Hinge and Bracket

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Dr. Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket were the stage personae of the musical performance and female impersonation artists George Logan and Patrick Fyffe. Active in theatre, radio and television between 1972 and Fyffe's death in 2002, this comedic partnership entertained the public in the guise of two elderly eccentric spinsters, living genteel lives in the village of Stackton Tressel and seemingly celebrating their former "careers" on the provincial operatic stage. The two ladies generally performed together, but on rare occasions did appear separately; with George Logan declining to continue the characterisation of Dr. Hinge after Fyffe died.

Early appearances[edit]

Both George Logan and Patrick Fyffe were born into musically talented families with a strong stage background. Logan went on to study music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and attended Glasgow University. Fyffe had appeared in amateur theatre before turning professional. In a 2007 television interview, Logan explains that both he and Fyffe had been boy sopranos, and found themselves able to produce a falsetto voice after puberty. Fyffe's falsetto voice was additionally gifted with the full rounded tones of a mezzo soprano, and capable of producing some rousing high notes in performance.

Patrick Fyffe and George Logan were already well acquainted from their separate appearances in London cabaret when Fyffe approached Logan to stand in briefly in June 1972 as the piano accompanist for his drag act; and Logan found himself sitting at the keyboard in one of Fyffe's spare dresses. The stage names of "Hinge" and "Bracket" were chosen after careful deliberation, and in preference to bawdier alternatives. At one stage consideration had allegedly been given to "Dr P. Nissen" and "Dame Ava Fanny".

Hinge and Bracket then spent two years performing around London pubs and clubs. This included the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a popular gay venue, and the Kensington restaurant, AD8, owned by transexual April Ashley.

It was from this circuit that Hinge and Bracket were recruited to appear at the 1974 Edinburgh Festival. The show was a one-hour scripted vignette, which presented them in a Victorian church hall setting, along with a visiting baritone. In this intimate atmosphere, Evadne and Hilda handed round glasses of sherry to the audience. News of the show (or perhaps the sherry) spread quickly around the festival; and after the first couple of nights, they were playing to packed houses.

Immediately after Edinburgh, the pair moved the show to London, where they appeared for a fortnight upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre. This was immediately followed by a six month season at The Mayfair Theatre. The format of the show remained largely unchanged until the act moved to The Ambassador’s Theatre. One month into their run, they were approached by playwright Ray Cooney to provide a show for the late-night slot. The first specially commissioned Hinge and Bracket show, "Sixty Glorious Minutes", was subsequently written and performed.

Radio[edit]

Hinge and Bracket had toured in theatre for several years before appearing on radio. Their first series, The Enchanting World of Hinge and Bracket, ran on BBC Radio 4 for three seasons from 1977 to 1979. Produced by James Casey at BBC Radio in Manchester and scripted by Mike Craig, Laurie Kinsley and Ron McDonnell, these programmes were a mixture of period songs and situation comedy. Actress Daphne Heard was a series regular as The Dear Ladies' housekeeper, Maud, and each show featured an appearance by a guest artist. In an interview with Edmund Whitehouse of Evergreen magazine in 2010, Casey admitted when he first saw Hinge and Bracket that he was completely fooled and thought they were two old ladies. It was not until a highly amused Mike Craig spelt it out the following day that he realised they were two men in drag.

The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket, subsequently ran for 68 episodes on BBC Radio 2 from 1982 to 1989, and scripted by Gerald Frow. This placed the two in a variety of comedy situations, each episode being introduced from a supposed entry in Dame Hilda's diary. With the death of Daphne Heard in 1983, Maud's mantle was assumed by character actress Jean Heywood. Maud in her later incarnation was periodically joined by her uncouth and mischievous sister Gudrun, played with blood-curdling relish by comedienne Liz Smith.

The final radio series, At Home with Hinge and Bracket, had the format of informal musical evenings with a celebrity guest, and ran for a single season in 1990. Guests included Anthony Newley, Rosalind Plowright, Benjamin Luxon, June Whitfield, Evelyn Laye and Jack Brymer.

Some of the radio episodes have been re-broadcast on BBC 7 and Radio 4 Extra.

Television[edit]

A number of Hinge and Bracket gala and concert performances were televised by the BBC between 1978 and 1983. Venues included the Royal Hall, Harrogate and the Opera House, Buxton, and the repertoire ranged from Verdi arias through operetta and musical comedy to music hall. The BBC also recorded a "Dear Ladies Masterclass" held at the Royal Northern College of Music and a special performance, co-scripted by Gyles Brandreth, from the Princess Hall, Cheltenham Ladies' College in 1983.

