The second in the series of GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST is SCROOGE.
This actually amounts to 5 separate GHOSTS for me, having been involved with the tours in 2007, 2009, 2011 & 2013, and the London Palladium production in 2012.
> Working under the leadership of the legendary Stuart Pedlar – musical genius, and leading source of anecdotes, both told by and involving himself!
> Working with some fantastic bands, full of talented musicians, and playing a wonderfully written and orchestrated score.
>Marvelling at the incredible illusions designed by Paul Kieve – even after I knew how they were all done!
>The moment towards the end of the show when St Paul’s Cathedral was revealed – never failed to give you goosebumps.
>Surviving the scariest ever band call, at the Mayflower in Southampton – the first time I was faced with the infamous Keys 3 chair, referred to by those in the know as the “Chair of Death”.
Favourite Theatrical Anecdote:
Having done the show 5 times, you’ll forgive me if I choose 2 out of the innumerable anecdotes to share.
First up was at the Palace Theatre, Manchester in 2007. There’s a moment early on in the show when Scrooge sees the door knocker of his house become the face of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. I don’t think I’m giving away any well kept trade secrets by saying that this required the actor playing Marley to be behind the door in question. When the face disappears, Scrooge then goes through the door, and the scene changes to Scrooge’s bedroom. Shane Richie, who was playing Scrooge, was notorious for talking to the actor behind the door as he went through (James Earl Adair), so it was the sound operator’s job to make sure the microphone was turned off before Shane opened the door – which he duly did on all but one occasion! For one night only, he was a little slow getting the mic out, and the immortal words “What the f**k are you doing back here you old c**t” (or words to that effect!) boomed across the auditorium. Needless to say, he was never slow to get the mic out again.
The second anecdote comes from the one and only time I conducted the show with Tommy Steele. (Yes that’s right – 2 tours and a run at the Palladium as Assistant MD, and I only conducted once – as Stuart never took a night off, and Tommy probably wouldn’t let him anyway 😜).
Despite knowing that you are unlikely to have to conduct the show, you make damn sure you’re ready to do so if needed, particularly with someone of Tommy Steele’s reputation in the lead. I had conducted the show many times on my first stint with the show, but that had been with Shane Richie in the lead, and the show felt musically quite different. It’s a glorious score, but is not straightforward to conduct – particularly with some of Scrooge’s big ballads. The Orchestra were fantastic, so it made life a lot easier, and the show was going pretty smoothly, until a tricky moment towards the end. There’s a long vamp bar (a bar of music that’s repeated, until the action is ready to move on), and getting out of it was always tricky. Scrooge was looking in the wrong direction on stage, and the music has to cut abruptly to the next moment, wherever in the bar you are when the cue comes. Being well prepared I gave a nice clear upbeat – but Tommy jumped straight in, before the downbeat. (I know it was clear, as all the band came in cleanly on the downbeat!). This meant that Tommy was now one beat out with the band. In the split second that something like that happens, you have to decide wether to risk trying to get the band to move a beat – which is hard to communicate, and risks the actor also moving, and could end up with a complete car crash – or holding your ground, and hoping the actor can re-adjust. As there was another vamp bar approaching in a few bars, I decided it was best to stick where I was – and so did Tommy – so we had about 16 bars of a strange canon effect, before everything got back on track. The rest of the show passed off without incident.
After the curtain fell, I headed up to Mr Steele’s dressing room – with enough experience behind me to know that the best thing to do was to say “sorry – it won’t happen again”. I was ushered into his room by his P.A., and Tommy then spent a good 10 minutes tearing strips off me – “How dare you..”, “You can’t f***ing do that”, etc etc. When he’d finally finished, I simply said “I’m very sorry – if I get to conduct again, we’ll make sure to run over the moment before the show, and it should be fine”. He huffed, and just said “Fine – and the rest of the show was first class, now f**k off!”. I’ll take that! 🤪
Anecdotes best told by someone else (or maybe best forgotten):
>Who’s going to wake Stuart Pedlar up before he misses the upcoming music cue? (One for Tom Carradine!).
>Tiny Tim sacked on Christmas Eve (actually on a tour I didn’t work on, but still a classic!).
>Party Geoff’s slightly tipsy grab at the Keys 1 pitch bend wheel mid show. (Laura Llewellyn-Jones tells that one nicely).
> The Horn Player who thought it was a good idea to tape all of his music into one long line, to make a handy booklet – only for it to cascade off the stand in it’s entirety on the 1st page turn. (I think one for Matt Crossley, although I’m not 100% sure).
> The time Mr Pedlar fell off the podium, and landed on Keys 3. (Again on a tour I wasn’t on, but worthy of a mention).
Memories of those no longer with us:
A big part of my Saturday teatime viewing growing up, it was a joy for me to get to work with Barry. It also led to the glorious moment when I introduced him to my Mum backstage at the Palladium, and she simply said “Hi-de-hi” like a nervous schoolgirl! There was also a delightful moment when he drove Stuart Pedlar, Tom Carradine and I on a visit to Fountains Abbey. He spent some time telling us how marvellous it is, but unfortunately we arrived to find it closed. We had to stop him going off to find a monk to open up for us – “Closed?”, he said, “They can’t f***ing close it – it’s a f***ing ruin!”). He was a real generous spirit, and his Sherry and Mince Pie parties between shows were a highlight for everyone.
Geoff Abbot was another generous spirited actor, who was taken from us too soon. He really made the role of Bob Cratchit his own, and his renditions of “Christmas Children” and “The Beautiful Day” reprise will live long in the memory.
A proper cheeky chappy in his role as the hot soup man – Tom Jenkins, and a beautiful voice too.
When all’s said and done, I had an absolute ball on all 5 outings of Scrooge, and have a host of memories to cheer me up at this difficult time for everyone. I’m sure there are plenty of people who can add some memories of their own – either in the comments box below, or on my posts on Twitter and Facebook.
This is a very difficult time for those working in the Entertainment Industry, and for theatres, so if you are in a position where you can help out in any way, here are the links to the MU and Equity hardship funds:
Musicians Union Coronavirus Hardship Fund: https://musiciansunion.org.uk/Donate