So there it was – the long a waited showing of the original version of ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ on 35 mm at the Duke of York’s. A message in the programme from Michael Attenborough, The warm and wonderful Robin Gibson compering, a special welcome from Polly Evans, BBC South East.
There were songs from the film by BIMM a choir dressed in uniform, a panel consisting of Richard Attenborough’s daughter, Charlotte, who played ‘the little smith girl’ in the film, with the immortal line “Granny what did Daddy do in the war?” Angela Thorne, who played a young nurse who sees five members of her family off to France never to return. She talked about ‘the lessons of war never learned’ and her own family’s reaction to seeing the film and also the wonderful atmosphere on the set, being looked after, staying in lovely hotels, the hospitality.
Haley Mills told of her father’s pride in being in the film. Maurice Roeves who played George Smith, said he regarded most of it as a great job for a young actor. He’d had a whale of a time, but also had plenty to say about the futility of war. Throughout the proceedings the marionettes stood stage right and there was a complimentary drink on the house for all.
But at the end of the day it was the film. How brilliantly conceived it all was and how sad bringing back, as it did once again the politics, the infighting, the class divisions, the sheer futility of of it all. Although I know there are still rumblings in high places even today that this was not the case.
I was supposed to be on a mini break in France but cancelled to attend the event, because I was so glad of an opportunity to take my own sons, daughters-in-law and my grandchildren to the film. It was also a chance to celebrate their grandparents achievement in making and performing with marionettes, the latter included me! This film was more or less the last time we worked as a family. Most people think of puppets as toys but I can assure you most directors including Richard Attenborough regarded them as actors in miniature.
My family had never seen the film before and like many of the rest of the audience found it intriguing, funny, shocking, beautifully portrayed and poignant.
(Pics a bit of a family affair)
So many local people who were extras in the 60s had personal reasons for volunteering to take part in the film. Last week Barbara a friend who used to live in Woodingdean said she remembered all the crosses on the downs and how moving that was.
So as well as celebrating a masterpiece by Sir Richard Attenborough, it was a moving evening, not least for some wonderful conversations with other older ladies, all of whom had memories of grandfathers who had fought on the Somme. One told me of her efforts to trace her loved one’s service history at Kew, something I have done myself. My own grandfather was gassed and suffered shell shock, but he did come home. This film is like watching shadows from one’s past.
Watching our own smaller soldiers playing their parts, I could not help thinking about how, on set, Richard Attenborough, suddenly realising there was no actor voice for one of the soldiers, took the role himself to interact with the actor Jean-Paul Cassel much to everyone’s amusement.
Seeing Kenneth More in his German helmet again, I suddenly recalled him as he was a few years earlier sitting in his lounge with the children enjoying characters from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and clowns from our Puppet Circus. How on earth these incongruous things slip into one’s mind I don’t know.
So thank you South East Today for a lovely evening.
There are 8 more tiny soldiers and a white plaster horse from the roundabout in storage. My eldest son Robin (Robin Perrin) met someone at the event who had worked on the set with the roundabout. I would love to hear from him or anyone else with behind scene puppet memories from the film.
Museum update. The Imperial War Museum were hoping to have the marionettes but currently have too many demands on their space!
Anyway enough posting about puppetry for the moment, they will go back into storage, but the V and A Theatre Museum have also shown interest in some of our marionette collection and there is still Brighton Museum. Who knows – Serious enquiries welcomed.
Associated blogs – the filming in Dec.
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