Between 1983 and 1985, Hinge and Bracket appeared in their own television series entitled Dear Ladies on BBC 2. The theme music was written and performed by Logan and Fyffe themselves and the scripts were written by Gyles Brandreth. Locations were picturesque Cheshire towns and villages, including Knutsford, Great Budworth and Nantwich. Three series were made, including a pilot.

Stage[edit]

The characters also appeared together in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for a West End run, followed by a nationwide tour; and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in a New Year’s Eve performance of Die Fledermaus, conducted by Plácido Domingo and starring Kiri Te Kanawa. They toured the UK with the Peter Shaffer play Lettice and Lovage, as well as continuing to appear in their variety act, touring with the variety show Palladium Nights until 2001). Hinge and Bracket appeared on the Royal Variety Show twice, and were selected to perform privately for the Royal Family on a number of occasions.

Individual performances[edit]

Although the two generally performed together, they did occasionally appear apart. Dame Hilda was 'Katisha' in The Mikado and 'Ruth' in The Pirates of Penzance. Doctor Hinge as Miss Marple in Murder at the Vicarage in 1994. Fyffe also toured a one-woman show entitled By Kind Permission, which saw Dame Hilda perform new songs (written by Fyffe, Barrie Bignold and Stuart Calvert) and perform sketches as different characters.

Characters[edit]

The earliest appearances, from 1972 onwards, have Dr. Evadne and Dame Hilda, ostensibly emerging from retirement to perform in concert "by popular request". "The ladies" greet their public as old friends and give recitals in which they sing, play and reminisce about their past lives on tour in opera and musical theatre in the more elegant age of the years following the Second World War.

Logan and Fyffe played exclusively in drag and in falsetto, serving up the musical numbers in spinsterish bickering which formed the dynamic of the act. Logan acted as accompanist, arranger and foil for Fyffe's vocal performances. Details of the ladies' genteel lifestyle and theatrical history were shared with the audience for comic effect. In the spirit of authenticity, Logan and Fyffe enjoyed developing a detailed backdrop and life history for their stage personae.

Logan and Fyffe declined, for the duration of their stage partnership, to be interviewed out of character. In this way, they were consciously preserving the illusion for their following.

Their stage partnership spanned theatre, stage shows, radio and television, and continued for 30 years until the death of Patrick Fyffe in 2002. Logan retired from the stage in 2004.

Characters and interaction[edit]

Dame Hilda Nemone Bracket (Patrick Fyffe) is portrayed as a lively, fun-loving, flamboyant doyenne of opera. She takes charge of the stage and inhabits the limelight sporting a coquettish lop-sided grin and a chiffon hanky dangling at the wrist. Projecting enthusiasm and flirting shamelessly with the audience, she leads the performance with gusto, exerting a comical degree of bossiness, and occasional wilfulness, over the long-suffering Dr. Hinge.

Dr. Evadne Mona Montpelier[1] Hinge (George Logan) is played in sharp contrast as a reserved, austere intellectual whose role is to provide piano accompaniment, direction and, where necessary, vocal support for Dame Hilda Bracket's singing performances. Cutting a modest, almost apologetic figure on stage, Evadne slides demurely onto the piano stool and peers sideways at the audience over half-moon spectacles on a decorative chain.

Together, they play and sing songs from a traditional light-operatic repertoire, taken mainly from Gilbert & Sullivan,[2] Noël Coward and Ivor Novello ("Dear Ivor"), but occasionally "coming bang up to date" with "modern" shows such as South Pacific. Their musical turns are interspersed with comic anecdotes and frequent excursions into repartee, punctuated by flashes of cattiness and bickering. Between numbers, Hilda's wisecracking antics and Evadne's acid reactions to her companion's attention-seeking are a rich source of comedy in the act.

Early on, Dame Hilda establishes the pecking order by explaining their titles: her own damehood was awarded for "services to music and opera", whereas Evadne's "Dr." was bestowed "for hard work".

Disapproving, but never daunted by the frivolous and overbearing Hilda, Evadne raises her eyebrows and takes controlled revenge through terse and well-timed put-downs that deflate Hilda's ego. Evadne also reminds the audience at every opportunity that she is in fact younger than Hilda.

Throughout their exchanges, and notwithstanding their petty squabbles over such details as the date they first met, or which opera was in rehearsal at the time, Hilda and Evadne never fail to address each other as "Dear", and occasionally stop mid-concert for sherry, or to examine the fascinating contents of their handbags.

In spite of their petty disagreements, the ladies are portrayed as indivisible companions and an unassailable partnership.

