Friday 13 September 2019

The Gossipers' Association - Cicely Courtneidge and Thorley Walters

At the close of 1947, Cicely Courtneidge took her production of "Under The Counter" to tour Australia and New Zealand. The tour lasted for a year and she was accompanied at all times by her leading man, Thorley Walters. What was the relationship between the pair? This extended short story explores this, using Cicely's autobiography and contemporary newspaper reports as a string of clues.


She said a headmistress style goodnight to each of the girls as they filed past, but as the surfing girl took her leave Cicely stopped her with a touch of the shoulder.
“A word, please.” She indicated that the girl should follow her into her own dressing room. The door was closed behind them and Cicely began immediately. “I absolutely forbid fraternisation between the lead cast and the supporting cast and dancers.  There will be no days at the beach with Mr Walters. Do you understand?” Cicely’s manicured fingers, which had been thrust in the face of the young girl dropped to her hips as she awaited response. She was almost holding herself upright. She was unconcerned about what the girl’s response might be. There were hundreds of dancers in Sydney anyway.

The girl, first incredulous, then rebellious, thought before she finally spoke.
“But Thor…Mr Walters…wants to learn how to surf, that’s all. My brother will teach him, not me…it’s all quite respectable, I assure you Miss Courtneidge.”
“Oh no, no, no. I might be an old woman in your green little eyes, but I was on stage when I was a teenager. I know exactly what you’re up to and I forbid it. If I catch you approaching any of the male members of the cast again you will be dismissed. I’m giving you a second chance to prove that you are not predatory, merely idiotic. You will tell Mr Walters that your brother is unable to give him lessons after all – you can make up your own reason why. Do you understand?”
The girl reached for the door handle, her cheeks flamed pink. “Yes, Miss Courtneidge.” Should have been her response. Things could have carried on as before. But she wasn’t the placid type. “Stick your second chance up your fat backside!” was what she actually hissed in return. She may have tossed an “old bag” over her shoulder as she made her way out, but Cicely couldn’t be sure.

A Scene from "Under the Counter"

Thursday 18 July 2019

Myrtle Bagot's Pages Part 5 - A Revoluntionary Cake

Myrtle Bagot’s Pages
Chatelaine of Milford Station buffet explains all about our mid 20th century diet.

5. I’m Alright Jack (1959)

I was very interested to see a film called “I’m Alright Jack” because it was about those trade unionist type people. It always fascinates me to see that those with funny ideas, quite different to your own, live similar lives to normal people. It was pleasing to notice that despite the Kite household being a socialist one, they still appreciate the value of a good cake.

Mrs Kite knows what a kitchen is for, and despite being severely tried by her almost Communist husband she can still find it in her to bake a solid cake to have on the table at teatime. That is what I call British resilience, despite all that talk about Russia.

Now I wanted to find a good recipe for a substantial cake, that might see you through any strike or revolution. I found rather an interesting one in my Main Cookery Book that I thought would suit a Socialist because it contains a tin of soup. Yes, you heard me quite correctly. Tomato soup to be exact.

Normally for my contributions to the History Usherette, I get Beryl to copy out the recipe and pass it on. But the Usherette said to me “Mrs Bagot, I don’t think anyone is going to quite believe that this recipe has really been published. You’ll have to take a photograph of it.” I do see her point. So I borrowed Mr Godby’s Box Brownie and he took the film to Boots. Here it is:

Make of that what you will. I for one will not be baking it but if you are left-wing then it might be quite alright for you to try.  I’m going to go and make some Bath buns, which I’m sure Winston Churchill would approve of.

The History Usherette has written a book of short stories inspired by the work of Joyce Grenfell, who never knowingly ate soup and cake in the same mouthful. Click here to purchase for the price of a tin of Heinz.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Myrtle Bagot's Pages Part 4 - Green Pea Puffs

Myrtle Bagot’s Pages
Chatelaine of Milford Station buffet explains all about our mid 20th century diet.

4. The Tawny Pipit (1944)

It’s that time of year again. Time to hitch up your skirts, squat over a bowl and shell a few peas.

Mr Godby and I were watching a lovely film called “The Tawny Pipit” which is all about a rare bird taking up residence in a perfect English village.  Now, Mr Godby says to me, “You’re a rare bird yourself, Mrs Bagot, do you ever feel like going all rural and settling in the country?”

Well, I had to say to him, “No Mr Godby, I don’t. There are very few country railway stations that have a substantial buffet, and what would my life be without somewhere to sell my Bath buns? No, you can keep your countryside for day trips and films.”

