WHEN we think of the kind of people who do most to influence ynu and me. we probably think of Bishops and Prime Ministers and noted journalists and professors. Once it may have been so; but today the radio and cinema have done a lot to change all that. Consciously or subconsciously most of us are influenced by the popular personalities of the entertainment and sporting world.
Among these I wonder if there is any single figure who has more influence in this country today than Wilfred Pickles. In a way, 1 hope not, because I am quite certain that there is no better effective influence than this ebullient. humble, unassuming philosopher of the plain man with his genius for comradeship and friendliness.
How much happiness he has given, and how brilliantly he evokes that good side, which after all, is in all of us, and often nearer the surface than one would ever imagine until a Wilfred Pickles breaks the thin but not unresistant layer of ice which
normally encloses the Englishman in public.
Sometime Never (Werner Laurie, 10s, 6d.) is ostensibly the story of a brief holiday which Wilfred and his wife Mabel managed to take in this spring. But that is only the excuse. the scaffolding.
The book is just Pickles speaking, philosophising, telling one good homely yarn after another, and somehow all the time conveying that our English world is a good and decent and cheerful world at heart, whatever the great men may say.
One revelation the book makes is that Wilfred does not seem to mind risking offending people. No doubt he is more cagey on the air. But no truly honest man will fear to tell the truth as he secs it. and perhaps one of the secrets of his great success is his honesty, tactfully revealed in public, rather less tactfully. it seems. On paper.
I am sorry, however, that he did not take the chance as he only could have done of inserting a certain, shall I say, spiritual flavour into the philosophy he pours out. It's there underneath, hut I think people like rather more than we Imagine to have these things clearly labelled from time to time.
Our world. with all its good heart. needs it, and I am sure Wilfred Pickles knows it.
"Now' all do it without Vic toria!" The speaker was an "exasperated nun" at Hendon convent who was taking a singing class in two-part songs and obviously the altos were floundering raggedly after the most musical girl in thc class.
She was Victoria Sladen who now is one of Britain's foremost Operatic sopranos. Already the girl had a voice and musicianship. By what long and arduous route she finally arrived at the mecca of all singers-Covent Garden -is now told in a refreshing, frank and practical hook by Miss Sladen-Singing My Way (Rockliff, 16s.),
With no musical heritage to help her and with a practical mother who advised her ambitious daughter to qualify first as a shorthand typist in case her voice failed -this fair; slight girl was to become part of contemporary musical Britain. Her first big success was Madam Butterfly. Her favourite role is Tosca. And she is eagerly sought after by musical societies up and down the country at a soloist in oratorio.
The great lesson Miss Sladen teaches here and the advice she gives to beginners is: go to the best professors and when you've learned what they have to teachtake any work to get experience. After spending the usual 175 or so giving a recital at the Wigmore, she did concert party work, pantomime and music hail and when eventually her " break " in opera came she found her stage technique stood her in good stead. Victoria Sladen remains a student
as do all serious musicians. When she is given a role to study she goes to the museums, to history books, to anything that will help her understand the part and give an intelligent rendering of it.
A prima donna, she succinctly observes, should he the servant of her art. Too much nonsense, she says, is talked about her being the " slave of her public." Miss Sladen broadcasts frequently and recently was heard in Puccini's 11 Taharro.
THE first picture in Edwardian THE by A. E. Wilson (Arthur Barker. 21s.) shows Sir Henry Irving wearing what appears to he an ecclesiastical nightgown of the Lutheran school and a dustman's cap sported back to front.
The Knight of the heaving boards at Drury Lane appears to be pointing at a rat-hole in the corner of the stage and admonishing a junior foreman secreted somewhere in the wings, The caption informs us, too late, that Sir Henry here plays Dante.
Part of the charm of Mr. Wilson's book is due to the excellent period photographs that illustrate it. Dan Limo. in outsized Life Guards uniform, looks quizicallv at Herbert Campbell, a sergeant-major attired in knickerbockers and Tyrolean hat. Carrie Moore takes the traditional pose of the Principal Boy in powdered periwig and silks. There are many pictures; all are charming.
Mr. Wilson, who as a boy and young man was an Edwardian theatre-goer, serving the apprenticeship that made him into one of our wisest, shrewdest and most kindly critics, provides abundant and interesting background materialfor the student of British drama. 'For the so-called common reader, he has written a book that makes most contemporary novels seem dull.