La Vie Parisienne 1973

One of the performers in La Vie kept a diary of rehearsing for the performances

Friday 26th January – the first LV rehearsal was after school, and it was a Friday night and we were told this would be the regular night. I think this time was chosen deliberately to encroach on – and spoil – the weekend.

LV is a move away from the traditional G&S we’ve performed in the past. CB promised it would be funnier and more farcical but also banged the drum about commitment. We knew this already and some of the boys from the U6th – who’ve been keen participants previously – have decided not to join this year, what with A-levels to pass. For me it was the other way round: because of A-Levels I wanted some respite from the grind of mock-exams and relentless, and for me necessary, revision. The other change is that for the first time most of the girls will come from LWS and not from Holton Park – as has been previous practice. I’ll miss them, as the girls have always been fun and there has been an underlying frisson of excitement. Still, Karen {Draisey} is going to participate and she’s already marked down for a principal’s part. For most of the rest of us, we have to wait to see who’s selected for Chorus or a Principal.

Fortunately the rehearsal only lasted for ninety minutes and all we did was to sing some of the key songs, only one or two of which I recognised. Because of the fewer numbers of Upper 6th Formers the boys are younger and hence lighter in voice but I’m sure CB will compensate for this in some way.

I had promised Karen I would give her a lift home after every rehearsal – well most of them, and this week I also gave Dawn a lift back as well. After I’d driven to Headington and Iffley respectively, I drove into Oxford and met Jon {Banks} in the Turf Tavern.

Friday 2nd February – Already I’d missed an LV rehearsal as I was charged with leading the meeting with GG to discuss changes in the School uniform. ‘Waste of time,’ CB grumbled when I excused myself. ‘Commitment, remember commitment.’

None the less, the meeting proved productive as we negotiated the abolishing of jackets and blazers for day-to-day wear.

Then I waited for the rehearsal to finish (CB said it wasn’t worth me joining late) to give Dawn and Karen a lift home to Oxford and then I drove back to Thame, where I met Val {Whittle} in the Oxford Arms. This would have been a contemplative drink save for the fact that I knocked over a near full pint glass of beer and ended-up sodden.

Friday 9th February – during ‘games’ I went down to the Malt House for a pot of tea as my knee injury has yet to heal fully and then came back for LV. To date, no one has been assigned parts or indeed do we know whether we will be principals or in the Chorus. However, after we finished, CB said I was likely to get a part.

As we were leaving the Hall, Carolyn {Horton} came up to me, grabbed me and said she had cold hands and could I lend her my gloves. At moments like this, I wonder, albeit temporarily, whether sticking with V is the right thing to be doing. Of course it is.

Now minus my gloves, I gave Jerry {Axford}, Pat {Ray} and Dawn {Roper} a lift home, also stopping off at Tim Thomas’s to drop off his amplifier.

Friday 16th: It was a half-day and, as soon as we were finished lessons at lunchtime, I hurtled down to The Malt House for a pot of tea and a cigarette. The car is off the road due to engine problems and so I had to catch the bus to Wheatley to meet Val and Jenny {Atton} in Wheatley’s only coffee bar. They were annoyingly late and so I could stay for only one cup before hitching home and then hitching back out to Thame for a LV rehearsal.

It seems that I might play the part of Pierre, a gormless buffoon of a manservant – or something like that. What I want to know is does he kiss any of the girls?

Once finished, I met V at The Birdcage but we stayed only a short time as we then went to the Oxford Arms to play bar billiards.

Friday 23rd February– it’s been confirmed I will play Pierre and perhaps because of this I enjoyed the rehearsal. It’s a part I can play for belly laughs even if it seems I won’t have much opportunity to be kissing anyone. Afterwards, I hitched back to Headington with Karen, and we were picked-up by van with only a front seat. This meant that Karen had to sit on my lap, an experience that meant for once I didn’t mind that the driver was rather slow and cautious. Whether Karen was enjoying it quite so much was open to question.

Friday 9th March: I played for the New House football team in the match against Wykeham. I was bored and fed-up, as for some reason I was a target for much hacking. Finally, this tedious game ended in a 3-3 draw.

The LV rehearsal wasn’t much better. At the moment, to familiarise ourselves with the words, we just have to sing our way through the songs. Afterwards Karen and I hitched back to Headington in a massive articulated lorry that smelt of oil and very stale tobacco.

