Out of storage they came, the marionettes from the ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ feature film and their conservation is now more or less completed. Some of the soldiers helmets needed a few pieces of horse hair which is an essential part. Luckily my friend Maggie who has a horse called Prophet provided it.
Some of the armour had been broken so I had to piece it together again and/or make leather replacements. The main characters had to be re-strung which takes forever, but I think they looked pretty good by the end of the conservation process.
Paul, my youngest son tooled some of the leatherwork, Alan, my partner cut guns to replace those that were missing and Robin my eldest son contacted the Imperial Museum, who immediately said they would love to have them for a future exhibition about remembering the Great War.
However other museums have also shown an interest so we might be able to accommodate more than one by offering the marionettes on temporary loan. There is also a heritage lottery fund bid in the pipeline for an exhibition in Brighton about the making of the film and we have been approached to display the marionettes there too. Any contacts regarding display appreciated, we have 200 marionettes of historical interest to place including the circus characters that entertained Her Majesty the Queen and her family in the 50s.
But back to ‘Oh What a Lovely War’. It took my mother six months to make the army and both parents made the main characters. We had to continue with our other performances during this time as the puppets were paid to appear in the film as mini-actors at Equity rates, not the for their construction.
They all had to be dressed in military uniforms to match the real soldiers in the film. We were advised at the time by a gentleman from Bermans, the theatrical and TV costumiers (taken over by Angels in 1992). It has taken me three months to painstakingly conserve and re-string them.
Today the BBC have been along to film some of the conservation process. This will be used in one of their films on the Great War. Lovely interviewer Robin Gibson and a super-duper cameraman, and me looking fifty years older than I was when I was on that pier operating the marionettes. Depressing she said, being vain!
I won’t talk about anecdotes relating to ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ today, but trust some of them will be included when they show the piece on TV.
It should not be forgotten however that the film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ was inspired by Charles Chilton’s radio masterpiece ‘A long long road a winding’. There will be a programme dedicated to the writing of this play on Radio 4 on the 4th Jan. Something not to be missed!
So the BBC came today, they saw and we conquered. In the case of the real war my own grandfather played a part and was shell-shocked and gassed in the process. We never forgot the sound of his night-time coughing. Our marionette studio was in my Grandparents’ house in Highgate. I wrote a poem called ‘Grandpa’s War’ about his wartime experiences, which I hope to get published one day.
So now the soldiers will go back into storage until they get their final call to arms.