Directors I have known, Brook and Barrault, Two very different men

During my years at the Roundhouse Theatre, we had the most amazing range of shows, from enormous film festivals, film crews shooting films, classical concerts, both ancient and contemporary, musicals, Shakespeare in a variety of styles, rock concerts, conferences, dance theatre and so on, the list is actually way too long to remember. Most shows were either one day events or only stayed with us for a month or so. Thus the change overs were long and frequent.

I have never worked so hard in my life as I did there.

Some of the events we had, do remain firmly in my memory, others have disappeared in the mists of time, which for some of them is a kindness to put it mildly as they were so unbelievably awful they deserve no better.

For the fun of it I shall describe some of those that did stick in my memory and the events surrounding them.

Some of these descriptions will be short, and only mention things that stood out about a particular production, others may well be rather longer if I can both remember anything much about them, and if they were so remarkable they are worth describing in some detail. So a series of random anecdotes really.

Obviously this will mean that I shall tell of my impressions of working with a number of amazingly talented, famous or totally untalented individuals who passed me in those years. Some of the least talented were also the most famous… Amazing what some people can manage with a loud voice and no talent.

Lets start with Peter Brook.

At that time he was probably the most successful and famous theatre director in the world, held in awe and almost godlike admiration by all actors and theatre folk for his brilliant directing mainly of Shakespeare. And there is no denying that he was a most amazing and wonderful director, and all his productions were a joy to experience. But unfortunately for me and my stage technicians, he was also a most unpleasant and arrogant man to have to deal with.

While I was at the Roundhouse he directed, either A Midsummer’s Dream, or the Tempest, I cant remember which it was, and his production entailed completely rebuilding the stage and seating in the theatre, which is a hell of a lot of work obviously. This we were used to, and had systems in place to make it as easy as possible, but it is a noisy and messy affair.

Generally productions were rehearsed elsewhere in rehearsal rooms somewhere, and the actors only came to rehears in the theatre for the last few days before their show opened, which gave us the time to crash around, hang lights, build seating rostra and stages and so on at our own pace.

For some reason however, Brooke felt it was necessary for him and his actors to do all their preparations in the theatre itself, not a happy mix.. Noisy technicians and actors trying to come to terms with his idiosyncratic vision of the play do not go well in the same space.

So whilst demanding we build a very complex auditorium and stage for his production, Brook also insisted on total silence as he and his actors played a range of theatrical games in a corner of the theatre.

His technique for getting silence was to sort of freeze whenever a particularly loud crash or stream of furious swearing from one or other technician occurred. Curious to see, he would sit there like a statue waiting for us to realise he was displeased and stop making any noises.

Unfortunately for him, my technicians had seen so many famous and admired people that they were totally unimpressed by him, and started to play a game with him… One of them would start hammering away at a bit of wood, which would cause him to freeze…. Silence would fall…. Then Brook would unfreeze and start working again.. whereupon one of the technicians would produce a loud noise… Brook would freeze again, and so it would go on, all day long.

During all of this I tried to stay out of sight, so I couldn’t be asked to make my guys work in total silence, as this would obviously been impossible and silly.

On the other hand, we also had a production called Rabelais, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault who was also a director of genius, a man with a long and highly regarded history in film and theatre. Unlike Brooke, this guy was a dream to work with, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, funny and civilised, and more importantly also worshiped by actors, particularly the cast of this show.

In spite of hardly speaking a word of English, and working here with an entirely English cast, he managed to communicate his ideas and needs with no real trouble, often resorting to mime to do this (for those of you who do not know of him, he was a famous mime among other things). I shall never forget him miming a war horse for one of the British actors who was having trouble miming that damned horse….. Barrault got up on the stage and damn me, but he became a horse… Superb guy.

He even managed to win over my technicians, which is no mean achievement, they fell for him totally, and would do anything he asked of them at once and to the best of their abilities.

Curiously he had a remarkable similarity to Kenneth Williams, which was a bit disconcerting at times.

