HE POLISHED UP THAT HANDLE

(Herbert Newby reminisces with John Watt)

Herbert, in racing parlance it could well be said that you have gone through the card at D'Oyly Carte, May we briefly detail all you've done with the company before going on to discuss your career and the people you have worked with?

I came out of the R.A.F. in 1946 and went for a spell into Manchester Cathedral as a professional singer. One morning the principal bass said he'd heard the D'Oyly Carte wanted singers and that if he were twenty years younger he'd audition. So I said that I would have a go for a bit of fun, and I auditioned at the Opera House and was offered a contract. Unfortunately the Press, the Manchester Evening News, had been given some information, so that when I opened the paper that evening I found my photograph in there with the caption "Cathedral Tenor joins D'Oyly Carte". And I didn't have the heart not to sign the contract!

So I joined in the very cold winter of 1946.1 recall being in Sunderland, and at that time Tom Round was principal tenor. We did two shows, one beginning at four o'clock and the other at seven o'clock, presumably because of the coldness of the weather. The only laugh we ever really got was during the performance of The Pirates of Penzance", when Tom Round, who was playing Frederic, said to his father-in-law the Major-General, 'Why does he sit here night after night in this draughty old ruin?"

I was very fortunate because soon after that we went - which was my first trip - to the United States of America, which was something we often thought impossible in 1947. The whole company became pretty used to New York; seventeen weeks is rather a long time there. We went across on the Queen Mary which was a marvellous thing in itself.

Did you do any concerts while you were on board tile Queen Mary?

Yes we did, as a matter of fact. We gave a concert in the first-class and another in the cabin class which the third-class passengers were invited to. I think we raised something like 300/400 in aid of the Merchant Seamen's Fund, and this of course made us very popular on board.

When did You play your first part with the company ?

Tom Round decided to join Sadler's Wells, and this gave me my promotion. The first part I ever played - it was at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, incidentally - was when Tommy Hancock was playing Leonard Meryll. There was some reason he couldn't go on and I had to step in at short notice to play this small part. I was so thrilled by the whole experience, because my name appeared between two of the great Savoyards, Martyn Green and Darrell Fancourt. Darrell played the part of Sergeant Meryll and I played the son. That was my first taste of actually playing.

You once told me a very nice story about them coming up to wish you good luck.

Yes, there's no doubt in my mind what a kind gesture it was on their part. On my first time of going on, both these eminent gentlemen, instead of waiting until I got down to the side of the stage, made the trip to the top floor where I was dressing to wish me the best of luck, and I always appreciated that in later years. Later on - being an established understudy from the chorus - I took on principal roles, Rackstraw in "H.M.S. Pinafore", Nanki-Poo in "The Mikado", the Defendant in "Trial By Jury", and most of the tenor roles I have played on occasion.

You then transferred to the management side?

In 1955, when I was just beginning to put on weight, and getting into the costumes was a bit of a struggle, I was offered a position on the staff. This was rather a difficult decision to make at the time, but it turned out to be the best thing that happened for me. I thought it over and accepted the job. It was then announced as Stage Manager, which was a position I never actually filled. I went to America in 1955 in effect as assistant to Jerry Stephens and assistant to the producer. This was rather a long trip - nine months - a coast-to-coast tour of North America.

Can you tell me about some of the things that happened to you and the company while you were in the States during 1955?

It was during this time that I got married to Ceinwen Jones; she had also been with the company since 1946 - in fact, she joined just a little before I did. This was a step which I never regretted.

The tour took us to this fabulous place, Central City in Colorado. It is about 8,000 feet above sea level; we stayed there for approximately two weeks before we opened so that we could get used to the height, obviously because one became so short of breath. A truly remarkable place - it was more or less a cowboy town, which originated with the gold miners in the 1890s. It was the miners who built this theatre, which has a capacity of about 800. It was rather interesting to see some of the seats because in those days the miners apparently brought their own seats, which would have brass nameplates on the back. The one which comes to my mind was the seat of Buffalo Bill (Bill Cody was his real name); in fact he is buried in the mountains just outside the City. The city itself had about three streets and a couple of hotels. The cowboys still rode down from the hills and tether their horses to rails outside the saloon bars. The sheriff even wore guns.

