By Claire Buckle
As I’m sure you are aware, the Coronation of King Charles takes place on the sixth of May. Whether you’re a fan of the Royals or would rather live in a Republic, I hope you’ll enjoy this extract from Lucy Kaufman and Jas Knight’s amusing, and at times irreverent, play, which takes place during the late Queen’s Coronation.
Lucy explains: “We collaborated on this short comic play back in 2013, when we were asked to write some plays to be performed in honour of the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, which opened in 1953, the same year as its namesake Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation. Happy & Glorious was inspired by the well-known fact that the Coronation spurred many people in Britain to buy their first television set, which they then proceeded to crowd around, with friends, family and neighbours, in order to witness history in the making. But early TVs were fuzzy, black and white, notoriously unreliable and their screens tiny in comparison to today. In this extract, Bet’s hopes of spotting her husband Jimmy on television, playing his minor role in the Coronation, are dashed when a row with the neighbours means she’s not going to get to see it on their television after all. But then her Uncle Frank comes up trumps.”
Extract from Happy & Glorious by Jas Knight and Lucy Kaufman
FRANK What you need, Bet, is a television. Now where could we find a television? Who do you know who might be able to find you a telly set in time to watch the coronation which starts in a few minutes? It’s impossible right? He’d have to be a miracle worker, wouldn’t he? You could say he was a right British hero…
MUM Frank. You haven’t…
FRANK I have. A brand spanking new television. Enormous it is. I couldn’t lift it. Ethel’s unloading it as we speak. And the screen is so big, the picture so clear, it feels like you’re there. So, Bet, you will get to see your Jimmy after all.
BET Uncle Frank, I don’t know what to say –
FRANK You don’t need to say anything. That smile says it all.
MUM Where’d it come from?
MUM I only asked.
FRANK Quite right Carrie, it’s an expensive piece of equipment, you want to know where it’s from. (To doorway) Ethel! In ‘ere.
As FRANK tells the following story, ETHEL ENTERS, in overalls, struggling under the weight of huge mahogony cabinet of a TV. On top of the TV is a Bowker hat. The screen is hidden from view against ETHEL’s stomach. As ETHEL proceeds to set it up, the screen still hidden from view, she has to get into very odd positions trying to angle the aerial until she gets a picture.
FRANK: (To MUM and BET) These things don’t just fall out of the sky – although funnily enough – this one sort of did. You know that me and Ethel had some removal work at the Drill pub today. We’d finished up and were just about to head off home when a horse and cart comes careering round the roundabout with a full load of crates and no one driving it. Now you know me Carrie, I’m good with animals
MUM He is.
FRANK Like your Jimmy is, Bet. I’ve got a way with the gee-gees.
MUM He’s got away with a lot of things in his time.
FRANK I jumped down from the van and raced across to catch up with the cart before it killed someone. I ran alongside it for a few yards, grabbed the bridle, vaulted up on the horse’s back, took hold of the reins and managed to stop it in the nick of time. We came to a halt just yards, feet, inches, from a flaxen-haired nipper who was spinning a top right in the middle of the road. Beautiful child she was, big blue eyes, curly hair, looked a lot like a young Shirley Temple. The mother rushed out from the shop where she’d been buying ribbons for the bonny girl’s hair. She saw what had happened, she clasped me to her bosom and cried “My child, you have saved my precious child, God bless you sir”, then she fainted dead away. With that the girl’s father appeared, he’d seen it all. He was wearing a gold chain of office round his neck and a swanky suit so he must’ve been someone important. He couldn’t thank me enough. I was a hero, he said, well I’m used to that of course. How could he reward me? I said I didn’t want no reward of course. Well while we were talking the little one had gone round to the back of the cart and was trying to climb up, she was a little monkey, into everything. No one else noticed but I suppose I must have some sort of sixth sense, I dashed to the back of the cart, one of the crates was just about to topple. It would have killed the little girl stone dead. How I did it I don’t know – what with my war wound and all – but I got to the back of the cart in a flash and snatched the girl away in the last second. The crate fell to onto the roadside with an almighty bang. Anyway, to cut a long story short they insisted that I have what was in the crate to wit one brand spanking new television, not damaged at all from falling off the back of a cart – it was well packed you see. Wouldn’t take no money for it – wanted to give me money for taking it away but I wouldn’t accept it, not a brass farthing. This television is reward enough I said. This is going to make my favourite niece very, very happy
BET Oh Uncle Frank, I can’t believe it!
