"A mere phone call - or - the perenial lament of a bagman
A mere phone call in late June invited the obviously world famous Isca Morris to take part in a forthcoming Christmas special being produced for HTV by Steven Weeks' film company at Penhow Castle. Fine, we thought, two or three hours on a Tuesday afternoon for a fee and a bit of publicity - what could be easier. Yeah, we'll do it, take the afternoon off work, why not?
A mere phone call the week before the Tuesday afternoon asked if we could switch to a Thursday night. Had to do it, when it got dark because of the snow. Well yes all right then. Get there at eight, no problem! A mere phone call on the Thursday morning invited us to dinner at eight (at pub with tithe barn at bottom of drive up to the castle), then up to the castle, filming by 9.30. Super, great, go for it chaps!
We were all there at eight, outside the tithe barn, sipping pints, waiting for dinner. Someone came to talk to us. She said it often ran on late, and anyway the Welsh National Opera weren't even turning up until half past midnight and they expected to stay until six in the morning. Adrian, amongst others, didn't like the sound of this. Anyway we went in for dinner, which was fine, three course meal, jolly decent of them really, I wonder why. Well, it'll be fun when it starts.
After dinner, Adrian trotted off towards the castle. I followed, and Les followed me, with the sticks. I met Adrian up by the church, on his way back down the hill. Half past eleven, he said. Ah, I thought, oh dear! Adrian carried on down the hill with Les. I took the sticks back up to the castle to leave them there, and spoke briefly to One of Those In Charge. He confirmed we would be late.
We passed on the good news to the boys back at the barn, and we all climbed down the steps to the pub. There was a strange bunch of people there and they weren't dressed in Victorian costume (which was the period of our Christmas special). In fact their period was Civil War, and I never really understood what they were doing or why. As the evening wore on, some of the chaps ambled up to the castle in preparation, while a rather domineering female member of the Roundheads decided that EVERYONE should get up and dance their dances. I tried to hide. Eventually, Les came to the rescue. They wanted us up at the castle, at last.
We piled into Les's car and belted up the hill to the castle. It was dark up there, but as we drew closer, the night sky was ablaze with powerful floodlights. There were a good few people and a horse and carriage standing around the castle gate which was awash with lashings of artificial snow. We crept towards them. It did not appear to be an appropriate time to make too much noise.
We stood around for some time. A lady wandered up to us and wondered why only four of us had beards - 'have to do something about that' she muttered, and wandered off again. We shouted after her - 'how about some tea!' - 'Not my department' came the reply, Shortly another lady came around, tugging at our clothes. Costume department, she was, certainly not tea department. Glasses and wrist watches off, those sash badges will have to come off, and are you really going to wear those hats?!
Time was getting on, about midnight now, and One of Those In Charge was approached by One of Those Who Was Getting Rattled. 'Just finish this shot and we'll be with you.' The first lady came back with her toolbox, and started attacking each of us with her powder-puff. Glasses and wrist watches came off, don't some people look really awful with their glasses off!
'Wassailers and Morris dancers into the castle!' said the Director. The gates were opened and in we filed. OK, where do they want us. Over here by this four foot plastic tree on a box. OK, what do you want us to do. Some stick thwacking and dance round the tree. OK, Not for Joe will do for that. 'Stand by for rehearsal!' someone shouted. Off we go then. Adrian and Andy played and we bounced around the tree and thwacked our sticks with all our might. We finished our first rehearsal and were warmly applauded by the assembled crew and other artists. This should be a doddle, I thought to myself.
One of Those in Charge said it wasn't quite right, can we dance round a bit, then thwack our sticks, then dance round the tree again to finish. Sure, we'll do that. And we did, and they all thought we were truly wonderful and gave us a rapturous round of applause. Jolly good, I thought, now for the real thing. But a little man in a corner by a tape recorder switched it on and out came some 'jolly' Christmas music. The style was somewhere between the All Saints Church Choir and 'Sing Something Simple'. OK, the man said, now dance to that!
We looked at each other in disbelief, except that I didn't dare look at Adrian, now redundant. It seemed a tall order, and no, they never told us beforehand. After a couple of minutes discussion, we agreed to give it a go. The main problem seemed to be the speed - although Les always wanted us to dance Border fast and furious! And then we had to find somewhere in the music to start and to finish. It probably took us fifteen minutes to get it right, so finally they got the lights ready and we did it for real.
As we walked off the set, we must all have wondered what we had just done. Certainly it had little to do with Morris dancing, but let us not prejudge the final outcome. In spite of the long, agonising, time-wasting wait. I'm sure we enjoyed what we went to Penhow to do.
So what should I do if I get a another mere phone call ?
Editors Footnote - The final 90 minute television broadcast (our second at Penhow Castle) when transmitted featured some 90 seconds of the Isca Morris on prime time national TV and then another 30 seconds in the closing sequences - was it really worth it I ask myself ?