Back in the late 1970s I went to London with alarming regularity – as I recall I was there at least once every three months. It was the perfect time for travel – I had my airline passes, the pound was low, hotels were cheap and the theatre was highly affordable. It meant that I saw some of the finest and greatest (not always the same thing) performers of the period.
It seemed that my friend Barry, his roommate Angus, and I were out almost every evening – Covent Garden, the Coliseum, Royal Albert Hall, Old Vic and more theatres in the West End than I can remember. Barry taught me the fine art of getting tickets for sold out performances at Covent Garden – as I recall you stood outside the opera house on the Floral Street side with a five pound note folded in your fingers (oh stop it! Such minds!) and waited for someone to come by who wanted to sell their ticket. And more often than not you got the ticket for whatever the person had paid for it or a bit above – not some exorbitant scalper’s price. Lynn Seymour and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Romeo and Juliet, Jon Vickers in Otello, and Montserrat Caballé in concert the evening she tried a few flamenco steps, caught the hem of her dress, and fell on her posterior. After our initial gasp of horror she broke into laughter and we all joined in.
But as well as the tried and true Barry and Angus introduced me to a wide range of entertainers that I would have missed but for them. It was then that I had my first experience of Dame Edna Everage from one the “ashtrays” at the Apollo Theatre; as I recall Barry had worked on Dame Edna’s famous Sydney Opera House hat for Ascot.
And Angus introduced me, not formally of course but as an audience member, to those two dear ladies Doctor Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Brackett. It’s difficult to explain the Doctor and Dame to anyone who hasn’t experienced them. Of course the humour is very British, based on a certain knowledge of a long-gone theatrical past, a familiarity with English operetta and music hall, the English club tradition of female impersonation, and frankly outright camp. The two performers (George Logan and Patrick Fyffe) always gave interviews and made appearances in character and there was never the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” of someone like Danny LaRue. They “were” Hinge and Bracket and an entire backstory and life had been created for these “dear ladies”. And that became the name of their BBC TV series based on their lives and (fictitious) life in their village of Stockton Tressel.
But rather than explain them the best way to view them is to see them in action:
Here they are in a BBC recreation (much sanitized) of a Edwardian Music Hall:
And with the wonderful Ronnie Corbett. I dedicate this little video to my old friend from The Boy Friend: Linda, Vicki and Jon. Remember Camp Woebegone?
And here they are with Michael Barrymore doing something a far cry from their usual Ivor Novello or Gilbert and Sullivan: Kander and Ebb’s “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” – one of my favourite songs from 70 Girls 70, a show that was sadly a failure on Broadway.
Sadly Patrick Fyffe died in 2002 and George Logan retired to the south of France.