Sunday, 18 March 2018

War On Our Doorstep (1939) - Headingley HEART Centre

Sally Bavage writes:
You may remember a brilliant TV portrayal of Nella Last by the late Victoria Wood in 'Housewife, 49' a few years ago.  Well, our own brilliant portraitists came to the HEART Centre last night to give a packed house  a flavour of Headingley diarists Fred, Joan and Henry.  World War Two started as the snow fell.  Our own audience had indeed shown the 'spirit of the blitz' to get here through the blizzards and listened in silence as we heard the recorded announcement by Neville Chamberlain declaring that Britain was at war in his quiet, sombre, tones.  Words from the past that set the scene.

Trio Literati
Photo: Lloyd Spencer
The Mass Observation project had started as a social research project in 1936 to discover the real and unguarded opinions of the pubic concerning the abdication crisis.  Volunteers then continued the work throughout the war.  We heard from newly-married housewife Joan, surveyor Fred from the Office of Works (a reserved occupation though he dreamed of the Home Guard) and young student Henry based at the Woodhouse barracks. 

It was alleged that the diarists were left wing, middle class and highly literate.  Not all true, of course, but certainly the words and opinions these literati have left for us take you back to those desperate, unsettling, even frightening times with unerring accuracy.  Worried?  Have a cup of (mostly unsweetened) tea. Women in trousers!   Air-raid shelters built in the pantry.    Gas masks on a weekly shopping list.   The cafes in department stores such as Lewis's and Marshall and Snelgrove serving tea that tasted of senna pods.  And, of course, rationing with its privations and eccentricities – brains on toast anyone?

Obsessive listening to the wireless was the main source of news.  The collapse of the Low Countries and the withdrawal from Dunkirk brought the war closer to Headingley.  Dangerous aliens, even Jews who had escaped from Nazi pogroms, were suspected, questioned and interned.  Road signs taken down, so the cry of “Where are we?” echoed round the number 6 tram.  Saucepans for Spitfires.  Lace curtains for mosquito nets.  Make do and mend was the national mantra.

Although Leeds suffered very little bomb damage, the pounding of Bradford and the drone of planes flying overhead on their way to Sheffield spread alarm and fear.  It must feel a little like that in many areas of the middle east at the moment – war is never less than frightening for the civilians who live it.  Maggie Mash, Jane Oakshott, Richard Rastall and Will Rastall played the denizens of Headingley who told us what life – large and small – was like for this little corner of Britain. 

But the theatres stayed open, the Cottage Road cinema did good business – dear old Fred and Ginger – and dances gave people an outlet for some fun and entertainment.  Wireless concerts were popular and many songs of the period have attained iconic status – Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Lambeth Walk, Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover and, of course, We'll meet again.  All beautifully rendered by Eleanor Rastall, with musical accompaniment from Jonathan Drummond on the piano and Tom Richards on the saxophone.

Comments on the mundane actually offered a profound view of what wartime was really like.  Petty, scary, ridiculous, heroic, unpredictable.   But presented to us with brio, panache, humour and a light touch.  Another triumph for Headingley's very own Literati.

Audience Comments


Very evocative portrayal of this local area of Leeds during the onset of the second world war. Slick and varied with the right mix of reading from the Mass Obs. Diaries, music and singing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show! It was fascinating, moving and locally relevant material performed with warmth, love and skill.

The attendance considering the weather was amazing. Tribute to Trio Literati and I believe the event organisers. The reproduction of the 40's and music of the war was very nostalgic for me. My third fine event of the series.

Good fun. Well worth coming out in the wind and snow to see it!

Informative and very entertaining. Glad we came.

An excellent evening! Lovely singing too.

An excellent evening!

I enjoyed it very much. It was my first but I would like to see them again. Thanks

Very enjoyable , well performed, as one expects from Trio Literati, but as always full of lovely surprises. Quite a family affair now!

I thought it was great. It made you think without laying on too much political propaganda!

A very well acted performance, very entertaining and engaging.

Good to look/think back to what it was like for 'normal' people during war.

Well done, great event! Interesting to hear about the Yorkshire involvement. Glad I came!

Very good show - interesting historically and somehow uplifting. Very well performed.

Superb production! So many talented performers. We really enjoyed it. Well done Trio Lit and guests!

A very lively entertainment cleverly adapted from a great book, full of inspired memories and enthusiastic performances from the actors and musicians.

Loved it. Nostalgic memories!
Good fun. Good to have quotes from the Mass. Ob. Records, and especially to hear about this locality. Nice variety.

Very enjoyable - nice to have the local references. Trio Lit are especially good with the younger Rastalls on board.

Performed with gusto! Music enhanced it. Caught the 'feel' of wartime.

A delightful combination of fun, drama and entertainment.

Simply wonderful. I loved this event.

Very good. Thought provoking. Pacy and fun.

Encore! Wonderful show!

Splendid - well up to standard on the big stage - a really good group of players.

Interesting mix of domestic/military episodes. Lively and humorous. Music expertly performed. Most enjoyable! (an earlier starting time preferred)

Extremely well performed and made excellent use of the Thoresby ??? Publication. A very poignant, moving production. ??? Further performance.

Very entertaining. Well produced. Great characterisations and atmosphere

Brilliant evenings entertainment - such skilled performers and very thought provoking.

Excellent production. Really enjoyed this nostalgic evening. Thank you. Great choice of songs. A bit of dancing/movement at appropriate moments would improve it

Enjoyed it - quite evocative BUT needed a stage. Also pity lighting could not be used for effects - and lines perhaps learned. But well done Trio Lit..

Lovely event, well performed, moving, uplifting.

Very good. Enormous talent. Really enjoyed it.

The show was very good and was very cheerful (And Excellent)

The show was excellent.

Excellent night with a great mix of music and theatre.

Very enjoyable as always

Great and entertaining.

It was alright, reminiscent of sentiments still prevalent.

Another enjoyable event from Trio Lit and  Headingley LitFest.

Wonderful … so very Leeds x

Very evocative and enjoyable. Let's have some more!!

Trio Lit as good as ever.

An excellent production! More please.

Fine drill. Voices from Leeds

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