The show itself was great fun to see, as it took place without seating over a long more or less cruciform set of stages, so the audience sort of followed the action from stage area to stage area. By the way, it was actually Rabalaise’s story of Gargantua, a very noisy, earthy and funny story, which an all English cast managed to pull off, in spite of the trouble English trained actors have with moving, being more word orientated in their training.

It is interesting to see how two more or less equally brilliant directors got the results they did by such totally different approaches to their cast and technicians. Give me Barrault’s approach any day over Brook’s arrogant approach.. The Barrault experience was a real pleasure for all involved, the Brook was only good for the audience, we hated him with a passion and thus got no enjoyment out of our work with him. And enjoying your work is important we all felt..

More to come as I think of it….

The Life Of A Professional Volunteer

Having settled in Australia as a thoroughly retired old man, I had to find something to do which would interest me and make a good change from the house building I was doing and would keep my brain alive.

So, I discovered the life of a volunteer………

Since about 2011 I have been a very active volunteer in a very wide range of enjoyable activities, ranging from doing all the computer work for a local farming group to working on a wide range of festivals in Brisbane, such as the French Festival, the Writers Festival, the World Science Fair and a number of that sort of event.

I have also worked (as a lavatory cleaner) on the Woodford Folk Festival, which was not as bad as it sounds.   We didn’t have to deal with blocked lavatories or similar horrible things, but simply make sure that the lavatories and showers were equipped with paper and so on, and clean.

Since this work entailed starting at about 5 am and finishing at about midnight, we in our team divided the days up between ourselves, which meant that we were able to attend any concerts, talks or demonstrations we particularly wanted to, which was pleasant and rewarding…  We were part of a team of people doing the same work all around the Festival and its huge camping grounds – up to 100 000 people attend this festival, and there are about 3000 volunteers who make it all happen.   Our group were officially called The Intergalactic S-bend Warriors, and we had T-shirts that proclaimed that name.

We have also worked on The Planting, which is a much smaller Festival in the same place, but more about planting trees, vegetables and similar, but it also has lots of talks, so there both Lotty and I were working as Stage Managers, in separate venues.

One of my favourite “jobs” was at the Brisbane Jazz Club, where I worked for about 4 years setting the club up for the night’s show, looking after the patrons and tidying up after the show was finished.    This one I worked on about 2 nights a week, and absolutely loved the huge range of jazz that came our way.. everything from Big Band Jazz, Gypsy Jazz, dixieland and every sort of jazz you could imagine, and all of a very high standard…  Good folk to work with too.

However, after those years, I became a bit tired of the work, so I stopped and started working at La Boite instead.   This is a moderately experimental theatre attached to the Technical University Of Queensland, where shows are put on at, curiously enough, a theatre called The Roundhouse, so I have sort of come full circle and am ending my life and starting my life working in a theatre called The Roundhouse.

Here we have all manner of shows, ranging from wildly experimental shows to relatively low key productions, as well as regular student performances..  All good fun though.

Pink Floyd – Quadraphonics.

Also while I was the Production Manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in London we had a press “showing” of the quadraphonic version of The Dark Side Of The Moon.   For some reason Wikipedia states that this happened at the Rainbow Theatre.   Not true.  I worked both at the Roundhouse and was very much […]

Also while I was the Production Manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in London we had a press “showing” of the quadraphonic version of The Dark Side Of The Moon.   For some reason Wikipedia states that this happened at the Rainbow Theatre.   Not true.  I worked both at the Roundhouse and was very much involved in the creation of The Rainbow as a Rock venue as well.  And whilst all manner of amazing concerts took place in the Rainbow, this one didn’t.

What happened is that the Pink Floyd decided to have a sort of private press show of the quadraphonic version of that amazing album, and they chose to do it in the Roundhouse because of the physical structure of the building.  As it was originally an engine roundhouse, it had a circular gallery running all the way around the central circle, so they could place speakers all around the full 360 degrees of the centre, and place the press corps in the middle, where they would get the full (literally surround sound) of the quadraphonics.


At that period of my life I worked on a number of Pink Floyd concerts, and one thing that really stood out with this band was the totally professional way they went about preparing and performing their concerts, and this presentation of The Dark Side of the Moon was no exception to this rule.

