Tuesday, July 4, 2017

IF

If.

It’s a funny little word, isn’t it?

It’s the title of a famous movie directed in 1968 by Lindsay Anderson and staring Malcolm Mc Dowel.


Only two letters yet the thoughts that could go with it are massive, and at times earth shattering.

Its origin is in the Old High German (iba), moving to the Old Saxon (eef) and onto Middle English of (gif).

Today it is classed as a conjunction and in approximately fifteen hundred and ten was first used as a noun.

The dictionaries of the world give its meaning as a conjunction as:

a. In the event that: If I were to go, I would be late. b. Granting thatIf that is true, what should we do?
c. On the condition thatShe will play the piano only if she is paid.

2. Although possibly; even thoughIt is a handsome if useless trinket.
3. WhetherAsk if he plans to come to the meeting.
4. Used to introduce an exclamatory clause, indicating a wishIf they had only come earlier!

And as a noun as:

A supposition; uncertain possibility: The future is full of ifs.

So now we are on the same page, I pose a question.

How many times in your life have you wondered “If only I’d done that? If only I’d crossed the road? If only I’d taken that turn?  If only I hadn’t had that last drink?

If, like me, you’ve asked such questions a million times during your lives, you’ll concede now that you’ve never fathomed out a reasonable answer.

Therefore they remain unanswered.

I am now going to attempt to answer a couple of my iffy questions, so bear with me.

What would have happened in my life if I had not accepted the job offer that brought me to South Africa way back in the late sixties?

I do not care to air the number of times I have examined this dilemma. It is numerous and each time I have ventured to answer it the number of other “ifs” entered the fray.

I was at the time in wed-lock to my first wife, a beautiful ex-Ballet-Rambert dancer, who I met whilst she was working as a stage-manager working in a Northern English repertory company. I was playing Octavius Caesar in a modern production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

She had played many leading roles for Rambert and was a rising star, but injury befell her and she had taken the stage manager’s job, wishing to stay in the theatrical industry, and hoping that her fractured ankle would mend quickly.

We had a whirlwind romance and were married when we both moved to London on completion of our contract at Billingham Rep. Our best man, was the soon to become famous, Bryan Brown,  for his role of Doug  Coughlin in “Cocktail” staring a young Tom Cruise.


He was also working at the time in the same Repertory Company. As a wild Australian boy, his paper work was not in order and a couple of weeks after our marriage he skee-daddled from his assistant stage manager job and headed homeward to move in front of the cameras and become a famous film star. He later married the equally famous Australian actress Rachel Ward while they were working on the TV series The Thorn Birds.

The Lady in Wedlock and I settled into a flat in Chiswick, we had only been there a month and the weekly queue at the dole office was beginning to get very depressing, when suddenly Maggie got offered job as a chief dresser on the Black and White minstrels show at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

Within a day I was working as junior fly-man in the tower. It was the dustbin men’s strike and then the miners came out and a three day working week was announced by the government. The streets of London looked like a pig-sty and the tube-men went on strike too.

So it was bicycles for the two of us. We only worked on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with sometimes a Wednesday matinee for the OAPs, but in no time we became two of the fittest young people in show business cycling 8 miles from Chiswick to Victoria station and back to our flat.

Then one Monday morning the phone rang.

A ringing phone meant two things to both of us. It was ominous, either someone was looking for money we owed them or it was the offer of a job.

I answered it with trepidation, and was relieved to hear the dulcet tones of my agent, Miss Boo King. I was being offered two jobs and if Boo played it right I could do them both.

A guest appearance in the popular BBC crime drama Dixon of Dock Green, and another appearance in the new police drama Z-Cars. I played a long haired motor bike rider Kevin O’Brian in Dixon and long haired hippy student ban -the-bomb rebel Tony Monk in Z-Cars.
   


I did both and our bank balance began to look rosy. However I had just finished the Z-car’s job and another job was offered. I was to play a small supporting role in the BBC’c Play for Today series.



It was Penda’s Fen by the already famous David Rudkin. When it was screened in 1974, I was already in South Africa but I heard that it went on to acquire the status of minor classic, win awards and was rebroadcast several times on the BBC.










The job that took me to South Africa came under unusual circumstances. I was in University College hospital at the time, newly diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic, so I had to get special permission from my doctors to get a pass-out for the evening to meet the director and fellow cast, more of this another time.

The job was in Terrence Rattigan’s In Praise of Love a very popular play and the South African producer was assured of good houses as there was no television service in the country till the mid seventies.

Their president at the time, John Voster , and he called it the devil’s box.

I was offered the juve lead, Joey, the estranged son of an egotistical left-wing literary critic Sebastian.


There are only four characters in the play. Sebastian, his wife a part-Jewish woman called Lydia, who is suffering from a terminal illness, but she was with the Resistance during the Second World War, so she survives on her wits and her feminine charms. Then there is Mark, an American best-selling popular novelist and a friend of Sebastian's, who has long carried a torch for Lydia.

Sebastian is openly abusive to his friend Mark, and to his son, Joey, who offends him by working for the Liberal party: "A vote-splitting organisation," says Sebastian, "carefully designed to keep the establishment in power."

