A formative part of my teaching, and subsequent work in course book writing, and then video script writing, dates back to the Wednesday “Drama Evenings” at Anglo-Continental School of English in Bournemouth. The main restaurant had a marble stage, a lighting box at the back, a sound system and stage lighting which dropped from the ceiling. There was a grand piano at the side, and the porters could put up a curtain between the staff restaurant (our dressing room) and the stage for entrances and exits. This is a history of those shows.
I started teaching at Anglo-Continental School of English in Bournemouth in January 1971. The supervisor of “F Group”, the beginners’ section, was Colin Granger. Guy Wellman was the supervisor of “E Group” (Elementary). I soon found out that the big event of the week was Wednesday evening, when the school restaurant converted into a 400 seat theatre for “Drama Evenings”. There was a marble stage with a complete stage lighting system tucked away in the roof. The history of these Wednesdays was said to originate in the late 50s when Peter Cook and Dudley Moore had worked as temporary teachers, shortly before their success with “Beyond The fringe.” The shows consisted of rehearsed readings of extracts from plays, acted out in rather silly costumes. By 1971, Colin and Guy were the stars of the shows.
Once a month, a full play was performed. This might be ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ ‘The Knack’, ‘Waiting for Godot’ or ‘A View From The Bridge’ on a rotation system. Colin produced, explained what was going on and acted.
When Colin found out I’d done Drama as my BA subsiduary subject, I was roped in immediately, despite protesting that my speciality was stage lighting and set design. The basic cast consisted of Colin, Guy and me. We were always short of women actors. The school employed no female teachers at that time. One of the teachers, Nick Keeping, suggested we enrol Karen as our solitary female member. He had been in plays with her, and they’d been drama students together. Karen arrived for J.M. Synge’s ‘Playboy of the Western World’ – the first and last time we performed it. She was an instant success and became a permanent team member.
Karen Perrett (later Viney) and Colin Granger 1971 / Peter & Karen, August 1971
The Sinking Ship, sketch, 8 September 1971: L to R: Peter Viney, Peter da Souza, Karen Perrett
In that first the summer, we had Peter da Souza, a drama lecturer friend of Colin’s (Scottish RADA) in the team as well. Many shows were themed extracts, so “Military Drama” would have scenes from five or six real plays, introduced by Colin. That summer we started to branch out, with original sketches slowly replacing the rehearsed readings, with Peter da Souza the instigator. We improvised to a large degree. Once a month we still did a rehearsed reading of a play (it was advertised in the school brochure), but largely original material took the place of plays. And we dispensed with the books.
The core team: Guy, Karen, Peter, November 1971 (Mayor’s EFL Reception)
Colin left that autumn, bequeathing me the role of producer, much to my surprise. From that point, Karen and I were writing new sketches. We brought Nick straight in to replace Colin.
“Hippies” – sketch 4 October 1972. Nick, Guy, Karen, Peter. Nick is a new nerdish student
By late 1971 we were using a team of four: Peter, Karen, Guy and Nick Keeping. Leo Jones began to help with lights and sound as the productions became more complex, and also was an extra cast member for some sketches. We wanted music, partly to help costume changes, partly for a change of pace, and recruited my old friend John “Hutch” Hutcheson on Hammond organ / vocals, and David Thompson on drums / vocals. They had a band called Tapestry. Hutch and Dave began by playing between sketches, then started to play during them as well. If you walked across the stage in a funny way, you found Dave’s drums providing humorous accompaniment. If you mentioned a cold wind blowing, eerie Hammond sounds suddenly surrounded you. The music became part of the jokes, as well as providing Top 20-covers while we changed.
Peach Shoes by J.P. Donleavy: Nick Keeping as the waiter, Peter as the man with peach shoes
The shows became more and more popular. We had three or four songs a show, and evolved some comic dance pieces (Karen did dance as well as drama) and usually ended the evening with a ballet send-up, or Nick, Guy and me dressed as the Rolling Stones or The Supremes miming to a record.
