arbroath and St Vigeans, back to the beginning of the 18th century, but the Scots, true to their reputation, make you pay to see the records, so I’ll do without. I’ll be satisfied with knowing that all the families came from Arbroath and, most particularly, the adjacent village of St Vigeans, and leave it at that.

Jane is censussed, aged 13, as a servant at the seat of the Earl of Northesk, Ethie House, but a decade later she is, like so many others in the area, a flax-spinner.

Ethie House
As for the other Hudgstons, the only times that they seem to have made the news was when Jane’s brother Alexander Paterson Hudgston, of 40 Rossie Street, retired after 54 years working as a fitter in the Dens Iron Works, and when sixteen-year-old deaf-and-dumb David, the son of youngest brother John Boath Hudgston (also deaf and dumb) found a lost wallet.

So, back to James Welsh or Welch, the tailor. In his 20s, he set up the tailoring firm of Small and Welsh at 8 Gowrie Road, Bridgend, Perth, in collaboration with neighbor William Small. Gowrie Street was later demoted to being the firm’s workshop, and the showroom moved to 67 George Street, Perth.

The family, however, were installed first in Perth Rd, Scone, then in Gowanbrae’s Murray Hall Road, and, by the turn of the century, in Queens Rd, Gowanbrae, where grandad was preparing to join his father’s firm. Brother David had become a plumber (always a useful thing to have in a family) and sister Maggie Jane was a teenage dressmaker.

Queen St. The Welsh house was second from the right.
James died in 1910, and Edwin took over his place in the firm. Then he married Maggie Anderson, the infants’ schoolteacher at Blairgowrie High School, emigrated twice … and the bit of the story that we know began.

Well, it’s a pretty ordinary Scottish story of the 19th century. No brilliant men hidden in there, as there were in the Jewish and Austrian forbears of my family. Just hard-working, hard-breeding folk of the Scottish mill and factory towns.

At least, in this day of digging, I’ve at least learned who they were and from whence they came … maybe, one day, I’ll fill in the gaps. But I’ve got the picture…

In latter days. Rudi Ganzl dit Gallas (father's mother) and Edwin Welsh (mother's father).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How does it feel being a FOREIGNER?

Amazing what you find on the web...

Dateline: 1939

Our father, from Bishop's Stortford College, UK, applies for a teaching post in New Zealand, and protectionism and racism rear their Cerberus heads. 'Foreign' is the accusation ...

Yes, he was indeed.  Not many PT instructors have a PhD from a major university (Vienna) and qualifications from Cambridge, UK et al as well. And speak perfect and accentless English.

Happily, Wellington Tech stuck to its guns, father arrived and in a few years he had risen to the post of principal of the College. Even more happily, he married a young Scottish New Zealander relief teacher and had two sons. New Zealand is quite happy to call John and myself 'New Zealanders', these days.

Oh, by the way, the whingeing didn't end there. When father moved on from Wellington Tech to be the founding principal of the new Waimea College, Richmond, Nelson, the deputy headmaster and headmistress, all smiles, led a campaign to have him ousted, claiming his credentials were unproven and, indeed, false. But his PhD certificate was found in the bottom of an Austrian suitcase, the plotters discomforted, and instead of being removed, as the Education Board proposed, they were 'made' to stay on ...

Then there was the social-climbing tradesman's wife who hissed to mother at a school function 'how does it feel being married to a JEW...'

Ah, me. It's a tough life being a 'foreigner'. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My ancestor ... the royal postman


I have to say that I didn’t really expect to find many tales amongst the smalltown history of my un-newsworthy Scottish forebears. So I was a surprised and delighted to come upon the one that follows.

Explanation: Andrew Morrison, agricultural labourer, of Merklands estate, Kirkmichael, was the grandfather of Annie Morrison Anderson. He and his wife Ann née Ferguson bred freely and I have to their debit Andrew (1819-1893), James (1822-1901), John Albert (1823-1885), William (1825-1891), Annie’s father Alexander (1827-?), Betsy (1831-1909), Donald (1832-1912), Jean (1835-1906), Francis (1837-1915) and Marjory (1843-?).
The children worked variously as farm workers, farm and hostelry servants, and James and Francis became shoemakers, while William swapped laboring for tailoring before going blind. Jean married Peter McLaren, stone-dyker, and took in blind William, and bachelors James, Donald and Francis, in their retirement, took over Kirkmichael Post Office, it looks as if Marjory became Mrs James Cameron while Betsy remained single … but they didn’t really make the news, except when young Francis got arrested for poaching.
Until 1912….

‘Death of Veteran Postillion Who Drove Queen Victoria

By the death of Donald Morrison, at Ballintuim in his 78th year, Strathardle has lost one of its links with past times.

Donald was born at Merklands estate and had been a tenant on Ballintuim for 60 years, retaining his tenancy even when he was working elsewhere.  He  started his career as a ploughman, and then, after a short time as coachman at Ballintuim, he went to Mr [Robert] Grant, Spittal Hotel, [Glenshee] as postboy.

Spittal of Glenshee
These were the palmy days of posting, and Donald, sharing in the general success, became leading postillion. From the Spittal he went to Braemar (the Invercauld Arms) as first postillion, and in this position frequently drove Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, King Edward (then Prince of Wales), and other members of the Royal Family.

Invercauld Arms
It is related that on one occasion when driving Queen Victoria their route lay over a ford, the river being in high flood.  The Queen was a little nervous, and anxiously inquired at Donald, who always rode the wheel horse, if there was any danger?  He was busy guiding his horses through the rushing waters, and shouted back, ‘No, it’s abs-o-lutely safe, your Majesty’.   
Speaking afterwards to a friend, he explained, ‘Her Majesty might hae kent it was a’ richt whan I was there’.

During the time he was at Braemar, Donald stayed at Ballintuim during the winter, and returned to Braemar in the early spring for the posting.

A colonel who was a well-known traveller on the North road, but could never get a conveyance to go fast enough for him, one day near the end of the season strolled into the Invercauld Stables and inspected the stud, on which, by the way, Mr Fisher, the lessee, rather prided himself.  ‘ No’, said the colonel, ‘you don't have one horse there fit for a gentleman's carriage; but I must take what I can get, as I have to go to the Spittal, and quick's the word’.

Mr Fisher called Donald aside and implored him to take the impatient colonel at his best speed.  "It's near the end of the season, and you can take your time coming home".  Donald conferred with his mate, the postillion on the leaders and they determined that they would beat all records in this particular run over the Cairnwell.  The upward journey to the watershed was taken in good time, and, the summit reached, the horses were put to their top speed.

Cairnwell, the highest road in Britain
Down the Devil's Elbow they raced without slackening speed.  The coach rattled and sway, but the skill of the riders and good luck kept the coach on the roadway.  Just when the bottom corner was reached the colonel shouted to his postillions, ‘Cautious here, men!’  This was joy to the hearts of the postboys, who had never before heard of the doughty colonel called for caution.

The original 'Devil's Elbow'
A quarter of a century ago Donald retired.  His wants were not extravagant, and his years of positing had yielded him many douceurs.  Since then he lived there, and really enjoyed life in his quiet way, ‘nor wished to change his place’.  A cheery personality, he will be long missed by many friends around Ballintuim.’

Sigh. I knew there had to be an intrepid horseman somewhere in my ancestry! Before me, that is.