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By John Connolly
When I was 14 and it was time to take my options in school, I plumbed for Drama as my one and only cushy subject. Having half a brain in my Comprehensive meant you had to take a science, geography or history, woodwork or metalwork, art or technical drawing and the mandatory English lit, language and maths. Now the mongo kids got to take sports as subject, but there was no CSE (like o’levels for thickos) at the end but you could doss around thinking of different sports to try out that usually involved a nice beano somewhere like the baths, the ice rink or rock climbing.
I took Drama, I think it came under arts, like needle craft or home economics. I took it because all my mates did and the lads I knew in the year above said it was a hoot with a liberal teacher, Miss Day. Not only was Miss Day great, she had an ‘in’ at Mersey TV and could get you a role as an extra, or more, in the Liverpool Soap Brookside.
The programme sometimes used our school for scenes (old school pals still stop me in the street and say, ‘hey John, remember that time they were filming Brookie in Middle School and you hung out the 677 school bus window and shouted HI, AM I ON TELLY in an American accent? That was childish and irresponsible, I hope you’ve changed) and a few lads in the years above had got roles as extras, spent a day off school and got £20 for the privilege. If you went on location, you also got a scran!
So, Drama it was. Don’t even think I told the folks I’d chosen to tread the boards (they thought I’d be a lawyer or an astronaut, or a lawyer that specialised in outer space claims, what with the lies I told about my work) and didn’t give it much thought myself until our first Drama lesson. We were split off into pairs, luckily Miss Day paired boys with boys and seeming as all in the class were ‘the lads’ there was no chance of an awkward moment like when Christopher twats that fella in his acting/writing group after performing the deep father/son act in Rebel Without a Cause.
We had to ad lib a few straight forward situations like an argument/taking shoes back to shop or some such thing. I was paired with Tony C and we began tearing into each other, starting off with a half smirk. Miss Day, directing, urged us to look one another in the eye, ACT DAMN, YOU ACT! It was a laugh and much better than one of them science subjects that wouldn’t get a job anyway.
Anyway, the time come when Miss Day found a few parts as extras in Brookside for the Drama bods. My first scene involved walking behind Karen Grant in Abercrombie Square whilst she had a domestic with her student boyfriend. He probably argued ‘that’s the trouble with you, you’re TOO SCOUSE” as was the theme everytime an out of towner ‘got off’ with a down trodden Brookie cast member.
The scene itself took about three takes, two of them Roy and myself were looking at the camera, a bit like crap actor off Chewing the Fat. We were then given breakfast in the Uni and picked up in a mini bus to be driven to another location were we picked up more extras and a couple of the shows stars. Matty (actor Tony Scoggo) and Paul Collins (Jim Wiggins) jumped on board with the grunts. They were really nice, Matty told uber shite jokes (punchlines ‘a putty cat’ and ‘we can’t do anything for Acker Bilk’) as the mini bus took us back to base, Brookside Close.
The Close itself housed a TV studio, TV sets, restaurant and general offices. The houses you never seen anyone living in doubled as the nuts and bolts of the operation. The canteen was ace, compared to school diners, and the house that had the canteen also had rooms were you could sit around and watch other scenes being shot on close circuit TV. All the stars popped in and out, Shelia, Tracey Corkhill and Ralph Chadwick all blanked us, not that we were arsed but Harry Cross, Billy Corkhill and, gasp, Heather Haversham all stopped to chat. Now people probably know her best from Silent Witness but in 1985, Amanda Burton was fox personified. All the Brookie stars had publicity photos, black and whites, usually soft focus mug shots jobs that they sign and give to fans. Amanda Burton’s was her in a frilly ensemble leering toward the camera with her nugs popping out. She was so affable that you thought she might take you under her wing, show you some pointers on how not to look at the camera then how to perfect a screen kiss. Well that's what I thought/dreamt until that ming from Picture Box with the one ear sticking out tried to get her on skag in the most far fetched poor excuse to get rid of a character since Ena Sharples left the Street to be a mercenary with the Mudjahadeen fighting the Ruskies in Afgahistan.
