Weeping in the wings – a writer’s journey by John Livings

Bugle Boys – A Salute To The Andrews Sisters

This is part one of a three part story outlining  the inspiration for the stage show,  Bugle Boys A Salute To The Andrews Sisters.

BugleBoys286    My morbid obsession with the Andrews Sisters began way back in the early seventies when, taking my first tentative steps towards a career in show business I landed a job working at sea as a cruise ship entertainer. The ship was no luxury liner and sailing under the Greek flag the gallant, though rusted tub plied the UK/Australia migrant route.

The southbound trip – by way of Cape Town was as always choc-o-block full of European migrants (predominantly British) on their way to a new life down under – plus a smattering of young Aussie adventurers, eager to get home after spending a year starving to death in an Earls Court bedsit.

My immediate boss, the entertainment director was a jaded dancer with an acid tongue whose flying feet were way past their use by date. Number two in the pecking order was a sozzled Irish comedian whose jokes were so old they could be carbon dated to the Jurassic epoch. And then came my good self who, because of my lowly status took care of the less glamorous on-board activities such as calling the endless games of bingo. Backed by the ships six-piece band there was also an octogenarian pianist billed disturbingly as ‘Harry and his Organ’. Between us we had the arduous task of providing entertainment for almost seventeen hundred souls.

Mission impossible we advertised for help in the ships daily newspaper for singers, dancers or anyone wishing to participate in the umpteen shows that we staged throughout each voyage. Now, I had an excuse. I was getting paid to make a complete tit of myself but I must say that it never ceased to amaze me as to how many victims stepped forward each trip to be ritually humiliated in front of their fellow passengers.

Groan…just the thought of those hideous productions still have the power to wake me kicking and screaming in the middle of the night. Oh the horror! Step, kick, step, kick, step, twirl, mince, step, kick, step! Argghh!!!

As the ship sailed on our captive audience were left gasping and demanding less as we cut a swathe through some of Broadway’s finest triumphs. We waded through West Side Story, Oliver! and The Sound Of Music. We had a bash at Singin’ In The Rain, we let down Hair and we crucified Jesus Christ Superstar. And what poor old Rodgers and Hammerstein had done to deserve such shabby disrespect is beyond my comprehension but nevertheless, as the wind came sweeping down the plain they would have been turning in their graves as we butchered Oklahoma.

I’m afraid things only went from bad to worse when we took on South Pacific. Some people live on a lonely island but they’re the lucky ones and don’t have to witness such drivel. Our production of the much-loved show was so awful that it became a big hit amongst the crew who referred to it fondly as South Pathetic. And to bare witness to our embarrassment, waiters, waitresses and bar staff would halt drink service and huddle in groups, tears of joy in their eyes as we strangled Bali Hai to an inglorious death.


To be continued…