Most bands tended to turn up as near to performance time as possible, leaving the sound checks, instrument tuning and so on to their various roadies – for the great majority of rock bands it was really only a matter of Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, as the saying had it in those days – and being professional about how it all took place was not really a major issue for most bands.   But not with Pink Floyd. Continue reading “Pink Floyd – Quadraphonics.”

Roundhouse Time. – I discover the joys of the 130 hour working week

Working at the Roundhouse Theatre was both exciting and exhausting

About 1998, an old friend of mine, Robbie Simpson, asked me if I would care to be the next Production-manager at the Roundhouse Theatre where he was working at the time in some technical capacity or other. I thought this might be fun, so I applied for the job and to my considerable surprise got it, in spite of having really no real experience in that particular work. But then, the man who gave me that job – the Director of the Roundhouse Trust – had been in charge of the Egg Marketing Board before taking up his post at the Roundhouse….

Thus began what was probably the most amazing three years of my life.

Being Production Manager there meant being in charge of everything apart from Front of House and office type administration, so I was in charge of a staff of about 30 or so totally weird hippy-like stage hands, electricians, carpenters, cleaners and others, and was totally responsible to ensure that everything technical worked for incoming companies and the public.

It also meant working for anything up to 130 hours every few weeks as a new show came in (The Roundhouse was a sort of short run pre-west end theatre), as most shows came for about a month and then headed to the west end theatres if they were successful with us.

Being literally an old engine roundhouse – the first in the world built by Stevenson in 1836, it wasn’t actually a good structure for theatre, so we more or less completely rebuilt the auditorium and stage for each production…..

We had the most amazing variety of shows there, ranging from classical music concerts, musicals, film shows, huge rock shows every Sunday, drama and so on.. Anything you can think of could and probably did happen there at one time or another.

People who we worked with included, and this list is far from complete:-

Doctor John

Pink Floyd,


Stone Ground,

And outside the Roundhouse I had the pleasure of working with Frank Zappa as well… A man whose work I admired enormously…. And I am happy to say that he was every bit as pleasant and sharp in person as he seemed to be when one saw him being interviewed. An intriguing man and an incredible guitarist too.

Well to make the list shorter, we had almost every rock musician and band apart from The Beatles, the Doors, Hendrix and Joplin. For the rest more or less everyone who was busy with Rock in the years between 1969 and 1974 appeared there in one way or another…. One highlight was the first of the Stone’s Last concerts… That was circus to say the least, which I shall write about more fully later.


Pierre Boulez,

London Philharmonic Orchestra,

BBC Symphony Orchestra,

Le Grande Magique Circus,

Arian Menushkin’s Théâtre du Soleil,

Jean-Louis Barrault,


Peter Brooke,

Sir Lawrence Olivier,

Johnathan Miller

Jeremy Irons,

David Essex,

Bernard Breslaw (he was such a gentle person in spite of his impressive size)

Continue reading “Roundhouse Time. – I discover the joys of the 130 hour working week”

Wavy Gravy, Stoneground, Hog Farmers and dope galore

Stoneground – Amazing band who lived outside the Roundhouse

During my time at the Roundhouse in the early 1970’s, we held large rock concerts every Sunday, which over the years featured just about all the bands, musicians and others who were busy with Rock and Roll in that period.   Generally these guys turned up in time to perform their sets, and then went away again, and that was that.   However, one group actually moved in and set up home in the car park at the back of the Roundhouse and became our House Band for some months.

This was a large group of musicians and their hangers-on (wives, children and lovers) called Stoneground, who were part of what was known as the Hog Farmers.   This was a sort of ad hoc commune based in California on a real hog farm owned and run by a most unlikely clown called Wavy Gravy, who deserves an entire book all about who he was and what he did and still does.

In passing I should mention that it was Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farmers who set up and ran the Woodstock Festivals, so if you happen to see the film of the first Woodstock festival, you will have seen Wavy Gravy in action, as he introduced most of the groups there.

