from the sandy arena muttered about the coconuts they had knocked down but not been allowed to keep (there were not enough prize ones); the donkey race on which they had placed their bets but the animals refused to start. Preparations for the evening’s entertainment the Welfare Officer had delegated to his Clerk, Tpr Roy Watson. Watson, who had spent a period of his service seconded to Ensa, announced to his buddies that they must put on a show. The HQ Squadron Clerk proposed that the main feature of the show would be a pantomime and he would write it. Cleansing the HQ Office’s pre-war Remington and the stencil copying machine of their accumulated khamsin dust, he set to work preparing scripts for a version of Cinderella in four scenes. This entailed a cast of 13 players plus a number of stagehands. There were also 500 programmes to be run off for distribution to the audience. The first part of the show, styled ‘We Put You In the Picture’, consisted of a number of variety turns, such as Tpr Ferguson (‘Idlewitz Fergenberger’) on the piano; Benson & Hedges - the Middle-Eastern Brothers; and Eric Probyn with his ukulele. After an interval for free beer came the panto. Cinderella? A wise choice? Some parts were obviously male ones (Cinderella’s father, Baron Rearup, Buttons the valet, and various footmen, a coachman and a messenger.) No problem casting those, using the inducement of relief from fatigues and guard duties for the period of rehearsals. Some parts traditionally taken by cross-dressing males (the Ugly Sisters and their wicked mother) were not difficult to fill. The same inducements tempted burly lads of six feet and twelve stones to put on powder and lipstick and pad themselves in all the essential places. Yet, male parts that are normally taken by cross-dressing girls? (Well, one could get away with a Fairy Godfather instead of a Godmother, even with a male Prince and Dandini, but was there anyone in the tent lines who could possibly pass for Cinderella?) Well, we did find someone, serving out a whole litany of punishments for turning up late on parade, speaking out of turn to an officer, making excuses that the faint down on his chin did not mean he was unshaven, but that he was struggling to grow a moustache. He was our man, sorry, girl, with quite a juvenile face. And for remission of past sins he allowed us to make him up as a very pretty girl. All set fair until the second week of rehearsals - when Cinderella didn’t turn up! Message from the Regimental Police (RP): she
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is charged with abusing an officer, perhaps physically, and is locked away pending trial! Lt Bentley intercedes with the Adjutant and Cinderella is restored to the cast, under condition that she attends every rehearsal, and the final show itself, escorted by an armed member of Regimental Police. Meanwhile there is a whole industry going on off-stage. Tpr Peter Smart causes puzzlement in the neighbouring camp of Royal Ulster Fusiliers by stealthily removing all their lighting equipment and building a versatile switchboard on the stage: Tpr Jim Fairhead is engaged in carpentry: Tpr Bernard Marshall is working on scenery and décor, which involves a visit to the QM Stores in search of camouflage netting to make costumes: the NCO i/c Education Centre produces wigs, makeup and costumes. Under the direction of Cpl Peter Coleman, Tprs Ken Davies and Tom Kirk learn their moves as stage hands. And the result, it was generally agreed, was hilarity, at one point surmounting near disaster. Hilarity, when the first glance at the programme identifies the Ugly Sisters as Imshi and Yallah - soldier’s Arabic for ‘shove off’ and ‘sod off’. Hilarity, when the Fairy Godfather’s magic wand (a beanpole) turns a water melon into a ‘coach’ with coachman to take Cinderella to the ball seen, as the smoke clears, to materialise as a despatch rider on his motor bike. Hilarity, as Cinders pulled up her skirts and leaps onto the pillion. Hilarity, as the bike sets off down a ramp into the auditorium and out the back door, with a rude gesture from Cinderella to her armed escort in the front row. Hilarity when the Prince invites Cinderella to dance. Hilarity, when twelve blows with an entrenching tool handle on a fire bucket announce it is time for her to scarper. Hilarity, when she and the Ugly Sisters all try to fit on the glass slipper (decorated gym shoe) and none of them can do so, for it has shrunk in the heat. Near disaster, when the magic spell goes awry. At the clonk down on the woodwork of Fairy Godfather’s wand, one of the stage hands (Cpl Ken Davies) is primed to light a heap of flash powder. Flame and smoke will burst through a small trap door in the stage floor. The stunt has always gone off well in rehearsals. But this time one of the players is standing too close to the trap door and is nearly set on fire. It was obvious to the audience that the character of Baron Rearup was at the expense of one of the officers. He was a man of some girth and a tic in his speech. There were those who thought it was a dig at SQMC Watlington. The
script writer had actually intended the Adjutant, who had a similar tic. The Clerk stayed mute when, after the panto, the Adjutant congratulated him on a perfect caricature of the Colonel (Colonel Ferris St George) who also had a stutter. The Regimental Padre, sublimely innocent of smut, declared ours was ‘the cleanest Army show he ever saw’ and ‘wanted to know when the next one would be.’ There never was. The Regiment moved on shortly afterwards into Palestine where conditions were far different. FOOTNOTE: Trooper Roy Watson when on secondment to Ensa, had been a member of a concert party, playing the double bass. Later, in civilian life, he played this instrument in the Royal Philharmonic and Royal Liverpool Orchestras. Watson produced the pantomime and played the part of Fairy Godfather. Cpl Peter Coleman, D Squadron, painted the scenery - a change from his main regimental duty, which was painting the Divisional symbol (a Rhino) on all our vehicles. He was also compere of the evening show of which the pantomime was only one part. Tpr Ferguson played piano music for Cinderella and Prince Charming to dance to. The name of the wayward and allegedly pugilistic Trooper who played Cinderella is (perhaps mercifully) forgotten. The ‘coachman’ (despatch rider, that is) was Cyril ‘Snacky’ Hammond of the RP, who remembers the Comd Offr ‘nearly following through’ when he roared past him with Cinderella on his pillion. Baron Hardup spoke his lines with a tic and was obviously intended to be a caricature of someone. As script writer I can confirm it was not. I had to keep a straight face when the Adjutant congratulated me after the performance on the caricature of the Colonel. Both officers were apt to stutter. ‘Remington’ was the typewriter I inherited as HQ Squadron Clerk, complete with a vast quantity of desert dust which the khamsin had blown in off the Western Desert. I don’t remember the name of our padre, but he wrote me a note saying ‘a standard had been set of which the whole company should be proud’, and that he hoped there would be another show soon. There never was. It was not very long before the Regiment moved to Palestine. However, when the Padre embarked on a 4-day tour of the Holy Places there, and needed an armed escort because he was not permitted to carry arms himself, he accepted me as the virtuous sort of trooper who might sit in the back of his jeep with an aging Smith & Wesson and 6 rounds of .44.
Published on May 8, 2017