Tuesday 9 November 2021

Vera Thomas nee Maconochie: Mezzo Soprano

Spotting the intriguing gravestone of mezzo soprano Vera Taylor (nee Vera Maconochie) in Isfield led me down an internet rabbit hole that revealed her to have been a star of stage and the burgeoning TV industry of almost a century ago. Born in 1904, Vera Elizabeth Jean Maconochie was best known for performing in a 1930s show called Old Song Pictures, in which she and Guelda Waller dressed in period costumes to sing traditional folk songs, carols and other music. The idea came to them when they were in the cast of The Beggar's Opera at Hammersmith's Lyric theatre a few years earlier. Guelda and Vera toured internationally and were among the first people to appear on television, as well as being featured on BBC radio between 1930 and 1940. One of her concerts even gets a mention in Keith Stuart's historical fiction 'The Frequency of Us'. In 1944 Vera founded the Uckfield Music Club, which still exists today. She had three siblings: 

  • Archibald, who took over his family's Maconochie Bros food manufacturing business (later it became part of HS Whiteside, then was acquired by Rowntree and finally Nestle);
  • Margi (Margaret Jean), a racing driver - the 'Miss MJ Maconochie' who won at Brooklands in 1928;
  • Jean Constance, who - Wikipedia tells me - went to RADA, although sadly I can find nothing online about her stage career.
Vera died in 1993 and is buried in the churchyard of St Margaret of Antioch in Isfield.

Monday 18 October 2021

Freedom from self-pigeonholing

There's a good perspective about artistic freedom in Tim Minchin's recent feature for The Guardian:
I grew up in Perth, Australia. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but being small and isolated, its arts scene doesn’t sustain a hell of a lot of artists. It also isn’t a place from which the path to success is very clear. It was so unclear to me that I never really thought about it. Everything my friends and I did was for its own sake. We weren’t making art in the hope of being spotted by a talent scout or a movie producer, as there were none, and this afforded us incredible freedom. Not just the artistic freedom to make whatever the hell we wanted to make, but freedom from thinking of our plays and gigs as a step on a ladder, or even a viable way to make a living. Freedom from self-pigeonholing.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

A major disorientation (again)

 A recent post from the ever-encouraging Austin Kleon (go on, sign up for his newsletter!) pointed me towards Tim Kreider’s essay on 'The Referendum':

...a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.

This prompted me to revisit Richard Ford's memorable paragraph from Independence Day, in which he writes

Joe may be verging on a major disorientation here - a legitimate rent in the cloth. This actually appears in textbooks: Client abruptly begins to see the world in some entirely new way he feels certain, had he only seen it earlier, would've directed him down a path of vastly greater happiness - only (and this, of course, is the insane part) he inexplicably senses that way's still open to him; that the past, just this once, doesn't operate the way it usually operates. Which is to say, irrevocably.

But, as Tim Kreider says:

One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back - Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice - are lost.

Monday 8 February 2021

Fusion food: cooking up Shane the Chef

Cooking is all about preparing and assembling the best ingredients. That’s a point often made by Shane the Chef, the animated character who regularly appears on the child-friendly Milkshake! segment of Channel 5. But, much like his recipes, Shane himself is a fascinating fusion of assorted elements, as is his home town of Munchington.

First, take your main ingredient: a young spiky-haired man inspired by a combination of ‘rock star’ TV chef Gary Rhodes and the son of co-creator Andrew Wildman. Give him a head of spiky hair, a sadly absent wife and a video-savvy daughter. Next, add the voice of Russell Tovey, infused with the essence of Jamie Oliver and sprinkled with a hint of Shane Ritchie.

Now place your mixture in a shop from the Cotswold market town of Chipping Norton – it’s JaffĂ© & Neale, in case you’re planning a pilgrimage – and transplant it 200 miles away into the Cornish fishing port of Mevagissey. Time for the final flourish: rename your port as the fictional town of Munchington, turn your shop into a restaurant – it doesn’t need a name, such is our man's reputation – and you’re ready to meet the upbeat protagonist of ‘Shane the Chef’ (as whisked into existence by Andrew Wildman and Simon Jowett with Hoho Entertainment, Cloth Cat Animation and some extra cash from Creative Europe).