But I was taken back by a scene in “The Tawny Pipit” where dear old Katie Johnson sits in her garden shelling peas. My old mother used to do much the same because living on the canal bank we used to have room for a few rows of peas. Every summer, there she would sit, popping away, the little green peas landing in the chamber pot where she normally kept her aspidistra. I did like the fresh peas. But I used to try and get to a few before she boiled them for 20 minutes and shovelled in half a pound of salt. Well, when you’ve left them in the pod for too long they can go a bit hard.

Here’s another recipe to disguise hard peas from Silvester’s Sensible Cookery:

Green Pea Puffs
¼ lb Cooked green peas
½ lb Mashed potatoes
1oz Margarine
1 egg
Pepper and salt

Add cooked peas to mashed potatoes, seasonings and egg; mix and place on a greased tin in rocky pieces, and bake 20 minutes.

That should obliterate them nicely.


Martin Allen (Twitter & Instagram: @martinallen72) kindly gave the Pea Puffs a whirl and reported the results.

Really rather fine. A bit mid-20th century bland - tastes as you’d expect, mash and peas. Not sure what the egg did but it was in there. Will definitely make again!

So now we know! Possible additions include cheese and spring onions. I feel Mr Godby would approve of that.

There’s gardening, village intrigue and prefabs in my novella “Temporary Accommodation”. It’s as cheap as marrowfat peas. Click here for some gentle summer reading

Saturday 29 June 2019

Myrtle Bagot's Pages Part 3 - A Uniform Consistency

Myrtle Bagot’s Pages
Chatelaine of Milford Station buffet explains all about our mid 20th century diet.

3. Windbag the Sailor (1936)

I do like to see a man in uniform. If you’re wondering why I tolerate Mr Godby’s attentions there’s your answer and I’ll thank you to stop asking personal questions. But yes, it is why I had to move away from Portsmouth.

That’s probably why I’m such a fan of Will Hay. He’s been up there on that big screen making us laugh dressed in a railway uniform (ahem), a fireman’s uniform, a policeman’s uniform…excuse me while I mop my brow with this tea towel.

Well to cut a long story short I was recently gripped by his “Windbag the Sailor”. This came at a particularly convenient time because I had been charged with thinking up a menu for the Milford WI’s annual beetle drive and dinner in aid of comforts for sailors. And could I think of something a bit different than the usual fare? No, I was quite flummoxed. But dear Will in “Windbag” soon sorted me out. You see, there’s a scene when Will, the fat lad and the old man are set adrift on a raft with nothing to eat except some biscuits. And to make matters worse, they had a radio that picked up a cookery show. Here’s what was on the menu:
Tomato Soup
Lobster in aspic
Roast duck
Celery, coffee and nuts.

All very nice, although I thought that the tomato soup bit was a bit plain and uninspiring. So I looked up a recipe in my “Good Cook’s Encyclopedia” edited by Pamela Fry, and found a lovely recipe that was unnecessarily complicated:
Tomato Soup
1lb Tomatoes
2 Carrots
2 Onions
Bacon rinds
1oz Sugar
Salt & pepper
½ pint Milk
2 Potatoes
Bouquet garni
2oz Fat
1oz Flour

Fry bacon rinds in a thick saucepan, add 1oz fat and fry the sliced onions lightly. Chop up the tomatoes and dice the potatoes and carrots. Add to the saucepan, place on lid and cook gently over a low heat for 15 minutes, shaking occasionally. Add the bouquet garni, sugar, salt and pepper, cover the vegetables with stock and simmer until quite tender. Rub through a sieve, rinse the pan and melt the remaining fat into it. When hot, make a roux with the flour, gradually stir in the milk and then gradually add the sieved puree. Reheat and season again if necessary. Add more milk or stock if it is too thick, or if too thin thicken with a little flour blended with water. The soup should be of a thick creamy consistency. Serve with croutons or with grated cheese.

On top of all that fuss, it is recommended that you make your own bouquet garni by ramming three sprigs of parsley, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf in a little muslin bag.

I’m quite exhausted. It’s only the thought of the weekend in Liverpool with Doris delivering the comforts for sailors that’s keeping me going I must say.

There’s also plenty of men in uniform in the 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale” and I’ve written a collection of short stories about the original audience for the film in a south London cinema. 

Thursday 20 June 2019

Myrtle Bagot's Pages Part 2 - Giant Marrows

Myrtle Bagot’s Pages
Chatelaine of Milford Station buffet explains all about our mid 20thcentury diet.

2. Two-Way Stretch (1960)

My friends are always saying to me, “Mrs Bagot, my husband’s given me a giant marrow and I haven’t the first idea what to do with it.” 

