The Bandroom. Enter the SERGEANT, resplendent in his uniform, polishing the bell of his gleaming sousaphone. He plays a few notes, then places it on the table.
Enter ANDY. Like all the bandsmen who’ll come in, he’s also in a splendid uniform. He is carrying a toilet roll which he places in the bell of the sousaphone. ANDY shies away, picks up cymbals, crashes them gingerly together.
SERGEANT: So. He thinks he’s leaving the service, does he?
SERGEANT: Him. Thinks he’s leaving the service.
ANDY: (posh voice) Oh yes, Sarg. Thinks he’s leaving the service, he does. His time’s up. He’s getting demobbed!
SERGEANT: Well, I’m not saying nothing.
SERGEANT: I said, I’m not saying nothing.
ANDY: No. (singing) “Come with me my love ...”
SERGEANT: I said, I’m not saying nothing. Hm.
ANDY reads from pin-ups.
ANDY: ... Although she is only sweet seventy-three, what with those bulging Bristols, Delphine has certainly got what it takes. Born on a farm, no less than thirty eight –
SERGEANT: All I’m saying is. Bandmaster Baton has seldom failed before. Where’s the replacement? I ain’t seen him. No, if they was really letting him out they’d of got a sutstitute. Well, they haven’t, have they? They’ll keep him in, you bet your boots. And they’re dirty too.
ANDY: Oh Sarg, some off it.
SERGEANT: What do you mean?
ANDY: You’re just trying to wind us all up, make yourself important.
SERGEANT: What’s that, bandsman?
ANDY: You just get a kick out of needling us, you –
SERGEANT: Huh! (the SERGEANT menaces him).
ANDY: He’ll get out. He doesn’t want to stay. (retreating) All right, Sarg, I didn’t mean it, don’t take it like that –
SERGEANT: Ah, there you are. Now are you Bandsman Tuba?
JOSH: Come off it, Sarg. You know who I am.
SERGEANT: Look, don’t speak to me like that, I’m a Sergeant. And I had a bad night. Now are you 18/542 Bandsman first-class Josh Tuba, solo player, the Band of the Bombadiers?
JOSH: I am, Sarg.
SERGEANT: You’re the bloke what reckons he’s getting demobbed? Tomorrow? With Jerry?
JOSH: Tomorrow, Sarg. That ever is.
SERGEANT: So, you think so do you?
JOSH: I know so.
ANDY: Crazy! Heboobliboobli ah! Heboobliboobli ah!
ANDY retires, practises breaks.
SERGEANT: Look, Josh, how is it you want to leave the service?
JOSH: Why not?
SERGEANT: It’s a great life, Josh.
JOSH: What’s great about it?
SERGEANT: Well, to start with there is the knowledge that you’re doing your bit, serving your Queen. Then there’s the sense of companionship and the spirit of fun – the chance of promotion and – well, there’s the Naafi and the cheaper beer. When I think of some of the times I’ve had with the boys in the Sergeant’s Mess! No, Joshie, you’ve been in fifteen years now, is it? Sometimes I think that you don’t know when you’re well off. But civvy street is not all flowers. I’m telling you, I’ve tried it. Twenty years ago now. It’s a cold world out there. Wife didn’t like it either. Oh, I think we were both relieved to get back to married quarters.
JOSH: You left the service, and then you came back?
SERGEANT: Yes, six weeks was enough for me. I didn’t mean to come back, mind you. Thought I was out for good and all. But in the evening in this bed-sitter in Builth Wells I used to sit and think of good times in the mess. And you know, it may seem strange but often as I watched the rain running down the window panes I used to seem to hear the band playing the old Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, you know, how first the cornets come in Tkta! Tkta! Tkta! Tkta! Prra! Prra! and then the trombones, Tkta! Tkta! and then the ‘eavies, swelling in the bottom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, oh, it’s a great life Joshie, there’s nothing like it. And there’s another thing. Take me. Only 42 years service between you and me, don’t pass this on, shortly I am in hopes of becoming an officer.
JOSH: Oh gee, Sarg, you don’t believe that?
SERGEANT: What do you mean, Bandsman?
JOSH: They just tell you that.
SERGEANT: Oh no, Joshua, I know Bandmaster and myself and the Commanding Officer we may seem to you to be only a lot of fuddy duddies. Oh yes. But you know, I’m not like that. I may talk big when I’m with the bigwigs, but really in my heart I’m still larking about like one of the lads.
He spars with feint boxing blows.
SERGEANT: I was young once, Joshua.
Then he says conspiratorially
SERGEANT: Well, how about a spot of parade?
He picks up his sousaphone, out falls the toilet roll.
SERGEANT: All right, that does it.
JOSH: Give us a moment more, Sarg.
SERGEANT: What, on your last parade? No, no, it’s time for parade, come along now, come along, come along, come along now, it’s time for parade, should be in your places now, make sure your boots are clean everyone and don’t forget your instruments. Bandmaster will be here any minute now, come along now, on parade, on parade!
Re-enter ANDY who mimics –
ANDY: (off) On parade, on parade!
