Monthly Archives: January 2015

THE THAME PLAYERS

Reflections on a local theatre group…

Dick programmeWay back in the early eighties I had just moved from the village of Great Haseley to a larger village, Long Crendon. To us it was like moving to Manhattan. We were used to one pub, a few rustic acquaintances, and a ten minute drive to civilisation. Long Crendon was a bustling metropolis compared with this – more than one pub, a village square with loads of people to talk to, and….shops! Woo!

Thame was moments away, and the Thame Players, the local drama group, acted like a magnet to my first wife, although she had heard they were a bit ‘cliquey.’ This turned out not to be so, and she was cast as Prince Pico in Aladdin in the first pantomime we were personally involved with. Thinking this involvement could drive a mighty stake between us, and I would feel left out and lonesome, I suggested I could help out with the scenery. The chairman, who obviously thought I was too arrogant for my own good, said “You’ll have to wait your turn.”

Unabashed by this rudeness I did some panto scenery (which I’ve done every year since) and proved that, arrogant or not, I was handy with a 4″ brush. My then wife entered into the spirit of the thing enormously, and took lead parts, organised social dos, joined committees, lead parades, recorded coarse laughs, and generally bossed me about until I was fully involved too.

As a side note (and come closely because I’m going to say this quietly) a pretty young fifteen year old always accompanied her mother to the coffee mornings, in the vain hope that she would see me (yes, you read that right) holding court at the top table, smoking, joking, talking about the stupidities of the latest committee decision. If I wasn’t there, she went home inconsolable. That girl is now my wife, and the mother of my six year old son – so I can thank the Thame Players from the bottom of my heart for that.

Anyway, in the thirty something years that followed I have co-produced shows with my dear friend Peter Wheeler, who sadly is no longer with us, have written many of them – including the original version of Cluedo, which went on to the professional stage nationwide, and still holds the record of the most successful show ever at the Theatre Royal Windsor. I have written and produced pantomimes for them, notably a lovely version of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – the Sweetie Version. In the very early days I wrote a musical about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, called cunningly Leonardo, with Gordon Waller, the Gordon bit of Peter and Gordon (number one in 1964 with World without Love) and Robin Box, lead guitarist with White Plains. The show was a great great success at Thame, but when we tried to emulate our success in London…don’t even mention it. I lost the value of a small house.

Loads of plays – Shot, Naughty Girls, Rainland followed. All penned by me, all still available to aspiring Cameron Macintoshes out there.

Generally the Thame Players has been a fount of wonderful friendships, happy giggly shows, occasional superstars who we soon cut down to size, and a theatre that has grown and blossomed, with investment spent cleverly and wisely, to give us the superb facility we give to the town of Thame today. Films. Guest speakers. The pick of the touring productions. Great seasons of shows.

And that is why I was so sad to see this year’s panto. Lacklustre – that’s the word. A production of Sleeping Beauty that was drab, unimaginative, horribly written, drearily performed, badly lit (although apparently loads of money had been spent on hired equipment) and, in my mind, an embarrassment to this successful and dedicated group of players.

Please let that be a non-repeating hiccup in a history that has lasted, and given loads of pleasure to thousands, for over seventy years.

POST-CHRISTMAS DEBRIEFING

And we’re not talking Santa Y-Fronts here…

wereerOne of my problems, yes one of them, is that I have enormous trouble remembering what I do for a living after a long break. Nearly three weeks in Spain last year, and I was trying to work out whether I’m a plumber, a tap dancer or a brain surgeon. Maybe all three. Anyway, the Christmas break this year had much the same effect. After a lot of jollity, and various people wanting to make sure they didn’t appear stingy with drinks, and tins of shortbread from kind relations, and a complete Stilton cheese from my mother in law that could have won Cheese of the Year (the cheese, not my mother in law) or whatever the cheese equivalent to an Oscar is, and a surfeit of mince pies that don’t do me any good I can tell you – I was ready to get back to the normality of my working day. The premise is simple – I help out with the breakfast and then sneak off up the garden to my haven where I…

What?

