Young Snotty pulls up a Muffin
My History, Behind the Scenes History, and Fun History!
The My History Part
Arriving in the big city was a very big thing for me. First it was find a hotel, see some sights, then off to find Sylvia Young’s Agency. Back in those days Sylvia Young’s – which was to become one of the best known and respected theatrical agencies and stage schools in the country – was run out of a backroom in a house in East Ham, London.
I found the name ‘East Ham’ very funny, but we were soon knocking on the door of the very important lady, and I stopped laughing as the door was opened and we were invited inside.
My parents and I were introduced to the staff – two ladies, I think – and had a short interview with the lady herself.
I had a Cornish accent, which she thought was useful but would limit the parts I could play. I told Sylvia that I could speak like I was from London.
‘Good’ she replied, ‘show me’.
What then followed was a demonstration of what nine year old me thought Londoners spoke like. It wasn’t Cockney. Imagine it as more of a nine year old Terry Thomas or James Robertson Justice.
Terry Thomas and James Robertson Justice
Sylvia smiled politely. I was pleased as I thought I had given a good example of how real Londoners sounded.
I was ushered off to the living room to play with the cat while the adults discussed my options.
Some time passed, and eventually the interview was over and we were on our way back to central London. While walking along the streets of East Ham my parents informed me of what was said in Sylvia’s office while I was in the other room. She thought my Cornish accent was what I should stick with, but as we lived at the far end of Cornwall there wouldn’t be many auditions as she didn’t want to call us up to London unless I was really right for the part. My parents agreed, but were happy with how things went.
Sylvia Young OBE
We must have talked a lot as we were soon lost in the unfamiliar streets of East London. I remember trying to find a cab office but after a long and unsuccessful search my parents decided to settle for the only thing they could find that was open. It was an undertakers. My parents explained that we were poor lost country folk in need of help to get back to the city centre. The understanding undertaker called us a cab, and we were soon on our way to the more familiar central London streets.
A day or two later we were back in Cornwall. My parents were back at work in the restaurant, I was back at school. It felt like we had just had a short – and slightly strange – holiday. I didn’t know then just how much that short trip to London was to change not just my life but the lives of my parents and my grandmother too. For now however, it was a case of sitting back and waiting to be called to London for auditions that Sylvia Young – now my agent – thought my Cornish accent might give me a chance in getting.
What happened next in the next blog.
The Behind the Scenes Part
I was wearing the same clothes to go and see John Lloyd as I had when I was interviewed by Mandie Fletcher. Old trousers, shirt and tie – I always wore a shirt and tie, sometimes back then a bowtie – and jacket. I also had on an old pair of slightly falling apart boots. In the also slightly falling apart carrier bag I had with me there were a pair of smart shoes I told my mother I would change into before meeting John Lloyd. I had told her that I would do the same when I met Mandie Fletcher. Neither time did I change into my smart shoes, although I reported back to my mother that I definitely had.
Above, the reception and waiting area at TV Centre.
I waited a short time in TV Centre before being taken to John Lloyd’s office. He greeted me smiling, shook my hand firmly, introduced himself, and invited me to sit down.
‘Have you anything to ask me?’ he said sitting down behind a desk.
‘No’ I replied ‘I thought you wanted to interview me’.
‘Well, normally I would interview an actor as well as Mandie’ he explained, ‘but in this case I’m more than happy with Mandie’s choice’.
There was a pause and then he said ‘If you are sure you have nothing to ask, you can leave now if you like’.
I thanked him, stood up, and turned to leave. I stopped at the door and turned towards John again.
‘Don’t you want to hear me read the script or anything?’ I asked, my copy of the script in my bag next to my smart shoes.
‘No’ he answered smiling, ‘You look right, you sound right and as soon as you walked in I could see you were a real actor’.
‘How?’ I asked.
‘You are wearing falling apart boots and carrying an even more falling apart carrier bag’ he answered, ‘Someone pretending to be an actor would have come in wearing smart shoes and carrying a briefcase’.
I turned to leave again but before I got as far as the door John added ‘I can’t imagine a better choice to play Pitt the Younger’.
I left TV Centre with an uncontrollable smile. I had arrived slightly worried about what would happen if John Lloyd didn’t like me, but after being so highly praised by this important BBC producer I was really pleased with myself, my old boots, and my falling apart carrier bag.
A few days later I was at ‘Angels’ the film, TV and theatre costumier in London’s West End for my costume fitting. Pantaloons, stockings, buckled shoes, shirt, cravat, waistcoat, and tailcoat.
The waistcoat was slightly too big, and although a vintage original Angels still decided to cut it so it fitted me exactly.
Next, back to TV Centre. This time in a side building next to the Concrete Donut where the Wardrobe and Make-up Departments were based.
The nice ladies sat me down, compared me with the pictures of Pitt the Younger they had been given by the research department, and then tried out bits of makeup on me. Then they fitted my wig. When I left I probably still had some makeup on, but it was London in the 80s and no one would have noticed.
All this done, a few days later I was on my way to the BBC Rehearsal Rooms to meet the rest of the cast.
I will let you know what happened when I first met them all in the next blog.
The History Part
The Blackadder version of Pitt the Younger – yes, me – may not have wanted Blackcurrant Jelly, but some fruits were very sought after. One such fruit was the pineapple.
They were only grown in South America, and had to be imported to Europe. Pineapples were so expensive in Regency Britain that only the very wealthy could afford them, and only then to display on the dining table at parties, hardly ever for eating purposes.
Some hostesses would buy a pineapple for a grand party then sell it on to another hostess for another party.
Some businessmen rented out pineapples. Once they were past their best they would be sold to wealthy people to eat.
Some families handed aging pineapples down to their children as important family heirlooms, each time becoming more and more rotten.
Pineapples finally became more available when the 1696 Window Tax was repealed in 1851. This meant that hothouses could be built and pineapples could be grown in Britain.
During the height of the pineapples’ desirability many things were influenced by the fruit. Regency art, architecture, and furniture can all be found with pineapples as the theme.
Maybe Blackadder should have offered the Prime Minister pineapple jelly rather than blackcurrant. He may have received a different response.
If you haven’t done so already, take a look at this fantastic Blackadder fan group!
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More on the history of pineapples in Regency Britain can be found here
For more on Sylvia Young
For more on Terry Thomas
For more on James Robertson Justice