Friday, 10 January 2014

Writing - 1914 and all that.

In the next year there is going to be a plethora of reminders of the significant events that happened exactly 100 years ago. This will more than likely be about World War 1 but I found some interesting facts surrounding the London Underground and George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

Details of the Wonderground map 
Some of the cartoon's of the day.
The top left was a sarcastic view of the maps that were available to help commuter's negotiate the London underground system. Newly appointed commercial director, Frank Pick, is perhaps leafing through the complaints letters on his desk. Passengers are moaning about unpunctuality, about overcrowding, about confusion and dirt. (Nothing much has changed in 100 years). The Tube, crammed on workdays (some 400,000 people now work in the heart of the city) is virtually empty at weekends and holidays and the company is fast losing money and public support. What we need, thinks Pick, is stronger branding.
Pick wants some eye-catching posters, distinct from general advertisement bills, that will make Londoners of all social classes proud to journey around their city and visit its attractions. Pick visits an architect and designer called MacDonald Gill, known as Max, and commissions a map to be displayed in all stations on the tube with the caveat 'And Max we've got to make the commuters laugh'
Macdonald Gill's primary coloured Wonderground map was published early in 1914 and was hung at every station. A mixture of cartoon, fantasy, and topological accuracy, it was an instant hit with the travelling public. 


At the same time that the above was occurring there were preparations for a performance of Pygmalion which was later to become the basis for musical 'My Fair Lady' - one of my favourite shows.
On 11 April 1914, at His Majesty's Theatre - which Max Gill would draw the following year in his subsequent Tube map Theatreland - Mrs Patrick Campbell waited in the wings for the curtain to go up on George Bernard Shaw's new play, Pygmalion. She would play the common little flower girl who's taught by a pompous professor of phonetics to "talk proper", like a duchess. Rehearsals had been stormy, as Higgins - played by the flamboyant, practical joker Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree - didn't get along with the serious Shaw.
London audiences swarmed into the theatre out of prurient interest - the play had already been staged in Vienna and America and everyone knew it contained the profane and forbidden line: "Not bloody likely!" Would Mrs Campbell dare pronounce it or would the censors silence her? She did dare - and the delighted audience laughed for over a minute at the decadence of it all.
Shaw of course had regarded his work as a serious social satire on modern manners, and was so appalled that Londoners seemed only to thrill at his use of a swear word that he walked out. 

I wonder how many of us writers have taken such offence at comments about our pieces? It's quite laughable in these days of gratuitous profanity but it shows the tendency of audiences to latch on to the wrong thing. You never know how crowds will react because of the dynamics that exist within them.

Once again I received a great comment about one of my books. The very first Steele novel, 'I Have To Get It Right' was compelling enough to keep my customer up until the early hours to finish the story.

God Bless