MUM Neither can I.
FRANK (To ETHEL) It’s true, ain’t it, princess.
ETHEL nods, still occupied with the setting up of the TV.
BET It’s enormous. Turn it round Ethel, let’s see the screen!
ETHEL turns the cabinet round to show MUM and BET. The AUDIENCE gets to see the screen is tiny – credit card sized.
MUM Blimey. I thought the smallest they do is 9 inches.
FRANK It is. That’s what makes this one extra special. You could say it’s a one-off.
MUM: A rip-off, more like.
BET It’s not quite as big as next door’s but it’s lovely though, Uncle Frank. Just the job.
ETHEL wipes her hands down her overalls. She looks down at the two dirt stripes she’s left down them, with remorse. She dithers, then indicates the TV is set up and ready.
FRANK Look at that, see? Is there anything my Princess can’t do? We’re ready. Let the show begin!
ETHEL ceremoniously turns the TV on.
There is a knock at the door.
FRANK (To ETHEL) Answer that, sweetheart. Bet doesn’t want to miss anything
ETHEL EXITS to answer the door and ENTERS with MARGARET and TED, who bring a platter of sandwiches and champagne.
BET Oh, it’s you.
TED Yes, it is. We couldn’t help noticing the television. We…er…saw the delivery men (looks at FRANK and ETHEL in a confused way) bringing it in. The thing is, I may have been a little hasty, got a bit carried away, didn’t understand the full picture. Hope you can forgive us. (He holds out the platter of sandwiches and wine).
BET But you’ve got your own telly. You don’t need to slum it with us, in front of ours. Your screen’s bigger than this one, n all.
MUM Bigger than this! Imagine!
BET Oh, I get it. Your television’s on the blink.
TED We had to er…turn it off. Temporarily. There was smoke coming out of the back.
FRANK Very dangerous things, televisions. Woman next door but one went up in flames. Very sad. You have to know what you’re doing when you tinker with technology.
EDWARD Are you an engineer?
FRANK In a manner of speaking.
BET I see how it is. You come round here, after you’ve insulted us, calling us allsorts, and think you can cadge off us for our telly! Well, you can’t. It’s not right. It ain’t decent.
MUM Ere, what’s in those sarnies?
MUM Actual salmon? Not eel with cochineal chucked in to pink em up?
MAR Yesterday he was swimming upstream
MUM Go on, Bet, let em in. I should let bygones be bygones.
BET Alright. Seeing how we’ve always been friends. We shouldn’t let a little thing like my mum come between us.
MUM (Taking a sandwich and having a bite, eating with mouth full) That’s the way, Bet. That’s the way. See how I’ve brought my daughter up proper?
BET (Remembering the TV) The procession! We’re missing it! She’s only gone and left the Palace already.
EVERYONE sits, crowding around the new television set, straining to see the tiny screen.
MAR Take your hat off, Edward. You’re in the presence of royalty.
TED dutifully removes his hat.
BET And my Jimmy. Don’t forget him. Look out for him everyone, and if you see him, wave!
MUM You daft mare. Jimmy can’t see you.
BET He might. If he’s looking in this direction. Wasn’t that little Charles? (Waving) Cooee! Charles!
TED (Straining to see) Which dot was he?
MAR The one with the ears.
MUM Frank, I must say, you coulda got us a television set with bigger dots.
