It was the night of May 4, 1945. I was twelve years old.
I’d recently ended a run at London’s Victoria Palace as one of Will Hay’s 3 schoolboy stooges in his famous classroom sketch (for those Americans who never heard of Will Hay, he was, perhaps, England’s equivalent of Jack Benny, only funnier, to the English anyway). The other pupils were grown up actors pretending to be kids.
V1 and V2 enemy missiles were about to be replaced by the allies’ version, the VE missile of peace.
London, all of England, was alive with the excitement of impending victory, and celebrations were being prepared all over the land.
The Royal Life Guards decided to hold a party at their barracks at Windsor. It would start at 8pm with entertainment provided by the top comedians and singers of the day, names still affectionately remembered, Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Old Mother Riley, Stainless Stephen, Vera Lynn, Max Miller, Tommy Handley, and a host of others. Oh, and then there was me.
8 o’clock came and went, while we waited nervously in the wings of their small stage for the arrival of the honored guests, who happened to be King George, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and the children, Elizabeth 19, and Margaret 13.
It was the longest wait I’d ever experienced, and finally around midnight they came. The little curtain was pulled aside, and a head-spinningly funny and joyful show it was.
After it was over, with my mother ready to take me home, I heard there would be a private reception for the cast. I was deemed to be too young to attend, but guess what, somebody thought I might amuse the Royals, being so young, and they let me in. I joined the line filing past generals and other officers and leading up to the head of the group. There, for some reason, the king and queen decided to spend time with me, asking all sorts of questions, capped with what was it like to be up so late! I must have stood out like a sore thumb.
My mother was sitting out in the corridor and didn’t get to see this shining moment of my life. Only child actors with a stage mother will understand this. I made sure she stayed out there too, I didn’t want to spoil the moment, if it came. And I must admit I’ve always felt ashamed when recalling that fact!
Head still spinning, I left, with a sense that the peak of my career as an actor had come and gone in a single evening.
4 days later, the lights came on again all over England and Europe.