Peter Ling travels to Wembley to meet Guy Bloomer, deputy manager of the studios
Old joke – with no apologies whatsoever to Punch or the Marx Brothers
Rude Little Boy: ‘Wotchcr doing? Propping up the building?’
Debonair Gentleman with Elegantly Crossed Legs, One Hand in Trouser-Pocket, Leaning Against Wall: ‘Yes.’
R.L. Boy laughs sceptically.
D. Gentleman with E.C.L., One H. in T-P., steps away from wall.
The building collapses.
While no-one would go so far as to claim that if Guy Bloomer stepped away from Wembley Studios there would be a positive structural disaster – least of all, Guy himself – you feel that without his support the edifice might totter slightly. Beneath that deceptive appearance of nonchalance, Guy is in fact busily ensuring that the non-stop activity of the studios continues to flow smoothly, all round the clock.
But it isn’t as easy to prop up a building as it looks. Before tackling his present job (official designation: ‘Deputy Manager, Wembley Studios’) Guy accumulated a great deal of varied experience, all of which has proved useful in one way or another.
For example, as deputy manager, he has to know when to say ‘No’. He first said ‘No’ when he left Malvern College; a firm ‘No’ to the prospect of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a solicitor. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew that whatever profession he took up, it wouldn’t be legal.
Instead, he joined the Royal Navy, as an Ordinary Seaman, in 1942. After a posting to the west coast of Scotland, he was transferred to the King Alfred Training Establishment for Officers at Hove, and thence to the R.N. College at Greenwich. He spent most of the war in beach-landing parties, on combined ops and beachhead assaults – ‘Mostly along the South Coast and the Isle of Wight’, he adds. Pressed for details, he admits that he was in the D-Day landings in France and at Walcheren as well.
He was en route for the Far East when the war in Japan ended, and so turned smartly about and set to work, convoying a flotilla of captured U-boats up to the Baltic, where they were to be handed over to our Russian allies. He found our allies slightly unco-operative on an official level, but on the unofficial level he has a hazy recollection of splendid hospitality in the Russian Officers Club; there was a picture of Lenin on the wall, and vodka everywhere else.
The deputy manager of Wembley Studios has to know a lot about hospitality.
Then there was a long job in mid-Atlantic, when Guy assisted some oceanographic scientists to measure the height of waves.
(You: ‘That’s interesting. How do they measure the height of waves in mid-Atlantic?
Guy: ‘That’s what they were trying to find out’.)
At last he became a civilian again, and immediately took a long trip by trawler to Murmansk and the White Sea, as a passenger – more or less from force of habit, presumably. But he decided it was time he picked himself a career, and after twelve wasted months as a trainee in a local brewery, went to take a rehabilitation course at Bournemouth, in Business Management. This was designed as a general introduction for men who had gone straight from school into war service, to open their eyes to the devilish cunning of business procedure.
That, too, must have stood him in good stead since. Unfortunately, he took the course just too late to qualify for a Government Grant, and discovered after the first forty-eight hours of riotous reunion that he was broke. To earn some spare-time cash, he took a job in the evenings, as a very inexperienced stagehand at the Hippodrome Theatre, Boscombe.
This was a case of love at first sight. ‘I hadn’t been backstage more than ten minutes when something clicked,’ Guy admits, slightly embarrassed. ‘I mean – I knew that this was the business for me.’
Reluctantly he decided to finish his course anyway, mainly through pressure from home. ‘As soon as I announced that I had decided to go into the theatre – well, never have I received so many letters from my father in such a short space of time.’
Then followed a long spell of backstage work, during which all readers will be glad to learn that he applied for, and was granted, a NATKE union card. After spells in Bournemouth and Plymouth, he finally armed himself with some useful introductions and assaulted the West End.
His resultant success nearly killed him; he worked on the fit-up of the first Latin Quarter revue at the London Casino, and spent a hundred hours in the theatre during five days. But the show went on, and Guy survived. (Another valuable qualification for Wembley Studios.)
Soon afterwards, he decided to take a holiday in France, and wrote to every theatre in Paris (in enthusiastic, if inaccurate, French) describing himself as an assistant ‘metteur-en-scene’, and asking if it might be possible to go backstage as a visitor. Several theatres welcomed him warmly, including the Opera – a memorable experience – and the Chatelet, where they were producing a colossal extravaganza called L’Auberge du Cheval Blanc… (White Horse Inn a la Française, and equally memorable in a different way.) Everywhere he was received with flattering courtesy, and it wasn’t until later he realized that instead of describing himself as an assistant stage-manager, he had in fact announced himself as an assistant producer. Still, it was fun while it lasted.
His next important step was when he joined the International Ballet for four-and-a-half years, first as stage manager, and soon afterwards as stage director. This gave him further opportunities to travel, since the ballet toured in Italy and Spain. But when this job came to an end his travels continued.
A drink in a Chelsea pub – a casual invitation – and suddenly Guy found himself helping to refit a yacht in Majorca, then working in the crew on a series of Mediterranean cruises. The last cruise got a little out-of-hand and finished in Barbados.
This was all splendid, but Guy’s bank manager was beginning to send him curt little notes, and he realized the time had come to earn a living once more.
He travelled back to England, in an Italian ship with a passenger-list made up almost entirely of West Indian immigrants. When they reached Teneriffe, in mid-winter, a furious argument broke out, and Guy had to arbitrate ‘Yes’, he told the incredulous passengers, ‘that stuff on the mountain is snow…’
Perhaps it was the association of ideas that carried him on to his next job; shoving scenery about in the Earls Court Ice Show. However, he soon got an offer to go to Bath to stage direct the Trafalgar Pageant on the local rugger field and thence to Glyndebourne as stage manager. During his season there, he had an interview in London for a rather different kind of post, and was accepted; but he couldn’t start work immediately, as he had to go to the Edinburgh Festival with the Opera Company. He returned to London in mid-September, 1955, and managed to walk into his new role at Wembley Studios, just ten days before the first programme went on the air.
‘Look here, I’ve been talking too much…’ he breaks off apologetically. ‘Anyhow, you know the rest – I’ve been doing the same job ever since.’
After this saga, it’s rather a shock to realize that Guy has actually stayed in one place for four years. Does he ever feel restless? Does he ever get the urge to hoist scenery in Boscombe, or sails in Palma?
‘Well, I go back to Majorca every year, for a bit of sailing… But as for the theatre – well, strange as it may seem, I like television!’
So it looks as if Guy Bloomer has dropped anchor at last.