Tuesday, July 26, 2016

More Una from O. Reader

More Una
            I recently wrote a post called Una, about someone I knew in my religious work a lifetime ago in London. Alas, my words did not persuade her, but I like to think we had a good rapport, and a life-long interest in the film industry meant that quite often our discussions got “off the point”. Well, off my “point” anyway.
            Una lived on Ealing Green, very close to the Ealing Film Studios, which by then had been sold to the BBC. (The same street housed both my “church” and my school.) Many years later as an old lady she had been interviewed as part of a British Film Institute history project, and by chance I came across a reference to over two hours worth of interview that was languishing on cassette in some archive.
            So, I applied and sweet-talked, and badgered and NAGGED (something the pixie may have experienced from me in the past) and eventually they agreed to digitize the tapes. It took a while. The tapes had to be found, people were always going on vacation and would do it “later” and when finally I got the file, they had made a mess of it, duplicating part and omitting other parts. But finally I got the file, and with the help of my daughter it was transferred to my trusty iPod.
            It was interesting hearing Una’s voice down through the ages. She was, as I remembered her, very “London”, but educated “London”. I had not realized or remembered that she had specifically worked in the music department at the studios - starting in 1943 for six GBP a week for four hours a day, and ending up on a basically the same money eighteen years later from morning to fall over time. But she loved the work, keeping classical composers like Vaughan Williams happy, organizing orchestrations, scrounging a stop watch during the war - they apparently wrote their music without directly seeing the film but timed by stopwatch - and on occasion writing music herself, including a comic song that ended up in a Tommy Trinder film. (You would really have to be a British “anorak” to remember him - Americans would have no chance.)
            And it is funny how attitudes change with years. In her interviews she was scathing about her one acting role in a film, the infant prodigy in Cavalcanti’s version of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby - “miscast, dreadful, the director was very disappointed and so he should have been, etc. etc.” But when I knew her she remembered the experience quite positively. Years later I bought the DVD on the strength of it, only to find her part had been cut down to just a few seconds. Maybe the director agreed after all.
            The one thing that was a revelation was her family background. Her brother, Hal Mason, was a film producer - I knew that - but her parents had been circus performers, working all over the world, including America (where her brother was born) and Australia - where they had a longer stay than anticipated due to the first World War. Her father had been a trapeze artist with his own company and her mother before marriage had been a trick cyclist in a famous troupe. When age caught up with them, they went into running hotels and putting up “theatricals” who would remember them from their mutual time “on the boards”.  That is where Una learned to play the piano and sing - apparently she could reach such high notes that she is heard - uncredited - in several ancient films while someone else mimes obligingly for the camera.
            But the revelation about her mother got me to thinking. I remember her mother. She was a little old lady - well, not so little - and after Una and I had more or less gone our separate ways, I used to see her taking the sun on a bench on Ealing Green and sit down and pass the time of day with her. I would never have dreamed in a million years that she had once earned her living wobbling around on top of a unicycle. You never can tell.
            So now I have taken to looking at people I meet, and just wondering...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:41 AM

    This is such an endearing piece of writing