Stage Business and Recurring Themes[edit]

Favourite devices and themes of the act[edit]

Hilda polishes her reading glasses:
A regular treat for the audience sees Hilda make a comedic meal of polishing her spectacles. Each lens in turn is breathed upon in a loud, honking baritone (hungh!) before the glasses are finally (hungh!) positioned on her nose.
Hilda's cousin's career in the military:
H: "He was in the guards..... Only for two weeks"
Cousin Evelyn ("Yes it's one of those difficult names") was caught playing [cards] with his privates. In Dear Ladies this incident was attributed to Hilda's nephew Julian instead.
Hilda checks the time on her brother's watch:
E: "Why are you wearing your brother's watch, Dear?"
H: "Because he's borrowed mine."
Cue various oblique references to cross-dressing.
Evadne's mysterious health problems:
Frequently aired in public by Hilda, Evadne's afflictions include knees prone to locking, a separate condition requiring treatment with three forms of Ralgex, and a non-specific rash. Letters from Evadne's clinic, invariably addressed to "Mrs Ming", are seized upon and read "sotto voce" by Hilda, mumbling practical instructions such as "try not to pick it".
Evadne's names:
In start-of-show announcements, the list of Evadne's names is occasionally expanded beyond the usual "Evadne Mona Montpelier",[1] to include additions such as "Pauline", "Renee", "Albuquerque" and "Liversedge". Later shows, alluding to the advent of the cyber-age, incorporate "DotCom" into this list.
Hilda compliments Evadne on her singing:
H: "Very reminiscent of Lilian Baylis, Dear."
E: "But she didn't sing, Dear".
Hilda and Evadne receive their end-of-concert presentations:
Over the applause, Hilda and Evadne are presented with gifts of appreciation by the organisers. Huge bouquets arrive for Hilda, but for Evadne, never more than a meagre token, ranging from the tiniest posy of flowers, via half a dozen eggs in a cardboard carton, to a banjo.

Favourite props[edit]

Evadne's half-moon spectacles:
Always perched on the end of Evadne's nose, and lending an appropriate air of severity to the character, these spectacles began life as a brown half-moon design on a gold chain. The second incarnation were again spectacles of brown half-moon design, but this time on a pearl chain. In 1984 on the final series of Dear Ladies, the BBC provided George Logan with a slightly different pair of brown half-moon spectacles on a chain made entirely of very large shaped pearls, Logan continued to use them on a few live stage shows (before he reverted back to the brown half-moon spectacles on the pearl chain). When Evadne's pearl chain finally broke and had to be replaced, Patrick Fyffe gave George Logan a silver chain, (which actually came from Dame Hilda's reading spectacles). Logan soon replaced this with a more dainty gold chain. In the later years, and after Logan's props were accidentally lost (by Patrick), Evadne peered over red half-moon spectacles on a different gold chain. Through each and every incarnation of these spectacles, Evadne's disapproving glare had the power to melt paint.
The Ladies' Handbags:
Hinge and Bracket were never seen on stage without their handbags, and with each successive concert, their bags appeared to grow in size. The clasp of Hilda's vintage 1950s metal-framed carry-all closed with the snap of a crocodile's jaws, and in later years she would claim this action as an attention-getter learned from Mrs Thatcher ("...and she got it from Harold Wilson"). The handbags' contents reflected the personalities of their owners: Hilda's held little beyond her reading glasses, a chiffon hankie and the obligatory powder compact, whereas Evadne's accoutrements were a cross between a portable pharmacy and the contents of Just William's trouser-pocket. Hilda's favourite humiliation tactic was to ridicule the contents of Evadne's handbag in front of the audience.

Gay references[edit]

These were present throughout the stage shows, some examples in the television series, largely absent from the radio shows. In conversation in the televised shows, there would be various old fashioned slang references to "Dorothy", and a few racier remarks. The stage shows were the main medium for delivering gay-themed innuendo. But in musical performance, Hinge and Bracket were inveterate teasers of their audience. In the course of their shows, they performed what amounted to the entire repertoire of light opera songs containing the word "gay", additionally mining G&S classics as a rich source of double-entendre from 'The Gondoliers' "Then One Of Us Will Be A Queen", via Patience "blithe and gay" through to the story of Iolanthe, which famously had one dainty foot in fairyland. Thus would the trail of gems be laid, innocently, straight-faced and of course in impeccable context. The audience could stoop to gather these, if so they wished, but "the ladies" were always looking firmly the other way.

