Written by Norman Armstrong
Produced by Dr A.Jackson

December 1959

(Click on images to enlarge)

Geoff Hodgkins: Spike (Dr Jackson) was back again for the 1959 play. This was called Lifeline, a “drama” about a merchant ship during the Battle of the Atlantic. I played Casey, the Irish cook. Brian Westcott (being small) was the cabin boy, and I was supposed to bully him something rotten. I remember that one of my lines referred to him as “a snotty-nosed little bastard”, but Spike decided it was a little too much for the audience so it was changed (I think the illegitimacy was changed to “devil” as I recall). Much of the drama centred around the animosity between the captain (Bob Scott) and the chief engineer – Scottish, of course: all engineers in plays and films seem to Scottish, don’t they? – played by John ‘Moose’ Bayes.

The play opened with me laying the table for the officers and singing along to an Irish song. The late lamented Albert Fenner (whose family came from Northern Ireland) lent us a 78 (remember those?) of The All-Lammas Fair in Ballycastle. I had to sing along with this, and what with all the rehearsals became heartily sick of it before the end.

The stage crew were of course the ubiquitous Railway Club, led by the redoubtable Ivor Cheale, by now supported by ‘Cloddy’ Barker, who was chiefly responsible for the props. The first act took place in port, and Cloddy tried to add some authenticity by standing behind the scenery dropping chains and such like, and saying naval type things like “Lower away there: easy aft” in his impeccable Oxbridge accent. Sometimes I think our best acting was keeping a straight face at such times. The other two acts took place at sea, when we came under fire, and managed to sink a submarine (could a merchantman do that?). However, Cloddy by this time was carried away and while we were in the middle of the Atlantic during a dramatic argument between the officers and captain, came the familiar bleat of “Lower away there – easy aft”, which as you can imagine was most disconcerting and hugely funny (to us, anyway). More of Cheale and Barker later.

Another memory of Lifeline is of poor Phil Bratby. He played a seaman (unnamed) and had one line to say. He had to come on and report to the captain during the scene when the ship was on fire. The line was – we heard it so many times it is branded for ever on my memory – “Sir, the forward hatch covers have just caught and all the men are aft”, and then he would exit. Phil would walk up and down saying this wretched sentence to himself. The last run-through before the dress rehearsal Phil got so nervous he came on, said it at triple speed and ran off. Spike went ballistic. “No, no, no, Bratby. We never heard a thing. Much too fast. Come back and say it again”.

More authenticity came in the shape of Malcolm Billing’s smoke machine (his family did beekeeping, apparently). This was to accompany the end of the second act, when the ship was on fire. Dear old Billing took to his task with such enthusiasm that the smoke drifted out into the audience, causing Harold to storm backstage at the interval: “What the hell’s going on? We’re all coughing in the first four rows!”

(Above from Memories of WGS)
(WGS Magazine)
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