Karen didn’t even teach at the school until early 1973. After the Christmas 1972 pantomime, the school owner told her that in student feedback, she was the most popular teacher in the school. “But I don’t work here, I only come in for the shows,” she protested. “When would you like to start?” was the answer. Like many teachers with drama and drama teaching qualifications, she was an instant success as an ELT teacher … ditto Nick Keeping, and later Chris Owen.
April 1973: Peter & Nick in An Apple A Day by John Antrobus (a sketch, of which I have zero recall).
1973: Guy and Nick in the “Wild west sketch”. Nick as Wyatt Earp. Guy as bartender.
The Debt Collectors, 1973. Nick, Peter & Guy. A lot of sketches involved Nick beating up Guy!
1974: Nick and Karen
When Hutch left to do a Ph.D, we recruited local ELT writer Roy Kingsbury on piano in his place. Dave Thompson organised the band. We continued with he policy that they could add piano or percussion sound effects whenever they felt like it.
Dave Thompson, our musical director, drums & lead vocal, Regent Centre Show 1985
There was a grand piano at the side of the stage. We added John Jacobs on guitar, then Tony Lloyd on bass guitar. Tony later co-wrote the ‘Street Life’ course with Guy, which used original songs as contexts. Some weeks, musician acquaintances would appear for the fun, and we’d find an extra guitar, two saxes or a trumpet in the “pit orchestra”. Roy Kingsbury had written two albums of teaching songs, ‘Sunday Afternoons’ (Longman) and ‘Seasons & People’ (OUP), and when his co-writer Patrick O’Shea joined ACSE from Eurocentre, we added a series of stage duets sung by Patrick and Guy (Simon & Garfunkel a speciality, as Patrick could hit all the notes in Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer).
Alan Tankard: 1975
Nick Keeping left. Alan Tankard had become an important member of the company after also joining us from Eurocentre. We recruited Alan as a singer (three part hamonies with Patrick and Guy), but he soon turned out to be a natural comic actor. Until Alan joined, Peter had done most of the links and introductions. The skill was the ability to tell a joke if someone shouted. ‘We’re not ready yet’ from the side of the stage. Alan took over some of the links and added a series of audience sing-alongs to the show, including a classic “Oh, Sir Jasper!”. This was a great relief to me, as Alan was totally reliable. He always had a song or a long joke to fill any awkward spaces. Also, we had an interesting dynamic, in that Karen, Nick and Guy could do serious parts as well as comedy. Alan and I stuck pretty much to comedy, and always kept one foot in the role and another outside.
Alan Tankard teaching the audience the song “But When I’m Home” September 1975
Our classic mid-70s team was:
Peter, Karen, Guy Wellman, Alan Tankard, Patrick O’Shea. Our pit orchestra was Roy Kingsbury, Dave Thompson, Tony Lloyd and John Jacobs.
William Tell sketch: The Austrian Army … Alan and Peter 1976
William Tell: Karen as Tell’s son (“his mother is very worried about him”), Patrick as William Tell, Peter as Austrian guard, Guy as Prince Gessler
Karen as girl at bus stop in Welcome to England
Karen and I wrote sketches for improvisation. In the scripts, improvisation would build towards set scripted exchanges and punch lines. With the team we had, we could rely on everyone to keep the level of English clear, simple and funny. If someone thought of a great line, it was added and stayed in the script if we remembered it. But we did, because we recorded nearly every show, and Karen and I used to listen back, checking which lines got the best audience reaction.
Looking back, we have many photos from 1971 to 1976, but few later. Also. going through the possibles I realise that from 1971 to 1975 we were trying many new things every week. By 1976, we had crystallised “what worked” and repeated sketches more often. Also, as Head of Elementary Department from 1975, I tried to see all the classes in my department once or twice a week, but no longer had a “personal class” (for 10 lessons a week) so I was less likely to get photos.
The monthly “real” plays were rehearsed and costumed readings with enlarged casts, though our main team had acquired the skill of simplifying and paraphrasing as we went along, and with plays like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ruling Class we more or less knew it, so books were a prompt rather than being read aloud. All our photos came from audience members, given us a few days later.
