Reading a short book by Frank Norman Why Fings Went West about the London theatrical scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the letter reprinted in its entirety (pp.66-68) from the Lord Chamberlain's Office amused me. It may seem strange to many that the Lord Chamberlain was able to censor plays from 1737 up until the Theatres Act of 1968. Frank Norman had an interesting life of real struggle (it's unlikely he would manage to escape from the precariat these days) and was part of that whole Soho scene chronicled by Dan Farson in his highly entertaining books. Norman was co-author with Jeffrey Bernard of one of the definitive works of that genre Soho Night and Day (I only have the paperback, the hardback is an expensive collector's item).
Incidentally, during the summer we spent a week staying at a cottage in the Devon village of Georgeham. One morning I went for a wander, as I tend to do, around the village church and churchyard; I came across a gravestone for Negley Farson, which nagged at me, as I was sure I'd heard the name somewhere. It was only later that I realised that he was Dan Farson's father and had once been a well known author and correspondent. Apparently Dan inherited his father's alcoholism and both men died in the house at Georgeham.
The Norman book was one of a series called Time Rembered issued in the 1970s by Lemon Tree Press, based in Bedfordbury and named after the still-popular pub nearby. The press owner Allen Synge sounds like another of those admirable small publishers of the period.
Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be was a successful musical with music by Lionel Bart, recently revived - interesting that The Guardian review also mentions the camp interior decorator.
7th February 1961
The Lord Chamberlain has received numerous complaints against the play 'Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be', in consequence of which he arranged for an inspection of the Garrick Theatre to be made on 1st February last.
It is reported to his Lordship that numerous unauthorised amendments to the allowed manuscript have been made, and I am to require you to revert to it at once, submitting for approval any alteration which you wish to make before continuing them in use.
In particular I am to draw your attention to the undernoted, none of which would have been allowed had they been submitted, and which I am to ask you to confirm by return of post have been removed from the play.
Indecent business of Rosie putting her hand up Red Hot's bottom.
The dialogue between Rosie and Bettie. 'You've got a cast iron stomach.' 'You've got to have in our business.'
The interior decorator is not to be played as a homosexual and his remark '...Excuse me dear, red plush, that's very camp, that is,' to be omitted, as is the remark, 'I've strained meself.'
The builder's labourer is not to carry the plank of wood in the erotic place and at the erotic angle that he does, and the Lord Chamberlain wishes to be informed of the manner in which the plank is in future to be carried.
The reference to the Duchess of Argyll is to be omitted. Tosher, when examining Red Hot's bag, is not to put his hand on Rose's bottom with finger aligned as he does at the moment.
The remark, 'Don't drink that stuff, it will rot your drawers,' is to be omitted.
Tosher is not to push Rosie backwards against the table when dancing in such a manner that her legs appear through his open legs in a manner indicative of copulation.
The Lord Chamberlain's Office,
St James's Palace, SW1
I shall be returning to Nottingham next month to give a talk at 2:00 in the afternoon at the 12th Readers' Day on Saturday 7 November. Events will be held in County Hall, West Bridgford. Author Linda Grant is the main attraction at the end of the day, but if I get there early enough I'd like to hear the talk about literary impostures.
It would appear that the much-delayed Lord of Strange Deaths, which I co-edited with Phil Baker (in case everyone's forgotten, it's about Sax Rohmer and amongst other things his most famous/notorious creation Fu Manchu) will emerge from the printer on the same day at the end of this month as Secret Tunnels of England, a rather bizarre coincidence that will mark the culmination of three years' work. Available from Strange Attractor - I'm hoping to have a few copies to sell on my promotional travels, but we shall see.
On a first visit to Loch Ness in the spring I just had to go to Boleskine House on the side of the loch. Still quite remote and a long way down a far less busy road than the one thronged with coaches on the opposite side it was pretty atmospheric - the cemetery opposite is also worth visiting. As I didn't want to trespass I couldn't get a full view of the house - as it is you have to stand on the front wall and avoid the barbed wire. Better photos by those who had no such qualms can be found online, for example here. Photos below are taken by me, apart from the pic of Jimmy Page, who hardly spent any time there when he owned it, as he was rather busy at the time.
Another reason for visiting Warminster was as research for a small part of my new publication on secret tunnels. In one of his increasingly bonkers books Warnings from Flying Friends Arthur Shuttlewood mentions the burial in a secret tunnel near Warminster of a 'talisman of the Devil' (although a talisman is actually intended to ward off evil). Extract below that follows on from folklore accounts of the burial of a 'golden calf', often in a tunnel, which are surprisingly common around England:
"A darker alternative form of the golden calf tale, was recounted by journalist Arthur Shuttlewood, an eccentric writer on ufology who enjoyed some fleeting renown for publicizing the so-called ‘Warminster Thing’ in the 1960s. In one of a series of increasingly bizarre and credulity-stretching books he claimed to have been told the tale of the burial locally of the ‘golden ram of Satan’ when researching local ghost folklore concerned with the Royal Oak pub in Corsley Heath, a village about four miles (6.4 km) west of Warminster. According to Shuttlewood the building had once been a monks’ refectory that formed part of thirteenth-century Longleat Priory, on the site now occupied by Longleat House and was haunted by the ghost of a monk in a brown habit. The Royal Oak’s landlord had also told him that a ‘triangle of passages and tunnels’ led from the pub to Cley Hill – a prominent landmark to the west of Warminster, with evidence of an Iron Age hill fort on its summit – and a nearby farmhouse at Whitbourne.
Some weeks after the story was published in ‘a leading evening newspaper’ Shuttlewood was contacted by the landlord who said he had been visited by ‘a tall thin man with fanatical dark eyes who claimed that the [tunnels] held the most precious secret or earthly relic of the Devil.’ After his request to visit the cellars was granted the young man then asked about demolishing the cellar wall that was said to separate the inn from one of the tunnels. When the landlord refused permission his mysterious visitor ‘confided his firm belief that the talisman of the Devil, the golden ram of Satan, lay buried in the earthen walls of the tunnel, probably interred under Cley Hill itself.’"
We visited the Royal Oak (my photo), a very friendly pub, and had a nice lunch in the beer garden. I asked the landlady if she knew anything about Shuttlewood's extraordinary story but, not surprisingly she, and some of the older regulars, had never heard of it. One middle-aged man did say there was supposed to be a tunnel to nearby Cley Hill, so that part of the tale is still based in local folklore.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact