Time: The present
Place: The Home for the Terminally Overdressed
Act I, Scene I, Italian Night
It has been a fractious summer at the Home for the Terminally Overdressed, a retirement facility for thespians hidden deep in a corner of the Slough Trading Estate.
Ever Hopeful of a Pension Top Up
It is, as the residents often coo to one another. “so handy for Pinewood and the set of EastEnders” as they are ever hopeful of a call from their agents and a role propping up the bar of the Queen Vic; or as a shifty property developer determined to turn the square into a must visit tourist location of vintage shops and up cyclists, or is it cyclers? They long for lines like “Ooh what would Ethel say?” as they imagine gazing upon a rusty bath magically turned into a log burner by a hunky young man with a beard, turned up jeans and checked shirt. Or “How will Dot cope with 32 types of botanical gins instead of a sweet sherry?”
For it would be handy as a means of topping up the pension which, heaven knows, would come in handy as the costs of the Home continually rise in the face of the twin plagues, more usually known as getting old and austerity.
There Had Once Been Hope
In truth ageing they can cope with as they are used to playing older or younger depending on the job. It comes with the territory. Austerity they can cope with too as many were children in the War or post war period and there are quite a few who can turn an envelope inside out or sew sheets ends to middle. The thing is that post war austerity came to an end. Then it was the 60s (except for Scotland where they had to wait until the 70s for the 60s). Also even although things were tight and a fridge was a luxury, there was at least hope.
There was Beveridge and free teeth, Concorde and that Tower Wedgie Benn organised. There were plenty of job opportunities, what with Z Cars, Crossroads and Play for Today. “Oh” they muse to one another “the opportunities that were offered to us by kitchen sink drama, now the BBC has to outsource an ironing board.” “I quite agree” says another who was in The Newcomers. “Can you imagine them doing Abigail’s Party now? The teak room divider would have to go out to tender and the cheesy nibbles would be replaced by something with nutritional value sourced from an organic woman in a barn in Sussex who is married to a hedge fund investor they never mention.”
All is Not Well
There can be little doubt that the bad tempered atmosphere is not only caused by worries about financing the future but has been exacerbated by what is generally described by some as “bloody Brexit and by others as “getting our country back”. The referendum has brought division to the Home, as it has to homes throughout the land. Old enmities and political beliefs have been re-awakened and re-sharpened as, one by one, the old thespians are invited to give their views on air or present awards at ceremonies giving them the opportunity for pithy and memorable lines in that weary Vanessa Redgrave sort of way.
Wellbeing by Distraction
The Management, aware of this, has taken steps to provide distractions, (tonight for example is Italian Night), for the last thing they want is more work caused by overexcited residents going into defibrillation or having asthmatic attacks, not with the staff rota pared down as it is. For they too have their worries. The weekly food bills are rising and the stars of yester year are as able as anyone else to tell when a tin of 12p tomatoes from a discount supermarket has been used in the lasagne. They worry too about where future staff will come from, once anyone who does any work has been sent home, for they have discovered that “foreigners” often like old people far more than British people do.
“Thank goodness” as Matron has said “for the 50th anniversary marking the introduction of sex into Britain, for this has given a great deal of air time to the old darlings on Newsnight and Saturday Live and they can go into detail about how they were mistakenly arrested for saying good evening to well known Members of Parliament in St James’ Park when they were only doing a survey of London’s Plane Trees.”
Worry Over Sebastian
All agree, however, that Sebastian Wylie Fox continues to be “showing signs of depression which they fear will only hasten the already diagnosed dementia. “I think we can handle this” said Jakub from Warsaw, the new head of activities, “for I have been in touch with those two women who like to talk to him about the past.” “Surely” replied Matron “there can be little more he can say about his aunt and the 1950s? And those two pushy women are frightful, so thrusting.” “That is true” said Jakub “but, suppose we fast forward to the 1960s, because I have noticed that in the storage room which Sebastian thinks of as his museum there is a trunk labelled Muriel Wylie 1967.” “And what” asked Matron “was so special about 1967?” “You’ll see.” said Jakub. “Oh well all right” replied Matron “but make sure you update the care plan; I don’t want any come backs. The CQC is all over us like a rash these days, and we need to keep him; he is the nation’s most loved luvvie and our best paying patient, I mean guest.”
Like Moths to a Flame
A telephone call from the activities’ organiser to the offices of Hilary Dee Range, thrusting ace investigative reporter with “The Daily Slouch” and her collaborator the even more thrusting uber curator, Vivienne Valhalla, is redirected to Majorca where the dynamic duo, who miss nothing but blows, are on the set of “Lovey Dovey Island” doing some preparatory work for a documentary on the portrayal of class stereotypes in reality television and its impact on holiday destinations.
