I thought of this one night when I was cycling back from a rehearsal of Habeas Corpus. I think it was at least partly inspired by the character Sir Percy Shorter. Anyway, I liked what I had spouted to the empty air across 12 miles of countryside, so I wrote it down. It got used in the Summer Cabaret that Skipton Players put on in July 2002, which I did the effects for.
We hear the sound of a cocktail party in the wings. Suddenly, there are raised voices, and we hear the voice of the COLONEL loud and clear:
COLONEL (Off) Why don't you step outside and say that!
The COLONEL staggers into view. He is in late middle age, with a huge grey handlebar moustache, wearing military uniform. He speaks with a nasal yet gruff voice of a typical "Huntin', shootin' and fishin', then let's get stuck into the Bosche" upper-class idiot military fool, slurred from years of alcohol consumption. He carries a half-full glass in one hand, from which he takes regular drinks, and keeps it topped up with refills from the vodka bottle in his other hand. From the wings, we hear the sound of patio doors slamming.
COLONEL Eh, what?
He tries to go back inside, but the doors (just off) are locked.
COLONEL Coward! Oh well, it's a nice night. May as well make the best of it.
He comes to the front of the stage, takes a drink, and suddenly notices the audience.
COLONEL I say! Dashed decent of you to come out here and listen to me! I expect you know who I am. If you don't I'll tell you. And if you do, I'll tell you anyway!
He stands to attention, careful not to spill his drink.
COLONEL Colonel James Nigel Tonic, late of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, at your service!
COLONEL Well, obviously, not quite "at your service", otherwise I'd be runnin' around after you all, gettin' you drinks or somesuch! Anyway, you can call me Jim. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Jim N Tonic" - no wonder he drinks! Actuall y, I never touch the stuff. This is vodka. Say what you like about the Russkies, they do know their drinks! Well, seein' as I'm here, I may as well tell you what I was tellin' to those ungrateful little puppies in there. Now that I've got (He yells this OFF) AN APPRECIATIVE AUDIENCE! (Back to normal volume, facing front) I can relate to you the experience that made me famous in the Army - the defence of the British Forces (SAY EACH LETTER SEPERATELY) N-A-A-F-I H-Q, Far East Asia! It was a gruelling action, lasted four hours, but eventually we drove the enemy off, using a combination of equipment and ingenuity, that only a British soldier could achieve!
I was stationed in Korea during the military action there a few years back - forget the exact date, probably not important - and I wasn't particularly enjoying it, I'm afraid I have to say. I was in charge of the (SAY EACH LETTER SEPERATELY) N-A-A-F-I for the entire British Forces in the Theatre of Operations. It was a very important post, I can tell you.
It was the time of Marylin Monroe's visit to the Forces - kind of like Vera Lynn a decade before, but much more famous. And prettier, too. Richer as well, I dare say. Anyway, while Marylin was off entertaining the troops...
He glares at the audience.
COLONEL Stop that! You've got dirty minds, the lot of you! Of course I don't mean "entertaining" like that. Some may have gone on, but, only with the Generals, if at all! She sang to them, if you must know! God knows what she sang, having a couple of million men for an audience - and randy as jackrabbits, the whole lot!
Anyway, while Marylin was entertaining the troops, we got wind of an upcoming massive assault on our position. Now, what with Marylin in the country, we were understaffed, but - huhur - being the astute military commander that I am, I had managed to acquire nearly half the janker wallahs in the army for our use! So, I read the reports, checked our orders, had quick gander at the supply situation, then called in my second-in-command.
Since I was only a Major at the time, he was a Captain. Captain Daniel Nutt, with two T's - he always did keep pointing that out. Anyway, the poor chap was so fat, everyone called him "Dough"! Get it? As in "Dougnut"! (Laughs).
Anyway, once in my office, I let him in on the situation, and told him "Parade all ranks not on essential duties in the mess hall in twenty minutes! I wish to address the men, rouse them up, give them some idea of what to expect!"
"Very good, sir!" Saluted, left. Good chap, old Doughnut.
Twenty minutes later, I addressed the men, from atop a table in the mess hall. It was a fairly sturdy table, so I did a bit of walking up and down on it as I spoke. Good old Doughnut, just in front of the table, off to one side, trying to look important. I had me swagger stick under me arm, me best hat on, best boots. It's vital to impress the men with your military presence, in situations like this!
