Authors: June Tate
For the lovely Tracy Brooks,
a foxy lady with a great sense of humour
who is very special to me.
Bonny Burton had started dancing almost as soon as she was able to walk. As a child, whenever her mother had turned on the wireless, Bonny would beam with delight and sway to the beat, taking unsteady steps, yet keeping in time with the music, which was extraordinary in one so young. Her mother Millie and her father Frank, a bank clerk, had crowed with parental pride and encouraged her. At five, they’d paid for her to attend the local dancing class on a Saturday morning, where she’d learned tap and ballet. Throughout her childhood, Bonny had always told anyone who asked what she was going to do when she grew up that she was going to be a dancer.
So when, at eighteen, she told her parents that she had decided to audition for the chorus line at The Palace Theatre, in Above Bar, they did not hesitate before giving their blessing. After all, this was what their daughter had trained for, and it was locally situated, which meant she would be staying at home where they could make sure she was not being led into temptation at such a tender age. Had they known a little more about life in the theatre, they may not have been quite so happy with the idea!
The interior of the Palace Theatre in Above Bar was not brightly lit when Bonny arrived for the audition, only the stage area. In the gloom of the auditorium, the musical director sat with the producer, watching the hopefuls do their stuff.
‘Next!’ a voice boomed out and another girl took the stage, handing her music to the pianist.
Bonny watched from the wings. The girl on the stage was obviously nervous and made several mistakes in her tap routine.
‘Thank you. Next!’
Taking a deep breath, Bonny walked over to the pianist and, with a shy smile, handed him her music. She wore a short practice skirt in black, a plain white blouse with short sleeves and, of
course, her tap shoes. Her long auburn hair was tied back in a black bow.
As soon as the first notes of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ started, Bonny went into her routine. Her long legs tapping out the steps to the music in perfect time. As usual when she danced, Bonny lost herself in the music, and she forgot about the two people who were watching and just enjoyed the moment. At the end, she stopped and waited. She could hear the two talking.
‘Untie your hair!’ she was told.
She did so, shaking the long luscious tresses loose.
‘Thank you, take a seat in the front row and wait.’
There were two other dancers sitting there. They smiled at her, but no one said a word. The audition continued.
Two hours later, twenty girls were sitting in the stalls when the auditions finished. The rest were dismissed.
‘Right, you girls, up on the stage please.’
As they stood in line on stage and waited, a tall slim figure of a man walked down the centre aisle, up the steps to the stage and stood staring at them individually. The girls looked back with interest.
Rob Andrews was tall with short brown hair and piercing blue eyes. He wore trousers and a white singlet; his muscular arms and trim waist showed his supreme fitness. There was no look of welcome on his clear-cut features. If anything he looked angry.
‘You were the best of a bad bunch!’ he informed them. ‘We have a lot of work to do. Be here at eight thirty tomorrow morning, and don’t be late or you won’t be employed!’ Then he walked away.
The blonde girl standing next to Bonny said, ‘Bloody hell, I bet he’s hard on his girls.’
‘This is my first job,’ Bonny confided.
‘Well, darling, it would seem that you’re in for a baptism of fire. I’ve seen his type before. Mind you, they usually know their onions, but you’ll be worked to death to get the routine right.’
‘I want to do well, so I will be pleased if he’s good at his job. He’ll be able to teach me a lot.’
The other girl laughed heartily. ‘You just be careful he doesn’t want to teach you more than dancing.’
‘Whatever do you mean?’
‘These dancers are either randy buggers or they’re queer, and believe me that one is all man! I wouldn’t kick him out of bed, that’s for sure. My name’s Shirley, by the way.’
‘I’m Bonny. Bonny Burton.’
‘That’s a great moniker for a dancer, love. Let’s go and find a place for a good strong cup of tea and get to know one another. You can tell me about Southampton. I’ve never been here before.’
Shirley Gates was twenty-three and came from Clapham in London and had been dancing for the past five years, Bonny learned as they sat drinking tea at a small cafe.