The photos below come from 1972 (when we had a Swiss professional photographer in our classes) and 1973 when we had a well-known German photographer, Dieter Bonn, both in my personal classes.
A View From The Bridge, by Arthur Miller, September 1972. Guy as Eddie Carbone, Nick as Rodolfo
The Knack by Ann Jellicoe: Nick Keeping, Guy Wellman, Peter Viney, November 1972
The Ruling Class by Peter Barnes, 1973 The Wedding. Peter as Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, Nick as Sir Charles Gurney his uncle, Karen as Grace (Charles’ mistress and about to be married to the apparently mad Jack) (Photo: Dieter Bonn)
The Ruling Class: 1973, my old co-author on ‘Survival English’, the late John Curtin as Tucker, the butler. John usually joined us for The Ruling Class because his wife, Nila, was an opera singer, so could sing the operatic sequence as the Lady of the Camelias behind the set (while Karen mimed it on stage) (Photo: Dieter Bonn)
Zigger-Zagger by Peter Terson, June 1973: Peter and Guy as football fans (Photo: Dieter Bonn)
Zigger Zagger: Karen as Edna (Harry’s sister) (Photo: Dieter Bonn)
We still did a play once a month until about 1977 because authentic plays were advertised as a feature in the school brochure. We extended the cast for these, The Ruling Class by Peter Barnes, Why Bournemouth by John Antrobus, Zigger Zagger by Peter Terson and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett were our favourite ones, though we did The Fire Raisers by Max Frisch once, and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde many times, Private Lives by Noel Coward, and A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller too. Our Director of Studies, Alan McInnes, always joined us for The Importance of Being Earnest, Private Lives and A View From The Bridge. He had run the evenings when they were full plays, before Colin arrived.
As Alan also directed The Importance of Being Earnest, he insisted that Karen play the younger Cecily, because of her height. Her first move when Alan stopped doing them was to switch to Gwendolyn, the part she had preferred for years.
We even did An Evening With William Shakespeare once or twice a year because it was in the programme, though the highlights were our mash-up of Romeo & Juliet which turns suddenly into West Side Story with songs, the gravedigger scene from Hamlet, and the Pyramus & Thisbe play from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (simplified English and additions).
We even performed our version of Why Bournemouth (with Diane Mowat) at Bournemouth College. Otherwise it was all original material.
In 1977 we held a one day ARELS course on teaching with drama, during which the participants sat in on a show with 300 students on the late Saturday afternoon.
WELCOME TO ENGLAND:
1976: L to R Chris Owen (Valerie Giscard De Gaulle), Karen as Maria Consuela, Patrick as Hiroshi
1976. Possibly the same show, but probably a different one : Alan as Fritz, Peter as the Teacher. (The shield is from Dracula, and should have been removed, along with the side table!)
Towards the end of every show was a long sketch called “Welcome To England”. These formed a series, repeating every 13 or 14 weeks. They followed the adventures of a class of students. Peter usually played the English person they had to deal with (teacher, landlord, customs officer, police officer, hotel receptionist, tour guide). The students were all stereotypes. Though this changed over the years, our basic class consisted of Karen as a Mexican, Guy as Hansrudi Rubadub, a Swiss-Arab (cf. Swiss German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian), Alan as Fritz Beckenbauer, a German from Argentina and Nick (then later Patrick) as a Japanese. When Chris Owen joined us, we added a Frenchman named Valerie Giscard De Gaulle. Later, when we were without Chris in 1985, Anna Karsay added a French woman in his place, and Ken Shelley then added an Italian (Alfredo Romeo). Peter replaced Alan as the German for some time too. When Peter was playing Fritz, Tony Lloyd moved from bass guitar / vocals to be the English person they encountered. Confused? Imagine how we felt.
The strange thing is that though these sketches appeared on the surface to be offensive, students loved them. After all, the real villain of every piece was the English character, and somehow the students muddled through together and got the better of him. Our costumes grew more elaborate from student contributions. Karen had about six potential changes of costume as the Mexican (all contributed by Mexicans).
