I’ve written stories since I was very young, often on lined paper in shiny red exercise books with mysterious weights and measures listed on the back cover … yards, feet and inches, furlongs, chains, rods, poles, perches … remember those? Of course, I never tried to have those early stories published, other than in the school magazine. But when I turned to writing for pleasure in my retirement, I thought I’d begin to hone my skills by revisiting this very specific, demanding literary form.
Initial success came in a competition associated with the Historical Novel Society’s 2012 conference. My short-listed story, Liberation, set in the Second World War, was included in the anthology under the umbrella title HNS LONDON 12 and published by the society as an e-book in September of that year. The anthology is still available as an Amazon Kindle download.
I did rather better in the HNS 2014 conference competition, this time winning third prize with For Love of Megan, a story inspired by the last foreign invasion of Britain. This happened when three boatloads of Napoleon Bonaparte’s French troops invaded the town of Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire coast in 1797 and were repelled largely by the efforts of the formidable local woman who was the town cobbler. Alas, this collection of stories was never published as an anthology … but here’s my certificate, just to prove my claim!
Of course, during my long career in broadcasting, I have always written. Take my word for it that very few people – with the exception of disc jockeys – are able to ad lib and sound coherent. So, yes, broadcasters write, they make notes, jot down ‘aides-memoires’, they write ‘menus’ for forthcoming programmes … and in my case there were all sorts of other things, including documentaries and concerts. So my oeuvre has chiefly consisted of scripts … scripts … and yet more scripts. But in my freelance days, I also wrote for children’s programmes, with song lyrics (including translations from Welsh to English and vice versa), as well as a poem from time to time, to accompany the odd libation in the television series Poems and Pints on BBC2.
But I think what gave me the greatest pleasure was writing two 30-minute ‘musicals’ as term-long projects for BBC Schools Radio in the Music Workshop series. The producer, Peter Hutchings, asked my co-presenter Ian Humphris and me to come up with something which would involve children in all aspects of the production, particularly singing, acting and playing classroom instruments. I was to write the book and lyrics and Ian would write and arrange the music – and wonderfully witty music it was. Whole classes of eight- to ten-year-olds all over the country spent the term busily learning dialogue, songs and rhythm patterns for percussion instruments, working together towards an end-of-term performance in front of an audience of parents and teachers. The children loved these projects, they were hugely popular and we received sacks full of appreciative letters from the young performers. Believe it or not, I still get the occasional nostalgic email via this website from middle-aged people who remember the songs to this day! Our first project, called Chaos at Crusty Towers, was a story of mistaken identity at a Village Fête, with plenty of opportunity for dancing around a maypole, marching, singing, playing kazoos and general mayhem. Flushed with our initial success, Ian and I went on to write another one a year or so later for our other series, Music Makers.
This time it was the story of a Welsh choir going up to London to compete in a big choral festival at the Royal Albert Hall. Uncertainty abounded, with the choir having to persuade the Bank Manager to stump up money to finance the bus trip in the first place, then getting lost in London, doing a bit of barbershop busking, meeting a hippy record producer, being offered a recording contract and ultimately winning triumphant success at the Albert Hall. It was a sort of cross between an Eisteddfod and a forerunner of The X-factor!
The team behind the musicals…
Yours truly on the left with my old friends, producer Peter Hutchings in the centre and Ian Humphris on the right – enjoying a get-together in a London pub many years after the event and reminiscing about what fun it had all been. Sadly, that was for the last time because Ian, my dear friend and colleague for so many years, died suddenly in November 2012. His daughters, Caroline and Susan, arranged a memorial service in Chiswick in early December and I was very sad not to be able to get to it. But I know it was well-attended by many of the people whose lives Ian had touched over the years and Peter reported back to me that the singing was absolutely wonderful. Well, it would be, wouldn’t it? This link will take you to Ian’s obituary in The Guardian, where you can learn more about his busy, worthwhile life. It’s a beautifully warm tribute which says: ‘Ian Humphris believed that music is for everyone’. He did and he was right. It is.
The work Ian and I did together over so many years seems very dated now but, if you enjoy delving around in television history, this link will take you to some archive footage on Youtube which might amuse you!
Now, I mentioned poems earlier on, didn’t I? I thought you might like this one – it’s an old Welsh joke in poem form and it’s called Blodwen’s Wedding Day. I had 50 or so requests for copies of it after I had performed it in Poems and Pints and it was also featured on Radio Four’s Pick of the Week which was a great thrill for me. Please feel free to print it up and recite it at any poetical get-together you might be involved in – it’s best performed conspiratorially in a heavy Welsh accent!
Blodwen’s Wedding Day
Mrs. Jones met Mrs. Price along the road one day,
‘So – Blodwen’s getting married, then! Who’s giving her away?’
‘Well, Mister Price,’ said Mrs. Price, ‘and she’ll be all in white,
‘Well, she’s our only girl, you know – we’ve got to do it right!’
‘There’s lovely, then,’ said Mrs. Jones, ‘and when’s the baby due?’
‘The baby!’ yelped poor Mrs. Price, ‘the baby? Oh, jiw jiw!
‘There isn’t any baby! Blod’s a tidy girl, look you!
‘If that’s the rumour, tell ‘em all – Blodwen’s as good as new!’
Mrs. Jones met Mrs Lloyd out shopping the next day,
‘Now, listen Mrs. Lloyd,’ she said, ‘be careful what you say.
‘You see, Blod isn’t pregnant so that rumour we must quosh!’
‘No baby, then!’ mused Mrs. Lloyd, ‘is that a fact? There’s posh!’