The Phantom of the Palace


The ‘haunting’ at the Palace Theatre makes for good entertainment value, but the S.P.R.’s investigation is becoming a nuisance: the basement studio has been identified as a particular ‘hot-spot’ with the consequence that the Players’ rehearsals are sporadically interrupted by outbreaks of hysteria. Last night, I dropped in to find Brenda Wishart cowering from the draught of cold air that preceded me into the room – she thought it indicated a spectral presence, a delusional panic that quickly communicated itself to several of her colleagues. Later a smashed cup caused further consternation and Nina Kelly, clearly exasperated, sent everyone home. As you know, this is her first stint directing and, judging from her demeanour, it might be her last.

Coincidentally, the Walter Greer mural was unveiled last Friday: ‘A Tribute to Drumfeld’s Brothers Greer and the Enduring Spirit of Panto.’  A cluster of indistinct blotches was already evident at the mural’s furthest corner, partially concealed by a strategically placed catering trolley; within forty eight hours, these had multiplied, creating a mottled effect that has subsequently darkened to the extent that several of the featured performers are no longer recognisable. Naturally, the S.P.R. team has seized on this as further evidence of poltergeist activity, ignoring more common-place explanations provided by the Palace caretaker (who blames the antiquated heating system) or Scott Simpson, the artist, who queried the designated wall’s suitability from the outset.

The haunted mural is now covered by a sheet and panicked actors scurry past en route to rehearsals: by Nina’s estimation, preparations are now a week behind schedule and she’s resigned to the possibility of cancellation – a first since 1986 when Walter Greer suffered a heart attack while berating the children’s chorus.


Christmas Cards

Re: Hamilton Coe’s Cards


I strongly recommend that you make some excuse for rejecting this commission. For years, Hamilton has encouraged artists to “have fun” with his card, only to take umbrage when presented with caricature that identifies some inescapable aspect of a personality that is – by the most generous assessment – disconcertingly odd.

Last year Gordon Gilfeather submitted an innocuous cartoon in which an infant H.C. investigates Santa – peering at him from behind a Christmas tree. This was preceded by a dozen or so emails in which Gordon presented his ideas and sketches, all of which were approved in the most effusive terms. On receiving his cards, though, Hamilton complained that the (agreed) depiction made him look ‘furtive’ and cancelled Gordon’s cheque.

If you do proceed, I’d suggest that you a) insist on a cash payment (prior to printing) and b) present Hamilton in a heroic light. Avoid scenarios, however absurd, in which he appears ‘cowardly’, ‘bumptious’ or ‘cruel’ (all historical pretexts for non-payment) and, however tempting, don’t exaggerate the size of his head.  


Heroes of Panto: Angus Milner

F.A.O. Kirstin McVicar – The Drumfeld Gazette

Dear Kirstin,

I enjoyed your article, ‘Forgotten Stars of the Drumfeld Panto’: I hope that you’ll forgive my correction.

The actor identified as Francis Kemp is, in fact, the late Angus Milner: neither, I suspect, would thank you for the mistake!

Angus was an occasional contributor to Lomond Sound’s Business Time, but he’s best remembered for an appearance on Dragon’s Den on which he failed to convince the panel to invest in his Pacifier – a muzzle for obstreperous and badly-behaved children. Despite insisting that the Pacifier was “100% safe”, Angus struggled to escape the association with child cruelty – a stigma about which he became increasingly depressed.

His casting in the 2008’s production of Peter Pan (as Hook) might have presented an opportunity of redemption; unfortunately, he was ill suited to such a prominent role and humorous references to the Pacifier alienated the audience. After each performance, he was vociferously booed, a judgement that, according to friends, precipitated a rapid and terminal decline; his last years were blighted by alcoholism, though occasional appearances on Business Time revealed a self-effacing humour, sadly predicated on the single blunder that defined his life.


Obituary: Ronald C. Bell


To Irene Barr – the Drumfeld Gazette


I’m sorry for the late response: my father, I’m afraid, didn’t represent Ronald Bell – while I remember seeing him in various productions, there’s nothing I can offer toward a ‘personal picture’.

Looking through Dad’s files, I found the following, but, on reflection, it might not be a suitable tribute!

From the Archive – Hugh Walker writing about the late Ronald C. Bell.

“…Trouble at the Palace Theatre where the Drumfeld Players have started work on this year’s show. Should anyone be surprised that Ronald C Bell has a central role? The tempestuous stalwart has form for this sort of thing.  In 2006, he reduced one actress to tears and insisted on the destruction of 300 programmes that failed to include his middle initial; twelve months later, he demanded an investigation into toilet graffiti that denounced him as a ‘blowhard and a ham’ (though a cursory examination indicated that the hand-writing was his own.) This year he’s coordinated a petition, protesting against the casting of a female Scrooge – Susannah French, last seen chewing the scenery as ‘Rizzo’ in Grease.

