Chapter 3
Our First Show


While we were in the desert we sometimes had long periods of inactivity and we decided that it was up to us to arrange some entertainment, so we formed our own concert party. There were the few of us who had arranged the entertainment on the troopship and we were joined by some like-minded airmen. One of them had a guitar and was a good player. I was on the welfare committee, the messing committee and into all the squadron activities, so I saw the CO and he gave us permission to use the orderly room. About a dozen of us formed the entertainments committee and started to consider what to do. Ron Biggs’ parents were on the stage so he was our obvious choice for a producer, and as I had done some amateur dramatics before the war I became the stage manager. About four of us got together and began to write comedy scripts. Sid Hind and Ken King were born comedians and could ad-lib so they became the mainstay of our show.

At our second meeting someone said, ‘If this show gets off the ground what are we going to call it?’ Ron was looking round and picked up a stamp which had ‘secret’ on it, and he said, ‘What about this?’ ‘How about Strictly Secret?’ said Ken, so that was it. It became Strictly Secret and if anyone asked us what the show was about we said it was strictly secret. We all acted in the show and we got on fairly well. It actually made a name for us because the forces newspaper heard about it and came out and took photographs and wrote up an article on it.

Strictly Secret
Strictly Secret
There was a lot more involved than just the scriptwriting and acting, because what we had to do was to use the messhall as our theatre and when the evening meal was finished we’d rush in there, clear all the tables and chairs out, build up a stage with ammunition boxes and tables at one end, fit up curtains, ( I’ve no idea where we got the curtains) so we could pull them across, then put all the chairs in rows. After which we had to go and get ready for our stage appearance. The method of getting on the stage was to come through one of the windows then across the stage and out through the window on the other side. After the show was over we had to dismantle the stage and put the messhall back ready for breakfast the next morning. So it was quite a considerable amount of work.

We actually put the show on for five days, another lad and myself, his name was Bill Norman, put on an drag act as Norman and Norman. The script was from a monologue that I had memorised from prewar, we took the parts of charladies, and pinched an idea I had seen the Crazy Gang do at the London Palladium. We entered through the back of the theatre, came down the gangway and started dusting the people in the front row commenting on people ‘leaving all this rubbish around’ and ‘what were these lot doing here why didn’t somebody get rid of them’. As the front row were all officers this clearly amused the rest of the troops, and then Ron stuck his head out through the curtains and asked us, ‘what on earth we thought we were doing, didn’t we know there was a show on’. So we climbed up on to the stage and carried on with our dialogue until we were eventually hustled through the curtains. That got the show off to a grand start and it was a huge success.

When we finished our run a local South African squadron, two of whose pilots had been to our show asked if we would go and put it on at their drome, this we did for one night and afterwards we were entertained royally in their officers mess. A little bit later on Ron and myself were given some money from the squadron welfare fund and went down to Cairo to buy various props and clothes in preparation for another show. We had a couple of young lads who played female parts so we wanted to get some clothes for them. Well we spent some time going round the stores buying up female garments and getting some very funny looks from the shop assistants.

Boys and Girls
Boys and Girls
At this time Wavell made his first push against the Italians and we moved up following the troops. Well, as we went up, going back the other way were the big Italian lorries loaded up with Italian prisoners all cheering and waving and giving us the thumbs up. They were out of the war and were very pleased about it. I did hear of one case where the lorry broke down so the two British soldiers with the prisoners climbed into one of the other trucks and told the Italians to lose themselves. When they made the next stop about an hour later a lorry turned up. The Italians had repaired it and chased after them. They weren’t going to go back to the war.

A couple of really horrific accidents happened on our squadron. One of the armourers was sitting in the armoury tent with a Verey pistol (the kind that fires flares) intending to clean it. He didn’t check if it was loaded and pulled the trigger. The flare shot across the tent straight into the mouth of another armourer stuck to the roof of his mouth and literally fried his brains. Another time two of the chaps in a dugout took their blankets out to get rid of the bugs, this was usually done by washing them in petrol. After a while they replaced them in the dugout, sat on a bed and lit a cigarette and the dugout blew up. It was incidents like this that made you realise that disaster could strike at any time.

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