I always tell a few stories which nobody believes - but they did actually happen. I will always remember our first night in Central City. A party of us went down to a place called "The Glory Hole". We sat at a table, and the manager of the place came across to us and said, "I would like to welcome you limeys here and we hope to make you very comfortable; I would like to point out to you limeys that this is a respectable joint!" So we had a drink; and in staggered, through the swing doors - like you see on the television films - this cowboy, who immediately made for the manager, and the fists were up, and we had our mouths open. This was something we hadn't ever seen in those days. The manager hit the cowboy, and he went down to the floor; the manager called two of the barmen round, and they threw him - again as you see in the films - into the middle of the road, through the swing doors. The manager's final remarks to us were: "There you are, folks - I told you this was a respectable joint, and we aim to keep it that way!"

There's another story I'd like to tell. There was a restaurant kept by the Mayor of Central City, During that time they had one-armed bandits in the restaurants; suddenly they were declared illegal in the State of Colorado, and they were removed. The Mayoress received a tax demand on the profits from the one~armed bandits which she refused to pay, so they lodged her in the local jail, which caused a great deal of upset because the sheriff was a friend of the Mayor and Mayoress. It also posed a problem because she used to play the organ at the local Baptist church on Sunday mornings. So the sheriff had to let her out of jail, and he sat on the organ seat during the service with the Mayoress. Then they went back to the Mayor's for lunch, and the sheriff returned with the Mayoress to the jail in the evening.

Another odd thing I remember about the place was that there were, I think, three cemeteries. One was a Welsh and Cornish cemetery, for the miners who had gone across there originally; another was a Catholic cemetery; and the third was a Masonic cemetery. They all had tombstones with the most peculiar inscriptions, such as "He died with his boots on - aged 28". Remarkable place!

We went on from there to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and eventually right round into Canada. Ten months later we found ourselves back in New York, and set sail for England on the Queen Elizabeth.

When you returned home this trip were there any changes made in the company?

In 1956 the producer at that time left rather hurriedly, so I took over as Stage Director (which is not as we understand the job of Stage Director nowadays). It is the same job as I was to take over in 1961, Director of Productions. I kept this job until 1970, when my assistant at that time, Michael Heyland, became producer and I then became Business Manager. I was Director of Productions for about fifteen years.

Do you remember seeing any performances by the company when you were a child?

I remember when I was in my teens I saw "The Gondoliers" in Manchester, in about 1931, with the great Sir Henry - never thinking that years later when I joined, some of the same people - like Martyn Green, Darrell Fancourt, and Leslie Rands - would still be with the company.

Do you still see any of what you call "Old Savoyards"?

I struck up a friendship with Martyn Green, and I used to see him when I was in America; Darrell Fancourt and I used to play golf. I remember we played at the Edgebaston Club what must have been Darrell's last game, and he was so pleased to get round eighteen holes. He retired at the end of that particular season, which was 1952/53, and unfortunately died shortly after his retirement. Then of course Leslie Rands was another great favourite.

Which particular roles did you like these people playing?

Leslie Rands, I think the Lieutenant in "The Yeomen of the Guard" and Captain in "H.M.S. Pinafore"; you could hardly fault him. Darrell, with all his lust for happiness, his part of the Mikado with his blood-curdling laugh. Martyn, of course, was an all-rounder, but I think Jack Point was perhaps his best part. His timing was brilliant. I can just say he was a first-class artist and a loss to the D'Oyly Carte Company when he left. However, the pattern goes on. It's interesting for me to recall the occasion when I played my first Nanki-Poo. Martyn Green had been taken ill; the understudy, Billy Morgan, was in hospital with a rupture; and a chorister - the second understudy - went on to play Ko-Ko. His name was Peter Pratt, and he later, of course, took over from Martyn Green when he left in 1951. Peter stayed until about 1960 when John Reed, who had been the understudy for about eight years, then took over. Then there was Leonard Osborn, a fine artist, who was a past master of the hornpipe in "Ruddigore" and danced it better than anybody I remember, although we have had some good ones since, Thomas Round and Philip Potter for instance.

Are there any female roles you can remember being your particular favourites?

Several come to mind. Betty Roberts (better known as Helen) was very good. She played the soprano roles like Josephine, and Elsie Maynard in Yeomen, and was married to Richard Walker, who was a principal bass with the company. So many have come along since then, it's very difficult to try and think of them: Margaret Mitchell, who had the lighter soprano roles, and later on Ann Drummond-Grant, who returned to the company and had a long and enjoyable stay. Since then we have had Jean Hindmarsh, Valerie Masterson, and Ann Hood - all highly successful.

Which were your own favourite roles?

