Mary’s Tale, The X Factor

by

Mary’s Tale
The X Factor
Mary Milner sometimes known as Val directed the iconic 1953 film, Brought to Justice produced and played entirely by the children of Ellerby Lane Primary School while she was still a pupil at the school herself. This was very innovated for the day. Later Mary studied at Leeds University. In this tale Mary tells of her time in the East Leeds show group The Showstoppers who put on variety shows in aid of charitable causes. I was lucky enough to take in the show myself – they were excellent performers.

Edward Blackwell also reminds us that 2016 is the centenary of the explosion that killed the 35  ”Barnbow Lasses’ on Dec 5th of that year and gives us some simple verse in commemoration

X Factor

By Mary Milner

Recently reading about ‘The Showstoppers’ variety group that started off as St. Hilda’s Road Show, has reminded me of the years I spent with them. Once a year we put on a week’s show at St. Hilda’s, then throughout the following months we took a version of it around hospitals, old people’s homes, churches and charities. After a while, the group encouraged people to join from other areas of Leeds and the name St. Hilda’s Road Show became less appropriate. Because we were led by Jill Robinson (nee Baldwinson) as choreographer and producer, Father Houghton at church (humorously or seriously, I never knew which) suggested the title ‘The Jillettes’ – only to be dismissed out of hand as sounding too much like a well-known brand of razor blades. And so we became ‘The Showstoppers’.
Father Houghton had a good sense of humour. At one of the St. Hilda’s concerts I had to open the show in front of the drawn stage curtains, dressed in a long black skirt and a very sparkly ‘showbiz’ top, belting out the opening song for all I was worth, ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’.
I dashed off stage to where Alice Padgett was waiting in the wings to dress me for my next number. There was no time to go backstage to change at leisure because meanwhile the curtains had opened to reveal the company dressed as nuns, singing just one number from The Sound of Music.
There was scarcely time for Alice to pull a nun’s habit over the top of my sparkles before the curtains closed again on the company and I was pushed onto the stage.

I stood there dressed as a rather dishevelled nun, all alone, fixed in a brilliant spotlight facing an ever increasingly puzzled audience. I smiled at them – they smiled patiently back at me – I’d forgotten what to sing. Alf, our pianist, was no help, though it wasn’t his fault – the piano introduction gave no clue to the melody whatsoever.
For some obscure reason my song was ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer’.
Eventually from the wings came a muttered oath from Jill, our producer, and a cross-sounding hiss,
‘Doe, a deer, a female deer’!

After our last performance that week, Father Houghton thanked us and presented each of us with a carnation. He said I’d done well and I told him he wouldn’t be saying that if he‘d been there on the Monday night.
“Oh”, he said, “you should have struck up with ‘I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair”!

Sometimes nerves do interfere and the mind goes blank. I had to learn a very old music-hall type song about a man who sells balloons. As I waited in the wings for my turn, I panicked and grabbed the lad helping backstage – did he know what I was due to sing?
He looked at me fearfully, surveyed the large halo of balloons that were tied nodding round my head, and said, “Is it something about balloons”?

How soon we adapted to our amateur stage life, learning the showbiz jargon – stage curtains became ‘tabs’ so we could remark knowledgably on things like ‘Are we behind the tabs for this”?
The stage space in front of the tabs was ‘the apron’ and so on.
The many venues we visited throughout the year were all quite different and we would ask, ‘Is there a stage or are we on floor?’ meaning a stage or a ‘a la cabaret’ performance.

I used to put a bulldog clip on the centre parting of any stage curtains – there’s nothing worse than not being able to find a way out through closed curtains in front of an audience.

When we had a show booked I used to go straight from work to Alma Hitchen’s house where Alma kindly kept my suitcase of costumes. Jill liked us to wear plenty of make-up for stage and to SMILE,
“I don’t want you all looking as if you’ve got TB”!
Alma usually asked me to apply her stage-makeup, even allowing me near wielding that tortuous implement, the eye-lash curler. She was very brave, I wouldn’t trust me!
Alma died in December 2010, aged 88. She was a lovely lady.