A sequence I always liked was from ‘First Day At School’ where the teacher is trying to learn names. Fritz Beckenbauer (played by Alan) is much more advanced than this class of beginners. There were points that students identified with then and now. Horrendous mispronunciation of their names, classes thrown together with a wide ability range, the mistakes that happen naturally.
The school had always done a traditional English pantomime for students, staff and host families with their children. The first one we produced was December 1972, the first time Peter & Karen’s names appeared on a script in print – “Aladdin” by Peter Viney, Karen Perrett and Nick Keeping.
Eventually we were doing three nights of a pantomime (at 350 to 400 people a night), and had a cast of over twenty, with full music, chorus songs and dance routines. A characteristic of the pantomimes is that Peter produced, but did not appear (due to the size of the production, there was no space for the producer to act). Karen directed and played the “principal boy” when there was one (a traditional female’s role dressing up as a man), Guy was the sympathetic character, the principal boy’s best friend, Nick, then later Patrick, played the pantomime dame (a traditional male part dressing up as a woman), and eventually Alan made the villain his own.
Once Alan was involved in writing with us, music and song selection became very important. I still remember the huge opening scene of Robin Hood to “Who Will Buy?”. Alan was always the musical director. Alan also added more jokes, from a vast memory store of joke line.
1972 ALADDIN by Peter Viney, Karen Perrett and Nick Keeping
Karen as Aladdin
Karen – Aladdin / Guy Wellman, Ken Shelley – Wishy & Washy, Nick Keeping – Widow Twankey, Sally Wellman as the princess.
Aladdin: L to R: Nick as Widow Twanky, Rob Kirby as Prince, Chris Goodchild as Emperor, Diane Mowat as Empress, Phil Lay as Prince, Karen as Aladdin, Sally as Princess (rehearsal)
1973 BABES IN THE WOOD by Peter Viney, Karen Perrett and Nick Keeping
Karen as Gretel, Guy as Hansel, Nick Keeping as the dame
This was memorable because we felt Guy’s moustache looked wrong as Hansel. Nick planned it … they grabbed him and put hair remover on it an hour before opening night, then handed him a razor.
1974 DICK WHITTINGTON by Peter Viney and Karen Perrett
DICK WHITTINGTON: Guy as the cat, Nick as Sir Jasper’s cook, Leo as Sir Jasper, Karen as Dick Whittington
Karen as Dick, Guy as the cat, Diane Mowat (Bookworms author) as the Empress of China, Chris Goodchild – Emperor of China, Leo Jones as Sir Jasper, Alan Tankard as King Rat
1975 ROBIN HOOD by Peter Viney, Karen Perrett and Alan Tankard
ROBIN HOOD: Chris Owen as Little John, Karen as Robin Hood, Guy as Friar Tuck
ROBIN HOOD: Sally Wellman as Maid Marion, Alan Tankard as Sheriff of Nottingham
… with Karen as Robin, Guy as Friar Tuck, Alan Tankard as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Chris Owen as Little John, Sally Wellman as Maid Marion, Patrick O’Shea as the lady innkeeper (two minute cameo by Peter as King Richard for the finale).
1976 FRANKENSTEIN by Peter Viney, Karen Perrett and Alan Tankard
… with Guy as Dr Frankenstein, Karen as Elizabeth his fiancée, Alan Tankard as Ygor, Chris Owen as the Burgomaster, Patrick O’Shea as the Innkeeper, Peter as the monster (breaking a rule – but Karen did most of the producing on this one too).
We were up to a cast of twenty-one, with choreographed villager chorus singing and dancing scenes. ACSE had become ACEG, and the cast were drawn from ACSE, PSC, AIS, Academia, Nova and Inerlink schools in the group.
