Magazine article The Spectator

Thank You for the Days

Magazine article The Spectator

Thank You for the Days

Article excerpt

I now consider my odd days at home as being on leave from the Middlesex Hospital, where I have been for the last month with just a couple of days break. Last week I had another one of those infections I am very prone to and they wouldn't even let a couple of visitors in to see me. I looked so awful, apparently. I'd like a polaroid to see just what that looks like. I suppose it is grey faced and out like a light.

Sadly, too, I have two friends in there at the moment who are both suffering from cancer, one of the colon which is particularly nasty and the other, a dear old friend, who has it in the neck. He and I used to work together years ago in the theatre. He was a stage carpenter and I was his flyman. I can't remember what year it was but we first took out Expresso Bongo on its provincial tour before it opened in London and it starred Paul Scofield and Hy Hazel.

We had a pretty riotous time of it but it was very hard work as well. I remember crawling about in the gantry with a hammer in my hand seemingly miles up making sure that some extremely heavy flats that flew did so securely, and during a rehearsal one morning accidentally lowering a chandelier on to an unpopular stage director's head. For that the company took me out for a drink, as though I hadn't had enough already.

The next show we worked on together was a fairly common and tatty mess of a production of the Folies-Bergere from Paris at the old Winter Garden in Drury Lane, but that was fun. The chorus girls' dressing-room was way up on my level on the fly floor and I got to know the girls very well. On occasions they would line up before the show and allow me the slightly farcical treat of sticking sequin stars onto their nipples which I did with a rubber solution called Copydex. I got to know some of them better than that and it was also the first time in my life that I earned enough money to give up drinking beer and switch to throwing back whisky.

As far as booze went it was the beginning of the end, but it was something of a riot for us. I remember a man coming up to the flys one morning to ask me for a job not working full time but just doing the shows, and he seemed quite a nice ordinary man, so I took him on. …

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