To absent friends

When Moira and I came to Dalry in 1973, we had hardly settled in when there was a loud knock at our imposing front door.  On opening it, I found a dapper gentleman who introduced himself immediately as Bill Gorman, our local councellor: he welcomed us to his town and pointed out the many joys that could be found in the newly open Community Centre, and invited us to come that evening and have a look at what was going on.  Outstanding on the offerings as far as we were concerned was the squash court and murmurings about a drama club, there being an excellent well equipped stage with adjacent changing facilities.  There are rumours that the stage is to be removed: a pity in my view!

Having trodden the boards for many years, first at school, and then in the Palace Theatre in Kilmarnock, I had maintained my interest in drama having taken every opportunity while we were in London for several years, visiting absolutely astounding theatrical productions.  At this point, I was told they already had a producer, Mrs Fletcher, who turned out a trouper of the old school: in her seventies, barely five foot tall, smoking like a chimney, she took no prisoners!  She decided that the opening opportunity was to be a variety concert such as the ones she had produced the war years and travelled round the district to raise moral.  This decision took no account of the fact that of the twenty plus people gathered, none of us had any experience of singing, dancing, juggling, and other delights which she wished to exhibit to a waiting public.  However undaunted, she chose eight ladies of various ages for the tap dancing routine and promplty ordered white tap dancing shoes (some of which we still have in the museum!), and I was one of the lucky trio who were chosen for the soft shoe song and dance act to the never to be forgotten ‘By the light of the silvery moon.  Myself, Bob Wayman and Murray Wilson trained strenuously and duly appeared on stage in white tie and tails with top hats and silver topped canes, and launched into the routine.  Sadly, the third one on, ie myself, missed the opening step and was therefore desperately trying to catch up with the other two for twice the length of the stage, ie in one drectoion and back again. The audience I have to say were in stitches, and at the end, when I finally walked into the back of the other two, we got a standing ovation.  However, returning to the side of the stage after the performance, I was met by our doughty producer who gave me such a slap in the face and said ‘Nobody makes a fool of me‘.  However, despite several similar disasters, the drama club was launched and became a great success and I have to say a much loved feature of the Dalry social scene.

Moira and Rob in an early play

One of the joys of course was that it was agreat way to join a new community.  We had a primary school teacher, the veterinary surgeon;s wife, the son of one of the GPs, our original acquaintance Bill Gorman’s wife, and other ladies such as Heather MacGregor, Elizabeth Orr, and several teenage boys and a young girl described summarily as ‘Rae from the Coop’.  Rae turnout out to be one of three young women whom I have met in our twenty-five year long career love affair with the stage, amateur or not, who while being in stature and demeanour slight, turnout to be one of these wondrous creatures who became almost incandescent on stage.  Rae and I seemed to end up together in almost every production: she was especially good at playing young servant girls and I was generally cast as a carnaptious laird or such.  Her talent however shone through and we encouraged her to go to College and take a course in Acting or stage craft or similar, which she did. I later, now working at Strathclyde University, introduced her to the University Theatre Club, and she happily sold tickets and programmes and helped back stage in their productions until she was given a part and did her usual transformation into the most astonishing skilled actress.

I wish that this could have had a happy ending, but about five weeks ago Rae and a friend came into the Coffee Room at the Mill where she was greeted with delight by myself and my children who of course had been dragged as infants to every rehearsal.  We spent an enormously rewarding hour or so with her and her friend with no idea that this would be the last time we saw her: sadly Rae died in her sleep a short time later, and on Monday I will attend her funeral. It won’t happen but if I had my way, she would leave to rapturous applause.

God speed Rae

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