Joey himself is an aspiring writer, and is in rebellion against his father's overbearing manner and professed Marxist views.

On the surface the play takes the form of a comedy of misunderstanding, but it quickly builds into a situation of almost unbearable suspense as layer after layer of comedy and pretence is peeled away from each character to reveal the full measure of each one's unspoken love and pain.

As well as being an outstanding dissection of the nature of love and pain, In Praise of Love is as fine a statement about the loss of idealism and illusions in the nineteen seventies.

My fellow thespians were all well established Muriel Pavlov, Robert Flemming, and Canadian actor Robert Beatty.

They all worked, appearing in stage, film, television and radio productions. Muriel had just come from a film set were she played Kenneth Moore’s wife in the epic Second World War movie Reach for the Sky. Robert Flemming had just finished filming The Quiller Memorandum playing the sardonic British Secret Intelligence Service chief. And Robert Beatty had recently come off the set as one of the astronauts in A Space Odyssey and as General George Carnaby in the Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood’s epic war movie Where Eagles Dare.


So I was very pleased to be amongst such distinguished actors and I had a very long argumentative scene with Sebastian.

But it wasn’t the role or my fellow actors that really made me take the job.

What impressed me even more was the sound of my agent’s voice telling me I was to receive a salary of seventy five pounds a week for five months. That would certainly keep toddy full to the brim, and it didn’t take me long to discover that Mr. Robert Beatty was very fond of a very large Brandy and coke. And we were both introduced to South Africa's answer to Potcheen. The illicitly made Mampoer, made in the hidden stills in Groot Marico.

My previous job was with Prospect Theatre Company, I had toured Australia for five months and I received only twenty eight pounds a week. So the deciding factor of this first “if” was money with a capital M!

My first meeting with my fellow thespians was strange to say the least.

A tube and bus trip from central London to Hampstead Heath.

I was informed that our opening night was in five days and it was in Pretoria South Africa.

I was to have two rehearsals apart from this preliminary meeting; they were to be in the evening at the director’s house. The next day we were to fly to South Africa during the night, be taken to Pretoria have a technical run through, a dress rehearsal, and open the following night after a second dress rehearsal in the afternoon.

At the initial meeting I was asked, “How good are you at learning lines Cess?” “Ok”, was my reply. “Good,” replied the director, “Have them in your head for tomorrow evening’s rehearsal.” 

What followed were two read-throughs of my three scenes and then I was sent packing with my copy of the play clutched securely in my sweaty hands and my newly acquired insulin in a small cooler bag.

That evening I was learning my lines when the phone rang. It was unusual for my agent to make an out-of-office call, but she thought she had better fill me in concerning the producer for whom I was about to work for.

She told me I was a replacement; the SA producer was not happy with his original casting and had fired the actor. She gave me a full run-down on the rather infamous Pieter Torein, who I was to work for another three times in my illustrious career.

Needless to say I learnt my lines and the opening night was a resounding success.

The play ran on tour to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg, and Durban and to then what was Rhodesia. All in all, a ten month run with constant full houses.

It was during the Johannesburg run which was about five months that I was introduced to the art of radio acting by some of the finest actors in this craft, the late Hugh Rouse, the late Denis Folbigge, Margaret Heale, Ian Hamilton and his wife Erica Rogers.

They taught me all the nuances of the craft.

How to portray distance and movement by moving on and off mike, how to use the telephone mike in its own little enclosure, and most importantly how to not pop my “Ps” and deliver lines when only a centimeter away from the mike.

This last technique stood me in good stead for all the voice-overs I would do in latter years for Castle Larger, thirteen years, Samsung ten years, British airways, four years, BMW five years.

Denis Folbigge was one of South Africa’s leading actor-writer-directors and was responsible for many long running and successful serials and series. It was he and another radio personality, Margaret Heale, who employed me constantly and who persuaded me to start writing for their series and serials.

Within a year I was performing the lead, and writing episodes of “My name is Adam Kane” and also writing the highly successful crime series, “Squad Cars”. A radio rip off of the BBC series “Z-Cars” that I had just appeared in.

So a few of my “ifs” have been answered, if I hadn’t taken the job I would not have learnt my microphone technique, I wouldn’t have seen every major town in South Africa, I wouldn’t have traveled to Zimbabwe. I wouldn't be writing these tales.

And I wouldn't have discovered Mampoer!!




But if I hadn't?


Now there’s the question!!!

6 comments:

Unknown said...
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Mike O'Connor said...

Brilliant stuff Ron, when do we get to hear about the Wild West?

Rose Gradwell said...

Nice to hear Chiswick get a mention. Chris always pointed out your flat when we went to visit my daughter, who still resides in Rusthall Avenue, Chiswick. Regards, Rose

Anonymous said...

July 1969 Securicor. 13 Frederick Street, Kings Cross, London.

Best wishes, Ron

Anonymous said...

"I shared my room with a Scots lad called Agnus. It was he who introduced me to his boss at Securicor"

Agnus is alive and well and living over the hills and far away in Trumpland.

Sir Cess Poole said...

Hi Angus. Great to hear from you.