For the last year I have been grabbing time between lectures to make some progress on part 2 of the documentary talk about music hall. I have also been finishing some storyboarding for a couple of proposed films and some preparation for a BBC project, so it has been a full year! (That is by way of a preamble and an excuse for tardiness!)
Here is the full documentation on a piece I have just finished animating which is based on a song by Harry Champion:
I am about to compère a concert of G&S favourites. I was writing some programme notes and started to draw- the first three pictures are my copies of original photos and the two pictures that follow are a quick attempt to conjure up the look of Yum Yum and Mabel. Years ago, I designed a production of both the Mikado in the Playhouse in Oxford and then later a production of Pirates.
WH Smith was the original of Sir Joseph Porter whatever Gilbert might have said to Sullivan. Smith knew it and so did Disraeli who thereafter called him “Pinafore Smith”
and here are some photographs from the production of the Mikado which goes back to the early 1980s – I found a photo of the rather grand front drop but have somehow misplaced it.
Just to point out- I have not yet seen the film though it strikes me that Hugh Grant looks more like the pianist Cosme McMoon than St Clair Bayfield! I await the film with great joy! But I wanted to scribble a few thoughts first about Florence Foster Jenkins whose image I recall from reading about her in “Look and Learn” in the early 1970s, but whose voice I first heard when a friend called Gerald Dowler showed or gave me the record. It was a great pleasure. Even more so because on the flip side was a New York cabbie destroying Faust.
La Jenkins was supposedly “the worst singer of all time” (“Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammelled swoop of some great bird,”) and she drew crowds from the 1920s until her famous debut at the Carnegie hall during the 2nd World war.
“She clucked and squawked, trumpeted and quavered. She couldn’t carry a tune. Her sense of rhythm was uncertain. In the treacherous upper registers, her voice often vanished into thin air.” She had a heart attack two days after the show and died.
She was certainly eccentric, confident, hopelessly pursuing a fantasy of herself, a camp stylist with a vision that was entirely her own, and she remains an inspiration to anyone who follows a dream.
I love her determination. I am sure she would have done much of what she did even without her escort, “Whitey” St Clair Bayfield (who called her “Bunny”). She was disowned by her father after she ran off with her first husband Frank Thornton Jenkins. Frank gave her syphillis so when her hair fell out and she was forced to wear wigs. Then she badly injured her arm and could no longer play the piano. Still, she did not give up. She was supported by her mother who encouraged her daughter’s pursuit of music and society.
She may have been practically tone deaf, “the queen of dissonance”, but she had guts and determination: her line was, “people may say I can’t sing but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” suggesting she was more aware of her failings than the stories suggest. She also had inherited buckets of money and while pursuing her own benighted career, promoted others, and, for instance, put on a series of privately funded and fully staged operas for the Euterpe Club in english during the 1st World war often in Hotels; she continued to patronise the arts generally through the Verdi club.
The picture is after one of the photographs of her in a costume she had designed especially for her to perform “the glory of the human voice”.
here she is crucifying both Bach and Pushkin and finally the Queen of the Night::
I am much given to malapropisms so it was a pleasure to see a recent production of “The rivals” and once again witness the source of this bizarre linguistic illness. Shakespeare had already played this joke, by the way, with both Mrs Quickly and Dogberry in Much Ado, but Sheridan’s 1775 version sparkles especially with lines like “as headstrong as an Allegory on the banks of the Nile”. I had forgotten that one.
Here is a quick illustration of the characters:
Now an interesting fact: Tolkien played Mrs Malaprop for his old school in Birmingham just after he had gone up to Oxford in Autumn 2011. This is what the St Edward’s school chronicle wrote:
“the performance was a thorough success both artistically and financially (ed note – in my line of work both items very welcome!) J R R Tolkien’s Mrs Malaprop was a real creation, excellent in every way and not least so in make-up….”
While Mrs Malaprop lends her name to the problem, the first use of the word “Malapropism” is Lord Byron’s in 1814 though the OED cites something back in 1630 as well.