Thursday, 30 April 2009

Part-time hack

Back in the sixties I wrote a letter to a local paper (I had a lot of time on my hands) expressing some trenchant views about a concert hall complex that had just been built in the town, and the Arts Editor rang me up and asked if I would like to be Architectural Correspondent. I was greatly flattered but confessed that I didn't know anything about architecture, and he asked hopefully if there was anything at all I did know anything about. I told him that I went to the pictures once or twice a week and he told me that they already had a film critic but they were always looking for people to join their panel of theatre critics. I said OK and thus began ten happy years of part-time employment.

The paper was part of a large group with half a dozen weekly titles circulating in an area with a population of 350,000, so they had a lively Arts Section and published critical reviews, not just puffs written by cub reporters, of nearly every theatrical production, amateur and professional, in the area. They also covered London theatres, so although I had to spend many hours attending school plays and such delights as the St Barnabus Players doing Quiet Wedding for the fourth time, and trying to think of something constructive and fair to say about them, I had my reward once a month or so when it became my turn to be sent two tickets for the third (provincial press) night of a new play in the West End.

Thus it was that for a few years I had some memorable evenings at the theatre, free, with my fares paid and a small fee. These included, for example, a new play by Harold Pinter, and here is my somewhat jejune review of it written forty-nine years ago:
I was paid a total of one pound four shillings and fourpence: one (old) penny a line, five and sixpence for fares and sixpence for a programme. This seemed quite a lot at the time and actually it was: today, the programme alone would cost several pounds, and with train fares from the suburbs an evening for two in a West End theatre would cost you at least sixty times as much as I got for writing this piece. Also, by contributing a weekly 500-word piece of whimsy for the same papers I brought my total earnings from journalism up to £5 a week, which in the early sixties represented a 40% bonus to my salary as an Export Manager.

Reviews often appeared in the national dailies before I saw new plays, and I never allowed myself to look at them before writing at least a draft of my own; not only would I have been influenced by the views of my professional betters, but I would probably have been tempted to lift some of their witticisms and pass them off as my own.

[By the way, none of the original cast of The Caretaker are still with us. Peter Woodthorpe was the last to go, in 2004; he had a brilliant career in Beckett and Shakespeare but did not often achieve the heights later and is remembered today chiefly as the gravel-voiced pathologist Max in many episodes of the TV Inspector Morse.]


William Uphill said...

"NONE of the original cast...ARE still with us"? Shame on you! "None" means "not one" and you should therefore have
written "...IS still with us".

Tony said...

Uphill: Gosh, your email takes me back: the last time I had a message correcting my grammar was in 1979, from Kaarlo Sillanpää, Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Helsinki. But he was justified, and you are not.

I was going to tell you that you are a pedantic popinjay, but actually what you wrote is not mere pedantry: you are just plain wrong. The myth that the word cannot take a plural was rejected nearly a hundred years ago by the Fowlers, and trying to revive it is the act of an ill-educated dolt.

I do not know why I have written at such length; your comment called for a shorter response: "Bollocks".