Seven Facts you didn’t know about Lesley Cookman: 1. I was taken up in a glider over Delhi. 2. I was asked to audition as a Bunny Girl at the Playboy Club. (I didn't) 3. I was hoiked out of a car by armed soldiers one night in Lagos. 4. My dad was one half of a nightclub act. 5. I was once the editor of "The Call Boy", the magazine of The British Music Hall Society, and met many of the "greats". (Taken in to dinner by Norman Wisdom.) 6. I worked briefly at Butlins in Clacton. 7. I won the RSPCA regional story prize two years running when I was at school.
When I said I would write a piece for OAPschat and offer a signed copy of one of the books as a prize in a competition, I asked what I should write about.
Why not one of those facts? it was suggested. Perhaps number 5?
I had to look up what number 5 was, of course, and when I discovered it was about my stint at The Call Boy, I was delighted. Which needs some explanation.
The timing is fortuitous. I am still writing the Libby Sarjeant books (number 16 under construction as I write), but I am also, hesitatingly, dipping my toe in the waters of a new and different series.
This will, we hope, be called The Alexandrians and will be about an Edwardian seaside concert party.
These had strong links with the British Music Hall, something for which I have a great fondness. So much so that, after appearing a few times in Music Hall (it’s amazing what someone who can only carry a tune in a bucket can get away with when belting out “A Little Of What You Fancy”!) I was approached to take over the editorship of the British Music Hall Society’s magazine, The Call Boy. It was not the easiest of jobs, believe me.
Material would come in from delightful old members who didn’t even have a typewriter, let alone a computer
It was very definitely a sort of Old Boys Club (and girls, of course) for performers remembering the last days of Variety – after all, Music Hall itself had long gone by the thirties. But I corresponded with – and met – some of the greats. Russ Conway used to write regularly, not for publication, but little chatty letters. Bill Pertwee, best remembered as Air Raid Warden Hodges, was a fund of information, especially about seaside entertainment, and of course the ever amiable Roy Hudd, who is president of the society.
He, bless him, wrote the foreword to my book How To Write A Pantomime (still available!). Those I met, either at the annual summer lunch or the Christmas Ball were still more illustrious, if anyone can be more illustrious than Roy Hudd. Frankie Vaughan, who had a surprisingly big head for his body, Wyn Calvin, a legendary pantomime dame and a great support to me, Freddie “Parrot face” Davies, Danny La Rue, who was very lordly until breaking out with his raucous “Wotcher, cock!”
The original cast of Summer Seaon with Roy Hudd
There were many others, but as many of them are now unknown, I won’t name them. The Christmas Ball, held at a prestigious London hotel, as the website puts it, was a great evening for me, as I was in the privileged hospitality suite before the main event.
It was all terribly glam – the jewels would have come out if I’d had any – and I was one of the youngest there
There was a tap on my shoulder on one of these occasions, and turning, I came face to top of head with Norman Wisdom. Why he picked on me we shall never know, but he monopolised me from then on, and when the time came for the committee and honoured guests to parade through the ballroom and take their seats, Norman insisted on taking me in. And yes – he tripped. He was most put out that I wasn’t allowed to sit with him at the top table.
During this time, the Society’s Archivist and historian, (still in the job!) Max Tyler, suggested I write a Music Hall musical using songs of the time. I did, and the result was “Summer Season”. I used the basic storyline of this in one of my Libby Sarjeant books, and now it’s the basis of what I hope will be the first of The Alexandrians. Watch this space!
Robert Daws and me
My time at The Call Boy came to end in 1998. The members unfortunately all had my phone number. This, they thought, entitled them to call me at any time of the day or night for a chat. I finally snapped when, just about to leave the house in full regalia as mother-of-the-bride, an elderly member rang and would NOT be put off. I put the phone down and wrote to Roy the next day apologising, but saying I really couldn’t... Well, could you?
Editor: Lesley has very kindly donated a signed copy of Murder in Steeple Martin, the first book in the Libby Sergeant series. Details will appear on the competition page soon. Many thanks Lesley!