‘I’ve been all round the country in my time, but I want to work in a good variety show in the West End. That’s my ambition, but so far I’ve failed the auditions. I have made it to the callbacks, but in the end, when they whittle the girls down to the final selection, I’ve never made the final cut. But I will one day,’ she declared firmly.
‘It must be great to be on a West End stage,’ said Bonny wistfully.
‘You should think about it,’ said Shirley. ‘I watched your audition, you’re a great dancer.’
Bonny was delighted. ‘Do you really think so?’
‘I do, and I’ll tell you why. Apart from being a brilliant hoofer, you love what you do and it shows. Some of the others were just going through the motions, but not you. You are a natural, my girl!’
‘My dream is to be one of Mr Cochran’s young ladies, then I would be in the West End. I’d love to be in a musical.’
‘Blimey, girl! If we got in with his lot, we’d be made.’
They finished their tea and Shirley went off to find some cheap digs. ‘The doorman gave me a couple of addresses to try,’ she told Bonny. ‘See you in the morning and for God’s sake don’t be late!’
As Bonny walked home, she couldn’t help but smile to herself. What a great day! She’d been hired to join the chorus and had found a new friend. She couldn’t wait to tell her parents the good news.
At home, Bonny’s mother, Millie, had been on pins wondering how the audition was going. As the hours passed, she told herself that had to be good or Bonny would surely have been home by now. She cleaned the house from top to bottom, to help calm her nerves. When she heard the key in the lock of the front door, she flew down the stairs. ‘How did you get on?’ she asked.
‘I’m in, Mum. I got the job, I start tomorrow morning!’
The two of them danced around the narrow hallway together.
‘Come into the kitchen and I’ll make us a cup of tea and you can tell me all about it,’ said Millie, flushed with excitement.
Bonny regaled her with the happenings of the morning, how she’d been picked with nineteen others and about her new friend Shirley. ‘She’s such a laugh, Mum, and she’s been in the business for some time. She can show me the ropes.’
‘What about the musical director, is he all right?’
Bonny paused and with a frown said, ‘I’m not sure. He looked pretty fearsome but if he’s good, he can teach me a lot.’ She didn’t share Shirley’s view of the man. After all, there was nothing to indicate that he was a ladies’ man. Shirley could be wrong. Secretly, Bonny thought his brooding looks were fascinating. Tomorrow she would certainly find out more about him as he put them through their paces. She couldn’t wait.
The following morning, Bonny joined the other girls as they filed through the stage door for their first morning.
Jack, the middle-aged stage doorman greeted them warmly. ‘Morning ladies. I hope you are full of energy because by God you’re going to need it with young Mr Andrews!’
They all hung up their coats and changed their shoes, then the girls gathered on the stage, murmuring nervously among themselves as they waited.
Rob walked on to the stage and without hesitation said, ‘We’ll practice the opening number.’ He split the girls into two lines according to their height and proceeded to show them the routine.
As Bonny watched him, she was filled with admiration. This man was amazing to watch. His expertise and grace as he tapped out the first steps was a joy to watch and Bonny felt her heart race with excitement.
She was quick to pick up the steps, whereas one or two others had some difficulty, which did not please Rob Andrews.
‘You’re going to do a hell of a lot better than that by the end of the day,’ he told them, ‘or I’ll have to replace you!’
The girls looked stricken. Shirley looked over at Bonny and grimaced. She, like Bonny, had mastered the steps without difficulty.
By the end of the morning, they were all exhausted, but now all the girls had almost mastered the opening sequence.
‘Break for lunch and be back in an hour,’ Rob told them, ‘but don’t stuff yourselves. We have a lot of work to do and you can’t
possibly dance on a full stomach!’ He marched off the stage without a backward glance. The girls all breathed a sigh of relief.
‘My mum packed up some sandwiches for me,’ Bonny told Shirley. ‘There’s more than enough for two, would you like to share?’
