'The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings.'
Article type: Features
When I had finished The Pace-Egg Plays of the Calder Valley, I thought that I was unlikely to come across any new, important material for some time. But, I was to learn the truth of Dan Cook's aphorism relatively quickly.
During the years in which I have been researching pace-egg plays, I have tried to locate and interview everybody whom I considered to have had a significant part in keeping the play alive in the North West. In one respect I failed conspicuously. I didn't manage to locate anybody with a direct connection to the very early days of the Midgley play. Many of the important adults such as William Henry Harwood, Frank Marsden and J.E. Akroyd were long dead. But what about the boys who took part in that first Midgley performance in 1932, some of them could still be alive – not a sign I could trace.
The book was published in March this year. Not long afterwards, the staff of the Folklore Society forwarded to me a letter which they had received. It was from a man who wanted a copy of the book – his son had sent him a copy of a review in the Yorkshire Life. The letter went on to say that 'I have a special interest in the book, having been St George in the Midgley version in 1932 – the first revival since W.W.1!' We started a correspondence and in September, on my way to a conference in Brittany, my wife and I stopped off in Somerset to meet Ron Eastwood and his wife. To say that we were made welcome is an understatement, there was tea with home made biscuits and scones. Whilst I browsed the bookshelves, my wife was shown their very large garden which is immaculately kept.
I added a recorded interview with Ron to my archive. One thing which was said stuck in my mind. St George, who was 10 at the time, still recalled after all these years, his feeling that he was the Christian hero defending Christendom from the infidel Turks. The infidel Turks, Slasher, Black Prince of Paradine, Hector were all of 12! What he couldn't tell me was the source of that feeling, who suggested that the play had an origin in the Crusades. That idea was certainly part of the theoretical views expressed on the play by Frank Marsden.
Most of the photos to be seen of the 1930s Midgley school play are of posed 'team' shots taken in the school playground. Mr Eastwood could give me something much better, a small snapshot of the 1932 St George (on the left) 'knocking out another infidel' - Fig.1.