My acting career has peaked. Actually this is not recent news. My best performance was held in 1953 and it was a silent part.
Eight years after the end of the, so-called, 2nd World War, and seven years after that great event, my birth (well it may not be a great event to you, but it’s right up there for me), England and some in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had something to cheer about.
Princess Elizabeth was to be crowned Queen. England loves a pageant and there is no greater pageant than a coronation.
My father had been busy building our first television. He bought a kit, probably through Popular Mechanics. During the war Dad had trained as an electrician in the Royal Airforce and was very knowledgeable about things like valves, ohms, vacuum tubes, capacitors etc. He was also a dab hand with a soldering iron. I used to love watching the solder melt at the tip of the soldering iron, and the smell of the flux heating. But I particularly liked the little flat splashes of spilt solder that I could pick up like little silver coins. Dad would be hunched over the circuit board for hours, soldering little joints and wires, in between puffs on his never-ending cigarette.
I’m not sure how long it took Dad to complete the TV project, but the end result was a nine inch B&W beauty. The picture tube was round and fit into a wooden case with a rounded-oblong shape.
Dad had to climb onto the roof of our two story house to attach an aerial (antenna). Mum was in the living room with the french-doors open so she could yell up to him when the picture became solid and there was a minimum of snow. Dad would then descend and inspect the picture and get out his screw-driver to adjust the picture’s horizontal and vertical hold and shapes. He messed around with things like sharpness, brightness and contrast. This could go on for hours, which was ok, because the only thing being broadcast for hours in those days was the British Broadcasting Corporation Test Pattern all the way from Crystal Palace.
The TV needed regular maintenance, testing and replacing of tubes, but it was a real wonder and the first TV on our street. We became quite popular with many of the other kids.
Dad purchased a large magnifying glass that stood in front of the tv screen, turning it from a nine inch to twelve inch screen. I’m not sure what he would have made of the 50+” flat-screen monsters of today.
By the time of the Coronation our TV set-up was in good shape, so many of the neighbours crowded into our darkened living-room on coronation day to watch the whole thing in real time.
The Coronation was an opportunity for lots of celebrations. Every street, town and village had it’s party and most had fancy-dress parades. Some streets even changed their names, like the fictional Coronation Street that is still
boring entertaining people today. You need a 50” plus flat-screen to get the full effect of the Rover’s Return.
Our town had a big party and there was a fancy-dress parade with prizes for the best costumes. Mum and Dad decided that their little seven year-old Rodney should be in the parade. They also decided that I would make a good Charlie Chaplain, who was still pretty popular in those days. Mum made the suit, Dad looked after the wig, moustache and makeup. They were a talented pair. They dressed me up, complete with bowler hat and walking stick and told me to walk like Charlie Chaplain. “Who is Charlie Chaplain” asked the little tramp. Dad patiently explained who he was and demonstrated how he used to walk, with feet pointing outwards, a little bow-legged and swinging his walking stick. Dad also said that it was important to keep a very straight face and not to smile.
I practiced my walk, stick swinging and not-smiling for hours. In fact I still walk a bit that way now, and am accused of looking too serious. “Why do you look like that” my teen-aged daughter would ask “That’s my face” I’d reply. “Why don’t you smile” someone else would ask “I am smiling” I would sigh.
The day of the big parade came. There were huge crowds and a long line of children of all ages dressed and ready for the competition. There were countless King Arthurs, bundles of Britannias, numberless knights, masses of maids, piles of princesses, but only one Charlie Chaplain – I felt a proper Charlie, if you know what I mean.
The media were there in force! Well the lone photographer and reporter from the Chingford newspaper was present. He also had a florist shop on the side – or was it the florist who was a press photographer on the side. Anyway the reporter and photographer were there. This was a big event in our town.
The parade route was a long one, but I kept in character the whole way, and beyond. If I was wearing the CC outfit, I was CC, it was not a laughing matter.
The costumes and characters were judged by no less than our Worshipful Mayor. His worship took time to carefully look at all the contestants. I believe he conferred with Mrs Worshipful too.
He looked very important standing on the dais in his three-piece suit with his great chain of office round his neck. They called out third prize, Robin Hood probably, not CC. They called out second place, Jill from Jack and …, or was it Mary, Mary Quite… But not CC. Then a drum-roll please, and let’s give it up for Charlie Chaplain! I was stunned – not that you could tell, I’d looked stunned for a few years now – ever since the incident with Mugwump and the darts.
I was called onto the stage next to the mayor and given a large 1 on a card to mark that I had won first place. My parents were very proud of themselves and their little charlie.
The flash bulb burst and the image of Worshipful Mayor and pint-sized Charlie Chaplain was captured and graced the front page of the Chingford Newspaper. As part of the prize we were given a few copies of the photograph to keep.
Ten years later, when mum went into the florists the florist would still say “Hello Charlie Chaplain’s Mum”. She never got tired of hearing it or telling me about it.
To finish this off I should tell you about Mr Hismate. In time for the coronation, Mum and Dad hired a local painter and decorator to do some painting of the outside of our house. Mum and Dad always addressed the painter as Mr. Robins. There was another painter who worked for him. One day when mum had referred to Mr Robins, I asked my mum “Who is the other man?” She said “Oh that’s his mate”. So I went up to introduce myself, being a polite young seven year old, “Hello Mr Hismate”. For several years we would see the assistant painter in the street and Mum would always say “Hello Mr Hismate: and they would have a good chuckle at my expense and embarrassment. I am smiling!
Playing Charlie Chaplain turned out to be the highlight of my performing career. I still like to hear LimeLight played. It’s a haunting melody in many ways.