"Bird in Hand"

Written by John Drinkwater
Produced by Mr E.P.Butcher

Tuesday December 13th to Friday December 16th 1960

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Geoff Hodgkins: In 1960 we did a 1920s comedy by John Drinkwater called Bird in Hand. It was set in a country pub, and focused on the change and tension going on in attitudes to social class at the time. The landlord’s daughter (Chris ‘Babyface’ Norman) was loved by the hunky son of the local squire (the dashing Richard Bradshaw), but her father objected as he was out of her class. The guests at the ‘Bird in Hand’ decide to support the young lovers by pleading their case with her father. Why does he disapprove? Is she not “good enough” for him? My daughter is good enough for any man alive, he answers. So what’s the problem? they say. Ultimately he faces his own prejudices and they all live happily ever after. At one point when things come to a head, and the landlord (‘Moose’ again) realises she has gone to her boyfriend, he loses his temper and calls out in a loud voice, “Time, gentlemen, if you please!” This is followed by a long pause; but one night out of the tense silence came two voices we knew and loved:

“Eh? Er, that clock must be wrong, George!”

“Yeth, it theemth fatht to me, Welph”.

The thing was, we never knew this was going to happen: we had not rehearsed it, and again it was an absolute miracle that we managed to keep straight faces. It also totally ruined the dramatic silence. I wonder if the director knew!

Bird in the Hand was directed by Ted Butcher. I liked him: he was a good sort, and I got my love of Shakespeare from him, when we read through The Merchant of Venice in class (the third form, I think it was). The intellectuals among you will recall that the story revolves around Shylock and “the pound of flesh”, but the key sub-plot concerns the choosing of the correct one of three caskets for the hand of the beautiful Portia. One of the suitors was the Prince of Arragon, and Ted asked me to read the part. He said the character was rather affected - I don’t think he would have used the word “effeminate”, but we all knew that a limp wrist or two would not be out of place. He suggested that every “r” should be pronounced as a “w”. This worked well until the line “And rank me with the barbarous multitudes”, which caused the extreme embarrassment of the reader, and the total collapse of the rest of the class. (I think Ted hid a smile as well).

Ted Butcher left WGS at that Christmas, after the play, to take up a Head of Department at a school in Nuneaton. On the final night Brian Westcott, who played a miserable old man who saw the down side of everything, changed one of his lines, which went something like: “My brother-in-law is one of the unluckiest blokes you could ever meet. He got knocked down by a car and broke his leg. He got over that, but then he had to go and live in Wolverhampton”. On the Friday Brian changed the name of the town to “Nuneaton”, to huge laughter and acclaim.

I made a bit of WGS history in this play. There was a scene where quite a lot of dialogue centred around the subject of cigarettes, and my character (a young “man-about-town” called Cyril Beverly) had to light up. I talked this over with Ted and he agreed that it would be difficult to play the scene without lighting up. He got permission from Tin Bum (this was the time when Harold had a breakdown of some kind and T.B was acting head) and actually bought me a packet of fags! So I became the first (and last?) to smoke in a WGS school play! It was said at the time that Harold would never have given permission.

(All above from Memories of WGS)
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(From WGS scrapbook)
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(WGS Magazine)
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