Peacock parade

As I mentioned yesterday I was quite prepared to be a peacock preening my gaudy feathers for all to see.

Mayhap it has always been a part of me, that desire to change my outward appearance, possibly because I loved the attention but also because I enjoyed being someone else for a while.

The Little Theatre gave me one outlet. Many of the parts I played were either from another era – Macbeth; The Deserted House; The Rocking Horse Winner; Night Must Fall – or else another world – Alice in Wonderland; The Princess and the Swineherd; or the play wherein we were marionettes come to life; all of which required dressing up in some fashion.

Playing the elderly bookies’ runner in the Rocking Horse Winner

I know my father enjoyed such changes of character as he had done am dram in Much Wenlock in the late 40s and had played a Fu Manchu style character in one production.

This desire to get dressed up was released for him in later years by the annual fancy dress party at Rhyl Yacht Club.

With only a once-a-year chance to let his imagination go wild he didn’t stop at some home-made costume just to give a nod at the subject – he let rip.

I remember one year the theme was pirates. Angela loaned me a pair of pirate-style trousers in black and gold stripes (probably from a production of Robinson Crusoe) and a black buttonless waistcoat with gold trim (which I am sure I later wore as the marionette gypsy) to help me out. A bandana round my head and a sash to stick my wooden cutlass in completed the outfit.

Not so simple when it came to my father. A pair of old white trousers raggedly cut short half-way between knee and ankle; an old shirt with a maroon waistcoat over it, unbuttoned of course; and a scarf tied around his head with the fringed edges at one side running down to his shoulder, provided the costume, but he was not any old pirate – HE was a mulatto pirate (notreally PC these days) with the appropriate greasepaint to provide the colouring and a single large gold hoop earring.

Mum said she was cleaning the greasepaint off his pillow case for weeks.

Another time he chose to dress as an absent-minded professor. A smart suit and tie plus briefcase gave the professorial image but the absent-mindedness was indicated by cobwebs hanging off his hat and his shoulders, and he wore a pyjama jacket in place of his shirt.

Unfortunately another club member, Phil Davis, outdid him with the same theme except his absent-mindedness was portrayed by a lack of trousers.

My early fancy dress was much more simplified. At six or seven I eschewed the cowboy outfits to dress as an Indian chief. My costume was trousers with fringed seams, a tabard top with painted “Indian symbols” and a chieftain’s feathered head-dress with feathers trailing down my back. I think my grandfather bought the outfit for me.

Later the theatre satisfied my needs for dressing up until the time I decided to try and outdo my father for an OTT outfit at the annual RYC fancy dress party.

My first effort was Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. My model for this was the Charles Laughton version of the 1930s.

I had made a long sleeveless surcoat out of an old flannel sheet. I buried it in the garden for two weeks and then gave it a light rinse and squeezed it dry so that it had that dirty, mottled grey appearance. An old grey shirt and brown trousers, cut ragged as my father’s pirate outfit had been, provided the clothing. An old Mae West lifejacket strapped to my back, under the shirt, provided the hump.

Then I needed to do the makeup which in my version included the dropping of one bloodshot eye lower down the cheek.

Nose putty and a white marble with a red streak in it achieved the right effect and appropriate greasepaint made my skin more sallow. Acting had taught me how to adjust my mouth to give that drooling look.

It must have been 1967 or 68 because Roger had one of his “old bangers” by this time and drove us down to the club – I would have scared any passersby if I had tried making my way through the backstreets and alleys of Rhyl.

At the club we made sure we arrived after most people had arrived. The reaction to my entrance, shambling along with one arm hanging down and mumbling “The bells – the bells” as I made my entrance was as satisfying as a standing ovation at the theatre.

The following year I chose The Mummy a la Boris Karloff as my theme and the bandages were suitably greyed in the same way as Quasimodo’s jerkin.

After that I thought I had reached the peak at fancy dress parties and put my “Hammer Horror” efforts behind me.

It was fun while it lasted.

I did make an effort many years later when I dressed as Che Guevara, complete with beret, beard and a fine Cuban cigar.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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