Currently available in typescript and disc form - Pigs Might Fly and Robin Hood
Pigs Might Fly
This story is set at a time when the only computers were as big as a house. Young people could not e-mail each other because there was no such thing as e-mail and the mobile phone was light years away; and as for television – well, just a few of the better-off were installing their black-and-white sets.
In rural areas, milk floats were pulled by horses; and plenty of folks had to go down the backyard to the lavatory. It was even possible to play football and cricket in the street without being mown down by the cars of commuters late for work.
Going to the pictures was still the entertainment which got people out of their homes; unless they were in to dancing, in which case they'd gather to do the quickstep or the modern waltz in the church hall, or in the cities, at the Palais. Girls got pregnant, but not quite as often as they do today and the best a boy could expect after a night out was a hug and a kiss – and a cold walk home.
Life was often hard, but the pictures opened up the world – to adventure, fantasy and romance. The local cinema held a very special place in the hearts of communities, far more than do the multiplex entertainment centres of today.
However, in the minds of developers and businessmen out to garner profits after years of war and peacetime hardship, the future belonged to the shopping basket. Cinemas were prime sites for development, for demolition and replacement by supermarkets, shopping malls and car parks.
This was also the time when trams ceased to ply the streets of Britain, when thousands of miles of rail were closed in order to give free rein to the motorcar and the motorway. It was a time when old buildings came down and concrete skyscrapers began to take their place. Neighbourhoods vanished: was anybody consulted?
It is always a problem to know what, in the name of progress, should be held on to; what should be cherished and preserved in face of change. Each individual, each group of individuals, each community must decide for themselves. Sometimes there was conflict, though most often, resignation; only a few, like Curlew Stevens on behalf of his hospital-bound father, stood up to be counted.
16-year-old Clark Gable Stevens (nicknamed Curlew because one of his few talents is being able to imitate that wild bird of the moors) is suddenly faced with a crisis – that of having to give up his layabout existence and ‘ grow up’. His father, proprietor of Fetterton’s Ritz Cinema, its future under serious threat as the developers wish to flatten it in the name of commercial progress, has taken a fall. With a number of significant bones broken, he will be holed up in a hospital bed for days, weeks or even for ever. Who but his son Curlew can rescue the Ritz?
Councillor Morgan and his son Nigel are at the head of the queue to bulldoze the Ritz; after all, argue the Morgans – and they are not far from the truth – the cinema is dilapidated and crumbling. It’s an eyesore in their view, a fleapit. On most nights it draws an audience insufficient in number to make up one football team, never mind two. But for Leonard Lamont Stevens, film fanatic, dreamer, the Ritz is his life, the place where miracles happen.
Curlew knows all about the shaking of heads; knows that most people think Dad is as much a weaver of dreams as his sister, and Curlew’s aunt, Our Annie. She is an eccentric with only a fingernail’s grip on the real world (the rest of her inhabits the lives of Picts and Vikings). On the other hand, Curlew doesn’t like being told what to do by the Morgans of this life, especially as Nigel fancies the lovely Susan, Curlew’s step-cousin, and the girl of his dreams.
True, Curlew would much prefer to continue to idle away his days in a hay meadow staring at the clouds, but the Ritz is more than just a building: it is a cause. So what if Curlew’s plan to mastermind a Save the Ritz campaign is as likely to succeed as, in the words of Chippy Bulmer’s dad, pigs might fly?
Battle commences. David sets forth against so many Goliaths. First, Curlew must unite and inspire his friends to stop shaking their heads and muttering about lost causes; second, with his comrades – and hopefully sweet Susan at his side – he must turn entrepreneur and persuade town and countryside to flock, pockets laden, to the Ritz Grand Carnival.
With such vision, with so many brilliant ideas – the first ever Ugliest Pet in the World Competition, for example – could anything possibly go wrong? How come, then, that suddenly Curlew is accused of setting fire to the school sports pavilion, and the proof – empty petrol cans – is conveniently found in Dad’s shed? Surely Curlew’s enemies would not stoop, on the very day of the Carnival, to kidnap?
