posted on Dec, 27 2003 @ 12:03 PM
Pritchards Prancing Ponies Genya Copyright, FSBR.
"Right, mother, get yer coat on, it's time we were off."
"Did you hear that nice Mr Hitler on the radio? Giving us his best for the New Year?"
"Yes, wishing peace and happiness to everyone in 1939. What a lovely man."
With that, and a last look round at their humble dwelling, Albert and Mary Rogers put on their coats and walked out into the frosty evening to catch
the tram. Christmas Eve 1938, they had saved all year for this one night out. They were going to the music hall as a special treat.
Ah! The music hall, palace of laughs and comic turns. Comforting to know, that as storm clouds gathered over the world, it was a safe haven, a
retreat, a respite from the cares and woe that befell the country.
Ever since the General Strike, Albert hadn't worked. In truth, he didn't work much before the strike either - he was known as an "idle
"Mother, I still don't know what those Generals went on strike for - it's not as if they did much anyway - just sending our lads over the top."
"Happen you're right, Albert. Come on, there's our stop."
Mary poked the conductor in the back with her gamp and urged him to stop. As they walked towards the brightly lit theatre, the conductor raised two
fingers at the departing figures.
"......and a Merry Christmas to you, too!"
The theatre was brightly lit, all tinsel, nuts and coloured balls. Music spilling out onto the pavement, enticing the passers-by to linger longer and
spend a silver sixpence to see the show.
Albert chirped up "Two adults, missus."
"Really? One bob for cash."
Albert skilfully dropped a mixture of copper coins on the counter, sending them spinning and ringing over the wooden top.
Inside, the hall was gradually filling up. There was much jollity and good humour as each patron anticipated a fun-filled evening. Albert and Mary
followed the usherette to their seats and quickly settled. Soon, Mary was unpacking some pork scratchings and both crunched noisily on the crisp,
"Eh, that's champion, mother."
"Shush, Albert, t'shows about to start."
Indeed it was. A greasy little man, all greased-back hair and greased-up face, appeared on the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Tonight we at The Empire Halls are proud to announce a performance by the world-famous Pritchards Prancing Ponies. I'm sure
you will gasp with amazement and amusement as they perform for you."
Cheers of excited anticipation filled the hall, the chandeliers quivering in sympathy.
"But, first, here's an old friend of ours - give him a big hand - the Navvies favourite - Charlie Chuckles!!"
And so the evening drew on. Each act was announced - after the compere reminded the audience that the Prancing Ponies were shortly due on stage. The
audiences hopes of seeing this act were built up - and then dashed - as one bad turn led to another. Their patience was fast running out and the
heckling rose to alarming proportions.
Albert stuffed another pork scratching in his mouth, spitting bits out as he turned to Mary.
"Eh, mother, this is turning out to be a reet rum do. I haven't worked hard all year....."
"That's true, Albert."
".....so that I can pay to watch this rubbish."
As he said this, the ventriloquists act was rapidly coming to a climax. Amid the jeers, the vent appeared to be fighting with his dummy. The dummy
was winning. As the curtain dropped, he could be seen rolling around the floor, the dummy strangling him.
The compere climbed onto the stage, beads of nervous sweat clinging to his brow.
"Order, please! And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment that you've been waiting for - The Empire Halls is proud to announce - Pritchards
The house lights dimmed and the crowd stopped their bickering. Rapidly, people regained their seats, as a drum roll announced the acts arrival. A
solitary trumpet sounded an off-key fanfare as the curtain slowly raised.
"I'm reet looking forward to this, mother - I love a good animal act."
On the stage was a single horse-shaped object. One spotlight beamed onto it. The audience gasped. For this was a pantomime horse, brown velour, a
floor mop mane and with a white hessian patch on its' snout!
From the wings, similar pantomime horses appeared, first one, then another. Soon, 15 of them stood on the stage. The band started to play "The
Post-horn Gallop" uncertainly, as the horses started to weave about the platform.
Each stomped about, false hooves rattling noisily on the wooden boards. Higher and higher went the limbs, as the rag-bag pretend horses trotted and
cantered around the stage. First this way, then that. Each wearing a silly grin, they neighed and whinnied to each other pathetically.
The crowd were stunned into silence. Then a lone voice piped out - it was Alberts.
"Where's t'e ponies? Get this rubbish off! I want to see the ponies!"
Someone else shouted.
"Aye.....come on mister......enough of this.....where's the ponies?"
Then there was a chorus of "Gee up, Dobbin!" from a group of itinerant navvies who had not been best pleased with Charlie Chuckles.
And so it went. The crowd growing increasingly hostile, causing the horses to lose their timing. They started to fall over one another in a tangle
of feet, hooves, manes and tails.
The hall was in uproar as the police arrived. Officers waded in, truncheons raised, knocking heads as if playing a tune on a xylophone. Albert and
Mary were amongst those arrested and spent their Christmas in jail. It was, as Albert later remarked:
"A reet gradely time!"
The Empire Halls, having survived the blitz, was flattened by a stray V2 right at the end of the war.
And Pritchards Prancing Ponies? No one is certain but it is said that, if you stand quietly on a frosty Christmas Eve, you might just hear the
clatter of hooves and shouts of "Whoa, boy!"
Hope you enjoyed? Any comments please?
[Edited on 27-12-2003 by Genya]