A RIVER AND A LIFE
I started writing this book shortly after my sixtieth birthday. I still had plans for the future - some, admittedly, dependent on winning the lottery - but sixty felt like a good age to look back over a life that had taken me twice around the world and allowed me to work in some forty-three different countries: a good age to recall some of the better things (and perhaps purge some of the less-pleasant things) which had happened to me over those six decades. At that time I was in the Charente region of France, house-sitting for a couple who were planning to retire there. The duties were not arduous - mowing the lawns, weeding the borders, flushing bi-actif into the septic tank, cleaning the swimming pool and dealing with the French contractors who - following some mysterious French contractor’s timetable - would occasionally and unexpectedly return to continue re-roofing the barn or landscaping the garden. Oh, yes, and feeding the cats. Zorro and Spot, two black and white kittens inherited from the previous owner of the house, and apparently convinced that I was simply there to do their bidding as and when required.
On one occasion, I was trapped in the house for several days by bad weather. Radio Four’s long wave shipping forecast had warned us of westerly gales in sea area Biscay so I was well-prepared, and the storms gave me an opportunity to complete the first draft of a script for a musical comedy. That done, and with the script already winging its way to London, the word processor was standing idle: I shut the kittens in the barn, opened a new file and typed BOOK at the top of the page.
Five years earlier I had put together some memories of my tours abroad with various dance and drama companies in a talk entitled ‘Around The World In Eighty Plays’. Several people were kind enough to say that the talk might provide the basis for a book: “Nous verrons” as the French say. “We’ll see”. Ten chapters were completed before the garden dried out. Some of that material, detailing a trip down the River Charente from the source to Cognac, found its way into a monthly magazine The Scots Thistle. Now, eighteen years later, I am back in France, taking another trip along the river, visiting old friends along the way, and giving a few talks to expat societies. Those ten chapter are in my briefcase.
Will they be completed? Revised? Abandoned? “Nous verrons”. We’ll see
That book was published as AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY PLAYS in December 2015 and sold out within a year. It is now republished in a revised, corrected and up-dated version under a new title
MEANDERINGS: A RIVER AND A LIFE
The Reviews below are of the original 2015 version of the book.
An intriguing insight into theatre life backstage, on the stage, front-of-house, and on the move world-wide. Brian has turned his hand to stage lighting, stage managing, directing, script-writing and to whatever else was needed in numerous and very varied productions. Brian’s theatre work took him - along with Shakespeare, Shaw and others - to Japan, India and Australia as well as continental Europe. A devotee of Shaw, he writes about his solo performances of GBS: Playing The Clown. Imagine giving a talk about Bernard Shaw on Rue Jean d’Arc in Orleans! With gossip from the ballet, opera and well-known actors, this book is an autobiographical charmer.
After completing National Service Brian obtained a job as Trainee Manager at the London Palladium, and went on to enjoy a career as technician, lighting designer, writer, director, producer - you name it, he did it. His book looks back on this long career with fond memories: he has certainly led a very full life, and displays his wealth of experience and knowledge to good effect.
Overall the book gives a good insight into the workings of the British theatre over the past fifty years or so, and what it was like to tour around the world. The personal memories and the informative and amusing anecdotes about many of the leading names in British theatre over this period are written up in an easy-going and entertaining style, and there are some laugh-out-loud moments. Anyone interested in the recent past of British theatre and its leading names will find this book well worth a read.
Brian is on the Kent History Federation’s speakers list. His book is full of good stories and wise observations, wittily delivered, and has whetted my appetite to hear one of his talks.
After a spell as Trainee Theatre Manager Brian worked at Butlins for what he calls ‘some on-the-job’ experience. Later, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and as Lighting Designer with the National Theatre and Scottish Opera, he worked alongside some of the country’s leading performers, designers and directors.
The memoir of a long life lived in and around the theatre is written in parallel with a description of a journey down the River Charente in France. The interweaving of the French trip with memories of other things and other parts of the world adds to the book’s charm.