This terrific tale was first published in 1941 when Pamela Brown was just 16. As was the case for many British children during WWII, she was evacuated from her home in Colchester to Wales where she wrote this story. The profits from the publication paid for her to study at RADA, although she eventually became a producer of drama rather than an actor.
The characters are seven children: sisters Sandra 14 and Maddy age 8, Jeremy 14 and his sister Lyn age 13, the twins Vicky and Percy, known as Bulldog, and their brother Nigel aged 15. The story is set in the 1930s and revolves the activities of the children who are close neighbours. They first meet at a Ladies’ Institute concert presented by Mrs Potter-Smith, the local ‘gorgon’ according to Nigel, and spend the school holidays together.
I can remember school holidays like those in the book but some of the tales will be hard for today’s children to grasp – such as the whole lot of them being allowed to cycle ten miles to the beach; go to the museum or gallery; explore the castle; and go to the cinema, all with no adult with them.
The children have some great adventures together but, as the end of the holidays draw near, they’ve used up all their money and decide to go to the run-down dock area to see the ships. It’s here that Maddy is called ‘Fatty’ by an errand boy but the stone she throws at him accidentally breaks a window in a near derelict building.
While the dialogue seems a little clunky at times, one has to allow for the fact that these are middle class children of a bygone era who probably spoke ‘BBC English’. The class consciousness of the period is also evident when they describe the area as ‘the slums’ and the shopkeeper across the road addresses young Nigel as ‘Sir’ when he tries to find out who owns the building.
Now the adventure really begins as the group finds out the hall belongs to the local church and Mr Bell, the vicar, has no objections to them cleaning it up and setting up a little theatre while Mrs Bell provides a trunk full of old dressing up clothes for costumes. Now the different characters, abilities and talents of the individual children are highlighted as they renovate the hall, write their own play with music and put on a show.
While the parents might be delighted that their children have devised and produced an entertainment which has raised much-needed money for the local church, they are decidedly less pleased when the children announce they want to become professional actors. Firstly, some parents have already decided what career their offspring would follow and class consciousness is again an issue as actors were not quite acceptable in middle class society. Support for the children’s plans and desires come from an unexpected quarter but I won’t spoil the surprise.
The book is a charming glimpse into a bygone world and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: June 2018