Anyhow, for some reason Warner Brothers had taken up Stoneground and decided in their wisdom to fly them all to London and then set up a tour around the UK and Europe.    They may have looked like Hippies, and lived together in a sort of commune, but most of them were rather older than the average Hippy, and not at all given to standing around with flowers in their hair damply saying “Peace..Peace and love”   They were much more likely to hit you over the head and stomp you, as many of them were Vietnam veterans and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress in a big way.

Stoneground en masse

Though in one way they were very much of the Hippy persuasion, and that was in their use of dope.   They chain smoked the stuff.

Continue reading “Wavy Gravy, Stoneground, Hog Farmers and dope galore”

A very unlikely Hells Angels Chapter

As I said ages ago, this blog consists of random memories as they occur to me, so here is another such relatively pointless memory from my Roundhouse days – All about the most unlikely chapter of Hells Angels you could possibly imagine.

As I said ages ago, this blog consists of random memories as they occur to me, so here is another such relatively pointless memory from my Roundhouse Production Manager days – All about the most unlikely chapter of Hell’s Angels you could possibly imagine.

There was a small group of rather weedy young men who hung around the Roundhouse in those days, trying to get work from us as security for our Rock concerts (which we never gave them by the way) who felt that they were the epitome of what the Hell’s Angels stood for.
They wished to set up a proper London Chapter of the Angels for themselves.   But as they possessed only a small moped and a Mini Moke ( a sort of jeep version of the famous Mini car) we all felt that this was an unlikely dream.
They used to film themselves on that moped pobling along the road with a small video camera on the back of the Moke and obviously were living in a total fantasy world.
However, one day they astounded us all by coming into the Roundhouse full of excitement, as apparently the head Chapter of the Angels were sending someone over from California to make them into members of the club.
This bloke duly turned up one day, with an enormous heavily chopped bike (it only had half a petrol tank, so he could see the engine as he rode along on it).  And he was enormous as well.  A most impressive and rather intimidating creature to say the least.
He on his huge bike, and they on their moped and the Moke rode all over the place together for a couple of weeks, filming themselves of course and then he returned to the States, but had to our amazement actually enrolled them into the Hells Angels….
After which they wore their Angels jackets with great pride.  I wonder what became of them when the more normal Angels London Chapter was started.

Pork And Oh Calcutta – Curious Events

Many years ago I was Production manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in North London, a theatre that was something of an icon back in those far off days. We staged all manner of shows there, film festivals, weekly pop concerts, avant guard classical music concerts – basically, you name it, we showed it. Among the […]

Many years ago I was Production manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in North London, a theatre that was something of an icon back in those far off days. We staged all manner of shows there, film festivals, weekly pop concerts, avant guard classical music concerts – basically, you name it, we showed it.

Among the many other shows that we had there were two very famous and to a greater or lesser degree, pornographic ones.

Specifically these were Oh Calcutta, which after Hair, was the first show in London to have on-stage nudity and a show by Andy Warhol called Pork – Such subtlety eh?

So. what were they like, these two splendid examples of the theatrical arts?

Oh Calcutta

Oh Calcutta was a very dreary show, more or less entirely at the mental level of a smutty 14 year old schoolboy’s sense of humour – not surprisingly, as it had been written mainly by a number of English theatrical luminaries who were products of the British Public School System – In Britain a Public School means a very exclusive, expensive and in those days, boys only school, which churned out generations of men who somehow never quite grew up.

And Oh Calcutta was a very good example of their juvenile sense of humour.

Basically Oh Calcutta consisted of a load of shortish sketches, all dealing with sex in one way or another – but all in a school boy, sniggering fashion, so a sort of variety show really, and as I mentioned above, was one of the first theatrical shows in London with nudity, and also people apparently having sex as well (however, there was a clause in the contracts of the male actors that should they get an erection on-stage, they would be fired!). There was also a short playlet by Joe Orton which was actually quite funny, but for the rest, it was smutty dross.

There were as far as I was concerned, only two good things about it.

The first of these was a ballet sequence in it performed by two naked dancers, a man and a woman, which was incredibly beautiful to watch, and the second was that everyone and his uncle wanted to see the show, so we who worked at the Roundhouse did a roaring trade in smuggling people into the theatre to see the show – We stuffed people into the lighting booth, all around the auditorium and absolutely anywhere we could think of that would allow them to see the stage… And charged much fine money for this obviously..

