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THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS BAD PUBLICITY
(Or is there? You should be so lucky!)
We discussed publicity in our Committee and Clive Evans, who was a member and the Manager of the Queens Hotel in Meyrick Road at the time, said "leave it to me". As he was our publicity expert, we left it to him.
That was our first mistake.
The first anyone else knew about Clive's publicity efforts was when Anne was telephoned by an Echo reporter who asked her about this sex scene she was taking part in. Anne was rather taken aback, but laughed it off and said there was really nothing to it.
That was the second mistake.
Next day there was an article on the front page of the Echo under the headline "Couple to 'make love' in Church hall play scene.' There were quotes from Clive saying this was the first time any amateur society had tackled this 'delicate subject'. There were quotes from Anne saying 'the scene has been tempered right down, the audience will not get much of a peek show'. Neither Anne or Len (who played the hippie son to Anne's au pair) saw the relevant copy of the Echo and were unaware of any incident, until Tony, Anne's husband, was telephoned at Max Factor's, where he was an executive. Tony thought it was someone in the society, probably Len, taking the mickey and so instead of playing down the subject he thought he'd have a good laugh and exaggerated everything, until suddenly the penny dropped and he became serious and said, "There's nothing in the performance that will offend anyone."
That was the third mistake.
The headline that night said "Love scene - no offence says husband". The article continued on another page under the headline, "Love scene - Vicar's view", in which the vicar explained that all sorts of people used his Church Hall from Charity events to Trade Union protests and the Church was not responsible for what happened there, but the Town Hall group were a responsible organisation and he was sure would not do anything to bring the Church into disrepute.
The event snowballed rapidly from here on in.
There were irate letters in the Echo from people writing in indignation, quoting the bible and talking of moral turpitude. The whole affair was featured the following Sunday in the 'News of the World' who are never slow to pick up salacious items from the local press.
From the groups point of view the worst part was when the Vicar asked to see a copy of the play, as he said he was of a mind to cancel the booking, but would not do anything without reading the play first.
There followed a nail-biting period until the Vicar rather reluctantly gave the go ahead. In the meantime four people returned their tickets and numbers of men in dirty raincoats called at the Town Hall for tickets!
Finally the play went on - what Peter Ustinov thought of all this was anybody's guess.
The Echo gave prominence to the critic's report on the play, and called it - "Barking up the wrong tree". Just a couple of quotes from it:
"Those who decided against going to see ... 'Halfway up a Tree' because of adverse publicity, have only themselves to blame for missing a highly enjoyable and entertaining evening which was about as shocking as the can-can.............The scene which aroused such controversy consisted of Helga and Robert making love behind the sofa on a darkened stage. There was nothing either seen or heard that could have caused the least offence.
So relax, Bournemouth, your morals are still intact."
When all the excitement calmed down we learnt that it wasn't Echo journalists who had been writing the story. A freelance journalist from the New Forest area had somehow picked up the story - we never knew how - and had stirred the pot to the best of his ability and had sold it everywhere he could - hence the News of the World story. It may have appeared elsewhere for all we knew - at the time we were keeping our heads below the parapet, and making sure we were careful about what we said to the papers!