Finally, in a packed Ritz, with international tortoise and snail races still in progress – who has turned off the lights, and who is about to direct the Ritz’s newly-refurbished hosepipe on Fetterton’s most distinguished citizen, Lady Birtwhistle?
Will catastrophe get the better of Curlew Stevens, or might he have just that little bit of luck; what on earth could that be, soaring over the housetops of Fetterton? It couldn’t be: impossible!
Robin Hood: the Play, or How Prince John Pitted His Wits Against the Outlaws of Sherwood Forest
It has long been my ambition to write a play on the theme of Robin Hood. If such a character really did exist, he would probably have lived (so historians estimate) in the reign of Edward 11 rather than that of Richard 1. But historians also tell us there were probably scores of Robin Hoods, that the name was a colourful substitute for ‘outlaw’. However, the best reason for opting for Robin’s adventures to take place in the reign of Richard is his nasty brother John; a true and classical villain; and thus a relishful source of entertainment.
This version of the legend is essentially an action-filled comedy with, hopefully, plenty of juicy parts. For Prince John, of course, but also for Robin himself and for Marian Fitzwalter. Historians also inform us that Marian was probably a 19th century add-on to the tale, symbol perhaps of the coming of Spring, emblem of the May-day celebrations.
Every modern Marian needs to be a woman of spirit, enterprise and an equal of men in whatever they claim to be superior in. And every modern story of Robin needs also to remind itself of the paradoxes – Robin as purse-snatcher and doyen of charity, Sherwood as Elysian glade amid the realities of typical British weather.
This story focuses on the great all-comers archery tournament whose prize is the Silver Arrow. The whole enterprise, of course, is Prince John’s cunning plan to capture once and for all the infamous Robin Hood, for he is confident he has divined the outlaw’s weaknesses which sooner or later will bring him to disaster – his pride and his vanity.
The play is written for school or youth theatre production. There are 29 speaking parts, plus soldiers, dancers and spectators at the Tournament of the Silver Arrow. Though there are only five parts for women these are prominent and have some of the best lines.Available on enquiry.
Besiged, and other stories Besieged: The Coils of the Viper is a novella-length story set during the siege of Florence by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan. It is the height of the summer; the citizens of Florence are starving and plague stalks the streets. The overthrow of one of the world’s most beautiful cities by Visconti’s ruthless mercenaries seems inevitable. Regardless, the Master, a distinguished painter, and Luca his apprentice, continue with their task of painting a massive fresco in the refectory of a Dominican priory.
The frati, or brothers, have long since sought refuge at a sister priory in the hills of Tuscany. Each day Luca takes a break from his work mixing his master’s colours and shelters in the cool silence of the great basilica of Santa Croce, sketching the masterpieces of Giotto; and each day he senses the presence of this girl, always staying in the shadows, but intrigued. She is strangely dressed, in the robe of a friar, and a limp makes her sway as she moves. This afternoon, Luca resolves to speak to her. It may be his last chance before Visconti, nicknamed The Viper, orders the reduction of the city.
Besieged is coupled with another story from the past, An Elizabethan Heist. On a bitterly cold December night in London, a group of actors, of whom Will Shakespeare is one, gather for a daring, dangerous and some might describe impossible enterprise: their theatre has been closed to them, for the ground on which is stands belongs to a man who wishes to exploit his land for a better commercial return.
The livelihood of Will and his colleagues is seriously threatened: no theatre, no profession, no life. The night is freezing, the landlord is fortunately away in Essex celebrating the New Year with his family. In the distance can be heard the trundling of wagons. Cloaked, armed, bearing a range of saws and axes and drills – what desperate plans do the conspirators have in mind?
Tags for Ever
This contemporary tale takes up a theme I’ve written about elsewhere, friendship across the generations. In my novel Ticket to Prague teenager Amy Douglas befriends ageing Czech poet Josef, to the enrichment of both. In The Coils of the Viper the master and his apprentice give each other vital support in surviving the hardship and the terror of life under siege. In Tags for Ever Charlie Wainwright, with his serious heart condition, is in the last job he’ll ever get while his ‘assistant’ Sol Parks, without a qualification to his name, and a school reputation that does not bear repeating, is in his very first job. For both, the future in employment is far from secure.