Oh, my own favourite roles, I should think, would be Rackstraw in "H.M.S. Pinafore", especially from the vocal point of view; it suited my voice and I also enjoyed it very much. Nanki-Poo I also enjoyed, as well as some of the character roles like Lord Tolloller in "Iolanthe" and the Duke in "Patience".

Herbert, you more than anyone in the company know about the problems of touring and of moving a large company round the country, in fact round the world, continually. Can you try to tell us what it was like?

Yes, it was always a hazard. For any large company on the move the organisation must be good. The general pattern of touring altered a great deal. I remember train calls in my early days with the company when at that time the male principals were in one compartment, female principals in another; chorus ladies, chorus men, were all in separate compartments. There were labels on the windows: "male staff", "female staff", etc.; in fact, no mixing at all. Mind you, that was soon altered; I'm not saying that I was responsible for changing this, but shortly after I had joined the company this segregation was stopped and all the people mixed together.

It was the post-war period when the company's members were able to start travelling individually by car again which lessened the numbers on our train calls, and of course reduced the facilities for the transport of scenery by train, In those days we got so many tickets for so many carriages and vans ordered, i.e. if we had the whole company on the train call we would get enough trucks, free of charge, to transport all our stuff. Later we used road transport instead of rail. When we finished on a Saturday night all the costumes had to be packed, scenery stacked, etc., and loaded into large vans, The majority of the company had their cars, so they were all right from that point of view, but we still had a few people whom we had got to provide for on the train calls, The vans got to the next place and unloaded, usually on a Sunday, and it was set-up on the Monday and all the costumes had to be ironed again, lt became increasingly difficult to get all the stuff into the vans; it took as many as six van loads from place to place. We used many different methods; I remember in Leeds we used horse transport to get the scenery from the station to the theatre, We have used ships, and also aeroplanes, but flying was extremely expensive. I recall we had to open in Stratford-upon-Avon three weeks after finishing in the States at San Francisco. The most efficient way, and the cheapest, of getting back was to truck the scenery and costumes overland to New York to be loaded on to a waiting ship. Unfortunately we didn't foresee the longshoremen's strike, so we were caught by having to fly all the scenery freight from San Francisco to London, Then we had to get it to Stratford, which, as you can imagine, was quite an expensive venture in those days. Costs went up continually, of course.

On your trip to Central City in the States you went by charter 'plane?

Yes, the whole company, the scenery, and the costumes went by 'plane for the opening show, It was rather a lengthy journey in those days, and with all that weight in the machine it took us about sixteen hours back from Denver. It was an old Canadian transport 'plane, a CL44, I think.

How many people did you have to help you with all this loading and unloading?

We had our own carpenters plus the local staff - about eight to ten people. Our normal get-out under reasonable conditions was about two or three hours. We'd finish at 10.30, and we're out by about two o'clock in the morning and on our way, driving through the night. Holiday traffic could be a great problem, particularly entering the Devon area.

The vans we used were very good; they even took us on a Denmark trip to Copenhagen. They were rented vans - a firm called Richardsons of Leeds. We did have a very small van of our own which carried small stuff, but it wasn't big enough for scenery or anything like that. The majority of people had their own baskets (skips) and they were transported by the vans. There was also a certain amount of electrical equipment, extra to what the theatre had, which had to be transported.

Herbert, can you tell us a little bit about the people you've met and the junctions you went to while on tour?

Oh yes, I've met some very interesting and eminent people. One particular time which comes to mind was at the Prince's Theatre - now called the Shaftesbury. We had a visit from Sir Winston Churchill, who had been painting in Marrakesh; it was his birthday and he asked to see "The Gondoliers" and brought his friend Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery along. We were all introduced during the interval to the gentlemen, which was something in my life I really enjoyed. During the interval Lord Montgomery said he wanted to know the result of a football match between Portsmouth and Sheffield United. So a zealous journalist who got the result wrote it on a piece of paper, saying "Portsmouth 3 Sheffield United 2", and instead of handing it to the Sergeant-at-Arms he took the piece of paper down to the front row of the stalls. Instead of giving it to Lord Montgomery he gave it to Churchill, and Sir Winston, thinking he was being recalled to the House of Commons - there was a three-line Whip on Nyasaland - got up to leave. We couldn't find Churchill's car, as it was twenty minutes before time, but eventually we got Sir Winston off to the House of Commons in Lord Montgomery's car. All this commotion being started by the football result being given to the wrong person! Montgomery did get the result eventually.