It’s mostly those friends whose husbands have an allotment…or a nice big garden and a terrible competitive streak. Given half the chance, all men will try to outdo each other. Especially when it comes to growing something.  If you ask me they want their heads banging together. I mean, who wants a giant marrow?

Just to illustrate my point there’s a film called “Two-Way Stretch” where that Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbins are in prison, where they belong. In this prison there’s a garden where the prison governor is growing a marrow. He’s going to take it to the local show and he means to win a prize with it – outdoing everyone else because his is the biggest. Until of course the explosion in the quarry puts an end to that lark by squashing his marrow. Serve him right of course, he should be keeping an eye on the criminals he’s being paid to look after, not nurturing huge curcurbits.

So you see, there’s all these marrows going off to shows, and what happens after they’ve been judged and rosetted I ask you? That’s right. They get dumped onto already overworked wives who are expected to make use of it.

If you find yourself in possession of one of these blighters, here’s a couple of ideas from my “Main Cookery Book for Rural Gas.”

Stuffed Marrow
1 Nice-sized marrow
1lb Minced cooked meat
2oz Breadcrumbs
1 Egg
2oz Butter or dripping
1 Teaspoon mixed herbs
A little stock if necessary

Peel and cut the marrow in half, remove the seeds. Mix together the meat, crumbs, herbs and seasoning, add the well beaten egg. If very dry, add a little stock (or gravy). Stuff the marrow and tie the halves together. Melt the dripping in a tin, put in the marrow, and cook in a fairly hot oven till done, basting often. When nearly cooked, dredge well with flour, pepper and salt, baste and continue cooking until tender. Remove the string, and dish. Make a nice gravy with the fat in the tin and strain over the marrow.

As my friend Mr Godby pointed out, life is too short to baste a marrow. He much prefers his soaked in vinegar and mustard.

Marrow Pickle
1 Large marrow
1 ½ oz Mustard
1 ¼ lb Sugar
12 Chillies
2-3 Pints best vinegar
1 oz Powdered ginger
½ oz Powdered turmeric
1lb Shallots
12 Cloves

Peel and cut up the marrow into small cubes: there should be 4lb of marrow. Sprinkle with salt, and let it stand overnight; drain off the water. Mix to a paste the ginger, mustard and turmeric with a little vinegar. Bring to boiling point the sugar, onions finely minced, chillies, cloves and vinegar. Add the paste, mix well, then add the marrow, and cook till tender.

Anyway I can’t stand round here gossiping all day. I’ve got customers to serve and that girl Beryl seems to be having a series of coughing fits. I don't know what's wrong with the girl.

Thursday 13 June 2019

Myrtle Bagot's Pages Part 1 - Prune Cake

Myrtle Bagot’s Pages
Chatelaine of Milford Station buffet explains all about our mid 20th century diet.

1. Holiday Camp (1947)
‘Holiday Camp’ is a very interesting film all about a family who take a holiday at one of those camp places just after the war. You wouldn’t catch me at one of those, they don’t give you a minute’s peace. All those disembodied voices ordering you about…I should be telling Mr Godby to make a complaint, even if it is Esmond Knight. Not that Mr Godby would be with me on holiday, as we are as yet unmarried. I shall be visiting my sister in Frinton for my holidays. And that poor girl that gets murdered at the end of the film, I should think that’s enough to put anyone off.

As is the pudding that is offered to the campers during the meal scene. Prunes and custard? On a holiday? Surely that is the sort of food that’s offered to a toddler when he’s being all cross because he’s bunged up. After they’ve eaten they all go off to the hall and do the “bobbing up and down like this” thing with Charlie Chester. Can you imagine what happened to people's insides doing all that jigging about after a dishful of prunes? The smell in there must have been quite appalling.

If you must have prunes for a pudding, this is what I recommend. It’s a lovely recipe from my Main Cookery Book for Rural Gas.

Prune Cake
8oz Flour
4oz Butter
4oz Prunes
3oz Sugar
2oz Syrup
½ gill Milk
1 Egg
¼ tsp Bicarb

Sieve the flour and the bicarb and rub in the fat.
Cut the prunes and add them with the sugar.
Beat the egg, add the syrup and milk, and mix into the dry ingredients. Bake in a tin 6” in diameter, in a very moderately heated oven, about halfway down, for half an hour.

If you do enjoy a good murder and that sort of thing, I’m sure some people do though heaven knows why, this download might be up your street. It’s only £1.29 which is cheaper than a glass of brandy, which incidentally I’m not allowed to serve until later.