Time: The Present
Place: An Expensive Retirement Facility for the theatrical, the very theatrical and those who are simply “on all the time”, The Home for the Terminally Overdressed
Sir Sebastian Wylie Foxe, Britain’s foremost theatrical knight
The inhabitants of the Home for the Terminally Overdressed, cutting edge themed retirement experementm in various stages of dilapidation, vinous and otherwise
Two women of the thrusting cultural / media type
Brought to You Through the Medium of Dance
This week through the medium of dance and indeed anything likely to attract funding in these bleak times where Britain has become a lesser nation than it once was as in the early post war years, we find ourselves (to almost quote Sir Walter Scott) transported 60 years hence (or is it since) to so-called modern times.
Lady Wylie, the first and indeed only Baroness Waterside and her husband Sir Jasper
famous for services to very local history particularly for “Broken Pottery and Broken Dreams”, a seminal work on the collecting of farmhouse kitchen stuff chucked into burns, have long since made their final journey to a place where all furnishings have French fringes, deep buttoning and no food arrives without a parsley and lemon basket garnish.
Marketing – Now and Then
Their work, however, seems to live on despite the modern tendency to forget everything that happened more than 10 minutes ago. After all we live in a time when every day is a special day; for example International Women’s day, Pickled Onion Day or Veruca Awareness Day, each of these so special and unique that they are forgotten 24 hours later having been the subject of millions of “selfies” and who knows how many marketing opportunities. Once upon a time life was simpler and we just put coppers into papier-mâché houses for Dr Barnardo’s and bought paper flags for children’s homes.
Muriel and Jasper – Transcending Time and Place
Despite a collective amnesia which allows us to pay scant regard to the lives of those who have gone before (unless of course the fog temporarily clears for an anniversary with paying exhibition, television programme presented by a cool Cambridge academic with matching tote bag), the world of Muriel and Jasper seems to have stood firm in the face of the winds of change. Their imprint on the sands of time (not to mention a range of furnishing fabrics) and indeed anything else, seems impervious to the tides of fashion and forgetfulness. Perhaps this has something to do with their strong personalities and those of the characters around them in 1950’s Britain.
The vast Muriel and Jasper archive and museum currently being considered for World Heritage status, is a gold mine for researchers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, and those looking for Arts Council Funding due to a lack of business acumen. The ownership of the “World of Wylie” (trade mark all rights reserved) and also its curation concerning everything from a card of buttons to the nation’s nationally significant collection of antimacassars belongs to their nephew Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox.
He is the portal to their memory and the retail possibilities in the rich collection of objects and designs to be adapted for table mats, fridge magnates, matching garden forks and trowels in an artisan wooden box and Christmas tree decorations. Muriel and Jasper are not just a source of things you really do not need, although “Jasper’s Big Book of Custard” is a lovely Father’s Day gift, they are a major source for academics and others unable to get employment.
In many ways Britain after 1945 can only be seen through Muriel’s eyes especially after she bought some of the most fashionable spectacle frames produced in modern times.
As the Cold War hotted up, Muriel Wylie was usually somewhere trying to put out the flames in her duster coat and sling backs. Muriel’s diaries are a revelation about what was really going on at the time. To her contemporaries she was an interior decorator par excellence who put the glazed chintz into Glasgow.
We now know that she helped to keep the comrades in check and given the opportunity stripes and florals as well. Film and documentary makers know Sebastian is the key to their next BAFTA. A performer to his soul, he knows holding back sometimes has more impact and indeed bigger cheques.