Walls are common to the characters in Besieged and Tags for Ever. The difference is that while master and apprentice are adding paint to those walls, in Tags, the task of Charlie and Sol is one of removal: they are the town’s GRS (Graffiti Removal Service), Bursfield’s Eraser Squad.
Together they discover a sense of identity and personal pride in making their town ‘clean’ of unsightly tags. Alas, the town council sees technology as the way to defeat the plague of graffiti; plans have been laid to fortify the town with CCTV cameras. Their presence will be sufficient to deter even such master-taggers as PRIME PIXT, KOST and Vr13-up, who, in Sol’s opinion, might be one and the same; not the King of the Taggers as Charlie suspects, but the Queen of the Taggers as Sol discovers.
Charlie is impressed by his young comrade, recognising that he is good at ‘decipherin’; and Sol finds himself tracking Vr13-up to the Queen Victoria Tower that stands imperiously on a craggy hill high above the town. Clad in the garish colours of graffiti, it could make Bursfield both an eyesore and a laughing-stock
This is Sol’s first sighting of a ‘Sick Scribbler’. She doesn’t look sick, or crazy, or unbalanced, or mindless or all the things Charlie and he call The Enemy. Fact is, she’s a good face: high cheekbones, big eyes, probably green.He stares at her. The hood has fallen from her red hair. ‘You’re PRIME PIXT, aren’t you?’ She continues to smile but gives nothing away. ‘And you’re also Vr13-up=. That’s how I traced you.’There is a silence. They listen to the wind howling down the tower steps. There is a loose pane of glass in the turret that rattles then stops, rattles then stops. He waits. He likes her. She’s got spirit, far from being a sorry benighted creature as Mr. Foggarty head of Environmental Services calls the graffiti artists.‘And I’m going to tell you who you are: Essoldo Park.’
When, the following morning, Charlie reports that the Council no longer requires the services of the Eraser Squad, and, bearing in mind that it’s possible Sol has fallen in love with PRIME PIXT, he is tempted to reconsider his loyalties…
Out Damned Spot! A play for voices
Traditionally Britain has been known to be one of the most secretive of democracies. Censorship seems to be second nature of those who govern, those in authority; and a preoccupation is preventing the people knowing more than their ‘betters’ consider they ought to know. At the beginning of the 19th century courageous writers and publishers fought to establish the liberty of the press. One law after another was arraigned against them. Lengthy prison sentences became the norm not only for those who wrote challenging government and demanding the reform of parliament, but those who dared to try scraping a living from selling the Unstamped Press in the face of imminent arrest.
The ‘damned spot’ was a red sign which acknowledged that taxes had been paid for the legitimate sale of newspapers and periodicals – the ‘respectable press’. There were additional levies on paper, advertisements and excise duty – all with the intention of making newspapers too expensive for common people to afford.
The radical press called these Taxes on Knowledge. The resolve of publishers such as William Cobbett, Richard Carlile, Henry Hetherington, John Clease, James Watson and Bronterre O’Brien was indomitable, and so was that of their faithful printers, shopmen and women and papersellers. For example, when Carlile was imprisoned (he served over nine years in all) for reprinting the works of Tom Paine, his family continued the business, only for his wife Jane and his sister Mary-Anne to end up behind bars with him.
The War of the Unstamped was heroic, and on the part of the authorities vicious. Government spies were everywhere, paid according to the number of defiers of the red spot they could bring to book. Hetherington was even arrested as he attended the funeral of his mother.
The struggles for a free press which involved so many personal sacrifices remain an inspiration today; and indeed so many of the issues which the Radicals had to contend with in the 1820s and 30s, and which were carried forward by the Chartists in the 1840s and 50s, have contemporary parallels. In fact it could be said that the fundamental issues concerning the liberty of speech remain the same.
Out Damned Spot! pays tribute to men and women who were prepared to suffer imprisonment, deportation, staggeringly high fines and eventual destitution for the cause of an informed and democratic community.