I recall on the first night of one of our new weekly shows at St. Hilda’s, we were all ready to start before a full ‘home’ audience, when Jill had an idea. The theme of the show was travel and countries overseas, so she got Jean Thackray to stand in front of the tabs with a clipboard in air hostess mode to greet passengers. Alma was instructed to come walking through the audience as if checking-in – this was to be the show’s new opening. Jean took up her place, the lights dimmed and the audience was settled and quiet when Alma came charging down the aisle with her suitcase.
One elderly lady on the front row shook her head, tut-tutted and was heard to remark to her friend, “Oh dear – typical – that Alma’s always late”!

I’ve done my share of perplexing audiences, as the time at the old people’s home where we performed in their spacious lounge. With my song over and dressed as a 20s flapper, complete with a long fake cigarette holder and cigarette, but minus my specs, I turned to leave only to be confronted by about four (blurred) possible exits – but which one was the door to our company’s changing room?
I short-sightedly chose one which turned out to be an actual, real telephone box, where to the astonishment of the pianist, the next act and the audience, I pretended to make a telephone call!

Amongst many other things we’ve dressed up as Dutch girls, Russians, Spaniards, twenties flappers, cowboys, Scottish dancers, gypsies, old time musical hall turns, London pearly kings and queens, minstrels, Hawaiian hula girls, military, Christmas, and many more. The quality and creative thought behind our costumes enjoyed a good reputation, on occasion drawing spontaneous applause.

It was during a ‘gypsy’ number at a show at Menston Hospital that I featured in a song about gypsy golden earrings.
“If you wear these golden earrings,” I warbled, “love will come to you”.
From somewhere in the audience came the heartfelt call – “Hey, send ‘em down here, luv”!
Great fun………….
***************************************************

Great tale Mary

The Barnbow Lasses by Edward Blackwell

Edith Sykes was a 15year old girl who lied about her age and went to the factory that night to replace her sister, Agnes, who had flue and was ill.

My Mum’s sent me because my sister’s not well,

she said I should come and make these shell,

I’ve got a funny feeling I don’t like it in here, so it’s only for tonight lets make that clear,

what is it exactly that you want me to do?

hang on for a minute I’ll have to tie my shoe,

then in an instant an explosion occurred,

those were the last sounds she ever heard,

she was only 15 not long out of school,

pretty and intelligent she was nobodies fool,

her remains, unfortunately, were never found,

incinerated in an instant with all else around,

it’s a very sad story from a hundred years ago,

when 35 lasses were blown up did you know?

people rallied round to give a helping hand,

but very little remains as you will understand,

as credit to their tenacity they all worked on,

their loyalty and patriotism holding strong,

When you buy a poppy think of these lasses,

with their long ringlets and false eyelashes,

they gave their lives so that we could be free

that deserves respect from both you and me,

it’s a hundred years ago and memories fade’

when the drum beats the piper must be paid,

we should always be grateful for their sacrifice,

our country needed them and they paid the price,

wherever you live now if you from around here,

remember those brave lasses we lost that year.

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2 Responses to “Mary’s Tale, The X Factor”

  1. aussiepom Says:

    Thank you Mary for your delightful renditions of Showstoppers. I could picture everything. Anyone who has joined an amateur theatrical group has to have a sense of humour as Murphy’s Law rules, anything that can go wrong usually does.
    I was with a group for years, they couldn’t sing, dance or act but they were the best ad-libbers in town. The sound man frequently got the sound effects out of sequence which was hilarious for the audience when the telephone was supposed to ring and knocking on a door was heard. They hired a fog machine one time, worked perfect at rehearsals, worked overtime on opening night, audience coughing and spluttering. When they put on musicals the pianist said it was a race to see who finished first, her or the””singers”” they never listened to the music she was playing. They always put on comedy plays thank god, you can’t ad-lib Shakespeare.

    In complete contrast to Mary’s story Edwards poem is very moving and heart felt. Tells a different story of the tragedy of life’s turn of fate.
    You captured it perfectly Edward and indeed we all owe a lot to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s poems like yours and stories printed here that keep the memories alive so we don’t forget how other lives affected our own. I knew people who worked at Barnbow and they never forgot that terrible day and we will remember those girls too. Thank You Edward.

  2. Doug Farnill Says:

    Aussiepom, you said it all. Thank you for expressing that tribute to two memories so beautifully.

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