No S*x, Please – We’re British Programme

Originally starring Michael Crawford in the hugely successful play No Sex Please - We're British, audiences in Singapore are set for a comedy treat this May. Play's director Alister Cameron shares his experience on the sets.

By Alister Cameron, Director of "No Sex Please, We're British"

 
It has been such a delight to revisit this play after so many years and it has brought the memories flooding back. It was 1971 when I was asked to stage manage a new play called No Sex, Please - We're British. I was an actor and not really a Stage Manager but I was a bit short of money so I accepted the job thinking it would probably just be a short little run. Oh, how wrong I was!
 
Rehearsals started in London with Michael Crawford and Evelyn Laye heading the cast; Michael was a young actor who had just made a hit playing the gawky Cornelius in the hugely successful film of Hello Dolly. Evelyn Laye, known as Boo to her friends, was the greatly admired and greatly loved doyenne of British show business. She'd had a sparkling film career – the breathtakingly beautiful Evelyn starred in numerous film musicals opposite glamorous leading men such as Noel Coward and Jack Buchanan. Also in the cast was Linda Thorson, fresh from the hugely popular TV spy series The Avengers, and Anthony Valentine who was enjoying a successful film career and was to go on to play the enigmatic Raffles on television. Of course it was very exciting for me as a young actor - I was 23 - to be working with such a distinguished cast.
 
We rehearsed for four weeks in London before taking the play on a short tour round the provinces prior to our London opening. After our first night in Edinburgh, Michael Crawford came to me and said that he thought we should look to see how we could improve things a little. He asked me to mark in the script where the laughs came and to mark them from 1-5 - with 1 being a little titter and 5 a big belly laugh. Every day on that tour we went into the theatre and tried out various ideas to try and turn a 1 into a 5. It was exhilarating working with Michael and other members of the company and watching the play improve performance by performance. At the end of each day the director, Alan Davis, and the writers and Producer, would come and see what we had devised. They were always very encouraging and open to our suggestions and by the time we reached The Strand Theatre (now renamed The Ivor Novello) we had a very funny play on our hands.
 
In those days the reviews for first nights came out in the national press the following day, so we all retired to The Waldorf, a grand hotel next to the theatre, and partied through the night. Denis Ramsden, who played Mr Needham, sat at a beautiful white grand piano and played an astonishing and impressive selection of bawdy songs. When eventually the papers arrived we all avidly read what the critics had to say. It wasn't good news! The critics were less than kind to us. Farce, at that time, was considered a rather low art form and, although many of the critics grudgingly accepted that the audience had had a wonderful evening, they were rather snooty about the play. We were all rather glum and convinced that we would only last a few weeks. To add to our woes, Alistair Foot, one of the writers, had collapsed during the technical rehearsal and was rushed to hospital where he later died.
 
But then came Sunday and everything changed! Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times gave us a rave review. He absolutely adored the play and he lauded Michael Crawford as a comic genius. Amazingly and unprecedentedly, he not only raved about us in our opening week but for the next two weeks to come. Word got out and before long we had queues round the theatre and the ‘house full’ notices were out every night. We were a hit! As the play continued, my ‘short little run’ turned into something of a marathon. But I was to be rewarded. As the play progressed there was a cast change and the producer, John Gale, offered me the part of Peter Hunter. It was a dream come true. I was to play a leading role in the West End. But who was to have the almost impossible task of taking over from Michael Crawford and playing the hapless Brian Runnicles? It was a little known comedy actor called David Jason!
 
I had a wonderful time playing the part of Peter and of course it was thrilling to see my name in lights outside a London theatre. I made good friends, many of whom I am still in touch with after all these years. Directing the play now has been the most wonderful fun and rather like visiting an old friend whom I haven’t seen for years.
 
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