Friday, 14 September 2007

It Was Twenty years Ago Today......

Sgt Pepper taught the band to play…..

Actually it wasn’t – it was more like forty. However it’s with great personal shock that I realise it’s twenty years ago today (14th September 1987) that I started work for Stoll Moss Theatres (as it was then) in box office……I did start very young!

I remember that morning quite clearly. I knocked on the side door of the box office at Her Majesty’s and nervously announced myself. I was greeted by Douglas Hinton, box office manager, who spoke with a cut glass English accent despite (as I later found out) being a Texan. I was introduced to some of the other staff including Mark Trumpess, and Toni Gabriele (who I seem to recall had just returned from holiday), before I was taken to head office – Cranbourne Mansions – whose top floor housed the advance booking period for The Phantom Of The Opera. Working on Phantom was very exciting as in Theatreland in was a true phenomenon, breaking all box office records, in an era where Andrew Lloyd Webber really ruled the roost in the west end. Phantom truly got everywhere, it was mentioned in the papers almost every day and I can even remember Eastenders’ Dirty Den quipping “I’m going to see The Phantom Of The Opera and I’m taking her to the theatre”.

Oh my god twenty years? Where has it all gone? Well if you read my column called “Wishing I Was Somehow There Again?” (back in the intouch archives if you missed it) you will remember my time at Her Majesty’s has been well covered as indeed has the Apollo and my experiences working front of house at the Phoenix and The Palladium (even longer ago! Yikes!) . Someday I will get round to telling you about my time at Drury Lane (and the occasion when Plum Peyton was instrumental in getting us all banned from the Rock island Diner for bad behaviour) and even maybe my early years at the Palladium. However I thought it would be much more fun to take a look back and see what I can actually remember about 1987!

So what about the rest of the west end? Across town at the Palladium, Colin Brooksbank and Edwin Shaw prepared for the theatre’s last pantomime to date – Cannon and Ball in Babes In The Wood. Derek Bessey was box office manager at the newly refurbished Cambridge, where Lulu was starring as Peter Pan, and 42nd Street was in residence (along with Plum Peyton) at Drury Lane. The Adelphi was occupied by Me And My Girl and, of course, Vereen Irving. At the Palace was Les Miserables, proving to be a blockbuster despite opening to bad reviews. Cats and Starlight Express continued to go strong and Chess was enjoying it’s successful run at the Prince Edward. Other musicals included Time and Nunsense. Non musicals included William Gaunt in When Did You Last See Your Trousers? at the Garrick, and Maggie Smith at the Globe (now the Gielgud) in Lettice And Lovage. Shaw’s You Never Can Tell was at the Haymarket and the Queens was occupied by Jeffrey Archer’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt. Of course I was determined to see as many shows as I could and I can particularly remember seeing Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the Shaftesbury in November 1987. I was living at my Uncles at the time and our visit coincided with the night of the fire at Kings Cross Station. By the time we got home at 1am my Nan had left over twenty increasingly insane answer messages as she slowly convinced herself we had been killed in the fire!

But what about the world beyond theatre? Well 1987? This was a time before Ipods, DVD , Big Brother and Sky TV. A time when Amy Winehouse was a toddler and Elaine Paige dominated the album charts. This was a time when Whitney Houston was prime minister and Margaret Thatcher wanted to dance with somebody. French and Saunders were still funny and Rainbow was flying high.

In the world of television this was the year that the staff of the Crossroads motel where given their marching orders – it went off air the following Easter. Coronation Street stalwart, Hilda Ogden sang Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye as she left Weatherfield for ever. Den and Angie’s, tempestuous relationship kept us all glued to EastEnders and up in Liverpool Brookside’s Sheila Gant mourned the loss of her beloved Damon. Much to the consternation of evil wardress “Vinegar Tits” Vera Bennett, Frankie Doyle and her girlfriend Doreen escaped Cell Block H of Wentworth Detention Centre, while over in Ramsey Street Scott loved Charlene.

Elsewhere on screen Morse solved his first case, and Jean Luc Picard took to the skies for his maiden voyage. The Simpsons of Springfield made their debut and a fresh faced Richard and Judy launched This Morning. Last but not least, the Tardis had a new occupant as Sylvester Mccoy became the seventh Doctor Who alongside Bonnie Langford as his companion Mel.

At the movies Cher was Moonstruck as well as being one of The Witches Of Eastwick. Glenn Close’s antics in Fatal Attraction gave rise to the term “bunny boiler” and Patrick Swayze dirtydanced across the screen with Jennifer Grey.

In the pop charts CDs were still a relatively new innovation so the 45rpm vinyl single still flourished. The Stock Aitken Waterman partnership ruled the charts with the likes of Bananarama, Rick Astley and their latest signing Kylie Minogue was poised to make a big impact the following year. Young Scottish band Wet Wet Wet sang their way into the charts for the first time with Wishing I Was Lucky,and Pet Shop Boys bagged the Christmas number one with Always on My Mind. The album charts were dominated by the cast recording of The Phantom of The Opera and later in the year George Michael’s Faith.

On a sadder note 1987 was also the year that Hollywood legends Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye and Rita Hayworth died. Broadway mourned legendary choreographer/director Michael Bennett, as well as his A Chorus Line colleague, lyricist Ed Kleben. Over in the UK original Starlight Express cast member (as well as Rent A Ghost’s Timothy Claypole) Michael Staniforth passed away.

So that was 1987 – and just a little of what was going on (come on you didn’t really expect me to tell you the sporting news did you?) Well, the years have flown by and, little did I know that I would still be here, selling tickets, twenty years later. I have seen great changes over the years. What began as Stoll Moss is now RUGT. I have met some great people and formed some lasting friendships. Worked on some of biggest hits the west end has ever had and more than a few flops, and it seems most fitting to end with a line from the show I saw on the night of the Kings Cross fire….

“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here!”

Bye for now
Twenty years and counting!


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