My first job in the theatre – Fly Man extraordinary

Many, many years ago, back in the mid ’60’s of the last century, the very first job I had in the theatre was as a fly man in a theatre in Streatham, a sort of suburb of South London, and in those far off days, an extremely working class area.  I have no recollection of the name of that theatre, but given that it was an old Victorian theatre, it was probably called something like The Streatham Palace, or the Imperial or some such over-blown name.

Anyhow, at the time I was an art student at the Croydon Art School, and needed some extra cash to live according to the level I felt I was entitled, so I duly managed to get that evening job in this theatre.

For those of you who haven’t a clue what a “fly man” does, well it is simple enough, we worked way above the stage in a system of walkways where we controlled all the bits of scenery and such like that needed to be raised and lowered during a show.   There was an impressive collection of ropes, pulleys and heavy steel counterweights, all of which we controlled by means of a number of brake levers and by simply heaving on the ropes at the correct moment, and lo and behold, a back drop would slowly descend onto the stage.. Or whatever the play called for.

Even given my lousy head for heights it was pleasant enough work, running around up there in the almost Stygian darkness doing our work merrily enough.  The only bit I wasn’t too happy about was the vertical ladder that I had to climb in order to get up there.. It was a hell of a long ladder, as the fly gallery was about 2 1/2 times higher than the opening of the stage for obvious reasons..

Curiously a fireman I happened to know had taught me how one went up a vertical ladder, so I at least had the right technique to help my vertigo.

I have almost no recall of the shows that took place there in my time, with the exception of a performance by the students at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) one of the main actor’s training colleges in London.

This was a performance of A Midsummer’s Dream, which among the other actors had a very young Ian McShane in one of the main roles.  In those days he was an insufferably arrogant young man – I am sure that with age has come a better grasp of how to behave, or at least I hope so for his sake.

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