‘That’d be great, thanks. Let’s sit out on the fire-escape steps; there we’ll at least get some fresh air.’
As they tucked into their food, they discussed the morning’s workout.
‘There’s one girl there who’ll never make the grade,’ Shirley stated.
‘Which one’s that?’
‘The girl with the mousy pigtails.’
Bonny knew immediately; she’d been one who had found the routine very difficult.
‘She’s strictly an amateur and is way out of her league.’ Shirley took a bite out of her sandwich and then gave a quiet smirk.
‘What?’ asked Bonny.
‘You know the girl with the long black hair and legs up to her armpits? You just watch her over the next few days.’
‘I’ve seen her type in every show I’ve ever done. She thinks she’s better than she is, thinks she’s more attractive that she is … and you wait, she’ll make a play for our Rob Andrews before the day is out.’
‘No!’ Bonny looked amazed. ‘What makes you think that?’
‘Oh, Bonny love, you are such a bleedin’ innocent. Just watch and learn.’
Now Bonny was intrigued. ‘If you’re right, what do you think Mr Andrews will do?’
Cocking her head on one side, Shirley contemplated her answer. ‘Well, it depends how much sex he’s had lately and if he’s gone without his oats.’
‘Oh, Shirley, you are dreadful!’
Ignoring her friend’s outburst, Shirley continued: ‘But if he’s the man I hope he is, he’ll cut her down to size very quickly.’
In the short time she’d spent with Rob Andrews, Bonny was in awe of the man and she sincerely hoped he was above being seduced so easily. It would have destroyed her admiration for him.
It was time to return to the stage. Rob Andrews was waiting for them. ‘Right! Now watch me very carefully,’ he ordered, ‘because
this is the next bit of the routine and it will prove to me just how much you have learned this morning.’
His short routine was sharp and tricky and he did it with perfection and style. Bonny watched him carefully, memorizing every step. She loved the complexity of it.
One by one the girls came forward to try out the routine. Several almost did it correctly, the girl with the mousy pigtails made a complete hash of it and stepped back in line almost in tears, and when the girl with the black hair stepped forward, she smiled confidently at Rob and managed every step, but without the grace it required. He made no comment as she stepped back in line.
‘You next, Red,’ he called and Bonny stepped forward. She did it to perfection.
She beamed with pride.
Shirley, too, managed without a mistake.
At the end he called Bonny and Shirley forward and said, ‘Right, the rest of you watch. Thank God I’ve at least got two dancers who know their left foot from their right!’
Lily, the girl with the black hair, looked sullen. ‘I got the steps right, Mr Andrews,’ she wheedled.
Shirley gave Bonny a quick nudge. They both waited.
‘You did and it was soulless. For Christ’s sake, woman, dancing is far more than getting the steps right, you have to feel it in here!’ He banged on his chest. ‘You two ready?’
They nodded and he gave the pianist the signal to play.
The two girls went through the routine, faultlessly.
Glaring at Lily he said,’ See what I mean?’ and to the others, he told them to do it again.
At the end of the day, tired though they were, both Bonny and Shirley were elated. But as they left they saw Rob Andrews take the girl with the pigtails, aside.
‘She’s for the chop!’ Shirley declared. Then with a grin she looked at Bonny and said, ‘Told you about that Lily, didn’t I? She didn’t get very far with her so-called feminine wiles after all. Good for him, I say.’
Bonny laughed. ‘No, she didn’t, and I’m glad. I would have been bitterly disappointed with Mr Andrews if she had.’
Shirley cast a glance in her direction. ‘Don’t you go falling for
that bugger,’ she warned. ‘Business and pleasure never mix. You remember that, my girl! See you tomorrow. I’m going to soak my aching bones in a hot bath and I advise you to do the same, else you’ll be as stiff as a corpse in the morning. Ta ra.’
Tired though she was, there was a spring in her step as Bonny walked home. Rob Andrews had praised her dancing and that was good enough for her.