SERGEANT: Will you turn it in there!
Exit SERGEANT shouting, to the billets, colliding with someone.
SERGEANT: Look where you’re going, Bandsman.
Dispersedly the rest of the BANDSMEN enter, including TOM EUPHONIUM, SAM CLARINET, ANDY SAX. They make their uniforms tidy, button up, fetch or unpack instruments, blow and produce babel. DRUMMER rattles drums, fetches leopardskin, the SERGEANT rushes back and forth across the stage.
JERRY: Did I ever tell you about the origins of the camp here? Well, I met a bloke in the Naafi once, queer sort of bloke, was here in the war, said this camp was run up in ’45 to defend an emergency airstrip erected in ’46 to defend an emergency quay intended as an emergency victualling point for the now obsolete deep aquatic sea cannon (Mark V), provisionally stationed in the western isles prior to their emergency provisional shipment to Scapa Flow. Well, one fine day the War Office decreed that this line was redundant anyway, having been provisionally superseded by a (since obsolete) emergency type of aerial sub-aquatic shallow water trench mortar (Mark III). So, the cannon were sold, the quay was sold. The victuals were sold to a chain store who sold them as special Christmas surprise packs at three guineas each. What a surprise! Now what else was there?
JOSH: (enjoying it) The camp Jerry, the camp!
JERRY: Ah the camp! Well, there was talk that Billy Butlin would buy the camp for conversion to a new super fun town and chalet encampment with mudbaths, sun parlours and ocean swimming. But when he was told of the bogs and quaking mires in the area and after he had noticed the subsidence in the parade ground where B company fell through last year, well, the camp stayed here and the regiment with it. Some say we have all been forgotten. The C.O. however denies this, pointing out our strategic importance.
They laugh with pleasure. Re-enter SERGEANT.
SERGEANT: Now come along, come along you blokes now, should be fell in by now, get fell in, get fell in, come along you lazy skivers, come along, get fell in, get fell in!
Without paying much attention to him the BAND slowly form up.
SERGEANT: Right, silence now, silence! Are you all ready? Silence! Silence! Right! Dress!
He leaps about, marking off the distance between ranks, etc. dressing them, shouting.
SERGEANT: Forward Horn! Back Drums! Back again! Up Clarinet!
Just as he is beginning to get them in line, JOSH enters from the ablutions. He strolls nonchalently over to his place. BANDSMEN point him out, laugh.
BANDSMEN: Look at ‘im! Good old Josh!
SERGEANT: Bandsman Tuba! Where’ve you been? Silence! You blokes don’t seem to know the meaning of the word silence! Bandsman Tuba, get fell in.
ANDY: Yeah, get fell in, Bandsman Tuba!
Other BANDSMEN, oblivious, continue to chat.
JOSH: (simultaneously, muttering at SERGEANT) Foamin foamin foamin foamin.
SERGEANT: (frantic) Silence! Look, this happens every morning! Look! Look at this! (slaps arm) This isn’t all flab! Silence!
BANDSMEN quieten down.
JOSH: (still muttering angrily) Foamin foamin foamin foamin.
SERGEANT: My word I’d like to meet some of you blokes in civvy street. Sometimes I regret these stripes. Like to get some of you blokes in the boxing ring.
JOSH: (mutters) Foamin foamin foamin foamin.
SERGEANT: What’s that Tuba? (losing temper) You don’t believe me, do you? I’d show you. Such things I would. (slaps arm) This isn’t all flab! I’ll have you know! You don’t believe me, do you? Don’t think I could? Well, watch this!
JERRY: Oh for Jesus sake Sarg, we’ve seen it before.
SERGEANT: Look, this’ll show you.
Sweating and puffing, he raises his sousaphone over his head.
SERGEANT: Band right turn!
The BAND turn and, on seeing him, cheer ironically.
SERGEANT: Right! Now you know when I say a thing I mean it. Band left turn! Right now, Bandmaster Baton will be here any moment now so I don’t want any more larks. And I don’t want no namby pamby or shoddy playing this morning or the old geezer and self fill know the reason why not.
SERGEANT: (starts, then salutes super-smartly) Oh, good morning, sir.
BANDMASTER: (walks about, then throws out) Good morning Band!
SAM: Good morning, sir.
SERGEANT: (full of zeal after his gaffe) Come along you blokes, now come along, you know you can answer more smartly than that! Band right turn. Now on the count of three; one, two three –
ALL BAND: Good morning, sir!
BANDMASTER: Thank you Sergeant. Stand at ease please.
SERGEANT: Band, stand at – ease!
BANDMASTER: Thank you. Now, duties for the week. Listen carefully.
The BANDMASTER is small, spare, risen from the ranks. He has achieved officer status through constant watchfulness of his seniors, he has watched their every move and aped the things they say; a boy entrant like JERRY, by twenty he had learnt the Standing Orders by heart. He was never arrogant. He fought his way up through a feeling of inferiority and a determination to ‘succeed’ and was much disliked by officers and men. He ascends the rostrum.
