'Allo, 'Allo!' stars boost SVR’s two big '1940s Weekends'
20th June 2011
Stars from the cast of the hugely popular BBC sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo!' will be centre-stage when the Severn Valley Railway turns back the clock once more and rolls out its big wartime nostalgia '1940s Weekends', on June 25th & 26th and July 2nd & 3rd.
Vowel-mangling gendarme Officer Crabtree (Arthur Bostrom) – universally recognised for his ‘Good Moaning’ signature phrase and others such as ‘My lips are soiled’ – together with peasant-repressing Gestapo officer Herr Otto Flick (Richard Gibson), the effeminate Lieutenant Gruber (Guy Siner), sexy waitress and Rene’s lover Yvette Carte-Blanche (Vicki Michelle), Resistance agent (and also Rene’s lover!) Mimi Lebonq (Sue Hodge), and Colonel Von Strohm’s secretary Helga Geerhart (Kim Hartman) will all make guest appearances at an event expected to attract up to 10,000 visitors over the two weekends.
All six actors will sign autographs, and photographs and talk to visitors about the much-loved BBC wartime comedy series set in occupied France, which became one of the nation’s favourite TV shows from 1982 to 1992.
The ‘Allo, ‘Allo!’ cast will rotate with one another during a five-hour ‘meet the public’ session at the railway’s Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley – one of the many ‘activity venues’ of the 1940s Weekends –from 11am - 4pm on each of the four days, as the railway, with the help of more than 400 civilian and military ‘re-actors’ and rafts of 1940s-period vehicles, revives the spirit and the mood of Britain as it was during the never-say-die days of WW2.
With hundreds of visitors coming attired in the gladrags of the 1940s era, and two period clothes stalls (at Bridgnorth and Bewdley stations) selling more of the same, this renaissance event, now in its 15th year, is among the biggest audience-participation shows staged anywhere in the Midlands - and the interest shows no signs of receding.
Aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will once again overfly the Kidderminster – Bridgnorth steam heritage railway on both weekends, with a former RAF ‘Dakota’ from Coningsby, Lincolnshire providing the rare spectacle over Bridgnorth on Saturday June 25th (ETA 4pm), and the fabulous combination of Lancaster bomber ‘PA474’, Hurricane and Spitfire fighters in formation over Bewdley on Saturday July 2nd (subject to weather conditions and available
Meanwhile on the ground, bakelite radios will splutter back into life, phonographs will be wound, and the Glenn Miller ‘swing band’ sound will be resurrected once more as the SVR time-warps back 70 years, and becomes a virtual ‘film set’ where the upbeat mood of wartime Britain in the 1940s is brought back to life through ‘re-enactors’ in a variety of roles from civilians to soldiers, and from ARP wardens to Landgirls and nurses.
The 16-mile SVR line – a former Great Western Railway ‘secondary’ route used extensively during World War 2 for diverting strategically important troop and supply trains around the Midlands – will take on a carnival atmosphere, against a busy background of steam hauled passenger train operations – roughly one every 50 minutes and 11 trains each way, starting from Kidderminster at 08.50am, and from Bridgnorth at 10.00.
With the exception of Hampton Loade which will retain its ‘undisturbed’ Victorian appearance, all of the SVR’s principal stations will reflect the wartime mood, with Kidderminster once again at the hub of the action, and by Saturday June 25th SVR staff and volunteers will have filled the sandbags, taped up the windows (to protect against bomb blast), hung the blackout curtains and pasted up the wartime posters, to prepare the railway’s southern terminus for this remarkable leap back in time.
Visitors will be transported back in time to see how life was ‘at home’ in wartime - thanks to the railway’s remarkable creation of a house ‘set’ depicting the period kitchen and sitting room of a typical 1940s terraced house.
There were few ‘mod-cons’ then, the frugal kitchen being characterised by a Belfast stone sink, a mangle and a washboard, a very archaic-looking ‘Hoover’, a primitive washing machine, and a gas stove or cooker – all of which now have a distinctly ‘last century’ look about them. And to emphasise the austerity of the war years when meat was rationed, actors in the roles of family members will be seen peeling the spuds and cooking a very thin and scraggy-looking chicken – a rare treat during the war.
