Veronique, a life resumed

To:  Chris Tatham,  Middle C Productions

from:  John Story                                          2nd Dec. 2015

Hi, just posting this so you know I have started. Not sure when it will be finished but will box it all up and do the infilling research soonest, ie weeks not months!!! Hope!

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Research Notes:
Transcribed from folders and old tapes dated 1985/6.  I have removed/ignored some of what seemed to be irrelevant asides and voices which relate purely to the planning of the television series that never went into production.  Notes were descriptive as well as of conversations. My reasoning that she (Elizabeth M.) thought it would help characterisation.
I have tried to put all in approximately correct sequential/ date order though the flow of transcript is sometimes left in despite possible small irregularity in story line. ie. Readability sometimes outweighed timing. Basically I have written as read/ seen and collated.  It could be transferred into storyboards and script quite easily.  We have the option for everything.
Veronique, a life resumed:

The old lady settled back into her chair.  The chair was straight backed, old fashioned red leather with curved wings.  She was straight backed too, cushion tucked at her side to give her a little support and to her stick leaning on it.  Her hand, gnarled with age rested on the knobbled top of the old briar stick.  She nodded serenely as the introductions followed and the two guests were settled on to the chairs beside the coffee table.

Tea was poured by the nurse and the guests leaned forward and collected their cups and saucers.  The old lady waved her free hand briefly, “Later, later.  Thank you Noreen”

They swapped smiles and the young girl said, “Just buzz when you want me.” and closed the door quietly as she left.

“Lovely girl, at least she has a name I can relate to.  Chelsea and Brenner are lovely girls too but I keep thinking its where they were conceived and I shudder for the latter.”

The couple smiled quickly at each other, unsure if her tone was real or joking.

The old lady caught their glances and continued, “Well, you have as long as I last but you should realise I have supper at six-thirty sharp and then I have soaps to watch.  You can come back whenever you like, for tea-time.  Sharp at four until six-fifteen. Satisfactory?”

The young woman put down her tea and took out a notebook. “I have some questions I would like to ask but I hope we can just have a good run-around your life.  Tell us whatever might be important for us to get right.  If that’s okay with you?”

The old lady remained still and silent, looking the other woman in the eyes.  Their eyes held.

The man drained his cup, reached over and clattered cup into saucer on the small table.
“Sorry,” he half-whispered, breaking the silence and the two women’s silent exchange.
He sat up and continued, “Can we record this?  It would help us with accuracy and getting your voice right.”

“My voice? Do you think I was always this croaky, this shaky, like an old English dowager?” she peered at him over her glasses then turned her head back to the young woman. “Ask away, record away, it’s all the same to me now.”  She settled her shoulders back into the leather and automatically swivelled her hand over the top of the walking stick.

He set the small recorder and placed it on the coffee table just beside the old lady.

“You were born Veronique Beauchene in 1897 or 98 in Alsace, France and came to England at the age of twelve or thirteen.  French mother, German father.  Your parents were unmarried but together until you came to England with your mother.”

The old lady raised her hand, one finger aimed at him.

“I was born in 1900, in Colmar, Alsace, some would say Germany.  Mother French, father German.  They were married.  My father died in 1912 which is when my mother brought me to England”.  She stopped.

The young woman spoke into the silence, ” So if you were first on the stage in 1912 it must have been more or less as soon as you arrived.  You would have been thirteen?  Twelve?  How was your English?  It must have been hard to adjust to it all.”

“I was twelve.  We had visited England, I had learned English but my German was better.  French was my first language, you might say.  The adjustment was at losing my father.  I had always been singing and dancing so hiding on the stage was good for me.  It gave me some money and found me some true friends.”

She felt more comfortable as she began to remember and speak.

“You might say I had an old head on my shoulders, and I was big enough to look much older” she glanced down at her now unflattering chest, “and my God, I didn’t really think of anything but having a good time.”

“So you were very young when you were picked out?” asked the woman.

“Huh! Picked up.  That’s what happened.  Stage door Johnnies, out for a bit of fun with the young girls.  We all had a drink after the show a couple of times one week.  I don’t know if they actually saw the show each time or just hung around for us girls.  Three of us, stuck together.  At least at first, then I sort of skipped off for a bit.” She tutted inwardly. ” That was in London, G&S.  Do you know it?  Then we toured it to the old theatre at Windsor.  Not G&S, it was The Mikado, by G&S, Gilbert and Sullivan.  Do you know it?”  She nodded her head at them as the vivid flashes of memory came and went.  Of the three young girls squashing together on stage as they sang, the sweat under the thick make-up and the limelights smoking on the floor at their feet.  Glimpses passed her eyes, the smell still lingering as the young woman replied:

“Not really, except we have seen excerpts on videotape.”

Raised eyebrows and more peering over her glasses at the man.  He noticed and added slowly, “on the television.”

“We have video here.  I am surprised you have not seen the whole thing.”
“Is there one with you in it?”
“No.” She said simply.
He began to feel a little intimidated by this stern old lady, notwithstanding her age she had a bearing that overshadowed him.