FRANK Next time I save a nipper from being decapitated, Carrie, I’ll bear it in mind.
TED Wait, they’re going in for a close-up.
They all pull faces of horror and disgust at the exact same moment, make noises like they’re sucking teeth.
MUM I’ve seen prettier faces on drowned kittens.
BET Shh. If his mother hears you, she’ll have you locked up
MUM Hear me? All the way from Westminster?
BET Is that why they called him Charles? After them (indicating big floppy ears) King Charles Spaniels?
MAR Would you believe it. The magic of television. To think, you can now see what they’re doing on the other side of the world, at the exact same moment they’re doing it.
TED Isn’t technology marvellous.
MUM (Sarcastic) Blooming marvellous! I’ll tell you what they’re doing on the other side of the world. Sweet Fanny Adams. It’s the middle of the bleeding night.
TED No, they’ll all be watching this. This is an historic moment.
MUM Yeah, I know it is. But I’ve lived through enough historic moments to know, they don’t change a bloody thing.
MAR There she is!
BET Ooh, it’s a beautiful dress.
MUM Course it is. It’s come outa my beautiful taxes n all.
FRANK You don’t pay taxes.
MUM No, but if I did, it would have, so the principle’s the same.
BET Why couldn’t I have been born a Princess? Mum, why did you have to go and marry Dad, instead of King George VI?
MUM Well I would’ve if the bloke could string two words. In the time it’d take him to say “Oh Caroline be mine, do, do me the honour of becoming my wife” I’d have met and married your dad and got me first bun in the oven.
MAR What’s that around her neck?
MUM I don’t know. I didn’t bring me telescope.
BET A magnifying glass. Mum, you must have your magnifying glass. You’ve always got it on you.
MUM rummages in her handbag. Produces a magnifying glass. BET uses it to see better.
TED (In awe) Well look at that! The steps of the Abbey…
MUM I wouldn’t want to have been the one up at five this morning scrubbing those. Talk about housewife’s knee. You’d get through fifty knees scrubbing that lot.
MAR It’s worth it though, isn’t it. When the eyes of the world are upon us. Look at the Abbey. It’s gleaming like a shrine.
BET Bless her, look. She looks so serene.
MUM I’d look serene if I hadn’t had seven boys in six years and a daughter who practically tore me in two getting out.
MAR Elizabeth’s has children too.
MUM Yeah, in Buckingham bleedin’ Palace. In a gold bed with maids and doctors waiting on hand and foot. She shoulda tried the kitchen floor in Bethnal, biting down on a rag the rag ‘n’ bone man would shake his head at.
MAR Is that the Archbishop of Canterbury?
BET He looks a nice old soul. He’s got one of them hats on.
TED A mitre.
BET That’s what I said. He moves and everything. Like a real person.
MUM He is a real person.
MAR Listen? Did you hear that? ‘Jewelled sword’. He’s got a lovely voice.
MUM That’s because he’s heducated. I’d have a voice like that if they were the only voices I’d bleedin’ heard all me life.
BET My Jimmy’s got a lovely voice. He’d make a good archbishop.
FRANK Gordon Bennet! Give the bloke a break. He can’t be both the Queen’s stable boy and the ruddy Archbishop of Canterbury, now, can he?
BET That’s true, Uncle Frank. And anyway, he is there, my Jimmy is. If only the camera would go back outside and show the procession, we’d catch a glimpse of him. Why don’t they show more of the horses?
FRANK They will. It’s the afterwards that will be Jimmy’s moment. You mark my words! That’s when they’ll put the cameras on him. At the very end.
(c) Jas Knight and Lucy Kaufman, 2013
Having read the piece, it struck me that, despite the huge screens dominating many a living rooms, lots of people still spend much of their time (especially on trains) viewing on their phones’ tiny screens!
Thank you for being with me on the Showcase journey this month. All that remains is for me to say Goodbye and Happy Writing!
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