Friday 16th March: an uneventful LV rehearsal after which I went round to V’s rather than going back home first. Mistake. We ended up having massive row over a petty issue. {I didn’t note down what the issue was!}. I left in a huff, saying I was going to the pub. Of course, I was wishing that she would follow but she didn’t. So I went to the Birdcage and waited; then to the Abingdon and waited and finally down to the Six Bells, and waited. When the pubs closed, I was drunk.

Friday 23rd March: to be honest my mind wasn’t on the LV rehearsal as I was going to see ‘The Banana Box’ at the Playhouse. This was starring Leonard Rossiter, Paul Jones and Rosemary Leach.

Beforehand, I went to the Gloucester Arms to meet with Pete Vogt – who is now working at the Playhouse as a stagehand. He was there with Paul Jones and I joined the small group. PJ wasn’t drinking much but he bought me a drink and refused one when I offered to buy one back.

The play was excellent: very funny with Paul Jones getting better as the play developed and Leonard Rossiter being superb from the start. Afterwards I returned to the Gloc’ and met with many more of the cast and crew.

Friday 30th March: I skipped School in the morning, and instead went into Oxford with Jon to buy my car tax. I could then put the car back on the road although as it was a horrible day, with the rain tipping down, I was put off going for a long drive. Instead, Jon and I went into School and watched the Road Race, then drove to The Sun at Wheatley for lunch. For some reason, Dave Higgs was there and afterwards I gave him a lift to Oxford. Not that I minded as I wanted to buy the new Roxy Music album ‘For Your Pleasure’ from Sunshine Records. Then I had coffee in the shop’s coffee bar and bumped into Dave Durrant – now studying something at the CoFE.

Then it was back to school for a rehearsal and then on to Wheatley again for a now increasingly rare visit to the Sandpiper.

Finally, just before bed I played my new album: sheer heaven.

{There is a gap in the diary here.}

Friday 4th May: Took Carolyn and others over to Scotsgrove so they could play tennis in the morning. I could have stayed but instead went and met Jon at the garage, {the Three Pigeons Garage where we both worked on the forecourt for pocket money} as he needed help with starting a car. I realise that at least 50% of the 6th Form might think I was off my head. ‘You did what? You didn’t stay to watch the tennis?’ But I really didn’t fancy lounging alongside the tennis court watching some white thighed and white knickered girls hurl themselves around the courts. Even my perversions are a little above this. (A little.)

After the LV rehearsal, Dawn asked if I could give her a lift home as her father was away and she would pay me for the round-trip (as I had to return to Thame later). She suggested 60p.

Sunday 6th May: Sunday and I had to get up early for a rehearsal. Last night I hadn’t got home until 2.00am as I had been drinking in Oxford and had then gone over to Brill where Val was baby-sitting. I collected Karen from Headington, and Paul Glenny and Pat Ray from Wheatley and took them to the LV rehearsal. I found the rehearsal a waste of time as most of it was devoted to chorus work and I had to hang around back-stage. In fact, as I wasn’t wanted at all for the 1st Act, I went on to the estate and had too many cigarettes. After the rehearsal finished all my morning lifts had to find their own way home as I decided to go to the pub in Thame for a lunchtime drink.

Friday 18th May: the LV rehearsals are getting longer as we spend more time on blocking the dance routines but I didn’t mind, as my plan afterwards was to go straight to a disco at Lady Spencer Churchill College. This plan was almost scuppered when Carolyn asked if I could give her a lift into Oxford. This wouldn’t make me too late for the disco but I had said I would meet some of the boys there. Then when I got to Oxford, Carolyn asked if I wanted a drink before she went off to meet some friends and by the time we finished I was late arriving at LSC and was really in the dog-house as ‘the boys’ had been waiting outside for me until they got really fed-up.

Wednesday 23rd May: having registered our ‘attendance’ at School, Jon and I went for a drive in his car down to Henley. As we were twisting down a country lane, we were suddenly confronted by a van coming the other way. Jon stood on the brakes but to no avail. Smash. Jon’s car suffered nasty dents, creases and a split radiator. Conversely, the van was hardly damaged, and in any case the driver didn’t care as it was a firm’s vehicle. Neither could we blame him. He drove off leaving us to deal with the car. The rain was tipping down and with the radiator split we knew we couldn’t go far. So we pushed the car off the road and hitched back to the Three Pigeons Garage to pick-up the tow-truck. Jon was sullen and miserable and by the time we had towed the car back I was only just in time for a Principal’s rehearsal. I’m getting into the part, as is everyone. If there was any scepticism about performing a French operetta, it has now evaporated.

