Page 1, 22nd August 1941

22nd August 1941
Page 1
Page 1, 22nd August 1941 — Troops Variety Shows Need Spring-Cleaning

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Organisations: Catholic Air Force
People: John Hilton
Locations: Coventry


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Troops Variety Shows Need Spring-Cleaning

E.N.S.A, variety shows of a suggestive type and "riddled with blue jokes," are common in the Services, but among the R.A.F., at least, are a failure.

A Catholic Air Force man questioned'the men at his camp, and found that nine out of ten prefer to see a play, comedy or drama.

" The producers are evidently unaware that airmen in uniform arc not entirely Without taste in the matter of entertainment," he says. " The dirty jokes often fail to arouse even a faint smirk among the boys. The dirt in these shows is not subtly concealed as in the average West End variety. Here it is thrown at you bodily, in lumps. The result is a feeling of irritation and boredom ; a sensation of being treated rather like animals."

WIDESPREAD CRITICISM Two years of war and a ceaseless campaign to induce producers of variety shows to the Services to turn clean have achieved little. Criticism has been strong among social workers, religious leaders, among the men themselves, especially in the R.A.F. Radio commentator John Hilton in his Talks to the Troops admits he " squirms in his seat " when present at men and women Services entertainments, at which " a particular artist of obvious talent makes an appearance. Far better, any day, the deep, hearty stomach-laugh, than the half-ashamed giggle " he says.

A Canadian Chaplain in a recent interview with a CATHOLIC HERALD reporter frankly stated such entertainment is not wanted by his boys. Yet the nuisance persists, and is financed by the British taxpayer's money.

Asked by our reporter to describe entertainment conditions in his camp, the airman quoted above said : " At most large R.A.F. stations or training camps there is an E.N.S.A. show every week. The shows are free, but

in «some cases 3d. or bd. is charged. As seating capacity of the halls where the shows are stated is small and generally about 10 per cent. of the total personnel of the camp, the show is repeated on the following day, SO roughly 20 per cent. of the camp see it.

" The show falls into three main groups:— OS Variety shows written and produced by E.N.S.A. artists and with an E.N.S.A. cast; (2). Musical shows usually featuring some well-known dance band or gipsy 'band; s(3). Plays, invariably comedies, acted and produced by well-known repertory companies, such as Coventry, Colchester, the Intimate Theatre of Palmers Green, and presented under the auspices of E.N.S.A."

The trouble is that the unsanted type of variety show is what seems to predominate, and in fifteen visits the airman saw ten. The well-known plan is adhered to of four chorus girls, one comedian, one pianist, a tap-dancing team, and a crooner or two. Sometimes there is a guest artist as well, soprano. trumpeter. drummer or xylophonist.

But the airman admitted to our reporter that there are " usually one or two turns in each variety show tending to lift the standard of entertainment above plain mediocre, but the general impression is one of misplaced energy and wasted talent. Airmen," he added, " usually go only when there is nothing else to do, and there is always a large proportion of new arrivals in the audience who naturally go and hope for the best."

The airman sounded Iris compactions' in the camp. Here are some of their reactions to the E.N.S.A. variety shows: " A superabundance of ' blue jokes ' do not constitute, entertainment " ; " R.A.N. audiences are nu less discriminating than any average audience "; " When the mind is tired the standard of entertainment should he raised, not lowered "; " Bad entertainment merely dulls the mind and sends it to sleep"; " Variety shows must undergo a spring-cleaning and must be varied front , week to week. or thou mast go "; " R.A.F. audiences will not be written down to ":

Entertainment organisers are consistently showing lack of foresight."

HIGH LEVEL OF PLAYS As a contrast to the disgust felt in the R.A.F. towards the E.N.S.A. variety shows, it is refreshing to listen to what the airman had to tell our reporter ,on the reception given by the men to plays—which are few and far between.

" The level of acting and production is usually very high in the plays that arc staged for us," he said enthusiastically, " and it is up to the standard we have come to expect from our repertory companies. The plays are eagerly followed and discussed after the show. There is no writing down to the supposed level of the audience's minds here. All the plays have at some lime or other had to satisfy a critical West End theatre audience. The players are enthusiastic and young, and throw themselves eagerly into the task of acting, as only those who are learning their craft can."

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