Live & Direct

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Historian, broadcaster and TV presenter Dan Snow tells us more about his upcoming History Guy tour…

Q:What will you be talking about in your show? “A large chunk will be about local history, with direct relevance to the place we’re in…”

Q: Do people want to recount their personal histories, too? “Yes, they often want to tell me all about their family or the part their family played in history, such as a soldier in the First World War. A huge number of people tell me stories about their ancestors. They’ll say something like ‘My father was the first black RAF pilot’. Listening to them, you realise how many firsts there are.”

Q: Is your hope that you can captivate audiences with your infectious enthusiasm? “Yes! History is not all about dead kings, old libraries and dust: it’s everything! It’s your parents’ eyes meeting across a crowded room and why we are who we are and why we are speaking English and why it’s acceptable for women and men to mingle together. I hope people walk out of the theatre saying that they had a really good time. I also hope they leave having thought deeply about the past of their town, their country and their world. I just love this country – there is so much character and history here. Wherever you go in Britain, there are so many stories.”

Q: What do you think are the benefits of studying history? “It’s very good for your mental health to go to these places. When I went to Odiham Castle recently it was a beautiful sunlit morning – not a bad way to spend 20 minutes. Being a historian is a lovely job, but we can all do it at any time.”

Q: Tell us about your channel, History Hit TV. “Life is very exciting at the moment. Our podcasts have a million listeners. I love doing the podcast because of its simplicity and speed.”

Q: What you do in your spare time? “We go on holiday and visit historic sites! The kids are more manageable when you’re doing stuff with them. Having them around the house in winter is brutal. Looking around Winchester or Basingstoke is great fun. Walking around the Roman walls of Chester is a really good day out. You’re a better parent if you take your children to these historic places; it makes better citizens. We’re also on the water all the time. I often row with the kids near our house.”

Q: Did you inherit your love of history from your family? “Yes. My dad is fantastic on the heritage side. I inherited that from him. He has relentless energy. Also, my Welsh grandma, Nain, was a huge storyteller. She taught me to give history a human element and to bring it alive. I hope my history is real and vivid because of her.”

Enjoy Dan Snow: An Evening with “The History Guy” at The Swan in High Wycombe on Thursday, 7th July. For tickets, visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk or call 01494 512 000.

Military music

Rachel Wakefield

Buckinghamshire

Sarah Readings explains more about one of the lesser-known aspects of the Royal Air Force Music Service; the RAF Voluntary Band Association

Music is, and always has been, an important part of our nation’s military heritage. It has long played an essential role in military affairs, from the war carnyx that roused the ancient Celts to war, via the drums and trumpets of Roman Legions, to the bugle call that signals the lowering of the RAF ensign at sunset. Music lifts the spirits, helps keep a parade in step and encourages a sense of comradeship. Military music is a tradition in which the Voluntary Bands (VBs) of the Royal Air Force have proudly participated for a century.

In April 1918 when the Royal Air Force formed from the union of the Royal Naval Air Services and the Royal Flying Corps, musicians of the two services, augmented by fresh recruits, united to form the first RAFVBs. Funding emerged, including donations from officers. The men who flocked to volunteer came from a variety of musical traditions – brass bands, military bands, pipe bands and corps of drums – and their skills covered all manner of instruments. Some were experienced, others were hobbyists.

Soon after the Voluntary Bands began, the Air Ministry received a report calling for the inauguration of a School of Music to be staffed by a team of 50 band instructors. The Air Ministry agreed, only to reconsider when the dust of the Great War settled to reveal enormous debts. In 1920, amid loud arguments from the Army and the Navy that the RAF itself was no longer necessary, the infant RAF School of Music was disbanded. Happily, the RAF Central Band stepped in and supplied a succession of excellent Voluntary Band Instructors (VBIs).

In the 1920s and 1930s, VBs flourished: many RAF stations, both at home and overseas, had their own band and some of the larger ones worked with the RAF Central Band. Many more bands were established as the Second World War drew thousands more people into uniform and the number of RAF bases and personnel increased. A great number of new recruits of all trades had, in civilian life, been keen musicians, whether professional or amateur, and they rejoiced in the opportunity to continue banding while dressed in RAF blue. Even after the war ended, some of them stayed on in the Service and formed professional ensembles as part of the RAF Music Services.

