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1940; Ampthill Concert



It is difficult to look back upon the Ampthill Concert without the reason revolting against the fact that so much could have been accomplished in three days. For it was not until the Sunday evening, that we decided to rush the show through on the following Wednesday evening, rather than abandon it altogether. Three precious days only were left to us, and more than half the first one was spent playing darts in a pub at Luton, with the calmness bred of despair, awaiting what Mr. Hammer pleases to call a "pungently philosophical costumier." To me he was all unmitigated nuisance, rousing me first to a positive frenzy of impatience, and then, as all my urgings produced only "Don't rush me, sir I shall find everything if you don't rush me" (which was manifestly and unashamedly untrue), reducing me to feeble and impotent giggles. However, we procured more or less what we wanted, though such filthy wigs had surely never been seen before, and we dashed back to Ampthill to try to regain our lost time.
I suppose we must have succeeded, for somehow everything was done by 6.45 on Wednesday even if Mr. Hammer was still frantically sticking "Reserved" labels on the seats as the doors were opened. Of the preceding twenty-four hours I have only the haziest memories, of wrenching down and re-hanging the curtains, of building an apron stage of biscuit tins, of borrowing everything imaginable from anybody approachable, of a welter of silk handkerchiefs, of rehearsing in every available corner, of Mr. Horton imperturbably fixing lighting with pirates screaming all round him, and of Mr. Hammer with a notebook in his hand tirelessly keeping check of all that had been done, and all that remained to do. Without his efficiency and energy the Concert could never have taken place.
The entertainment itself came as something of an anti-climax to those of us who organised it, as we were in a continual state of amazement that there should have been any entertainment at all.
The two evening audiences were enormous, generous, and enthusiastic, and ensured that every performer should give of his best. Each night, crowds were turned away, and only the children's matinee, rushed through at six hours' notice, could not be accounted a riotous success. The children were more sophisticated than their elders, and our best efforts failed to raise more than a tolerant smile. Even Mr. Durrant could not move them, and only the Pirate play, and a generous, though ill-timed, distribution of sweets, melted those hearts of flint.
The Pirate play, "Under the Skull and Bones" (Dunn, Fox, Webster, White, Wood, etc.), gave the evening a magnificent send-off, and was as full of fire and action as the confined space would allow. Bennett performed miracles with his ukelele; and three lightning sketches produced by Guest were among the biggest hits of the evening. Knight played the ever-popular "In a Monastery Garden"; and the first half concluded with some rousing songs sung by the Male Voice Chorus, led by Mr. Durrant, and all impromptu guying of "South of the Border" was an instantaneous success. During the interval tea and biscuits (2d.) were provided by our intrepid lady helpers, and sold to as many of the packed audience as could be reached.
The second half began with the one piece of uplift, a 'cello sonata by Grieg, played excellently by Spier and Mills, and enthusiastically received. The same couple later melted the hearts of their hearers with Saint Saens' "Le Cygne," and Legg struck a similarly sentimental note in "God Send You Back to Me." Spier further displayed his versatility in two chromium-plated piano solos, composed by himself. Little Fox's deep bass voiced impersonations of famous film stars caused first amazement and then tumultuous applause, and then Mr. J.S.Durrant, looking unbelievable as a little girl, was such a success that a profitable collection was taken immediately after his number. Ashen provided a tuneful interval of piano solos, and then the evening ended with a performance of "Snobs" (Chittenden, Barry, Knight, D.Hart and Williamson). The sophisticated humour of this came as a refreshing change, and the tantalising odours of real soup and fish were much appreciated.
The Thursday evening show was as successful as the Wednesday, having gained in sureness and timing. We were rewarded, not only by the congratulations of the audience, but also very tangibly by the £12 profit that we made. Of this £10 was given to the fund for elementary school evacuee children, and the other £2 to the Union Chapel, in which we had spent so many happy hours in rehearsing and other pursuits. In all it was a thoroughly interesting undertaking, experienced in conditions never likely to be repeated, and more successful than even the most optimistic of us had dared to hope.
D. L. S.