“And in the First World War you went to France to work.  Was that for the Government?”

“I worked for Charlie, yes, he was government, security, military, one of those,” she mulled over her words, trying to hide her momentary loss of memory. “I didn’t do much, mostly putting on little shows, singing and such, for our officers and the German officers.  Prisoners of war they were, and I was being a happy, friendly face and ear for them.  We entertained each other in those days.”

“Would you say that was spying?” he asked.

“Good gracious no!  We had fun, all of us.  Maybe I did some eaves-dropping and slipped in some gossip that Charlie suggested.  And had to report back.  Could you pass my tea, please.  No, I drink it black.  Thank you,dear.”

Elizabeth tried to ask a tricky question, ” weren’t you very young to be…? Entertaining, I think you called it, the German prisoners of war?

Veronique sipped a little of the tea and leaned forward to put it down.  Cup and saucer were taken from her by the young woman.
“Thank you, dear”. She rested back again. “So, you are me are you?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Veronique nodded approvingly, ” Your hair is pretty close to mine, as it was then.  Can you do English with a French accent?  Real French?  Real German?”

“Hopefully the accent, a bit of French and German but I will have a linguist to help me get it right.” She sat back again, her eyes in broad smooth forehead linked with the old eyes in a broad, furrowed brow.

“You’ll do” said the old lady with a glint in her eye. “And him?”
“He, Richard, is the historical adviser for the series. He puts all the facts in good order.”
“Rubbish,” she said, “it’s the fiction you need to get right!”

…………………………………………………………..
Yes, I know I haven’t got far but at least its a start……. must dash…..

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The Twinkle Twins, a brief description

Eve and Agnes Doublegate, with their father Albert were quite famous in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.  Their father helped guide, frequently guard, his two daughters whilst acting as their manager, musical arranger and accompanist.  In fact he is seen as the force behind the developing of their variety and music-hall act alongside frequent appearances in G&S operas. The twins were especially visible when playing together as two of the ‘three little maids’ in ‘Mikado’.

3 little maids pic

image from old poster but not Twinkle Twins & V.

Christened Eve and Agnes, their billed name was ‘the Twinkle Twins (and Albert)’ and their stage names were Verity and Vanity.  I am not sure which was which, in fact they deliberately switched names and roles, often mid-act, much to the confusion of Albert.  The question is, was it part of a well rehearsed act?

Well, Agnes, in her reminiscences at the age of 90 insisted they had only done it to “exasperate” Albert mid-show if he had been over-protective the previous night.  She said they would only swap names once in a show and sometimes take on the other’s routine and deliberately mis-cue, for their father’s irritation. They were a singing, dancing and topical music act but liked to throw in plenty of pointed comment and satire on events and people of the day.  Agnes claimed she was Verity and Eve was Vanity, names chosen because they flowed well and fitted the opposites of their actual characters.

Eve, born 1898, Agnes in 1899 ( not twins then!) their mother died when they were six/seven and the twins spent even more time with their father in his peripatetic life as pianist and arranger for music-hall and shows. Full performers by the age of 14/15 they found themselves invited into the house-party circuit as well as music-hall and G&S.  They were introduced to the party weekends after entertaining at a small gathering at Saffron House just before the start of WW1 and continued their saloon-cum-vaudeville-cum-cabaret act through to the late thirties, when their father died. Their appearances on the stage petered out rapidly afterwards as they had matured and times had changed but they continued with occasional stately-home parties, basically entertaining old friends. They frequently entertained the troops in WW2, especially the hospitalised and recuperating, an activity started in the Home Counties in WW1.  From the start of the Great War, initially through military contacts around Windsor they were invited to perform at temporary local military hospitals in the likes of Cliveden and Chequers and even the hastily erected hospital huts in Windsor Great Park.

Beautiful in their youth and prime, consistently cheerful and bubbly, with voices that could fill any song with meaning.  From cheeky vaudeville to romantics of the day and many a war-time favourite, their songs garnered popular appeal. They could vary their acts for the audience and always raise the dullest of crowds. Their effervescence endeared them to any audience and their ability to be outspoken and critical was leavened by their sense of fun and downright quality of voice.  They leave no recordings.

Agnes, in her recollections, would often mention their early years, just before and throughout the First War when they were invited to many big houses and met political and military figures of the day, balanced by their visiting injured soldiers.
“We were so fond of Ernst (Herrenberg), he and Charlie (!) helped get us known.  It was nice when Veronique could join us but she had other fish to fry”. She also recalled meeting the war-artists Francis Dodd and Paul Nash and another, an Alfred Smollson (unknown).

Note: Veronique (Beauchene) was frequently the third little maid in G&S before WW1 and occasionally performed in their country house ‘cabaret’. A great and lifelong friend of the Twinkle Twins but her stage career dwindled as the war proceeded.  Considered a rare beauty in her day, of French and German parentage but actually born in England and very English despite her slight French accent.  Most of her early life lived in England with summers in France, until the Great War.

 

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