Speaking to Gus Barbour on the Breakfast Show, Mr Bell pooh-poohed the notion that he’d be discomfited by the abandonment of traditional genders. “We’ve had a woman in Downing Street, for goodness sake: why not a female Scrooge? All that matters is that the part goes to someone who can act...” At this caveat he paused, allowing the listener to recall any number of performances in which Ms French has struggled to communicate anything more nuanced than the syllables of her own name. “I’m not saying that Susannah can’t,” he finally added, satisfied that the sentient listener had reached that conclusion without any prompting, “but it’s a difficult role that requires an old hand….”


Best regards,


Heroes of Panto: Philo and Vance

Re. Christmas Memories – The Palace Theatre, 1994


You have (slightly) mis-remembered: the ventriloquist in the photograph was called Vance Waddell and his dummy was ‘Philo’ (though on reflection ‘Milo and Vince’ does seem easier on the ear.)

I’ve no idea if Vance still practises what my father referred to as ‘the dark art’; as I recall, he struggled to master the most basic tenets of his craft, instinctively covering his own mouth as ‘Philo’ spoke and removing his hand to reply.

Some were charmed by the effrontery with which Vance signaled his incompetence; unfortunately, Philo’s louche persona became repellent, alienating the audience and rendering his ‘master’ vulnerable to hostility and assault.


Walter Greer – A Life in Theatre


Re. your ‘history of panto’.

I think it’s better NOT to use your grandfather’s memoir as a reference. Re-reading first two chapters, I was startled by the frequency with which he blundered into areas of contention. Within twenty pages, he’d cheerfully acknowledged transgressions that ranged from racism to bullying and ‘looking at girls’ legs’ (a confession that’s followed by a weirdly delirious description of Nina Kelly’s calves.)

As a social historian, you might want to draw attention to this, but as a GREER, I think your first loyalty should be to the family reputation. Even innocuous passages might encourage curious readers to better acquaint themselves with a worldview that many of them will deplore.



Who would be a station manager?

In the wake of Francis Kemp’s Christmas show, Mark Penny has spent his weekend reassuring listeners that Lomond Sound is not a bastion of prehistoric values. Twenty seven complaints have been received from listeners who think Kemp’s jokes inappropriate to 21st Century sensibilities. As an example, Mark repeats an anecdote in which a ‘leggy blonde’ is rescued from the roof of the King’s Arms, an improbable story that concluded with the punch-line, “someone told her the drinks were on the house…”

Mrs Walker offers the opinion that Kemp, is deliberately provocative, considering himself protected by his status as a (self-proclaimed) Lomond Sound Legend, rather than “a bumptious social climber who refers to himself as ‘Yours truly’ and pesters single women in restaurants…”



From: ‘Joy to the World!’

“There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas-time,” sang Isobel as we made our way to Drumfeld Church for the Watch Night Service, her smoky baritone quivering with emotion. Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us that happiness is fleeting. Noticing an exchange of sneers between Spencer and Colette, I joined in with the chorus. As Isobel took one of my arms and Liz the other, we proceeded, singing defiantly against whatever fate might send to confound us (which, as it turned out, was a rut in the pavement that caused Isobel to stumble and twist her ankle).

Hamilton Coe


Night of the Demon

My commiserations to Griffin Reed, a.k.a The Dark Maestro, who is recovering from wounds inflicted by owls at the Lomond Sound Roadshow. Mrs Walker, a witness to the horror, apportions responsibility to the Rare Bird Trust: the volunteers charged with controlling the owls were teenagers and, in the opinion of many observers, ‘completely inadequate to the task..’

To date, I’m told, the organisation has only sent a ‘get well’ card, signed by ‘Ollie’ and decorated with pieces of twig. This is all well and good, but clothes don’t repair themselves and Mr Reed’s fez, badly torn in the assault, is more than a daft affectation -– it was once owned by George Zucco! (Not, admittedly, the only second hand item in the Dark Maestro’s repertoire – his stories, I suspect, were cribbed from E.F. Benson and M.R. James, but under the circumstances, that critique is best delayed.)

N.B. As an interesting footnote, the archive produces a faded clipping from the Drumfeld Gazette dated 1982: the story describes a children’s party at which guests were attacked by an agitated parrot. Most of the victims escaped with minor pecks and abrasions; only one boy suffered a more significant injury, tripping on a paving stone and breaking a wrist while attempting to flee. His name -– Griffin Reed.

Hugh Walker