FRANKENSTEIN: Patrick O’Shea as the innkeeper, Widow Eggenburger, Chris Owen as the Burgomaster, Guy as Dr Frankenstein, Karen as Elizabeth Eggenburger, his fiancée
Alan as Ygor, Peter as the Monster, Guy as Dr Frankenstein (rehearsal, no hand make up)
Frankenstein: The Villagers, with Elizabeth (Karen) and Widow Eggenburger (Patrick) right
Villagers: Marita Jervois, Stephanie Miles, Damaris Gethin, Tony Lloyd, Chris Horwood, Chris Hawes
Chris Owen later produced this pantomime in Oman with a full RAF band backing. We have it on video. The monster was a difficult role – for the first fifteen minutes you had to lie motionless on a table covered in white cloth. But you got a rest after the backstage frenzy of the preceding half an hour! Because of coloured lighting and strobes and smoke machine on the actual shows, our only photos are from the dress rehearsal. Note that Peter doesn’t have hand make-up and is wearing glasses.
CINDERELLA, summers and 1977
Peter Viney & Leo Jones or Chris Owen – the ugly sisters, Nick Keeping (then later Chris Owen) as the dame, Karen as Cinderella, Guy as Buttons, Alan as The Prince, Patrick as Dandini. This was more like our normal shows, semi-improvised rather than written.
We also used to perform “Cinderella” as a “mid-summer pantomime” with a greatly reduced cast, which saw Alan as the hero Prince Charming, and Karen actually playing a woman (Cinderella). I think we did it in 1977 when time was very tight, and we had no time to write a new script.
The pantomimes continued into the 1980s at BEET Language Centre, where Guy was DOS, and continue there to this day. In the early 80s Peter used to appear as the dame – because all the BEET staff except Alan Tankard had beards, and Alan was always the “baddie”.
LATER DRAMA EVENINGS
By 1977, we had recruited Penny Barrow as a second woman (something we’d needed for years, says Karen). When Karen was pregnant, we added Katie Walker as well, with Penny and Katie jointly replacing Karen altogether in 1978. Chris Owen had been a regular since 1976. A new weekly feature was Chris doing a five minute mime. These were often classical mimes like ‘The Surgeon’ or ‘The Fisherman’ or ‘The Baker’. These quickly became one of the most popular elements – there was no linguistic content, and we placed them just after halfway through the show so that the audience could rest for five minutes from the concentration of listening. Roy excelled at silent film style piano playing during the mimes.
Once Roy had left (1979?), we started to use a small group formed by John and Viv Forster. Viv had been a professional singer for several years, and was backed by guitar, bass and drums. Viv brought crowd-pleasers like “Una Paloma Blanca” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” into the act.
It all came to an end in 1980, when Peter left ACSE, and soon afterwards Guy and Alan moved to BEET. BEET has kept the shows going and in the early 80s Peter sometimes used to appear as “holiday / sick relief” when they were short of actors. This was always fun, and slightly surprising as improvised sketches evolve dramatically over a few years.
1985 ENGLISH AS A FUNNY LANGUAGE
By 1985, Karen and I were writing together again, starting with the videoscript of A Weekend Away. Everyone felt like doing a show, and we rented the Regent Theatre in Christchurch for a week. We sold over 2000 tickets for the week, billed as EFL- English As A Funny Language.
Both Chris Owen (United Arab Emirates) and Patrick O’Shea (Spain) were outside the UK, but we still managed to put together a larger-than-normal team. We drew from several schools, though rehearsals were all based at BEET Language Centre, and our two newest recruits, Anna Karsay and Nick Boddy had learned the sketches in their later BEET versions. For the first time, we could write “two women” sketches for Karen and Anna.
CAST: Peter Viney, Karen Viney (freelance writers), Guy Wellman (BEET), Alan Tankard (BEET), Nick Keeping (Harrow House), Anna Karsay (BEET), Leo Jones (freelance writer), Nick Boddy (BEET), Ken Shelley (Anglo-Continental), Andrew Kirby (Harrow House), Frank Carter (friend)
We put together our classic “pit orchestra” again – Roy Kingsbury, David Thompson, Tony Lloyd and John Jacobs.One of the great joys was having a full lighting rig, as well as a proscenium stage with curtain. We’d always worked on an open stage, and the curtain was a bonus for a show with many short sketches, as we could alternate between front of curtain and full stage, speeding everything up. We also had a stage manager (Andrew) so could set up behind those curtains.