Shot of the ballet….

There was one somewhat funny, yet sad thing that occurred to me in this respect.  I was mooching around outside the theatre looking for anyone who might wish to pay me to get them into the show, when an Indian family (Mother, father and youngish teenage daughter) approached me, and asked if I could get them into the show.   So I made the deal and took them into the Roundhouse and parked them on some kitchen chairs on the balcony, and left them to enjoy the show.

Continue reading “Pork And Oh Calcutta – Curious Events”

More About My Life In Films

Here is a further instalment of the continuing saga of my relatively brief experience working in the film industry, carrying on from my gazing in wonder at Jeanne Moreau’s feet elegantly clad in battered old gymn shoes as she busily worked away at seducing one of her guards officers in the filming of Catherine the Great. (follow this link to discover what that was all about).

I finished that post by mentioning the fact that I was also on the sound stage of the filming of Half a Sixpence, starring Tommy Steele (now there is a name to conjure with!!   Remember him?), and much as with the Catherine film, I spent my days being “on call”, which meant effectively doing nothing all day long….    The only thing worth mentioning about the set of Half A Sixpence was that they had constructed a vast old fashioned Sea-side pier, with a full size, fully functioning roundabout on the end of it, and surrounded all of this with a sort of fabric back drop that went around the end of the pier, was about 40 feet high and consisted of a gigantic colour photo of the sea and clouds…  All of this having been built in order for them to be able to film a dance number lasting all of three minutes on the pier…


Exciting stuff I think you will agree..

Money no object

On the topic of expense, I was continually boggled out by the way that money was thrown around in film making.  As an example of this, while I was there they were making some film or other about spies, and in it a Rolls Royce has to be blown up (no idea why, or even what the film was called).   So rather than doing what you or I would probably do, which is to go out and buy an old non-working Rolls Royce, they instead bought 4 brand new, never driven Rolls Royces, and then one by one, using different camera angles, blew them up on the back lot of the studio…

Continue reading “More About My Life In Films”

John Cage – HPSCHD – Roundhouse Theatre

While I was Production Manager at the Roundhouse in the last few years of the 60’s and the first few years of the 70’s, we had an amazing range of events of one sort or another, many of which made one hell of an impression on me.   One of these was a most extraordinary concert of a piece by John Cage, called HPSCHD (Pronounced “Harpsichord”).

Here is a description from Wikipedia of what it was supposed to be:-

HPSCHD is composed of 7 solo pieces for harpsichord and 51 computer-generated tapes. The harpsichord solos were created from randomly processed pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Gottschalk, Busoni, Schoenberg, Cage and Hiller, rewritten using a FORTRAN computer program designed by Ed Kobrin based on the I Ching hexagrams. Cage had initially turned down the commission (stating that he hated harpsichords because they reminded him of sewing machines) but Hiller’s proposal reignited his interest in the piece, which provided an interesting challenge for both Cage’s chance experiments and Hiller’s use of computer algorithms in musical composition.

Twenty-minute solos for one to seven amplified harpsichords and tapes for one to fifty-two amplified monaural machines to be used in whole or in part in any combination with or without interruptions, etc., to make an indeterminate concert of any agreed-upon length having two to fifty-nine channels with loud-speakers around the audience. […] In addition to playing his own solo, each harpsichordist is free to play any of the others.

Following the debut at Urbana, Cage acknowledged the chaotic nature of the piece and the performance, explaining: “When I produce a happening, I try my best to remove intention in order that what is done will not oblige the listener in any one way. I don’t think we’re really interested in the validity of compositions any more. We’re interested in the experiences of things.”

So now you know.

The version above is not really much like what I saw and heard in the probably better environment for such a “concert” of the Roundhouse, where there was ample room for the various stages and the public to wander from player to player at will.


But it gives at least a bit of an idea of what we experienced, even though ours went on for about 3 hours, rather than the 30 odd minutes of the one above.

Continue reading “John Cage – HPSCHD – Roundhouse Theatre”