So Many Familiar Faces
In a cutting edge retirement facility, hidden deep within a 1930’s industrial trading estate in Berkshire we find many of the nation’s most loved luvvies in The Home for the Terminally Overdressed. You would recognise many of them, for these are the heroes and heroines of our shared cultural past. As we no longer have much of a shared culture they seem particularly quaint. There are rugged former crew members from the Onedin Line’s ship the ‘Charlotte Rose’, and various smugglers from the first series of Poldark when Demelza was much feistier. There are retired camera men from Top of the Pops which was a weekly programme telling persons with long hair and tank tops what music was fashionable, unlike now when no one over 60 has a clue what is current and indeed hasn’t heard any new music since Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
If you look carefully you might just see the lady who looked after the sticky-backed plastic and paper-fastener supplies for Blue Peter or a member of the opposition in the House of Commons during the outstanding 1970’s series The Pallisers. This adaptation of Trollop’s novel, which was a book written by Antony Trollope, a well known Victorian writer during Victorian times, was quite famous for its courageous use of not only long scenes of dialogue requiring an audience with intelligence and concentration, but also facial hair – the mutton chops being particularly successful, although not on Susan Hampshire.
Forever on Set
Most of these former stars of stage and screen are simply old now and pass their days in a variety of locations within the home. These are designed to remind them of former times when their faces were as familiar as tins of Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie which did a whole family for their tea and packets of Angel Delight. To the latter mums added double cream and chocolate chips and passed them off to the neighbours as homemade chocolate or butterscotch moose.
There are mock hospital wards, pubs and even a cabin from Triangle with the curtains permanently drawn across the port hole which always posed a problem for the camera. Outside in the Percy Thrower Memorial Garden residents are encouraged to work with clashing colours in the rose bed and to build a centre piece from bricks which is usually a wishing well.
The Yellow Brick Road to the Gravy Train of Memory
For some residents who used to be called “wandered” in the days when people looked after their own elderly relatives (except when they accidently got on to buses for Scarborough) and are now called demented so that other people look after them (and stop them going to Scarborough, unless it is risk assessed) there are specialist facilities namely the Judy Garland Wing which is reached by the Yellow Brick Road on the fifth floor. This is for the most serious cases.
Here we find Sebastian who as the nation’s most loved Shakespearean actor has the best suite. Some days he is razor sharp and can still do most of Richard III unprompted and other days feel like living in a fog.
He is still enough of an actor to use both to his advantage especially when the media come to call as they often do. Today he is expecting those tough media cookies, Hilary Dee Range of ‘The Daily Slouch’ and uber curator, Vivienne Valhalla, who know a gravy train when they see one – an organic, artisanal, gravy train of course served by men with beards, and a sense of the authentic.
A recent article in The Sunday Times about ‘The Politics of the Oceans’ mentioned, in passing, a 1958 conference in Geneva and the attendance of Muriel Wylie and some other rather odd characters from Scotland’s real and authentic capital, Glasgow. Up until now Lady Wylie’s only connection with the sea was thought to have been as a first class passenger on Cunard Line, particularly the great Queens. Not to mention her other links with the sea – her famous oysters in prunes which she served speared with little sticks at cocktail parties. The media women sense an authentic story and a slot on The One Show.
There is Method Acting in the Madness
Of course all actors know how to draw out a scene to breaking point and knowing full well that the media women (Sebastian would normally say ladies, but this now means the female residents appearing in black protest dresses at suppa which is never a good colour in photographs) are desperate to further investigate his acid free archive boxes and he is determined on some sport. Thus cantankerous and determined to be noticed, he has agreed to see them on a particularly busy day when he will be fully occupied and they can sit and watch until he is ready.
He will be fully occupied as this is “Ageing Well Week” in Slough where the Home is situated. So handy for Pinewood and Elstree, just in case one gets that last call to be in Eastenders, as a charred body in a devastating Albert Square Fire. While this is a non-speaking role, it requires a lifetime of “inhabiting a role” so experience is required; it’s not for those straight out of Drama School.
Keeping Care Costs Down
The Home’s specialist “activity organisers”, Jakub and Marie from Warsaw (where they like old people, unlike in Britain where they don’t much like old people as they cause bed blocking and ‘Brexit’ and have ruined Facebook) have planned a busy programme of events designed to showcase not only their willingness to allow residents to live in an ambiance that suits them in time and space, but also to help those who are not too forgetful to live in the modern world. After all “engagement” is a key to “living longer and better” or something like that. Something anyway, that might reduce the costs of social care and stop people from looking old, which can after all be quite upsetting.
