Between the lines: Michael Feast recalls a music-hall catchphrase

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'Play the music. Open the Cage. Mum, they're laughing at me.' (The band plays 'Powder Your Face With Sunshine')

(Arthur English, spiv variety turn - c 1952)

Throughout the Fifties, starting with a sixth birthday treat, my parents took me every other week to the Brighton Hippodrome variety shows. It lit the performing pilot- light in my soul. I saw, among others, Max Miller, Max Wall, Jimmy James, Jimmy Wheeler and Arthur English. I also saw Joan Regan and Alma Cogan, but evening-gowned songsters were not my speed (although I wrote to Anne Shelton, who sang 'Lay Down Your Arms and Surrender to Mine', requesting one of her frocks for my mum). I loved the comics, treasured their catchphrases and signature tunes, and though purists claim Arthur English was merely a recycling of the late great Sid Field's Slasher Green, Arthur was my man. I won a Butlins fancy dress competition turned out as him in my dad's trilby and jacket complete with burnt cork tash and curtain-material tie. I said, 'Play the music. Open the cage. Mum, they're laughing at me.' It was my first acting experience. I have repeated the mantra just before going on stage for every first night of my career. An actor prepares. Thanks, Arthur. 'Stand well back, son, I don't know what I might be doing.'

Michael Feast is playing Thomas Becket in T S Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' at the RSC's Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

(Photograph omitted)

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