[William McKeon recalls entertainment by The Kiwis concert party in France during World War I].
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Interview with World War I veteran William McKeon about his memories of The Kiwis concert party in France.
Interviewer: Well Bill what are your memories of our Kiwi concert party in the Great War?
Bill: Well, they’re fairly vivid as a matter of fact, um, in these times the most pleasant things stand uppermost rather than the most grisly and I remember the enormous pleasure we got out of listening to the Kiwi concert party. Originally they were in the little theatre at Nieppe that was a small town within range of German fire, just north of Amenti ères. And there when we could get out to rest we used to go to this little theatre and it was jammed packed every night. It was really delightful, it really took us out of our rather grim surroundings and we had a great time.
Amongst the people, of course, there were the leader, there was the leader Dave Kenny and he was a delightful character. He had been chief accompanist to the Savage Club in Wellington. Stewart Nelson, the female impersonator; Theo Precise, he was the producer and dancing man; Ernest McKinlay, the delightful tenor who wrote the book ‘Ways and Byways of a Singing Kiwi’ and later appeared on the stage in Britain and recorded a number of songs. They were the principle characters I remember.
Interviewer: I read that little book you mentioned by Ernest McKinlay - that was ‘The Ways and Byways of a Singing Kiwi’ it was produced incidentally just before World War II and a very interesting little book it is.
Bill: Yes, excellent.
Interviewer: Well, one of the things which amazed me about this was the enormous marquee they had, do you remember this?
Bill: I do, very well. Yes, it was huge, bigger than any big top that I can ever remember for a circus and ah at Dickebusch my recollection, it says in the book 1917 but I first met it in 1918 in Dickebusch, just when the weather was beginning to thaw after the shocking winter we had. And this enormous tent it must have held anything from 1,000 to 1,500 and they had every type of equipment for the stage, beautiful lighting, costumes, stage settings, and the queue used to line up about half past four in the afternoon and I think the show started at a quarter to five or five o’clock and it was over by about seven when we had to get back and keep the lights out.
Interviewer: What was the standard of the show otherwise, did they have scenery and props and this sort of thing?
Bill: Ah yes. In the little Nieppe theatre they were rather handicapped for size and they confined themselves there, they had about three sets, I think, and there they confined themselves to short sketches – excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan. Ernest McKinlay, I’ve never heard anything better than his ‘Wandering Minstrel’, and things that could be capably handed on a small set. Whereas when they got the big top going at Dickebusch they put on a full scale pantomime. Ah, it says in the book ‘Ali Baba’ but they called it ‘Achi Baba’ and it was really fantastic.
Interviewer: Course one of the advantages then was the fact that there were so many first class revues running in London and so many musicals, now I think they drew rather widely, didn’t they on these?
Bill: They did very much so. No doubt is was an infringement of copyright but I don’t think it worried them very much. They had, of course, tremendous assistance from Oscar Ashe and Lily Brayton who were then playing Chu Chin Chow in London. And they had the advantage of magnificent costumes and ideas for setting and divisional artists, of course, prepared most of the sets and it was really top line.
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 247152
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Ngā Taonga Korero Collection
Nonfiction radio programs
McKeon, William J., 1896-1973, Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (estab. 1962, closed 1975), Broadcaster
McKeon, William J., 1896-1973 -- Interviews
Kiwi Concert Party
McKinlay, Ernest, 1888-1945
Entertainers -- New Zealand/Topical
Concerts -- New Zealand/Topical
Interview/Tidy later do not use
World War, 1914-1918 -- Theater and the war
World War, 1914-1918 -- Music and the war