Thank you Betty Lavington from Sally aged seventeen – A drama Queen

My two sisters who were ten and eleven years old both left school and trained as secretaries.  My eldest sister became PA in Malta to the Surgeon Rear Admiral at 18 when my father was posted there so immediately put her skills to great use.  My other sister on arrival in Cape Town was photographed for the front cover of the Cape Argus as a newcomer to the Cape and ended up working on the paper for two years.  So obviously secretarial training led to them having some very interesting and high level jobs over the years.

However, madam, decided at a very early age that she wanted to be a singer and actress! It was all my mother’s fault really.  Apart from the fact that she had rather the flair for the dramatic all her life, she manipulated me into being her co-conspirator every Saturday afternoon.

My father loved football and after he had cooked us one of his Spaghetti Bolognese lunches, followed by steamed treacle duff as he called them, we would retire to the lounge where our television took pride of place.  I would be about 13 or 14 at the time and rather than be out and about my mother would use me as the get away driver for her secret pleasure.  The Saturday afternoon musical on BBC2.

Of course this conflicted with the afternoon football offering on Grandstand.  However, we knew that my father had a weakness. Stoked up with carbohydrates and sugars from lunch, within 10 minutes of the match starting, he would be stretched out in his Parker Knoll recliner, snoring.

You have to remember that in those days, we actually had to get up and down to switch channels and this is where I came in.  As soon as my father began snoring, my mother would nudge me on the sofa and I would creep across the carpet and turn the channel over to BBC2.  The running bit came in when there would be a temporary change to my father’s breathing and at a shove from my mother, I would leap up from the sofa, dash across the room and switch channels back to the football.  My father would watch blearily for about five minutes then resume his afternoon nap.

This might happen six or seven times during the course of the movie and eventually at 4.45 we would turn the channel over to BBC1 and my father would wake up to the cup of tea my mother had made, convinced he had watched 90 minutes of fancy footwork, but not the kind we had been watching.

I had always loved dancing and singing and had been in a number of school plays.  Being tall for my age it usually involved me standing completely still for 30 minutes in the guise of a tree or some other inanimate object.

But my heart and soul burned to be the lead, dancing and singing my way through the performance like Ginger Rogers, Esther Williams (yes I would have done synchronised swimming if called for) Deborah Kerr, Mitzi Gaynor etc.  I had seen South Pacific at age 10 and I would have even taken the role as Bloody Mary given half the chance.  I knew all the lyrics from the popular musicals of the day and had wept buckets as John Kerr lip synched to Younger than Springtime and could perform all the songs from Sound of Music.

Despite my best efforts, which included dressing in Swiss costume and dragging one of my friends around to old people’s homes to entertain the residents (very appreciative, let me tell you!) My parents said that if I was leaving school I must go and train as a secretary as drama was not a profession that would earn me a living.

I obviously had more faith in my acting and singing talents than my parents but they were looking out for me and they knew that the secretarial training my sisters had completed had led to them working in good jobs all over the world.

So, I enrolled for a one year’s secretarial course at Highbury Technical College in Portsmouth in September 1969 age 16.

The key to this is not my shorthand and typing speeds, that were more than adequate by the end of the year, but the extra classes we took in English.  Our teacher was Mrs Betty Lavington, who actually has trained more than a few successful actors and actresses in her time at Highbury.  However, to my delight, she was casting for that year’s drama production which was the operetta Passion Flower, the story of Carmen but adapted for the amateur stage.

Without informing my parents I auditioned.  I was rather expecting to be cast as part of the scenery again but you can imagine my absolute thrill when Betty Lavington chose me to play Micaela – Carmen’s rival for the Toreador’s affections.

The police cadets were cast in the roles of the soldiers, an Australian dentist in the part of the Escamillo and a previous student of Betty’s played Carmen.

Rehearsals began and slowly but surely, under the direction of the indomitable Betty Lavington, Passion Flower, blossomed and came to life.

