Monday, September 3, 2012

British Prisons I have played!

A friend's entry on Facebook made me recall the days I spent entertaining those unlucky people detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

Now I come to think about it I don't think many young girls of my age had this experience of actually being in these grim institutions.

As a GSM&D student I 'did' many of London's prisons. A large limousine  used to call for us and take us first to a flat in Eaton Square where the gentleman who organized these events lived and then after tea we were driven to either Pentonville, Wandsworth or Wormwood Scrubs.

My introduction was at Wandsworth where I looked out on 2,000 men dressed in grey in this huge, grim cathedral hall. I used to do satirical monologues which were popular at that time and I did 'The King's Breakfast ' by AA Mine and the line "The cow said" went down particularly well. The inmates loved the satire. I enjoyed it and they seemed to enjoy me!

I was very attractive and pretty and I had character. My Eaton Square host said "They like you! You have a quality that they admire. They like guts and they can sense you have them!" I got a wonderful reception.

At Wormwood Scrubs  Ivor Novello's piano made an impression.  I couldn't understand how this beautiful piano came to be sitting in this prison theatre so I asked an inmate. It seems that inmates can take the tools of their trade into prison. Ivor Novello was cruelly convicted of breaking petrol rationing laws during the Second World War and imprisoned. It killed him but he left his piano. You can see his signature scratched into the metal.

It was one of these monologues that I performed in Nottingham goal that led to me breaking into West End Musical revue. The husband of the Pat Lancaster, John Pritchett was accompanying his wife. I had no idea that he composed many of the famous intimate revue numbers and I was performing one of his without the accompaniment! Pritch asked me afterwards why I hadn't used the music? I was so green I never knew they had music!

I must have impressed him for years later he was instrumental in helping me into a London review. My audition had been in a prison.

In later years I discovered that my Bookbinder friend Peter Goodwin had served as a Screw for 11 years in Nottingham when the craft of bookbinding was on the wane. He used to call the prisoners his gentlemen!

As to star ratings London prisons are best.  My choice Wandsworth as many white collar crims are sent there. Nottingham, Liverpool  and Leeds are to be avoided.  Scented soap seems to be the most appreciated gift so go stocked up.

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