Lives of the Ladies: Musical & Academic Credentials[edit]

According to their invented background, the ladies won their musical spurs touring with the "Rosa Charles Opera Company", where Hilda sang lead roles and Evadne joined in the capacity of assistant to the assistant musical director, quickly rising to the full directorship. Audiences in the 1970s at least, would have recognised in this invented name a respectful nod to Carl Rosa, founder of a real-life opera troupe in England in the late 19th Century. Carl Rosa did much to popularise opera across Victorian England, and the company flourished through into the mid-20th Century, touring with the standard operatic repertoire up until 1960 - all sung, of course, in the "natural language of the civilised world": English.

Accordingly, a recurring joke in their musical act was Dame Hilda's discomfiture whenever called upon to perform an aria in its original language. With an irritable flourish, Hilda would produce from her handbag the famous reading spectacles for (hungh!) polishing, and squint impatiently at the Italian (hungh!) libretto. Cue a bravura performance from Fyffe, singing as Hilda with a smell under her nose, but nevertheless demonstrating a knowledge of Italian which was a "little more than Asti Spumante" - at least in the context of operatic performance. Hilda's back-story in fact extended to a few glorious years spent in Italy in the run-up to World War 2, studying "the rhythm method" under the large Italian operatic impresario Signor Bonavoce.

Evadne's doctorate in music (awarded at the age of 16) and reputation as a pianist preceded her, but the convention of the act demanded that, because of Hilda's "limited attention span", Evadne was always denied the opportunity to perform full pieces on stage. Once in a while, however, the audience would be treated to a brief taste of Logan's Royal Scottish Academy standard piano skills - notably Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor (condensed to 2 minutes). Additionally, Evadne was reported to "have the advantage of French" - which she had "picked up many years ago from a wine list". Not to be outdone on this front, Hilda would attempt to compete by tossing in the odd French phrase with her customary "joie de vie" (sic) and invariably got it wrong.

The ladies' musical credentials were further supported by allusions to celebrity audience members attending their concerts - names from the world of opera and music with whom they claimed equal status. Some of these names were real figures, and actually present at their recordings - Dame Eva Turner and Olive Gilbert being two notable examples. Others were nebulous inventions, embraced by Dame Hilda's blanket welcome line to the distinguished audience: "you celebrities know who you are, so we'll say nothing".

Frequent collaborators from the world of light opera included baritones Michael Rayner and Ian Belsey.

Lives of the Ladies: Village People[edit]

Hinge and Bracket's fictional home life, referred to constantly in their shows, is further developed in the radio and television series. The invented back-story has the ladies residing in the village or small town of Stackton Tressel in Suffolk, which, in the words of Bracket, lies 17 miles from Bury St. Edmunds "as the crow flies, though there haven't been a lot of crows this year". Here, the ladies share a house called Utopia Ltd. They also share their home with three cats, Sandy the Goldfish and Milton the Budgie. Evadne is not keen on the pets, or more accurately, on Hilda's sugary attitude towards them. In one story from the television series, Sandy the goldfish is banished to a bucket under the sink when Evadne borrows his bowl to use as a crystal ball for her "Gypsy Mona" spot at the village fête.

The ladies otherwise amuse themselves with recitals of Gilbert & Sullivan,[2] Noël Coward and Ivor Novello ("Dear Ivor"), and employ an eccentric housekeeper, Maud, played in the radio series by character actress Daphne Heard (and, on her death, by Jean Heywood). Maud is characterised by her bovine devotion to "Dame 'Ilder", a barely disguised antipathy to Evadne, and a general suspicion of men. She is particularly wary of men with beards, men with moustaches, and foreign men (Evadne's French friend André, played in the radio series by André Maranne, is suspected by Maud of being a white slaver). Maud systematically breaks, steps in, ruins or otherwise bungles every aspect of her household duties, and is indulged by Hilda because of her history as Hilda's dresser from their days with the "Rosa Charles Opera Company". Evadne is constantly at loggerheads with Maud, who retorts with observations such as "we can't all be musical". The TV series did not feature Maud in person, although a couple of references were made to her in the first two episodes of Dear Ladies Series 1.

Dame Hilda drives around in her shiny open-top vintage Rolls, while Evadne is more than happy to rely on her faithful old tricycle and trailer, (usually unaware that all the fruit and vegetables just bought from the local greengrocer are falling out of the back of the trailer). Fellow villagers are known by such unlikely names as Methuen Hawkins (pharmacist) and Tewkesbury Ptolman. They make guest appearances in the ladies' concerts, most notably baritone (and butcher) Tewkesbury Ptolman, who appears in a number of the shows "by kind permission of Christopher Underwood".

