Teacher’s sabotage is comic twist to our tale of Ali Baba

THE school play! What effort, argument, and enthusiasm went into it, during school time and after hours. And what an all-round success it always seemed to be. To those involved, anyway. Ilford s Dane School was lucky to have in Mr Walker a teacher with

THE school play! What effort, argument, and enthusiasm went into it, during school time and after hours.

And what an all-round success it always seemed to be. To those involved, anyway.

Ilford's Dane School was lucky to have in Mr Walker a teacher with considerable amateur dramatics experience and interest.

Inevitably known as Johnny Walker, he was no great shakes at classroom control, but became a different, more authorative person as producer of the school's annual play.

Of slight build, he almost literally grew as, flushed with excitement, he showed how he wanted it put across. His tricks of the trade fascinated us impressionable youngsters.

For instance, the classic "hero kayoes villain" one. It was staged so the punch could pass the villain's jaw on the blind side from the audience. Hands held low and screened by his body, the villain timed the apparent blow by smacking his fist into his other hand's palm to produce a lovely thwack. All eyes were on the punch being thrown. Few picked up how the sound of it landing was made to add astonishing realism to the action.

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It took little rehearsal to have if offpat. Nor did it take long to catch on round the school.

For days Dane's playground resounded to the smack of us faking laying each other out.

Though neither of us were considered for a part in any of the school plays, Bert Sutton and me were attached to Mr Walker's back-stagers for one ambitious production, after being seconded from art class to slosh paint on scenery.

How we got the job I forget now. We'd no knowledge of painting scenery or of amateur dramatics.

The show was an Ali Baba extravaganza.The scenery included a backdrop of the cave where the thieves' treasure was.

With Mr Walker's direction we did a fair enough job to remain on his team. I borrowed an old boiler suit off dad, but found it cumbersome. Bert used it and looked the proper stagehand in it.

Another Bert, woodwork master Mr Wright, made a door frame cut into the backdrop to be the magical "Open Sesame" entrance. He fitted grab handles on the back.

Bert and me ended crammed between backdrop and wall to do the mysterious opening and closing.

Mr Walker insisted on us being in the cramped area - "in case one of you faints or something".

The implication being that the other one could ensure the door's continued smooth working.

It ran for five performances, two in afternoons for the boys' and girls' schools and three evenings for parents, relatives and friends.

Such enterprises have their behind-the-scenes moments, and that one was no exception.

During the first evening the slick, silent opening of the cave door drew scattered applause.

Next evening, the first time we open sesame'd, it was accompanied by a "honk-honk".

Then, to our further astonishment Ali's donkey went past us through the door with an L-plate dangling from its rear. Any thoughts that the unscripted innovations were Mr Walker's idea vanished when, moments later, he was furiously hissing at us from the side of the stage: "What the hell are you doing?"

We silently gestured back: "Not us!"

The soon-rumbled culprit was another teacher. He decided, off his own bat, our show needed his touch of genius.

He'd waited in an adjacent empty classroom for the right moment with learner plate and old-fashioned bulb motor horn.

What else he may have had up his sleeve we never found out, but a ballistic Mr Walker saw him off the premises.

After the final show, Mr Walker had Bert and me line up with the cast, carrying the door between us to show our part in it.

His way, perhaps, of apologising for thinking we'd had something to do with the other business.

You know how it is after you leave school.

To this day Bert and me have met only once, by chance outside Ilford Station one rush hour.

In army uniform, with three stripes up, Bert was on a 48, so we didn't chat long.

But we had time for each of us to ask if the other had painted much stage scenery lately?

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