Thursday, December 08, 2005

Geoff Collins presents Eddie and Bobby - a Music Hall Mystery

Students of Music Hall and theatre history may be able to shed some light on the following letter, which was recently discovered under a floorboard during renovations to the Primark store in Northampton. The previous building on the site was the New Theatre, which was demolished in 1959-60, although fragments of the original structure remain.

The New Theatre was well known in its time as a Music Hall and variety theatre. Many famous names appeared there, including, on one memorable occasion, Laurel and Hardy.

The identity of the author and the intended recipient of the letter are not at present known, although research is under way.

New Theater, Northampton, England

Dear Eddie

I had intended to write you earlier but I've been very busy rehearsing new material for this comedy act I'm doing with Mr. Collinson. Didn't you come to England once, in '37 or '38 ? I remember you telling me how damp and rainy it was, even in the summer, but nothing prepared me for the cold. It's freezing everywhere. The snow's about a foot deep outside the theater - so we played last night to about twelve people - and there's no heating; and it's been like this here for over two months, which doesn't do much for Mr. Collinson's temperment.He drinks too much and has the most appalling bad breath. He refers to me disparagingly as "Sonny" and never misses an opportunity to compare me unfavorably with his former partner: "Alfie was a lot funnier" - "Alfie would have timed that better" etc. etc. I betcha Alfie was glad when the war started and he had to leave the act. He must have been bored out of his mind.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. We both know I brought this on myself. How I wish I'd heeded your warning. I had a great time on your show. You warned me many times about England, and I should have listened. "Bobby my boy" you said, "don't go. They'll get tired of you, and then what ?" But I didn't care. Two weeks at the London Palladium was too good to resist. I never thought I'd be dragging myself around these awful English hick towns in a crummy double act with a sixty-five-years-old straightman. I'm dressed like some runty little soldier in a huge overcoat, with an outsize walrus mustache - completely unrecognizable. The janitor could play my part. Don't get me wrong - Mr Collinson has been very kind to me but sometimes those stage slaps are hard to take, especially when it's so cold or we have a bad week and he's been drinking. How in the world did I get hooked up with this guy? I guess I took pity on him and let myself get talked into it. Let's face it, a straightman without a comic is pretty desperate.

Last week, for example, we played the Glasgow Empire. Mr Collinson told me about the audience's opinion of English comics: "If they like you, sonny, they'll let you live." We played the entire act to hostile silence, except for the occasional beer bottle or sharpened coin hitting the stage. We did the whole fourteen-minute routine in four minutes and walked off to the sound of our own footsteps. Yet the next act, Dorothy Reid and Mackenzie, an accordion and dancing act, got huge applause. I just don't get it. It wouldn't be so bad if Mr. Collinson let me sing some of my old songs. "Forget it, sonny" he says. "Costs too much. Anyway, it's broad comedy they want, not sentiment." That's not really apparent when he's slapping me all over the stage and the audience doesn't react at all. I mean, some of these people are like neanderthals. We play it as broad as possible but they just don't understand comedy - they're all miners, or auto workers, with caps on and tiny little foreheads.

They make shoes in this town - but the people have no sense of humor at all. Unless it's some sort of "community singalong" - nothing. You might as well be in Siberia. It's cold enough.

Eddie, you've got to get me out of this. Couldn't I come back on your show? We listen to it over here - the one with Jolie was great; I'm surprised he let you say so much. I really miss you and Ida and the girls and Dinah and Bert and all the gang. I can't even get a flight home. Everything's been grounded for weeks due to the bad weather and I haven't saved enough out of what Collinson pays me to buy the ticket anyway. You've got to help me, Eddie, please. I'm stuck here in this godforsaken

The subsequent pages are missing.

Clearly the letter was never sent and may have been left uncompleted as the artistes moved on to another town.Many questions remain unanswered. Was "Bobby" able to escape from the dreary provincial tour with "Mr. Collinson" and return to his former employer "Eddie"?

Who were these people?

We may never know.

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