Theirs is a genteel English post-war world of cucumber sandwiches, bell ringing, church fêtes and ladies' bowls matches, all served with a liberal helping of old-fashioned values recalled, and a sprinkling of double entendres. But the ladies do not always play fair: in one episode, Hilda and Evadne organise the refreshments for a "friendly" inter-village football match, manned by two teams of Stanley Matthews look-alikes and intentionally poison the visiting team. In the early 90's the ladies decided to sell Utopia Ltd, Dr.Evadne went back to her roots and bought a small croft in Scotland and Dame Hilda moved to the hotel in the West Country run by her nephew Julian, where Hilda would help out occasionally on reception. Though now living apart Hilda and Evadne still saw a great deal of each other, performing their stage shows and Evadne would visit Hilda in the West Country.

Hinge and Bracket in the comedic timeline[edit]

In interview, George Logan has acknowledged that the overall style of Hinge and Bracket harked back to the era of Ealing comedy and owed a great debt to Joyce Grenfell.

Musical pedigree of the performers[edit]

George Logan, who claims not to have seen himself as a singer in the same vein, nevertheless projected a light quavering soprano of clarion tone, and admirable breath control in the "patter" songs, whilst simultaneously providing the piano accompaniment. Though formally trained as a classical pianist, he also has the ability to play by ear, and used both skills to the benefit of the act. In many instances the material performed by Hinge and Bracket required transposition to a different key or other special musical arrangement.

Thus, the inspiration for Dr Hinge’s character as a serious musician came from Logan's formal musical background. Similarly, Patrick Fyffe's affinity with musical comedy and operetta informed the character of Dame Hilda. This meshing of the two areas of interest allowed the act to explore and exploit many different areas of the vocal music repertoire.

George Logan[edit]

George Logan was born on 7 July 1944 [3] in Rutherglen, Scotland, to a musical and theatrical family. He was educated at the Royal Scottish Academy Glasgow and Glasgow University, trained as a classical pianist and has a particular interest in opera and vocal music.

After leaving Glasgow, Logan worked in London as a computer programmer, but continued to use his piano skills around the London clubs and pubs, accompanying the stage acts. In 1970 he met and became friends with Patrick Fyffe, and together they formed Hinge and Bracket, making their first appearance in 1972.

Logan applied his formal training to producing all the musical arrangements for the act. Mainly because of the atypical vocal range of the performers, most of Hinge and Bracket's material required transposition or adaptation for performance.

Logan frequented the Toucan club and the Piano Bar in Soho, where he would hold court with his many tales of showbiz high jinks.

After the death of his stage partner, and a few seasons of pantomime, he retired from the stage in 2004. Having, like his stage counterpart Evadne, "the advantage of French", as well as an interest in fine food and wine, he opened a bed-and-breakfast in France, where he lives today.

A Legacy to Theatrical Music[edit]

Following special provision in Patrick Fyffe's will, The Dame Hilda Bracket Trust was established in September 2004 and registered as a charity in March 2006. The stated aims of the Trust were "to encourage and advance the education of the public in the study, performance, understanding and appreciation of theatrical music, in particular grand and light opera, operetta and musical comedy...through the establishment and maintenance of scholarships and trusts". Fyffe's stage partner, George Logan, and his housekeeper and friend, Hilary Miles, were among the appointed trustees. In 2007, it was decided that Patrick Fyffe's wishes would be best furthered if administration of the funds were handed over to an organisation with appropriate expertise and administrative capability. Accordingly, in 2007, The Dame Hilda Bracket Trust was subsumed into The Sadlers Wells Trust.

DVD release[edit]

  • Hinge and Bracket's television series Dear Ladies is available on DVD.
  • Hinge and Bracket: Gala Evenings is available on DVD, featuring over 6 hours of material.
  • The Complete Dear Ladies & Gala Evenings set is available on DVD, distributed by Acorn Media UK. This includes all three series of Dear Ladies as well as the Gala Evenings DVD.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Specific reference to the non-standard spelling of "Montpelier" is made in an episode of "The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket".
  2. ^ a b Among other recordings of Gilbert and Sullivan songs by Hinge and Bracket are the following: Hinge and Bracket Volume 1, EMI records on the One-Up label, catalogue number OU 2125 issued 1976 (G&S items: "Sing Hey to You" from Patience and "Poor Wand'ring One" from The Pirates of Penzance); An Evening with Hinge and Bracket, EMI records One-Up, OU 2181, 1977 (includes "Blameless Dances" from Ruddigore and "Regular Royal Queen" from the Act I finale of The Gondoliers); and Hinge and Bracket at Abbey Road, EMI records, NTS 201, 1980 (includes "Things are Seldom What They Seem" from H.M.S. Pinafore and "So Please You Sir We Much Regret" from The Mikado).
  3. ^ Daily Express Whatever Happened to Hinge from Hinge & Bracket?, 19 August 2006)

External links[edit]