It's bin a while since I actually gave the damn speech, so I can't remember all of it, but, basically, this is what I said:
He comes to CENTRE STAGE, forward, and stamps to attention. He shoves the bottle under his arm like a swagger-stick (thumb over the neck), and re-enacts his great speech.
COLONEL "Men! Englishmen! Servicemen! You have been chosen by your country to do it a great service. In less that an hour, our small but vital position will be overrun by hordes of screaming, gibbering foreigners. The only thing that stands between that rabble of enemy and total disaster - is you!
"Now is your opportunity to show your country what you can do! Now is the time your country can be proud of you, just as you are proud of your country. This is what you've been trained for. This is what you are being paid for. It's time to show the folks back home just what the British Tommy is capable of! We shall make those poor idiots in bed in Seoul ashamed they were not here this day!
"We are undermanned - true. We are short on supplies - true. We cannot expect reinforcements - true. But remember - you are British soldiers, the finest troops in the world. You are so highly trained, each one of you is worth ten of the enemy!
"Now remember men, we are out here alone until sunset, when it's expected to be over by. So, prepare yourselves; prepare your equipment; check and double-check everything. Remember, England expects every man to do his duty!"
At which point the mood was completely ruined by a voice from the back, asking "What about Scotland?"
"Silence in the ranks!" ordered good old Doughnut. To which I followed up with "I expect every man to do his duty - and if you don't, I'll put you all on fatigues!"
Not the most dire of threats, since most of them were on fatigues already.
He breaks out of his re-enactment, and continues. From here on, bland narrative gives way to evoking tension, and other reactions, from the audience.
COLONELAnyway, once I'd dismissed everybody, we all took up our positions. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, had something to do. Doughnut, armed to the jowls, was on the cash register, while I took up position behind the soup cauldrons. As the moment of attack came nearer, I surveyed our thin line, and liked what I saw. Every man was fully armed with two implements appropriate to his position. The dixie tins and mugs were primed and ready for use. The triple tea-urns with re-inforced bromide infusers were steaming merrily. The ammunition pits were full. The meat cook, looking resplendant in his armoured chef's hat, sharpening a cleaver the size of a cricket bat.
Only the buns looked suspect. However, officer's perogative, I broke ranks and examined them. No, on second inspection, they were perfect. As dense as lead shot, and capable of knocking out a small tank if fired from a six-pounder! Everything a perfect British Army field kitchen.
There was a sudden lull as I returned to my position. Then we heard it - the unco-ordinated and out-of-step tramp tramp tramp of an ill-disciplined army advancing on our position.
Suddenly, I realised we weren't fully prepared! All three doors were unlocked! We would never cope if they came in through all three! I signalled Doughnut, and, ever quick on the uptake, despatched two men to bar the flank two doors. They probably wouldn't hold for long, but it was better than nothing.
I gave the order to make ready.
And then they were upon us! A quarter of a million, undisciplined, ragged, crude, American GI's fresh from one of Marylin's concerts! They came through the doors like the sea coming through a leak in a dam! We set to.
Oh, it was a long and hard battle. We threw everything we had at them, and still it didn't seem enough. Several times I was worried our line wouldn't hold, but hold it did. Sure enough, true to my prediction, by sunset they were gone. We had beaten them. They had fallen back, and we still had food to spare!
I surveyed our line again, and the looks of relief and joy at having survived the battle were plain to see! I decided to use my discretion, and let pass this mass slippage of the stiff upper lip.
We hear the patio doors being opened, and a woman's voice calls:
WOMAN (Off) Colonel! Are you out there, Colonel?
COLONEL Yes, what is it?
WOMAN (Off) Henry thought you may want to join the card school he's just started in the billiard room!
COLONEL Cards? What's the game?
WOMAN (Off) Pontoon of course!
COLONEL Ah! Excellent! (He starts to go in) This reminds me of the time...
WOMAN (Off) He said he'd only let you join, on the condition of no story-telling!
COLONEL (As he EXITS) Did he? Blast! I was just beginning to enjoy myself!
© Brian Wakeling