In recent days, my mind has turned again to the Lancaster Footlights and a stage production that I saw them do (before I joined them) of Bill Tidy's wonderful strip cartoon, The Fosdyke Saga.
Set in Manchester, it tells of the trials and tribulations of tripe baron Josiah Fosdyke and his family, who are pitted in eternal battle against the dastardly Roger Ditchley.
Alan Plater, who wrote the script, is sadly no longer with us. He was a wonderful writer – particularly about the north of England – with a fabulous CV that, among the serious works such as A Very British Coup, includes the magnificent comedies, Beiderbecke Trilogy, Doggin' Around (please, somebody – release this on DVD!) and The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.
His works that are set in the north have a genuine warmth and self-deprecating quality. He was never mawkishly sentimental, but always had tremendous humanity.
The Fosdyke Saga is, since it's based on a cartoon, a little different, and takes the humour to more farcical extents. I remember it with massive pleasure and still have a copy of the script.
When the Footies did the play, the music – and there's plenty of it – was arranged by Noel McKee, my music teacher at the time. Later, I used one of the pieces from the play as an audition piece for college.
Noel, a Salford boy himself, spent the time to teach me the nuances of the accent, since my own northern tones, when I lapse from my practiced 'posh' into Northern, are actually those of Thameside, which is a little further to east of Manchester proper, edging onto the backbone of England, the Pennine chain.
I'm not sure the piece was fully appreciated by some of the stuffier interviewers – perhaps it lacked a classical touch? Although my other piece was a long speech by Paulina from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.
I've never actually eaten tripe – except in France, as andouillette, a tripe sausage, with a course mustard sauce. It was okay – I'd try it again, but I'm not falling over myself to eat tripe and onions, the classic way it used to be eaten in the north of England.
But here, with great a wave to the late, great Mr Plater – and to Noel, who died a couple of years ago, before I ever really got the chance to thank him really introducing me to classical music – is the poem he wrote for the The Fosdyke Saga and which formed half of my audition routine way back at the very beginning of the 1980s.
Sonnet to Manchester
- Leeds hath not anything to show more fair
Thick as short planks be he who would pass by
A cloud so noxious in intensity
Manchester now doth like a string vest wear
The dankness of the morning: surly folk,
Pubs, pawnshops, doggy dirt and knackers' yards
And drunken Irish navvies playing cards
All dull and spluttering in the acrid smoke
Never did muck more masochistic crown
In chocking splendour, never to wash off.
Never saw I a town so dirty brown,
Canal so sluggish like a smoker's cough.
Dear God, the very houses seem to frown
And all that mighty heart says: Bugger off.