A Miscellany of Memories – Part 10
I cannot end this section without mentioning three very different highlights.
The first happened in 2005, when what initially seemed like an impossible dream in the end turned out to be a huge success thanks to the incredible commitment of so many of my musical colleagues, who by then had supported our children’s West End involvement for more than 10 years. We had made some very good friends among the professional performers who had worked with our children and I decided to try to recognise our first ten years by hiring the Festival Theatre for our own celebration concert to which I gave the title ‘Curtain up’. All the choirs in the schools came together, the show sold out and there was a collective gasp from the audience when the curtains opened and 500 children sang ‘Rhythm of Life’ at the start of a never to be forgotten two hour show which featured songs from the musicals, some performed by our West End guests but the majority involving various groupings of children.
The children had been prepared in school by their different Music teachers under the guidance of our amazing Director of Music, Helen Mitchell, and on the evening they were in the hands of Kate Young who assumed the role of Musical Director and accompanied and conducted every number. It was a particular pleasure for us all that Kate was with us as it was she who, as I have already said, had directed our first-ever ‘Joseph’ choir 10 years earlier. Kate’s daughter Laura was a boarder at The Mary Erskine School at the time and one of the highlights of the concert was a duet performed by Laura and her Dad Gareth Snook, another of our professional guests, accompanied by Kate. It was also a pleasure to welcome a second former pupil of The Mary Erskine School, Morag McLaren, as another of our visiting professionals.
Looking back it all sounds quite straightforward but it was almost a bridge too far, perhaps several bridges too far Consider the following and you will see what I mean:
- We had no access to the theatre until the morning of the show so everything had to be rehearsed and polished in record time, no mean feat given that the show included over 20 numbers, each of which had to be choreographed (Jane Duffy, take another bow!)
- There were over 500 children involved – can you begin to imagine backstage!?
- Some of our leading soloists were away on CCF camp and with permission were due to leave the army camp somewhere in the north east of England before breakfast to get to the theatre in time to rehearse. The coach from Edinburgh arrived shortly after 6.00am to collect them and found the gates to the camp locked and no one answering the phones. After a scarily long delay an excellent coach driver eventually got our performers to the theatre but it was touch and go and their rehearsal had to be curtailed.
The second highlight relates to the day I persuaded the ‘Joseph’ management team and the Festival Theatre bosses to allow Pudsey on stage to be filmed for Children in Need. We were trying to raise £20,000 that year and had persuaded the Children in Need team to send Pudsey to perform with us. All seemed fine until I was approached 20 minutes before curtain up to be told that if filming took place the show would be stopped immediately – I was sitting in the projection box with the cameraman at the time. I was told we did not have permission to film the performance. I showed my official theatre and company permissions but was informed by the man who had approached me that he represented the back-stage crew who, he told me bluntly, were all freelancers whose permission was also needed if any of their lighting, sound or staging expertise was to be filmed – they ‘owned’ the intellectual rights to their own areas of expertise and should be paid for its use. He said they would waive their rights in return for triple pay which would come to hundreds of pounds. My explanation that the filming was all being done for Children in Need had no effect. I said that whatever happened the filming would go ahead and I went as far as to promise that either the schools or I would pay if necessary (a scary moment!). I asked to see their boss and he came across for a chat from the King’s Theatre. He was friendly and empathetic but no more than that! Nothing was resolved at the time, the filming went ahead, Pudsey danced on stage, lots of money was raised and some of our children ended up as guests on the live ‘Children in Need’ show. And the payment? I waited for the invoice but someone, somewhere saw sense and the matter was dropped.
In 2011 I was asked whether we had any children who could play the two lead child roles in a new production of ‘The Secret Garden’ which features a young girl and boy called Mary and Colin. Cameron Macintosh had bought the rights to the musical and planned to premiere the show in the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh for several weeks before taking it to the Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto, which he owned. He had mentioned to the Festival Theatre chief executive that his casting director was struggling to find suitable children from the various theatre schools in London (they had identified one girl and one boy but needed two pairs to cover all the shows). The Chief Executive suggested sending his Casting Director to our Junior School to see if he could find a suitable boy and a girl. He and his team duly arrived and seemed very dubious that an ‘ordinary’ school could provide him with what he needed for such a high-profile show. Suffice it to say that he quickly changed his mind during two days of auditions after which he told me with a sense of wonder that he could have offered the parts to several children. He had selected Sophie Kavanagh and Toby Hughes and I was of course delighted.
Following several weeks of rehearsals in London the show opened in Edinburgh to rave reviews and, after performing for about 6 weeks, Sophie and Toby then spent 9 weeks in Toronto, always accompanied by at least one parent, performing the lead roles in the Princess of Wales theatre. The company very kindly arranged for my wife and me to fly out to Toronto for a week and it was one of my proudest moments to attend performances of ‘The Secret Garden’ in Toronto and to join in standing ovations for two very talented but ‘ordinary’ children from our Junior School.
And now for something completely different!
Very short notes (but no more!) of a few major developments …………..
As I decided early on not to write in detail about many of the major physical and other developments which were and remain very important to the life of the Junior School I will merely mention the reconfiguration of all our classrooms, which meant moving the Primary 6 and 7 girls from their single-sex classes at Ravelston to form coeducational classes with the boys at Queensferry Road, a move balanced by transferring the Primary 1 to 3 boys to Ravelston to form coeducational classes with the girls there. This was made possible by the construction of Easter Ravelston in 1990 which accommodated the Primary 1 classes as well as a hugely-expanded Nursery while the Primary 2 and 3 classes moved into what had previously been the Nursery rooms and the classrooms for the Primary 6 and 7 girls. Yes, I know it sounds complex but I can assure you that it seemed even more complex at the time!
Nor will I spend time talking about how the demand for After School and Holiday Club provision grew in line with changing family needs to such an extent that dedicated spaces were needed. The demand eventually led to the construction of New Ravelston in 2007, balanced by new facilities at Queensferry Road.
It was not only the After School and Holiday provision which needed to be addressed. As the school developed the Principal and Governing Council were very ambitious for the further development of Junior School accommodation and in the years after the millennium plans were laid for the reconfiguration of many of the Junior School facilities at Queensferry Road. The key which unlocked the logistical puzzle as to where classes would be taught during the construction period was the acquisition and reconfiguration of Queensway House on the corner of Queensferry Road and Queensferry Terrace to create classrooms for all of Primary 4 and half of Primary 5. The next phase, and the final one in which I was involved, saw the creation of very smart new facilities for the Headmaster and Primary 4 to 7 Junior School administrative staff. Having spent all 27 years of my own time as Headmaster working out of converted cupboards in the middle of the main Junior School classroom block, I magnanimously retired at the same time as ‘my’ new office accommodation opened, ready for my successor, Mike Kane, to move in!