In her younger days, Mum was something of a performer with the West Bromwich Operatic Society. Never a leading lady, she was content with small roles and a place in the chorus. Latterly, she became a vice president of the society, a position which I now share with her. Her father was a founder member of the society which was formed by pupils of the town’s grammar school. Incidentally, while at school, my grandfather reputedly refused to cast a fellow pupil in a school production, claiming she couldn’t act. A certain Alfred Hitchcock later disagreed with my grandfather, casting a then relatively unknown Madeleine Carroll in his 1935 film, “The 39 Steps”. My grandfather, a man of definite views, never changed his opinion.
But I digress. Mum joined “The Operatic” as a member of the chorus and played small parts in productions in the 1950s and 1960s. I can vaguely remember hearing her singing in her bedroom, learning songs for a forthcoming production. Mostly, though, Mum’s roles were off-stage and I know that more than 50 years of involvement in the West Brpm gave her huge amounts of pleasure.
But, I hear you ask, what has this little trip down memory lane to do with Mum today? If I mention WBOS to Mum, there’s a flicker of recognition but no more. Like so much of her past, it’s as if Mum recognises the name but doesn’t know why. Today, though, Mum is a leading lady, in her own production. I was reminded of this yesterday when I popped in to see her. As I told her about a recent holiday, my job prospects and family news, she nodded at the right points, giving a bravura performance of interest. To a casual observer, Mum would have appeared engaged by what I was telling her but I’m sure it meant little or nothing to her. What does still have meaning, I think, is my fleeting presence which is a comfort. Consummate actress though she is, Mum is a director’s nightmare. For the second or third visit running, I needed to talk to one of the staff. “Stay there for a moment, Mum, I just need to talk to……”. My back was turned for less than a couple of minutes but needless to say, she’d gone when I returned. The redoubtable Kath Hoggins, who directed the West Brom’s performances of my youth, would have stamped her feet in frustration.
I had to smile at Mum’s premature exit from our scene together but for me, this drama with Mum as the leading lady, is no comedy.