BANDMASTER: Now tomorrow evening, as you probably know, the Forces Network of the British Broadcasting Corporation will be once more broadcasting a programme of marches by the band, compiled from recordings. As usual, the C.O. (he pauses, smiles) the Commanding Officer has given orders for the programme to be televised to the personnel of this camp, to be heard through the tannoy system, to be broadcast across the parade grounds, and into all Naafis and billets. Men both on and off duty will be expected to listen.
JERRY: Be hard not to.
SAM: What time is that sir?
ALL BAND: (ironical reaction)
BANDMASTER: (pleased) Er ... eight-thirty Corporal, in the peak period. Now (he produces a notebook) this afternoon we shall be playing at the funeral of that poor fellow.
There is an awkward pause.
JOSH: (faux naïve) Who was that sir?
SERGEANT: Now, now, now Tuba, less of that.
BANDMASTER: (hastily) Sergeant Major hung himself in the ablutions. We shall be going from there to a garden party, officers’ wives, so you’ll want two sets of music in your folders.
JOSH removes slide from SAM’s trombone and passes it back along the line.
BANDMASTER: Er, check ...
ALL BAND raise their instruments to check in the spring holders attached to their instruments. SAM discovers his slide is missing, breaks ranks, tells SERGEANT.
SERGEANT: Well go and get it!
BANDMASTER: Old Vienna, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetic, the Dead March from Saul, Thrills, and Peace Perfect Peace. Tomorrow evening we shall be playing again for officers’ wives.
JOSH: Load of –
BANDMASTER: What’s that, Tuba?
JOSH: Nothing, sir.
BANDMASTER: I heard you. I heard what you said. I know you. You’ve never been with us. All that time you were marching with us, playing with us, you’ve been dreaming of being somewhere else. With someone else. Oh well, you’d better go and stand over there.
JOSH: Over there sir?
BANDMASTER: You don’t like being with us, do you? Well then, you’d better leave us! Feel what it’s like to be without us. On you go, over there, over there!
JOSH: Sir. (he begins to walk)
SERGEANT: And Tuba. Better fill in the form while you’re at it! (he’s about to give him the form, then he drops it) Pick it up!
JOSH: Yes, Sarg. (he picks up the form and walks away from the band)
BANDMASTER: Right Sergeant, would you form them up over there please?
SERGEANT: (springs to attention) Yes sir. Certainly sir. Attention! To the ablutions! March!
The BAND march towards the ablutions. Just before the first man reaches them SERGEANT shouts
SERGEANT: Band! Halt!
The BAND halts. SERGEANT turns to BANDMASTER, salutes.
SERGEANT: Band ready sir.
BANDMASTER: (absent minded) Thanks. Thank you Sergeant. (About turns to face band) Oh no! That’s not very good Sergeant.
SERGEANT: No Sir?
BANDMASTER: Not far enough! Further! Further! Up to the end!
SERGEANT: They’re there already sir.
BANDMASTER: (points, style of Napoleon crossing Alps) Further man, further!
SERGEANT: Further, what do you mean? It’s not possible.
BANDMASTER: (trotting feverishly about) Not possible! Not possible?
SERGEANT: Well, there’s the bog wall in the way.
BANDMASTER: Ban the bog wall, remove it. Not possible? Er – ah – nothing’s not possible to a soldier, man, (tapping sleeve) I’m an officer! You can’t say bog wall to me, you can’t! I’m an officer!
SERGEANT: (mutters) I’m an officer indeed. I’ll give you officer! Band! to the latrine wall! March!
The BAND march will most of them are squashed against the wall.
BANDMASTER: O.K. Sergeant.
SERGEANT: Band! Halt!
The BANDSMEN halt. The BANDMASTER struts gloriously to the wall and picks up a large trident with which he positions himself at the head of the BAND. The SERGEANT positions himself behind the BANDMASTER.
BANDMASTER: Right band. The rehearsal for the ceremony is about to begin. Imagine this hall to represent the parade ground, though smaller of course. And in another sense, and I think a very real sense, may we not imagine it to represent the world. The world of, ah, endeavour and conquest, for the world also has its billets, and it has its barrack square. It has its, ah, parade ground, and its orderly room. And it has its, ah, ablutions. Now I want you to watch me carefully now to see what we’re going to do (he turns about) Band! Ready!
With a deafening roll of drums the BAND set off. Then the banal strident regimental march blasts through the room. The BAND march with various manoeuvres. The BANDMASTER hurls his mace into the air, twirls it. The DRUMMER does the same with his drumsticks. After various changes of direction, JOSH speaks in time to the music.
With blare and blaze of cornets,
With thunder and thump of drum,
With shrill thrill of piccolo,
and snarling soft trombone,
this hideous collection of instruments
this Band of the Royal Bombadiers,
HARK AT US!
Hurrah we come!
with fife and drum!
cacophony and countermarch and
and sousaphone, and
skirling snaredrum-sticks a-whirling
With sour, shrill clarinets,
with lecherous and brazen-throated bombardon;
with rustle and burp of the
bass trombone and the
beery bray of the euphonium!
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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