Good evening. This is the BBC Light Programme broadcasting from London. It’s 6.45 and time for the next thrilling episode of ‘Dick Barton and the Slaves of The Sultan’!”
When Dick Barton, Boy’s Own adventurer, all-English hero and teatime wireless star, is called upon by MI5 to track down a wealthy socialite missing off the Horn of Africa, little does he know the can of worms he’s about to open. Before you can say ‘I say, that’s not cricket!’ our hero is mixed up in a fiendish foreign plot to seize control of our upright and principled British armaments industry. Good heavens!
With his loyal working class sidekicks, Jock and Snowy, by his side, Barton sallies forth encountering a nefarious criminal syndicate called the X Faction; an hypnotic femme fatale; and a run-in with that other national treasure, Squadron Leader James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth of the Special Air Police.
Will Barton, side-parting and moral certainty intact, win the day through British pluck and determination? Will gorgeous heiress, Felicity Buff-Orpington, escape the steamy seraglio of Zanzibar; and if she does, will the pure un-distilled manliness of the Barton ideal wilt in the face of her manifold charms? Or will assorted foreign Johnnies and homegrown villains consign Barton to an improbable cliffhanger ending from which there can be no possible escape?!
There’s only one way to find out, tune in to the next exciting instalment of: ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent…’
Barton and Biggles show Coulsdon their stiff upper lips
July 29 2017 by Inside Croydon
BELLA BARTOCK, our arts correspondent, has been let loose on the local AmDram scene for a second time in a week, and this time was blown away a little too literally
Dick Barton? Remember him?
Well, I do from the days of the BBC Light Service, when “the wireless” meant the radio, and had nothing to do with Wifi or such like. But even for me it is an especially dim and distant memory, and admitting as much might reveal my age, so I approached this latest production from the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, their annual outdoor jaunt at the Coulsdon Manor hotel, with some trepidation. Given the conditions on Friday night, I might have been better equipped with a thick rug, an umbrella and a hip flask.
Dick Barton and The Slaves of the Sultan – sub-titled “Girls! Guns! Spam!” – was a jolly enough jape, well-produced, with good lighting and costumes, and all performed in a force 9 gale.
With intent to be nostalgic about post-war Britain, celebrating stiff upper lips, pluck and determination, so the choice is an interesting statement on what is thought to appeal to a blue-rinse Coulsdon audience in 2017.
Certainly, Friday night’s performance was a testament to the gutsy will-power of the mature audience to stick with it, under their coats, hats, mufflers and blankets, and of the company to make sure that the show must go on regardless. It was just like the Dunkirk spirit all over again.
The Theatre Workshop Coulsdon paid credit to the audience admitting that “it’s the first time we’ve performed in a hurricane” (and I don’t think they meant the WWII fighter plane), and adding a “thank you to our stalwart audience for staying put – that was true British pluck and determination in action – Barton would have been proud of you”.
The howling winds were particularly effective in carrying away some parts of the dialogue and songs, as the stage was under wildly fluttering leaves of trees between the 10th fairway and the golf course’s driving range.
Wagnerian music seemed especially apposite in combination with a fortuitous crescendo in accompanying storm laden rustling of the trees and the (fortunately) successful efforts by the box office staff to prevent their tent going airborne.
The troupe must have needed a good drink back in the hotel’s 19th hole to cure their hoarseness after projecting through that storm for two hours from a stage that is, it is fair to say, rudimentary save for its revolving mechanism.
Mike Brown and Paul Ford as Major Fffoulkes and Sir Roderick respectively mastered the difficult environment and Dawn Ford was spot on as Felicity.
The stand-out performance came from Hannah Montgomery as the spirited Glaswegian Morag.
Steve North’s Biggles did not register singing as his foremost strength and some of Rosa Ruggeri’s exquisite commentaries as burlesque artist Fatima Gash were lost to the winds whilst the props fell about her.
Joe Wilson’s Dick Barton part-delighted with an appropriate cut-glass enunciation, and Bruce Montgomery as the BBC announcer certainly held things together in his narrator role.
Steve Jacobs deserved an Oscar for his brief book ending appearances of studied malevolence as school chum Farns-Barnsworth.
The show itself, which is a pastiche of allegedly unreformed post-war British attitudes, will not be to everyone’s taste, with its references to “Johnny Foreigner” and patronising approach towards working people, women, people of colour and anyone who is not… well, English. References to gender pay gaps at the BBC did not seem to rescue the play in this respect.
