Bill Morton: Fols Memories
It was electric
I first saw the Fols in 1957, when they came to Edinburgh, where I lived, to appear at the Lyceum Theatre.
Reluctantly persuaded to go by my mother, who had been in the business and knew of the Fols reputation, I was immediately hooked.
The show, led by Jack Tripp, Kathleen West and Leslie Crowther, was an absolute delight. I went to every change of programme and in the following years I was first in the queue for tickets – which were hard to get as the show sold out weeks before the company even arrived in town.
I will always remember the atmosphere in the auditorium, waiting for the show to start, when Jimmy Green, the drummer who looked remarkably like Mr. Pickwick, entered the stalls to climb over the railing into the pit, and Harry Tait and Alice Stephenson came up from below to huge applause to start the overture. It was electric and the company never disappointed, the audience always came away on a high.
Thrilled to be accepted
In 1958 it was Denny Willis who led the company, his "Quorn Quartette" is indelibly etched on my memory.
The following year,1959, Jack Tripp returned and it was also the year that my life changed. By chance, at a neighbour’s, I was introduced to Leslie Crowther, a friend of theirs. This led to an invitation from him to watch the show from backstage, which was a revelation, seeing the extraordinarily slick behind-the-scenes operation.
I came back every night, eventually lending a hand in a small way; then, when the company moved on to Glasgow, I followed them to the Kings Theatre on the train after work each night.
I finally persuaded a reluctant Company Manager, Peter Felgate, to give me a job and he offered me a six month contract as ASM with the Hastings company.
It was hard work but I loved it
So in April 1960 I left my safe job with a printing firm and moved to London to join fellow ASM, John Morrison, at the Jack Hylton stores in London and the two summer companies at the rehearsal rooms in Macklin Street.
It was hard work but I loved it. I was very green, but under the generous tutelage of Johnny Morrrison and veteran stage manager, John Redmond, I became reasonably competent.
With Jack Tripp and Kathleen West, after a tour, we were resident at the White Rock Pavilion in Hastings for the summer. The Fols were hugely popular and knocked other summer shows, such as Dazzle and Twinkle, into a cocked hat.
For me it was a wonderful time, it was such an exciting show to work on and a very happy company.
I knew this was the girl for me
I was asked to do the 1960/61 winter tour of Newcastle, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, again with Jack and Kath. To return to my home town as a member of the Fol-de-Rols was a proud moment for me. The show was at the top of its popularity, with full and appreciative houses where ever we went.
Re-employed for the 1961 summer season as Stage Manager of the Scarborough company, I was delivering props to the rehearsal rooms in Macklin Street, off Drury Lane, to find the dancers rehearsing.
At the end of the line was a beautiful red-haired dancer hadn’t seen before, but somehow I knew this was the girl for me. Don’t ask me how I knew, it just happened!
Her name was Julie Mellon, but sadly she was with the Eastbourne company, so we went our separate ways. After another excellent summer season, the winter tour with Denny Willis brought us together, but she was going out with another member of the company, David Morton.
However I persevered and by the time we reached Glasgow, I had won her over.
End of the pantomime season
Summer of 1962 saw me back at the Floral Hall, Scarborough, for another season, with Julie in the company this time, then the winter tour, at the end of which, in Glasgow, I proposed to Julie and she accepted.
After our final 1963 Summer Season in Scarborough we left the Fols, with the help of contacts through Jack Tripp, to work for Derek Salberg at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. At the end of the pantomime season, in March 1964, Julie and I were married and many Fols and ex-Fols joined us for the occasion.
Such a wonderful company
I just feel so lucky to have been part of the Fol-de-Rols, such a wonderful company, at a time when they were at the top of their extraordinary popularity.
To have had the privilege to have worked with artistes of the calibre of Jack Tripp, Kathleen West, Denny Willis and Leslie Crowther; the list goes on to include the likes of Johnnie Mack, Denny’s feed, and Allan Christie, who always worked with Jack, the lovely Joan Mann, Eddie Molloy, ‘mad’ Norman Caley, and so many others – the list is endless.
These performers all had exceptional talents which, through the excellent scripts and music of Rex Newman and his team, were exhibited at their best in the Fols.
All the Fols companies that I stage managed were so friendly and supportive and I learned so much in those years; I look back on that time as one of the happiest and most influential periods of my show-business career.
After the show
Briefly, in 1966 I left the theatre and went into television, spending twenty-five years with the BBC, then many years as a Television Director in the independent sector.
Julie left the business to open the successful Julie Morton School of Dancing in Tring, but sadly she died much too young in 2000, a victim of cancer. However, the school continues to this day under the care of our two daughters, both of whom became professional dancers, a tribute to their wonderful mother.