This morning residents can try a range of dances to open up their neural pathways and encourage creative thinking. Argentinean Tango Taster- with Ché and Evita better known as Billy and Evelyn from Watford, is proving very popular, that couple who used to make guest appearances as benefit staff in Auf Weidersehen, Pet are proving that age is no barrier to a supple body as they dance around the floor. Line dancing is having a particular appeal for those who have lost partners or are just devoted to Dolly, who is in the entertainment world a living saint.
The media ladies are not happy being made watch Tango or Line Dancing but know they must wait until Sebastian is ready to speak to them. He has appeared looking like Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke and enjoys keeping them waiting, hence he encourages many encores of “”Black Coffee and “Two steps Forward and One Step Back”, a dance which just about sums up his life now.
The Tricks of the Trade
The diet drop-in sessions are not popular as most of the stars realise that a sprout shake would probably split the stitches behind their ears and who wants to eat avocado on toast anyway? Avocado is for face masks and hot and cold food in combination is never good for tooth implants. “Modern Make Over” is proving to be quite a draw as anything that helps take a few days off the old face is welcome although the current tendency for young ladies to reduce their complexions to the colour and consistency of cream with crème caramel remains something of a mystery. After all, those who have been treading the boards since they were 12 know full well what to apply to look their best with either a single spot or back lighting. Not to mention, how the judicious use of Elastoplasts on the hair line under a hat or wig can remove a furrowed brow instantly thus getting a couple of lines and three days work in Endeavour or a whole series of Countdown.
While most of the residents know that a guest appearance on the BBC’s Click, a programme about the world of modern technology, is out of their league they live in hope and so attend a session on Virtual Reality where they are shown how Oliver Cromwell can be made to appear in a football crowd or Queen Victoria leave her own portrait and dance with Mr Gladstone.
Keeping up with Changes in Language
The residents are entranced by the voice coach who has been hired to explain modern terminology to keep them engaged with the modern world and so just as if they were in a foreign language class they repeat after the teacher, “Platforming”, “Going Forward”, “Brexit”, “Safe Spaces”, “Grime”, “Ed, or was it Ned Mavis? My hearing is not what it was Sherran” and “Love Island”. It is, to be honest, rather confusing as most associate platforms with Brief Encounter, Love Island with The Blue Lagoon and are puzzled by “going forward” as they know few people who are going backwards apart from that chap with glasses who wants to be leader of the Conservatives and introduce Adam ceilings for everyone and “Darling I haven’t seen Ned Sherrin for years have you?”
The session does, however, stimulate some discussion as to why everyone now begins a sentence with “So” and why diction on television is so awful apart from that lovely, Trixie on Call the Midwife. “I can hear her perfectly every time she says push sweetie” said the chap who used to be a juvenile delinquent in Crown Court and until recently sat on the bench himself presumably having reformed. It was generally considered a great loss that so much Terrance Rattigan had been abandoned in favour of mumbling. Acting it seems has been reduced to looks. Sir john Gielgud, it was generally believed, would be turning in his dressing gown.
What is Next?
Having changed back into his signature pink clothes and had a sit down, Sebastian is ready to have some fun with Hilary and Vivienne.
“Well my dears, I do hope you have had a simply marvellous day with us on set?” said Sebastian.
“Yes of course wonderful”, they replied somewhat out of breath from having re-enacted the scene from The Good Old Days when the audience is asked to stand or sit each time a word beginning with the letter B is said. Of course with “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”, this becomes progressively more manic.
“Do you think we might talk about 1958 and the Geneva Conference on the Oceans?” asked Vivienne.
“I think we might.”
“Was that a yes?”
“No; it was a might, which is neither yes or no. Do you like charades?”
“We were wondering if you have in your archive the knitted coasts of Russia and Japan marking out the proposed extension to international waters?” enquired Hilary.
“Perhaps – I do seem to remember that.”
“We think Mount Fuji was in crotchet, if the newspaper reports were accurate.”
“Really? How fascinating! Now what about a cha-cha-cha taster first? It was always Aunt Muriel’s favourite and if there is time and after tea of course we can go to the basement and look for the knitted things. Do you know Tea for Two my dears?”