Stripped for action.

A school stage and film remembrance and query.

By Alan French

This item highlights that Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers is not the only organisation that is unfortunate to have been a platform for my occasional acting with problems. It also contains a query as to what has happened to a kindred art film media. Neither is the following intended to ridicule or be disrespectful to the Nativity story. But I hope it puts a smile on your faces.   


During my time at Belswains School from 1950 to 1955, we occasionally had two styles of film projection. The school did acquire a moving film projector. But it also had a projector which presented still films. Also known as film strips. Every-so-often, we would be treated to not only presentations for educational purposes, but also pictures of life and activity at the school. I can also recall that at one Christmas party, we saw two entertainment strips. One was of John Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, and the other was SINBAD THE SAILOR.   But I can also recall that approaching Christmas 1954, a live still picture was presented on stage at the school hall. Huh?  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            It happened thus. 

A live tableau

Every year, schools up and down the country presented Nativity plays. Ours was no exception to this tradition. But this particular year, for some strange reason, there would be a Christmas evening. But there was, as it emerged, no play involved.   I remember sitting with my fellow classmates. The door opened and in walked a teacher named Mr. Gibbons. He apologised for the interruption, but wanted to ask our class a question. Apparently, instead of a play, someone had an idea for inserting a live tableaux of The Nativity. Any volunteers? I, being thesbianocally inclined, volunteered. I was cast as a shepherd. Other pupils, for the record, that I can remember, were:- Mary – Patricia Parsons, Joseph – Colin Howard, possibly a shepherd – Raymond Thompson.  I am not sure who else, but definitely Anne Carpenter and Patricia Whitehouse as angels. We had no lines to learn. All we had to do was pose and keep as still as possible. We were given our positions on stage. And then we posed as though we were in a still picture. So far so good. Anne Carpenter and Pat Whitehouse, I believe, were to have white sheets for their roles. Possibly provided from their respective homes. I do not know about wings and halos. But the rest of us were to have our outfits supplied from the school.


There was still a degree of post war austerity. Nativity plays were very economic because whatever dress, blanket, sash, scarf utilised for one production, would be stored somewhere for next year’s Nativity play. Again, so far so good. Then the rot set in.


The yellow garment

It happened thusly, like this.    We arrived on the evening of the event. We had to go to a classroom near the entrance to the wings of the stage. A teacher, possibly a Miss Tucker, issued us with our outfits. She asked me what my part was. I told her. She rummaged through the content of this large box to see what would be suitable for a shepherd. Unfortunately, owing to my slight problem with tubbyness, I was incapable of dressing myself. I announced that the garment did not fit. I was issued with another one. That did not fit either. I am not sure exactly how many times this occurred. Eventually, the teacher pulled out a yellow garment. She commented that if this did not fit, then I would not be able to be in the tableaux. A lot of people spend an abundance of money to lose weight. For me, this warning may have done the trick a lot cheaper. Much to the amusement of the other pupils and my relief, it fitted. After that I was decorated with other items and looked more like the part. At a given point we went up on the stage and positioned ourselves. Then the curtains parted. There was some impressed gasps from the audience. There was at least one photographic flash bulb in use. The curtains came together. Mr. Gibbons was pleased with the result and congratulated us. As for me, the moment of dread had arrived. Because I was a portly Adonis, I was now incapable of undressing myself. I could not get the costume off. Miss Tucker told me to lift my arms up. I obeyed. She then pulled. Briefly, I experienced mild claustrophobia. Would I be forever stuck within this yellow garment? Then it arose more. I then detected a slight sound. Rip!  


The report in the local press detailed the school’s event. But for some reason, omitted reference to the tableaux.  


 At least one photograph was taken. Maybe more. Were any photographic images developed in print form or for the school’s film strip? I do not know. I have never seen any.   However, it does make me wonder what has happened to the many film strips for still projectors, be they toy or sophisticated equipment? Be they amateur or professional? Some have found their ways to DVDs. I have seen at least one regarding a television series.

Whatever happened to epidiascopes?

But what of the those that have not? Some may well be for entertainment. But some may, like those at Belswains School, capture a still film record of people, places and events that would make interesting viewing for local history. What Happened to epidiascopes? I know that at my next school, Bennetts End Secondary Modern (now with Apsley Grammar School, part of the Longdean complex) we did have standard 8 cine films introduced just before I left. I did hear through the grapevine, that these may be with the headmaster’s son. But there were no film strips as far as I am aware of the school. Only surviving snaps. But there were a still projector, a slide combined with epidiascope projector, and a 16mm movie film projector. This was used for both educational purposes and for our Cinema Club.   Very interesting thoughts.   Alan French.  


Not so useless information. An epidiascope contained a mirror which at an angle of 45 degrees, would refract the reflection of an illuminated image through a lens and onto a screen.   

Later stage appearances

Useless information.   Are you aware that this item contains wording that I may have dreamed up, thusly adding to the English language?    In 1956, at Bennetts End Secondary Modern School, I was promoted to Casper, one  of The Three Kings or Wise Men Also known as THE Magai. This time my costume was specially made. The play was THE GOLDEN ROSE by the headmaster Cyril Fowler.  

Ten years later, Colin Howard and I performed together. He was on drums. I was on vocals and mainly piano.    

Approximately forty five years later, Miss Tucker heard me perform rock ‘n’ roll. She said to me, ”Oh! Alan! How could you? You was told how to appreciate good music when you were at school!”

Raymond Thompson, Patricia Parsons, Anne Carpenter and Patricia Whitehouse were very fortunate. They never heard me performing rock ‘n’ roll. Were they not lucky? Who said yes? Cheek!  


copyright Alan French 2010.  

This page was added on 28/11/2010.

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