(Barry, if you're reading, it's wrong lad - think on)
So, with time to kill, we hung around until the Brookie Bus could take us home. We managed to tilt Brookies Terry Sullivan (I remember being made up to tell me mam he smoked and swore) when he came with a script and started reading. He piped up ‘do’ya mind lads? I’m trying to sort me lines (arf)’. We said okay but then started doing Bobby Grant impressions that saw him throw the script across the room and storm out. Tit, not like he was Olivier reading King Lear.
From 1985 to 1986 the Brookie work rolled in. Remember when Tracey Corkhill went to Switzerland skiing and got boofed by the teacher? I was one of the wags in the bogs shouting SWISS ROLL SWISS ROLL SWISS ROLL – we held the scene up by shouting random roll references, SAUSAGE ROLL ARTIC ROLL ROCK N ROLL etc until the AD (telly parlance for lacky) lost his rag. He’d dished out ciggies to authenticate the scene, Consulate, ciggies for kids. Doubt you’d get away with that now. Did I mention Tracey was a bad Prima Donna? A lad in our school, who went on to be in homefest ‘The Fruit Machine’ (and was allegedly caught conkers deep with Amanda Holden, wonder if Les done his Mavis impression…never mind) landed a part as Tracey’s fella – he’d been filming for weeks and bumped into her on the Waltzers at Southport and she blanked him! Bet Heather wouldn’t have, she’d have gone on the haunted swing and the cyclone with you.
Another top day out was for Rod Corkhill’s 18 birthday bash. Yes, the man so wooden they had to dip in Cuprinol was celebrating his big day with a party in chez Corkhill. They needed extras to simulate a party scene, a party scene that meant girls, ale and ciggies for nish. We basically had to act like teenagers all day, dance and snog girls and get paid for the privilege. Great this extra lark! Speaking of ace, that was the lager they dished out, the bad tramps. Not to worry, we had a great day - again the scene was about 10 seconds but took all day to film.
My big chance came when Miss Day got me a screen test or whatever you call it for a speaking role, taking Annabel Collins home drunk. Not as a boyfriend or very young taxi driver (visions of taking her to Eros or the Sudio 123 then then getting a ohican and going on a killing spree involving Gizmo, Ducksy and George Jackson did cross my mind) but as a kid who found her stumbling around Canny Farm gassed on hooch. The bloke who was shot the casting was a chap called Nicholas Prosser who if you can be arsed IMDB-ing, director/producer/made the tea on other soaps and dramas, no Easy Rider Raging Bull but he’s probably done alright judging by his credits. Anyway, I went into some darkened room in the inner sanctum of the Close where all the important people plied their trade (so Bob on security told me).
The fella himself had a bad stammer, reeked of BO, was gozzy and goofy. I was 15 at the time but still, like most boys, about 8 in the head. The site of a goofy, gozzy, stammering BO reaking weirdo cracked me up. I’m sure he sensed this and although he was okay he asked some daft questions about my influences in film and TV etc, I was dying to shout ‘I’M PLAYING SOME LAD WHO BRINGS ANNABEL HOME PISSED, NOT HAMLET PAL’ but resisted and said erm…Tommy McCardle, Roman Polanski, you know...Needless to say I didn’t get the gig, a lad I went to school with got it, Steven Yip – GO YIPPY!
My writing prowess was also brought to the fore as I penned a hilarious play about heroes. Miss Day loved it so much she got the year above to act it out in some national competition. They won the North West final but lost the national. Miss Day left the school to go back to nursing and our Drama class was taken over by a new age woman who nobody respected, Mrs Ord. We joined with another class who were all, not to put to fine a point on it, retarded. One lad was German called Gerd. Mrs Ord got so fed up us taking the piss out of him, she used to call him Gerrard, to which we’d all shout IT’S GERRRRRRRRRRRD. I still ended up getting a grade 2 CSE, though how I’ll never know because I spent most of the last year on the girls changing room roof smoking rocky.
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