I can still remember standing on the stage, knees quaking as I prepared for the cat fight with Carmen, manhandled by the soldiers (the police cadets were very forceful) as they pulled us apart. Cut to the final scene where Escamillo threw a rose onto Carmen’s body and dragged me into his arms for a passionate kiss!  Cue very loud gasp of horror from front row where unsuspecting mother and father were watching the last night’s performance, under the misconception that I was, as usual, part of the chorus and not some harlot in an off the shoulder blouse and big earrings!

As you can imagine there was much discussion on the subject of acting and drama schools on our arrival home, and I know that my parents had my best interests at heart. I left Highbury however, having achieved my dream of being in a musical, even though it was only performed to a small audience it was magnificent. I could also type at 45 words per minute and shorthand at 100 words per minute which actually proved very useful going forward.

I have never performed in a stage production since, but I have sung in some interesting places and in my work on radio and television I have satisfied my desire to perform. Writing is a performance art too and whilst I may not be wearing an off the shoulder number, I get as much pleasure from being on this stage as I did playing a Spanish floozy 48 years ago.

So thank you Betty Lavington for making my dream come true.



51 thoughts on “Thank you Betty Lavington from Sally aged seventeen – A drama Queen

  1. Wow Sal, just when I thought I knew everything about you, lol. You were a star then and still now. I was lmao reading where you were the auto channel changer while your dad was asleep in the recliner. I could just picture you sneaking back and forth. Hilarious!!! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: Thank you Betty Lavington from Sally aged seventeen – A drama Queen | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. A Spanish floozy… dear me, you are a hoot!! I was often typecast due to my appearance… yes, I was the large, immovable object everyone else danced around. Still, I thrilled because if they were laughing at me, it was the character I portrayed and not me as a person. Rather addicting, being on stage…. I could see you making a glorious return to the boards. Why not write something and perform it in your town?

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  4. Of course I adored this story, Sally, since I spent a good deal of my life in my late teens, 20s and 30s onstage or in rehearsal. My dream was to remain a professional actor/director, but God seems to have had different plans for my life.

    I don’t write about those years (except in the occasional comment) – but a walk down my long entry hall tells the story in photos, posters and reviews from those wonderful days. I dearly miss them. I was certainly in MUCH better shape then too, when – as Debbie noted – I wasn’t sitting on my bum in front of a computer! Thanks for sharing.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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  5. You keep surprising me with all your talents, Sally! You are incredible! My dad did the same thing, fell asleep while watching TV. So funny! I could just see you sneaking across the room to change the channel. You have some fascinating stories to share about your life. Thank you for sharing! Blessings & hugs, xo ❤

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  6. A girl after my own heart. What a thrill that must have been for you but I must say I laughed myself silly. The dreams and aspirations we have at different stages in our life can bring such fond and hilarious memories in later years.
    My mother had a beautiful voice and my sister and I always wanted to sing. When we were in school we decided to join the church choir and we did. The nun never turned anyone away. I was hoping to do a Christmas solo, it was my dream at the time. After our first practice, Sister Mary Elizabeth pulled us aside and very gently told us to just mouth the words. We were tone deaf. And, so ended our tour with the choir and my dreams of a Christmas solo. I then decided to become a Cowgirl. I asked for a horse that year, instead, my dad got me Hop-A-Long Cassidy double holster six guns. ☺☺☺

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  7. Gosh, Sally, that was quite a coup at age 16! The closest I ever came to a lead role was playing the baby doll in our high school ballet production of The Little Match Girl. At least I wasn’t cast as the tree the dog chased around the stage in our production of Laugh In 🙂 Even though you didn’t make it to the big stage, you do have some pleasant memories ~ one being the very loud gasp from your parents! You must have enjoyed that 🙂 ♥

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  8. Another brilliant story Sally told with your gentle humour and lightness of touch. I roared laughing at the shennigans over the Saturday football! Wonderful. And what a pretty girl you were too, you actually looked like my cousin Paula.

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      • Obviously she is older now (aren’t we all… obviously present company excepted). In many ways I think you are much the same… good-hearted, instinctively kind and supportive, but don’t suffer fools and brook no mither either. And strong headed to boot!… She is a dedicated teacher but would love to write, maybe one day when she retires. I think you’d both really get on.

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  9. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Waterford 1930s, Rock Legends 1990s, Authors 2017 | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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