If the pair had not already dropped everything they would have done so right away and in no time they were at Palma Airport and on a return flight to the UK for Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox had already proved to be a gold mine for them both, in terms of programme hours. The recent “Mosey in the Footsteps of Muriel’s Slingbacks” in which celebrities search out Muriel Wylie’s favourite antique shops and try to purchase bijouterie or bibelots at 1950’s prices from dealers caught in the glare of portable lighting – has been a “simply marvellous” success on daytime television.
They are currently in negotiations about a sister programme, “Past Perfect” in which stunning architect designed properties are refurbished backwards to styles of the post-war era incorporating many of the “Chez Nous” trademark designs. One householder has already said that blocking out the light of their German plate glass windows with interlined bobble fringed, trimmed cut velvet curtains and a pelmet means they no longer have to clean the windows every week with a robot and are rediscovering the joys of living in underpants unseen by neighbours.
Sebastian Has Said It All?
“Sir Sebastian there are two young ladies of the modern thrusting sort to see you?”
“Oh good morning, I am afraid you have had a wasted journey. I am sorry, but I have nothing more to tell you about my life in the 1950s. I have said it all and Channel 4 have asked me not to talk about the danger posed to National Security in 1957 by Bunty Haystack, the rural crime writer who threatened to expose one of our greatest navel heroes as a traitor or indeed the story behind Uncle Jasper and the robbery of Lady Pentland-Firth’s jewels.”.
“No, Sir Sebastain” said Hilary Dee “we have not come to talk about the 1950s; and you have been most generous to us in the past with your memories. We were wondering if you would consider going forward a decade to 1967? We are thinking about a documentary about that year and your aunt’s place in one of the watersheds of British cultural history.” “Will it pay, ladies?” “We think so we are confident that the Americans will be interested as looking backwards will help to take their minds off the present.”
“Oh I imagine you are talking about what’s his name, the chap with the overlong ties who has more staff changes than Alma Cogan had dresses.” “Indeed we are.” “I thought so; in that case I will help. I am very fond of America and Americans. I spent many years there; it was so exciting in the post unpleasantness years. Of course Britain was more exciting then too, more forward looking or at least more hopeful, what has happened to us?” “Let’s not dwell on the negative Sir, what about 1967?” “Jakub would you go to my museum and fetch Aunt Muriel’s blue Airport suitcase marked 1967 and while he is doing that perhaps we will have some coffee and a French Fancy?”
The Summer of Love Really Began a Decade Earlier in 1957
“You see” began the theatrical knight “1967 began a lot earlier than 1967, in fact it probably started in 1957 when my Aunt was secretly engaged on the report that would introduce sex into Britain for the first time. This would result in the legislation of July 1967 which for the first time allowed men to ask each other the time, have open necked shirts, not eat a fried breakfast, sport beards and knitted ties, sometimes even knitting them themselves.
I said that I could not mention the jewellery heist of August 1957. Well I cannot go into details but there is a connection with 1967 in that Uncle Jasper’s Humber Super Snipe was used in the robbery on Lady Pentland-Firth’s town house in Glasgow. Fortunately during the event Uncle Jasper was out to lunch and had an alibi, although the police still wondered if he was not connected in some way. At any rate the car was gone when Jasper came home and the police arrived to question him which annoyed Aunt Muriel as she had had a busy day in Dundee. Furthermore she had an appointment at the hairdressers next day and realised she would have to travel by bus. Mackintosh Squares and travelling antimacassars had to be located.
A Visit to Liverpool
To cut a short story long – is that right? – and not to go into details which would ruin the Channel 4 programme, the car was traced quite quickly to Liverpool. Aunt Muriel, Uncle Jasper and Mrs Travers set off with Cousin Lulubelle in her pink cadillac to collect the car from its location in Scotland Road. Mrs Travers went because her son Billy was suspected of involvement and Aunt Muriel thought she should keep abreast of things.
On arrival at Liverpool after meeting police on the Mersey beat, Mrs Travers was given the job of wiping the inside of the Humber Super snipe down with Dettol infused cotton wool and brushing talcum powder into the carpets (Yardley Paris, if you must know). Aunt Muriel was persuaded that a re-spray could if necessary be dealt with back in Glasgow. It has to be said she never felt quite the same about the Humber Super Snipe after that.
There Are Places I Remember All My Life….
The wiping down of the car took a while and the car needed to dry out so they had to find something to do. As it was a weekend, it was suggested they go to a church fête at St Peters in Woolton. It was a rather nice warm afternoon with all the usual things, ice cream, fancy dress, a demonstration of local police dogs in action and music from a band called “The Quarrymen”. Needless to say Cousin Lulubelle was soon bopping about to Railroad Bill, Cumberland Gap and Be-Bop-a-Lu-la.