Within the plywood walls of the ‘house’, a typical ‘40s period living room will be represented with flowery wallpaper and frumpy curtains, a horsehair sofa and oak sideboard (with obligatory ticking mantle clock), and a clutch of framed, sepia-tone photographs. The set even has a ‘Dig For Victory’ garden, following the wartime government initiative which urged every family to grow their own vegetables.
Ticket holders will also be able to experience at first-hand what it was like to take refuge during bombing raids in a corrugated steel Anderson shelter (more than two million were built, and issued free by the Government to householders earning less than £250 a year!), and also see the smaller, table-like self-assembly Morrison shelter, designed to absorb the impact of falling debris in homes which had no cellar.
Passengers will be issued with identity cards - faithful copies of the actual wartime design - and they’ll have to show them too if steely-eyed military or plain-clothes police – or perhaps even German soldiers – thrust out a hand to demand: “Papers!”
Train tickets will also be valid for the 10-minute vintage bus ride from Kidderminster station’s cobbled forecourt, and visitors can indulge in some period ‘retail therapy’ at a delightful old-style WH Smith station kiosk on Kidderminster’s concourse.
Passengers could be accosted by travelling spivs Smart Alec and Tony the Tout (in real life SVR volunteers Gerry Bennett and Tony Perry) will who try to hawk ‘black market’ nylon
stockings, chocolate and other ‘contraband’ from their battered old suitcases.
Bewdley station yard will show an impressive collection of civilian and military vehicles, while in a new departure, the hitherto unexplored story of wartime US Army Hospitals in the area is examined in an exhibition titled ‘Wyre Forest at War’.
Next stop down the line at Arley visitors will by entertained with a fine repertoire of nostalgic songs by resident crooner Kevin Mack, or for those keen to indulge in some audience participation, there’s an opportunity to become one of the ‘guests’ at a typical wartime wedding ceremony, which will be enacted each day at 2.15pm.
The Engine House at Highley however is probably the place where most passengers will gather at lunchtimes, to hear the morale-boosting speech to Allied troops (at 1.00 pm each day) by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill (played by re-enactor Robbie Burns).
Unperturbed by their failure last year to capture the British Prime Minister, the Germans (all re-enactors) will try again – and come into headlong conflict with the ‘Tommies’ once more, in a spectacular battle at the lineside.
More ‘period’ vehicles can be found at Highley station. The Engine House is hosting an impressive mock-up of a wartime operations room, and offering free dance tuition of ‘The Stroll’ from instructors Strictly Jitterbug. From the restaurant balcony, 19-year-old singer Marina May will do her best to jog musical memories with her repertoire of ‘40s songs.
At Bridgnorth, visitors may catch sight of ‘George Formby’, complete with his eukelele – a very persuasive act by imitator Paul Harper, who is supported in his impromptu singing at the railway’s northern terminus by professional singer Lola Lamour.
But nothing reawakens an era better than its music, and The Allen Francis Big Band - the former works band of a now long-closed Worcester steelworks - returns to the SVR to bring alive again the unmistakable ‘Glenn Miller’ sound, at Kidderminster’s two Saturday night Big Band Shows (7.30pm).
For many the climax of the weekend, the Big Band concerts are served by an evening train from Bridgnorth (6.35pm, stopping all stations, returning from Kidderminster at 11.00pm).
During the day, the Middleton Youth Band from Middleton, Manchester, will be on a roving commission, playing live each day at Kidderminster, Arley and Bridgnorth stations.
Tickets for the evening concerts cost £10, while ‘Freedom of the Line’ all-day rover tickets can be bought in advance for £20, or £22 on the day, Seniors £17.50 / £19 on the day, and Children 4 – 15, £12 / £13.50).
As a mark of respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, a bugler will play ‘The Last Post’, the Union Flag will be lowered and prayers said in a short ceremony at Kidderminster station at 4pm on both Sundays.