Various clues are around. A disk with Speed Drawing Demo written on it in a broad and friendly hand, a pile of mono cartoons which obviously trace the happenings of a conference or team building day of some sort, and a superb bit of kit called a Wacom tablet which is undeniably something to do with arty things. Vague recollections. Ah, cartoons I reckon.

For the first time in about two years I seem to have a bit of time on my hands. I have dreamt of such times, where I would take advantage of this very temporary lull by beginning my life story The Girl Behind The Red Door. But instead I panic – not my normal sort of panic where I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get everything done. No, the sort of panic when I realise I have very little to do so have to face up to the earth shattering realisation that nobody loves me. I’m finished. This cartoonist, who has earned a dubious and occasionally splendid living from his craft, is no more. An empty husk. History.

The phone rings. Aha! Just my imagination! Here goes!

“Barclays. NatWest. Lloyds. Do you…” I tell the recorded voice to go forth and multiply or words to that effect – and return to my high dudgeon.

Ping. An email. ‘Could you do your conference cartoons at our event in…?’ Ping again. ‘These little speed drawing films you make. Could we meet up…?’

Life is smiling upon me again. I’m back at the coal face, talking heartily about what I do – because I’m a cartoonist you know! Yes, I had a wonderful Christmas! Happy new year to you too! Have you ever considered cartoons for the home page of your website too? Copywriting? Of course!

Duncan Cartoons is open for business in 2015! I’m back!

The selling bit: All these wonders can be found on www.duncancartoons.com Go on – you know you want to…

DUNCAN

No not me, my best mate since 1959…

DuncanSaturday morning. A short walk down Pinner High Street, and I was right on the scene for the best time of the week. Meeting friends outside Woolworth’s to show off our new jeans or oblique chisels, and to put our cigarettes carefully in the corner of our mouths for maximum effect. Laughing loudly at nothing in particular to prove that we were having a good time. Calling out cheeky remarks to girls who tottered past on newly bought high heels. The weekend had begun.

My dear old friend John Cleaver (or Joanna Cleavage as we preferred to call him) had dropped into my home one day to tell me that he had got involved with a clique. I was fascinated, since I had been away at boarding school since I was eight, and consequently hadn’t got any friends apart from him in Pinner ( or anywhere else for that matter.) Strutting about in an ill-fitting suit and a thoroughly unsuitable tie, he began to describe this exciting group of people who had taken him into their coterie. There was Gordon, who looked and sang exactly like Elvis. (He got to number one with that singing five years later in 1964.) There was Perry and Robin, two constantly battling brothers, the latter of which I started a design studio with in later years. There was Carol, who was the most fascinating person I had ever met up to then, who I married much later – but that’s another story. Suffice to say she was the subject of all my rude thoughts for years to come. There was Graham, a dear friend I regularly see still – who is the king of the Isle of Wight. There was Dave, an ace guitarist. There was another Dave, who smoked Gauloise and roared around on a motorbike in heroic fashion.

And…there was Duncan. The sweetest friendliest person I had ever met, knocking spots off the pond life I had had to put up with at my awful public school. We became friends very quickly and were equally responsible for finding the right parties to go to (one every Saturday almost without fail.) We suffered the same total disasters with girls, and the occasional triumphs with same, and the same stupid sense of humour. When I told him once that I thought I was losing my mind because I talked to myself, he replied “That’s nothing. I tell myself jokes.” Hmmm…

Deep into the night we would record daft stories with sound effects on Lynn’s tape recorder, which we once plugged into the mains when the battery ran out. Only once. We were jolly lucky that our audio version of Ben Hur wasn’t lost for good. (It is now, for very good…) Later on we recorded many songs deep into different nights and I discovered recently, twelve years ago, that I still had these timeless classics, and had them remastered onto CDs. I proudly presented Duncan with his copy, but he complained that (A) I’d made myself look really groovy on the cover, and he looked like a little dumpy curly haired thing. (I said “So?”) and (B) that I had included all my vocals and very few of his. But he played (and I use the word reservedly) the guitar on all of them for God’s sake…so that’s gratitude I must say.