Aunt Muriel, who had begun to let her hair down a little in recent times, enjoyed it too and got talking to a young man in a white suit who told her he was also a musician and was at the famous Liverpool Institute. “I think you should introduce yourselves to those Quarrymen” said Aunt Muriel, “perhaps you might play with them? I am Muriel Wylie, what’s your name young man?” “It’s Paul, Paul McCartney.” “Well” said Aunt Muriel, “let me see if my Cousin Lulubelle knows them; she is an American from the very Deep South and knows everything and everyone, including some chap called Elvis who also sings a bit. She is less good with husbands; they tend to disappear in mysterious circumstances. Uhoo Cousin Lulubelle…”, “What is it cousin woman y’all?” “Do you know the name of the young man in the band in the checked shirt?”. “No honey lamb but give me a second, here hold
ma niney-nine as the senator said to the actress and I will just slink over to the band.”
A Young Musician Tells Muriel to Get in the Groove
“What sort of music do you like Paul?” asked my aunt, “Oh I like skiffle although increasingly rock’n’roll.” “My husband Jasper likes skiffle too, Lonnie Donegan, he’s skiffle isn’t he?” “Yes that’s right; Mrs Wylie who do you like?” “Oh I am rather partial to a bit of Mantovani myself and that Frank Sinatra is rather good.” “Yes both are very popular but I am sure a queen like you could be a bit more with it.” “I am generally described as marvellous you know Paul, although today I am tired. We travelled down from Glasgow and it has been a hard day’s night if you know what I mean”. “Yeah, yeah, yeah I do. And I am not surprised you are marvellous; we don’t often get that quality of bone structure here in Liverpool.” “Oh Paul you are making moi blush. Perhaps you are right one can become a prisoner of the past and the places, some of which are good and some are bad, at least they have been in my life. Now here she is.”
“Cousin Muriel let me introduce John Lennon, and this young man is?” Hi I’m Paul, Paul McCartney.” “Well Muriel if I might have my ice cream back I think it is time we went looking for Jasper and Mrs T.” “Oh here you are cousin but I am afraid a beetle seems to have landed on it, I’ll buy you another.” “Goodbye boys, good luck I am sure you will do well. Don’t forget us and after you have come together remember us when we get older losing our hair many years from now.” “Bye Mrs Wylie, and remember don’t believe too much in yesterday, we can work it out.” “Well Cousin Lulubelle what do you think? What interesting young men, a big future ahead of them perhaps?” “No honey, pleasant enough, however, I don’t think they have a ticket to ride – Elvis is what it’s all about now.”
A Thoroughly Modern Muriel Begins to Emerge
The culture vultures were momentarily speechless and then said “shut up – wow! The Beatles came about because your Aunt introduced them because she accidentally went to a fête in Liverpool, after Uncle Jasper’s car was stolen following a robbery at Lady Pentland-Firth’s house because he was too lazy to wash the car.” “I suppose so. Of course in the years to come Cousin Lulubelle, who had promoted Elvis before that man with the dancing chickens, could have kicked herself. She was always described as “the Brian Epstein who wasn’t.” “What about Aunt Muriel, did she see them again?”
“Oh yes; she really took to them. When she saw them she always said “here comes the sun”. She got back in touch with the boys through a friend of Mrs Travers who worked in the cloakroom of the Cavern Club.” “Shut up! No don’t tell us; it was Cilla?” “No not Cilla, a woman called Madge but you can’t win them all.” “Did they influence your aunt in the longer term?”
“Well yes I think that conversation was the beginning of a new more modern Muriel Wylie, but then remember she had accepted sticky out legs and whirling ashtrays on stands so she was half way there and she had begun to see commercial opportunities in the youth market. Cousin Lulubelle was a good influence in that direction. Although of course like many Scots Aunt Muriel could occupy two characters in the same body at once, at once holding contrary views and the more traditional. Muriel would come to the fore from time to time. The idea that she could be a bit more hip and happening appealed to her as you will see from some of her memorabilia from the Summer of Love in 1967, but perhaps if you care to stay to suppa we can have a look later.
It’s lasagne followed by an Italian Night. I am afraid they are using watered down tomatoes but it is not bad.” The culture vultures were beside themselves whispering to each other, while Sebastian was changing for suppa into his Garibaldi outfit. “This could be bigger than the Pink Floyd Exhibition at the V&A.” “Umm” said the other “we could make The Beatles bigger than The Beatles.”
Ready For The Theme Night
“Well ladies that’s me all Versace and Risorgimento – shall we go? Do you know the Italian National Anthem? It’s called Brothers of Italy, frightfully operatic. Or alternatively we could sing a Beatles melody? I pay the most here so that Matron will do anything I want. By the way the lasagne uses watered down tomatoes but we just have to make the best of it.”
Sebastian Wylie Fox