At home, we tie anything we can find around our heads, flapper-style, sing the songs, kick our legs. Home is a shabby, ten-acre farm in a small village outside Nottingham, though our father is in plastics and the farm is managed by someone else. Butour parents' marriage, never strong, has reached breaking-point that summer, and these turn out to be the last weeks they'll spend together.
Days begin and end with shouting. Sometimes they end when he hits her. We hang around the overgrown orchard, devising ever more elaborate games while Mum cries into the washing-up bowl. "I'm going to leave him," she tells me, the eldest, one night,
"it's just a question of when."
The holidays begin and we trudge around the farm bickering. "I've got it," I tell my sisters, "We'll start our own Theatrical Company and do The Boyfriend!" We Charleston back to the house and phone our two best friends.
At 12, I am precociously ambitious - this won't be any old production. We'll rehearse all summer. We'll invite the whole village and have biscuits in the interval. My Dad hasn't got a barn, but we've got a pebble-dashed double garage.
We beg Mum to let us have our hair bobbed. Until now we've craved long hair, faking it by wearing tights on our heads and tossing the American Tan tresses over our shoulders. We emerge from Keith Hall and Adrian with identical, immaculate bobs, tiny
round slides at the temples, just like Twiggy in the film.
I get several copies of The Boyfriend from the library and discover it was written by Sandy Wilson and not Ken Russell at all - and that the script of his smash-hit Fifties musical is far superior to Ken Russell's limp mish-mash.
The five of us sit on the daisy-sprinkled lawn and argue over casting. The words, "Act One. The Drawing Room of the Villa Caprice, Mme Dubonnet's Finishing School on the outskirts of Nice. At the back, French Windows..." are still imprinted on my heart.
We get the record of the London stage production and mime along - it's primitive karaoke. I spend hours studying Mr Wilson's own stylish and delicate illustrations in the book. After a week or two of rehearsals, I suddenly decide to consult the man himself for advice. I devise a piece of headed paper with the words the caythorpe theatrical company across the top in crayon, and then write:
We're in the middle of rehearsals for your v. good play The Boyfriend and my sister who is Maisie is only eight and can't remember the words. Also, what clothes should we wear? Thank you for your attention,
Yours, Julie Susan Pike (the director)
I send the letter care of Samuel French. Surprisingly quickly, a London- postmarked letter comes back:
Dear Julie Pike,
How utterly delightful that you are putting on The Boyfriend - I wish you lots of luck with it. Why not cut some of your sister's lines and let her say only those she can remember? Also remember to pull your cloche hats well down over the eyes like this: [sketch of a woman peering fetchingly from under a cloche brim]. So much more attractive than wearing it higher on the back of your head (a common mistake).
With best wishes, Sandy Wilson
When the creator of The Most Exciting Thing In The World stoops for a moment to your level, the thrill is life-changing, heart-stopping. Self- esteem catapults. This is the first letter I have ever received from London, let alone from A Very Famous Person. My whole life swings into focus, mapped out - fabulous and precious - before me.
The letter is Blue-tac'd to my bedroom wall - a beacon of glamour and possibility. Those careful, sloping Biro lines, that simple sketch.
On the morning of the show, I get up at six and pin striped bedsheets to a beam in our garage to create a dressing room, and sprinkle sawdust on the oil-stained floor. It is a hot August morning, dew evaporating, soaring blue skies.
Mum helps us draw cupid's bows on our mouths with the ends of Max Factor lipsticks, paints dolly lashes round our eyes. We eat bread and honey (for our nerves) and wait for the audience - 25 kind and long-suffering people from the village. Finally, I go on and take my place as Hortense, the French Maid, discovered on the phone ordering fancy dress for the Carnival Ball as the "curtain" rises.
We are a success.
A week or so later, Mum leaves Dad, secretly, at night. The months that follow are a mix of anguish and happiness, but nothing is the same and a phase of our childhood is over.
When I look back to that summer of The Boyfriend now, I see how we threw all our energy into one bid for glamour and style and escape, regardless of the Barbarians clamouring at the gates. It gave our lives a credibility - a focus that made it all bearable for those strained, intruded-upon weeks. Oh, and we did pull our cloche hats well down. I'm sure we looked terrific. Thank you, Sandy.Reuse content