{There’s a gap of a few weeks as I was deep in desperate A-Level revision.}

Sunday 24th June: another early morning rehearsal and due to much smoking and drinking last night I was very croaky. As someone said, everything is coming together nicely and everyone in the cast is having a great time. For those of us doing A-Levels it’s been a great respite and a moment of sheer escape just to attend rehearsals. My last exam was on Tuesday, and now I have nothing else to worry about – other than whether I passed or failed. It could go either way. I’ve almost mastered the lines and songs so don’t even have to think about these too much.

After the rehearsal finished, Rich {Smith} and I went down to the Six Bells to meet Jon. Then we went over to Richard’s house to start setting up for the party: playing the music (mainly a repetitive mix of Roxy Music, the Rolling Stones and Canned Heat), eating chicken and drinking the beer from the barrel we’d set-up. This was mid-afternoon and by the time everyone started arriving at 8.00pm of course the three of us were already drunk. The excuse for the party was the end of A-levels and I suppose we felt this was enough of an excuse to let ourselves get disgustingly ripped. We enjoyed ourselves – if anyone else did to the same extent, I’d be surprised. In fact, I think more than a few were pissed-off. And if they thought we were prats who could blame them? Val certainly thought I was.

Monday 25th June: I’d fallen in a heap on Richard’s floor and whereas I should have been savouring my last official day at School, I was instead slumped over the kitchen table drinking black coffee – which I hate. But by lunchtime, and a long bath I had made my way in and began filling out all the forms that were thrust in front of me. This I found quickly boring and so strolled down to the Six Bells for a long cool glass of Long Life. Hair of the dog and all that. Then I went round Val’s to apologise. Anyway, we went upstairs, more than kissed to make up and then I went to a LV rehearsal. In truth, I was feeling knackered and when we were finished, I was for once glad to get home.

Friday 29th June: a regular Friday LV run-through. But, as the French would say, and I wouldn’t as my French is hopeless, there is a joire de vive among the cast.

Sunday 1st July: this was an all-day rehearsal. For much of the time I was sitting things out, as when the tally is counted I’m not in that many scenes. However, eventually we did spend a lot of time going through the dance routines. CB takes great delight in taking the piss out of mistakes and for some reason today, he latched on to me – for reasons I found unfathomable.

At lunchtime, the Principals were invited to The Warren for refreshments with the Goodalls. Marion had made a wonderful tasting but I guessed non-alcoholic punch but the whole affair was very detached and we were minding our manners in a way that was nothing but a charade. In the end, it was too much for me so I slipped out and joined the Boarders for a hearty steak and kidney pie with new potatoes.

Monday 2nd July: We had a long rehearsal going through Act 1 and 2 concentrating on the scenes with the Chorus. The pace is really hotting-up and whilst the Principals are reaching a peak (or at least that’s what we like to think) the Chorus need more practice in places. Of course there is a huge variation in abilities: from the professional such as Catherine {Fowler} and Kim {Bostock}, to Claire {Dickenson} who’s great fun but prances around with little idea of what she’s doing. There are a few who can make the moves but seem pretty vacant or pretty and vacant: I think of Fay Lincoln in particular who is clearly in a world that is different to mine, and I’m not sure that Carolyn is 100 per cent with us. Yes, but the girls are better than the boys. Well the younger boys are good but people like Richard should have hung up their dancing shoes long ago.

Jonnie {Saunders} is running Back Stage with his usual unflappable efficiency but at the same time with a permanent furrow of worry etched across his brow. But performances are improving with every rehearsal. No doubt we’ll all reach the expected standard on the night and everyone will be proud. In fact, the operetta is funnier than any of the G&S we’ve put on, the good scenes will overshadow the poor bits, and the audience will think it tremendous. And as usual, it seems the two extravagant parts for CB and RA were written for them.

We’re also performing on an extended stage to give everyone more space to mount the dances. What an extravagance as well!

Tuesday 3rd July: it was a Principals only rehearsal, running through the Libretto. At this stage, CB is lightening up and we had much fun. Afterwards Karen, Dawn and I nipped down to The Bells for a drink. We were in the Public Bar and to my horror Mr Whittle was drinking in the Lounge Bar. He spotted me of course and waved in a way that said ‘saw you!’ So tomorrow, I will no doubt get an ear-chew from Val.

Monday 9th July: today was hairstyling day for everyone. Two hairdressers had been roped in from Thame for the task. For some reason my hair was OK and little was done but some of the boys had to endure a serious revision to their style. I laughed but they didn’t.