In 1949, the RAF School of Music reopened and offered a bandmaster’s course which produced some marvellous VBIs, mainly Warrant Officers and Flight Sergeants, who guided the various bands for another three decades. By the mid-1970s, 24 bandmaster posts existed at RAF stations both in the UK and overseas.

Today’s RAF Voluntary Bands are led by fully qualified, experienced bandmasters who are the only paid members of the VBs: all other bandsmen and women are willing volunteers.

One of the welcome results of the formation of the RAFVBA is increasing collaboration among the bands. Over the past few years a number of prestigious massed band events have been staged, highlights being a concert at Symphony Hall in Birmingham in 2008 to celebrate 90 years of the Royal Air Force; a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Spitfire in Leicester in 2011 and a showcase concert in Cardiff in 2016. For amateur musicians these massed band events are an opportunity to participate in high-profile and prestigious concerts and enhance our feelings of pride in the Voluntary Band Association and its place in the modern music service.

Now for a more personal perspective – as a proud member of RAF Halton Area Voluntary Band, I have enhanced my musical life and improved my musical skills. I have strong links to the Armed Forces; both of my grandfathers served in WWI in the Australian and British Armies, my father served in the Australian Army in WWII and two of my brothers served in the British Army for years. I married into an RAF family; my mother-in-law was ex-WRAF and my father-in-law a Squadron Leader in the RAF. After his death my mother-in-law remarried a Wing Commander in the RAF. I have a nephew serving at RAF Benson as Puma ground support and another nephew has recently left the Royal Marines after many years’ service, including Iraq and several tours of Afghanistan.

Military tradition and its ethos of service and dedication has formed a backdrop to my life and in a very small way I am able to continue that. As a mature amateur musician, who came late to playing a brass instrument, I was able to learn a new skill and gain an insight into the world of military music. For me, a particular highlight is our participation in the annual Service of Remembrance held by the War Widows Association of Great Britain in Whitehall on the Saturday preceding Armistice Sunday. There is no greater sense of pride than marching to our national memorial, the Cenotaph, and participating in this moving event and supporting women who have suffered the ultimate loss in the protection of our country.

There are advantages to being a civilian member – I for one never thought I would learn to stand on a drill square and start working out my left foot and right foot and then be expected to march, play, stay in step, follow the right direction and not end up facing the opposite way to my comrades in the band. In conclusion, while membership of an RAF Voluntary Band does require commitment and either an understanding of, or a willingness to learn and embrace service discipline, in return you are part of an organisation that can widen your musical experience much more than is usually possible in a civilian alternative.

For more information, please visit www.haltonvoluntaryband.co.uk

It will be pilots on parade this month, as the RAF100 Roadshow reaches Horse Guards Parade, 6th – 9th July as part of the centenary year. On display will be aircraft from all through their history, including; Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c Biplane, Supermarine Spitfire MkXVI, Gloster Meteor F4 (the actual aircraft that captured the world air speed record of 616 mph in 1946), Harrier GR3, Tornado GR1, DC3 Dakota and a Chinook Helicopter. As well as the past, the RAF will also be looking to the future with an interactive STEM/Techno Zone and learn more about how they’re creating the next generation Air Force. After the Roadshow at Horse Guards there will also be a flypast and parade on 10th July. Visit www.raf.mod.uk

With grateful thanks to Mrs Mary Mackie, for her assistance with this article and her research into and words on the history of the RAF VBA. Mrs Mary Mackie, Author & Speaker, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Flying high with Alice Marshall

Rachel Wakefield

Buckinghamshire

Peter Anderson chats to Alice Marshall, winner of the Brighton Fringe Best Comedy Award ahead of her shows this month.

Alice Marshall has won plaudits for her weird and wonderful characters, including bold and brassy Hispanic air stewardess Maria, once dubbed “the angriest woman in the skies”. Now she’s welcoming the Farnham audience on board for their 50-minute, non-stop flight into the Twilight Zone.

So, I want to ask Alice, where do the ideas for your characters come from?

“My characters come from all over the place. Some of them are heightened versions of different aspects of my own personality, some of them are based on people I’ve met in real life, and some of them are coping mechanisms I’ve invented to help me get through difficult situations. I came up with the main character in my new show, Maria the air hostess, to help me deal with my intense fear of flying. By turning myself into her, I can sometimes convince myself I’m not going to die at 30,000 ft.”