Go along and see whether you disagree with that view. Dick Barton continues its run through to next weekend. The beautifully produced programme encourages budding critics to post their reviews of the show on the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon Facebook page. The review adjudged the best, and not necessarily the most flattering, will win two free tickets for the company’s Christmas fairy tale production The Snow Queen along with a bottle of festive wine. That’s more than the tight git in charge at Inside Croydon Towers ever offers me.
A woodland glade, a missing heiress and many a stiff upper lip
By Moira O’Donnell for the Croydon Citizen – Tuesday 15th August, 2017
Armed with one flask of coffee, two Danish pastries, two folding chairs and five blankets, Sue Harling and I made our way from the car park of the Coulsdon Manor Hotel to the open-air set of Dick Barton and the Slaves of the Sultan, staged by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon. The weather had been variable over the run, from hurricane force winds to torrential downpours, so we were very fortunate that for this penultimate show it was fair and dry.
For those theatre goers who had not had the foresight to bring coffee and pastries, there was an inviting-looking barbeque and bar area outside the auditorium, from which emanated a most enticing aroma. Front of house operations were very slick, and we were ushered through and into the seating area where a suitable position was found for us to pitch our chairs.
I have to say that at this point the set looked distinctly unpromising; an unfinished-looking wooden partition across the stage with a door on each side, and a central panel. My fears were however unfounded as this set was in fact designed to be used to very clever effect. The scenes switched effectively between the radio announcer, played by the dead-pan Bruce Montgomery, and the action in various locations, by means of the central section of the set revolving through 180 degrees. In this way scene changes were carried out with the minimum of fuss, with actors and props arriving and leaving by this means or through one of the two doors.
Dick Barton solves crimes, escapes perilous situations and saves the nation every night of the week
Slaves of the Sultan started life as a ten minute comedy written by Richard Lloyd for TWC’s 2015 anthology production, Radio Days, and was a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the BBC Light Programme’s 1940s wireless adventure serial, Dick Barton – Special Agent. This long-running cult serial followed the thrilling adventures of ex-commando officer Richard Barton MC. He, along with his loyal chums, Jock Anderson and Snowy White, solved all sorts of crimes, escaped from perilous situations, and saved the nation from disaster most nights of the week. This full-length version was written in response to the many questions Lloyd got asking “What happened next?” and “Are you going to write a sequel?”
The story follows Dick and his sidekicks Snowy and Jock, after they are called in by the Armaments Ministry to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy heiress, Felicity Buff-Orpington, whose family has made its fortune in the arms manufacturing business. Many stiff upper lips, musical interludes, narrow escapes, plot twists and comic capers in Africa and Penge later, Barton of course saves the day. All the baddies are shot dead and Felicity and her mad Scottish maid Morag are safely back in Blighty.
Slaves of the Sultan is described as a comedy-thriller full of double entendres, and in this respect it certainly gives Finbarr Saunders a run for his money, especially since some of the double entendres spilled over into the quite explicit. The show was however very funny, even if some of the humour was rather un-PC in places and perhaps not to everyone’s taste. That said, on this occasion at least, the audience definitely appeared to be appreciating it.
The nymphomaniac matriarch of the Buff-Orpington family was hilarious
The whole production was extremely professional, and all the cast clearly relished their roles. Joe Wilson gave a convincing performance as our hero Dick Barton, and Luke Argles nicely portrayed the dim-witted Snowy, with Pete Bird as the capable Scot, Jock Anderson. Dawn Ford was suitably haughty as the missing heiress Felicity Buff-Orpington, with Hannah Montgomery as her mad-cap and feisty Scottish maid, Morag McGovern. Lucy-Ann Martin was perfect as the not-so-innocent Cicely Chichester and Rosa Ruggeri, John East and Indianna Scorziello were comically evil as the slightly ‘Allo ‘Allo-esque trio, The X Faction. Penny Payne was hilarious as Lady Muriel, the nymphomanic matriarch of the Buff-Orpington family, and Lisa Lloyd was delightful as Barton’s sticky-beaked housekeeper Mrs Snodgers.
Mike Brown as Major Reginald Fffoulkes, Steve North as James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth and Paul Ford as Sir Roderick Snashall all carried off their parts with great gusto. Connor Nestor played both the elephant-trampled love interest Roger Burke-Moseley and the eunuch Selim Jiz (how did he get his voice that high?). Chris Argles was the mysterious Kaesh Al-Gabouti and Steve Jacobs opened and closed the action as Barton’s deranged and revengeful ex-school friend Roly Farns-Barnsworth.
All in all it was an extremely enjoyable evening in a delightful setting, surrounded by people all clearly enjoying themselves both on and off the stage.