A few of us were invited to a cocktail party at the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor (Lord Kilmuir), Lord Sandford, and Viscount Sotheby, who met us as we arrived. It very much reminded me of a scene from "Iolanthe". Viscount Sotheby even had a monocle! We went up to the Lord Chancellor's apartment in a decrepit old lift. When we got out at the top, I said to Viscount Sotheby, "After you, sir". He replied, "No, no! This is a great honour for me - after you. This is the first time I have had an invitation to the Lord Chancellor's apartment."

In my time two First Lords of the Admiralty came to see H. M. S. Pinafore, and on each occasion we were invited back to the Admiralty for a buffet supper. They were all extremely interesting characters to meet.

While you were on tour what did you do during your free time?

We used to carry with us a complete set of cricket gear, and every Sunday we would play cricket. One incident that comes to mind is when we were in California. The H.M.S. Superb, then the flagship of the fleet, was carrying out a goodwill trip in America. We were challenged by the Superb to play a game of cricket on the C. Aubrey Smith cricket ground in Hollywood. Strangely enough we managed to beat them - we having only fourteen men to choose from, and they with the whole ship's company of about fourteen hundred! One thing I remember very clearly was that there was a photograph in the pavilion of a cricket side with C. Aubrey Smith in the centre of it as the Captain. He was surrounded by several well-known actors - Ronald Coleman, Stewart Granger, David Niven, and Boris Karloff among others; nearly every player was a well-known star. Because we beat the navy we played against one of these Hollywood teams, and they were far too good for us! They had two Indian test players, so we were not too upset.

What did the company do on tour for relaxation?

There were rehearsals for someone every morning, but in the old days if you were not required for them you used to play a game of golf in the morning, have a rest in the afternoon, and do the show in the evening. Such things as soccer were frowned upon as, if you got bruised and knocked about, it might mean that you would be unable to go on in the evening. When we were in London the company went to see matinee performances by other companies, if they are on different days. Incidentally, London was the most difficult place, strangely enough, to get accommodation for the company.

Did it become more difficult to find people who were prepared to tour with the company?

What was difficult was getting the right sort of person. You've really got to look for talent. We held auditions in every city we visited; whether we needed anyone or not. We had a filing system at the Savoy - (a), (b), and (c) files - so that when someone dropped out we could look through the files, which contained all the information of the auditions.

Nevertheless you had a lot of people in the company who were with you for many, many years. Why do you think this is?

Oh yes, indeed, we had Isidore Godfrey, our conductor, for many years; in fact he was with the company for forty-two years. the longest serving member of the company was our former wardrobe mistress, Cis Blain, who retired after forty-nine years; we were all very sorry she didn't make the fifty years. Then of course there's John Reed, who joined the company in 1951; Kenneth Sandford, who joined in 1957; my colleague Gordon McKenzie, who joined in 1954-in fact he was on the American trip in 1955, as was Jon Ellison, who joined in 1953.

I think one of the most important parts of your job, Herbert, especially on overseas tours, is that you became spokesman for the company - in fact, a sort of figurehead for the company. What did this involve you in?

Well, there were so many social functions we had to attend while on tour. In this country it could be Lord Mayors' coffee mornings, or various D'Oyly Carte Trust or G. & S. Society functions, Arts Club or Press Club Evenings". Overseas it could be British Embassy functions; for instance, the British Ambassador in Washington entertained the company, and so did the Consul-General in New York. It could get a little tiring, but we naturally did enjoy them all. There are also all the radio and TV interviews on tour. On one chat show I did in Toronto, I remember being interviewed by about six people, all with notes in front of them. it lasted for nearly an hour!

How did you feel after that?

Absolutely exhausted! That's the life of a company manager. On all these tours you made so many friends, and you looked forward to seeing them once you're back again. I still meet people I met in 1947/48 every time I go back to the States. We're all growing old together!

And not just in the States - also in this country?

Oh yes, that goes without saying. As a company we were made welcome in every town we visited throughout the U.K. - in the theatre and out, in people's homes. We felt very privileged as a company; it's that family feeling I was talking about earlier. And I personally feel I have good friends all over Britain - one never felt lonely on tour.

There were very few of the company whose homes were actually in London?

This did vary, of course. Sometimes we had a predominance of Northern people, around the Manchester area; sometimes we had quite a few with a Welsh flavour.

There were always people around who wanted to tour and enjoyed touring?

Oh yes, indeed. And for my own part I have never had any regrets. I've enjoyed touring - and the company, because I think it's something totally different! It's something family style.

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