We have no photos, because we ran a video of the first and second nights. All the pictures are photos of the TV screen.
Frankenstein: Strobe lit (screen shot of VHS video). Alan as Ygor, Guy as Dr Frankenstein
Frankenstein: Alan as Ygor, Peter as the monster (screen shot off VHS video)
Anna Karsay & Nick Keeping in “Tarzan” 1985 (screen shot of VHS video)
Wild Western 1985, Karen, Guy, Nick (screen shot of VHS video)
Song: “Rave On” Alan with Guy and Nick (screen shot of VHS video). Guy is the turntable of an old record player, Nick is the stylus. Alan is lead vocal.
Dr Kildare 1985. Peter as patient, Anna, Nick, Leo, Ken (screen shot of VHS video)
The Last Request 1985.Nick as the officer, Guy as the condemned man (El Presidente). Firing squad: Peter, Nick Boddy, Alan Tankard, Leo Jones (screen shot of VHS video)
The Dentist 1985. Anna as dentist, Ken Shelley as patient (screen shot of VHS video)
Song, 1985. When I Fall In Love: (screen shot of VHS video)
Alan, Nick, Karen, Guy.
Welcome to England: The Bus Stop 1985. Alan as Fritz, with Leo, Ken, Anna, Nick Boddy as the queue. (screen shot of VHS video). Fritz has jumped the queue.
What was interesting was that people came from different eras of the shows. For example, Nick Keeping had rarely worked with Alan Tankard who had replaced him. They were particularly good together. Ken had worked with Peter, Guy, Nick and Karen but never with the others.
The Regent Theatre offered us a six week run for 1986, which was a compliment, but as I’d spent six weeks working on the show and its publicity (for just about zero return), I couldn’t afford to do it. Also while the cast could manage a week of teaching all day and performing in the evening, six weeks was an impossibility. It’s a pity. One group of summer schools offered to fill two nights every week if we repeated the exercise, and two other schools asked for their own exclusive night each week.
The last shows that Karen and I did were at Anglo-Continental. We did a couple of shows which were exhausting, because we used just three of us- Peter, Karen and Chris Owen, backed by Roy Kingsbury and David Thompson, who had to help out on stage as well as playing piano and drums.
Karen and Peter in “The Job Interview” 1987
We chose material we could manage with a small number. It was exciting to get back to the very small team format again (though three was one fewer than our original shows), but costume changes were a headache and we missed the chance to rest during sketches we weren’t in.
When we repeated the exercise a few months later, we added Ken Shelley (who’d done the 1985 show) and our friend Tania Ortu. Ken had appeared with us in late 1971 and early 1972, and had then left Bournemouth.
The shows taught us a great deal about comedy, and the kind of humour that could be appreciated by a multinational audience, ranging in level from zero beginner to Advanced. They were a major influence on our approach to ELT dialogues. They were a bigger influence on our video writing.
Several sketches from GRAPEVINE VIDEO had their origins in English As A Funny language material. “Chips With Everything” is based on a far longer and ruder sketch where Guy and Karen were the customers and Peter the waiter. “One Dark Night” borrows bits from our version of “Dracula” (Guy and Karen as the couple, Peter as the doorman, Alan as the count). “Lambert & Stacey” has similarities (including the final punch line) with our old sketch “Gangsters”. “At the Doctors” owes something to a much ruder sketch with Nick as the doctor and Peter or Guy as the patient. We sometimes switched roles according to the need for costume changes in a particular show.
English Channel One: Jim Sweeney & Steve Steen as Robin Hood & Friar Tuck
In ENGLISH CHANNEL our fascination with Robin Hood comes to the fore. Interestingly, the dynamic between Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney is very similar to that between Guy Wellman and Nick Keeping. When we wrote “Robin Hood” for English Channel, we imagined Guy Wellman and Nick Keeping in the roles as much as Steve and Jim.
The main influence is that we act out all the parts when we’re writing. This goes way back, and the pilot version of STREAMLINE on audio had Karen and Guy as the main voices, assisted by Peter, and by Bernie Hartley. We even put several units of Streamline onto video at the time.