What can visitors expect from this show?

“My shows are something a little out of the ordinary. The characters are incredibly varied, and the concept of the show is also a little unusual… it  won’t be like anything you’ve seen before.”

Is there a place or venue you would really love to perform?

“As both a comedian and an actor there’s definitely a part of me that finds traditional West End theatres completely magical. I would love to do a show in one of them one day – The Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue is my favourite; it’s spectacular. That would be a dream come true…”

Comedy can be a tough gig – one you are excelling at with flying colours! What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had to help counter the nerves?

“Always look towards your next show; never get hung up on what you’ve just done. Whether a performance has gone brilliantly or terribly, it doesn’t matter. Don’t weigh your self worth based on what an audience thinks! If they love you, don’t get carried away. If they hate you, don’t let it affect what you do. It’s not about you, it’s about the work you’re making and that has to be all that matters.”

Alice Marshall will perform at Norden Farm Centre For The Arts on Thursday, 5th July; visit Norden Farm or call 01628 788997 and on Saturday, 14th July; visit  Cutty Sark Theatre or call 020 8312 6608 to book. Also visit www.alicemarshall.co.uk

Up swing

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Liz Nicholls chats to ballroom dancer Anton du Beke

Q. Hello Anton – lovely to chat to you! I’ve just been shuffling about in the kitchen to your CD… Do you like January?
“Thank you – that’s exactly the reaction I wanted! Well, in January I’m so busy. I’m in the studio working on my tour. It’s incredibly exhausting and I have about a thousand steps to learn so my brain feels like it’s about to melt. I have songs to remember and chat to learn. Erin [Boag] and I tour every January, February, March. So I don’t get January blues. I always feel quite poor, though, because those credit card bills mount up and I’ve gone a bit too mad at Christmas again. 2017 has been the best year ever – getting married and doing so much great stuff.”

Q. Where are you now?
“In the living room at my house in Burnham Beeches. It’s a lovely part of the world. I don’t come from round here; I grew up in Sevenoaks and spent a number of years in central London. When I met Hannah she came from here and I’ve loved to be here and discover the area. Bucks is gorgeous and equidistant between the M4 and M40 which is perfect when I’m on the road. Take the dogs for a walk in the woods – we have two short-hair black-and-tan daschunds called Antoninus and Branston.”

Q. How do you stay healthy?
“We do eat pretty healthily. Hannah is a great cook and we never eat meals you grab out the fridge and shove in the oven. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke but I’ve always lived that kind of lifestyle – it’s not something I’ve worked at, it’s just normal for me.”

Q. Who were your early musical influences?
“Growing up, I fell in love with musicals. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were my heroes – I wanted to dance like them but didn’t know how I’d go from a church hall in Kent to being Fred Astaire! Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior – those great entertainers – also impressed me, having an orchestra on stage. This album features a 36-piece orchestra who usually don’t do swing but were lovely. The string section were from the Royal Philharmonic – that’s how good they are.”

Q. It was a joy to watch you dancing with Ruth [Langsford] on Strictly at the end of last year! Did you get on with Ruth?
“Brilliant; she’s a joy. She and Eamonn are so funny and Ruth has the best ever sense of humour!”

Q. Do you see much live music?
“A little bit but I don’t go to many big concerts. I found when I went to a few when I was young that you’re just in the way of the performance if that makes sense at all? But I’m always listening to music on Spotify on my phone to find stuff to dance to! And I do love going to all the big shows.”

Q. Your good friend Bruce Forsyth died last year and I’m sorry for your loss. How have you coped with that?
“Thank you. It was a massive shame and a big shock. I spoke to him about two weeks before he passed away and he said he felt a bit better and had been on his exercise machine to start building his strength up. I’ve got a song on the album called Me And My Shadow which is about him and quite an important song to me. I still feel sad but lucky to have known him. People deal with it in their own way, but my life is better for having known him.”

Q. Have you got any dreams for this year?
“No! With the babies and getting married last year and the album and a great Strictly I feel really happy with my lot! All I’d like is more of the same, please… well, no more twins! Actually what I’d like is them to grow big and beautiful and happy.”

Visit www.antonanderin.com