And a million other moments that have made up a friendship that has survived and thoroughly enjoyed the test of time. Gordon once said “whenever I see Dunc I just want to cuddle him.” He should have said that when Duncan’s Morris Minor fell apart when he was actually sitting in it.

I got a phone call from the subject of this in-depth article just before Christmas to tell me that if we didn’t meet in the next ten days it would be the first year since 1959 that we hadn’t got together. The result was a wonderful dinner at the Criterion in Piccadilly with my gorgeous Cathy, our kids, and Duncan’s new love, a Ukrainian beauty called Svetlana. By Jove, if we’d found women of that quality at those distant early-sixties parties we would have been the talk of the clique, and would probably have boasted of our triumphs to everyone outside Woolworth’s for at least four Saturdays.

Be happy. Treasure friends. It’s a great way to go through life.

I’M A WORLD FAMOUS CARTOONIST

Yes, it came as news to me too…

Click on this link and all will be revealed…
http://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/cartoonist-robert-leads-a-very-colourful-life-1-6498018

mince piesI was quite flattered when the lovely Becca from the Bucks Herald rang me up and said she’d like to do an article about me. After all, I had been hiding my light under a bushel for many years…

She arrived in time for coffee, and she seemed genuinely interested in what could laughably called my lifestyle. I talked about my past triumphs – which took about three minutes – and then got into what I do now. I talked about speed drawing, and conference cartoons, and all the other stuff I get up to that helps me avoid the main issue – life.

I even talked about my sweet family, and our plans for Christmas. And so to the main thrust of this compelling blog.

I know. I’ll give you details of some of the high (and low) spots of a world famous cartoonist’s Christmas.

Trees assembled. Cards on strings. Mince pies waiting in the wings.

(Thinks… could be the start of a poem)

First to wake up? Jamie Duncan. He objected to the fact that we’d left his stocking downstairs for Santa and it had been brought up to his bedroom. “How dare he?” he said, proving that Santa had got one of his more difficult customers to contend with.

Later, and my attempt to cook the perfect lunch was hampered by the fact that I forgot to put the sprouts on. Sigh of relief from Sam, moment of horror for me. Third glass of wine needed.

After that all went well. Much eaten and drunk, Cathy and her parents, who had vowed to go for a walk, were the first to go to sleep, and I settled in to a dozy round of Turkish Delight, industrial quantities of Bailey’s, and the most riveting episode of EastEnders I had ever seen.

Don’t know what Dickens would have said about our Christmas, but we all loved it.

My darling Cathy made my day by producing two tickets for The Play That Goes Wrong, which we’re seeing next week. Can’t wait. In-depth review to follow…

Several other events stand out – a lovely Christmas morning drink with a certain thriller writer and her family. A happy and silly dinner at the Criterion in Piccadilly with my oldest surviving friend and his Ukrainian lady love. An Indian themed evening to celebrate my sister’s very special birthday, with the older members of the family present and correct. Drinks and too much to eat at my nephew’s house…

And a fantastic evening at Barry and Michele’s home, where Barry introduced a whole new meaning to the expression ‘drink and nibbles’ by providing possibly the best spread of the year – luscious lamb cutlets, lovely lobster, dangerous dips, cheeky chicken, fab fish patties, passionate prawns and occasional octopuses on skewers. Loads of Champagne and the daftest, rudest card game any of us had ever played. That Barry…huh…he thoroughly deserves his superb surname – Duncan. With his film star looks, talents, skill and humour he could well be my long lost son.

And that’s it. Decorations packed away in the loft. Remaining stilton walking by itself out of the door. Thank you letters written. The remains of the last crackers finally sent to cracker heaven, along with their wire puzzles and red curling fish.

School runs and at least two months of foul weather await. Barclaycard statement lurks. Bathroom scales lie through their teeth. Gaviscon has to be replaced.

Oh well – happy new year.