Tuesday 10th July: The first dress rehearsal – which went off surprisingly well. As ever, the costumes are fabulous. The girls look divine. No, they look bloody attractive. Afterwards, Karen and I rushed to get changed so we could make it to the Six Bells before closing time. With my car off the road again, we had to hitch home but we didn’t have to wait long as the two teachers from France who are temporarily teaching and staying at the School came along and offered to take us all the way.

Wednesday 11th July: in the afternoon I went into Oxford and watched Lawrence of Arabia in a special wide-screen version being presented at The New Theatre. I sat in the Circle (cost 65p) and as it was the afternoon I had plenty of space around me. I had first seen the film some ten years ago and then my enjoyment was limited to the spectacular scenery and the action. Now I was more interested in picking up Lawrence’s sadomasochistic sexual foibles, which seemed to be clearly pinpointed.

As it was a long film, I came out realising I was on the verge of running late for getting to School. With the car off the road, I had to hitch but decided to catch a bus to the Headington roundabout and start from there. I missed the buffet that had been prepared for the cast and crew and had to go straight into make-up.

Alls well that ends well and the first night went off without a hitch.

Thursday 12th July: I hitched over to School in the afternoon and arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the buffet prepared by Mrs Rogers and her 6th Form domestic science class. For 25p, we had plenty of food and canned beer and bottled cider. Taking a risk, I thought but in the end I only had two cans before the buffet was taken away at 5.00pm.

I thought I had a reasonable performance and overall the audience loved it despite there being too seemingly obvious mistakes: the first was that Dawn came in to an entrance a minute late. Where she was or what she was doing I could only wildly guess at but I wondered if Sean was lurking around. CB went wild and was flapping in the wings. ‘Where is the bloody woman,’ I heard him hiss in an ever louder voice. The other incident also involved Dawn: there is a scene where I am supposed to stab her by mistake: I misplace my sword in the scabbard and it ‘stabs’ her in the thigh. However, perhaps I had more than two cans of beer and in my exuberance, instead of the sword missing her, this time it really happened. I’m sure she went white under her make-up. I went red.

Afterwards, as we were taking off the make-up, Dawn was livid and wouldn’t stop pointing out what had happened to all who would listen. All of a sudden, it seemed I was some psychopathic monster. I changed quickly, grabbed Karen and we went down to the Six Bells. Sean was there, and I asked him if he’d been up at the school. He said no, he’d been in The Bells all night.

Friday 13th July: despite the date, the performance went well with a very good audience that howled in all the right places and then howled again.

Saturday 14th July: the final performance. For once, I got to school early, changed, got made-up and then had to wait around. I had eight of the family there and I edged perilously close towards an over-the-top performance.

Afterwards, GG gave a speech that went on for a rather long time. This was followed by presentations of flowers to the key staff and those who had come in from outside. On the stage, I could see a lot of eye rolling and feet-shuffling.

As soon as GG stood down, there was a mad-rush to remove costumes and make-up, and get over to Annabel’s place for the party.

To everyone’s disappointment the weather had turned foul: rain, thunder and lightening. This meant that we all had to squeeze inside, most into one large room. Of course, all the boys had laid out some plan as to whom they wanted to be with and these were stymied by the fact there was now no dark recess to escape to.

Instead we had more chance to face the fact that for some of us, this was our last ever School function. It was now all over: A-Levels had finished and we’d signed out of School. When the performance ended, we were no longer schoolboys. From tomorrow, I was going to start a summer job up at the Garage, and begin my year-off. I looked round the room. There were seven of us who had started at School together in 1966: Tony Ireson, Andy Mathews, Chris Giles, Paul Glenny, Johnnie Saunders, Rich Smith and Jerry Green. Then there were the girls who came into our year two years ago: Jo Woodrow, who I’ve always liked, Jane Andrews – well I like her as well, Nona, Catherine, Pat, in fact all the girls were great, added to the richness of our lives, and we seemed to get on just fine. Didn’t we? Perhaps it was because we’d mostly passed through that terrible period of puberty, and we’d lost our gaucheness and we could see girls as friends rather than strange beasts from a frightening planet, whose task was to make boys look as silly as possible.

I did realise that I probably wouldn’t see many of them again. This was a great parting of the ways. We were together to celebrate LV but as a symbolic moment we were about to separate. As I looked round the room, I could see tears as the same thoughts were going through all of us who were leaving.

I’d been a child when I first started at the School. Now I had a notion I was an adult. What formative years we’d been through? What adventures! What traumas!

Then I decided I didn’t want to become maudlin about this. School was over and done with, and when I left the party, I had a broad smile on my face.

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