Meall, Billy (3 of 8) An Oral History of Theatre Design
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Interviewee's home, Liverpool
Meall, Billy 1937- (speaker, male)
Wright, Elizabeth (speaker, female)
Part 3: Starting at St Kevin’s School, Kirkby aged 12; being given the strap; mention that it was one of the first Catholic Comprehensive schools; streaming; facilities for learning motor mechanics; becoming involved with the art department; being asked to design a set for ‘H.M.S Pinafore’; looking at the D’Oyly Carte production on the front of the album cover; mention of later playing the Midshipman in a D’Oyly Carte production of the opera, as well as the Assistant Executioner in the Mikado starring John Reed; reasons for not accepting the invitation to tour America with D’Oyly Carte; working evenings at RCL after finishing job as student designer at LP; learning about architecture, painting and drawing from designer, RM. [0:04:56] Art teacher at St Kevin’s who took BM and others on painting trips at weekends; his mural. Going to LP to seek work; advice from stage door keeper; story about finding student designer role at LP; supplementing one pound per week wages by working at RCL in the evenings; playing small acting parts. [0:09:45] Smell at LP; sets built from stock; recycling backcloths; mention of using size powders and earth colours; hand winch paint frame. Mention of Philip Headley, Patrick Stewart and Jean Boht. [0:11:39] Learning about theatre by seeing pantomimes and cinema with mother. Comment that scale set models only became common from the late 1960s; scale drawings by RM; mention that BM has just finished a model; remark about being focussed on this process; attic full of models. [0:13:34] Phoning Ken Caulder [KC], Head Scene Painter, to apply for Assistant Scene Painter role at Royal Court Theatre, London [RC] and moving to London within the week; staying with an uncle in Chalk Farm, then at a bedsit in Primrose Hill with an Italian landlady; feelings about living in that area; Uncle Joe Kellow, mother’s brother, who worked for British Rail; sailing at weekends. [0:17:46] Working at RC; workshops in Upper Ground near Blackfriar’s Bridge; working with best designers including JH, Ralph Koltai [RK], TOB and Alan Tagg; KC’s background; feeling lucky to work with him; his diabetes; preparing his palette; his morning routine; learning from watching him; importance of learning to mix colours; KC’s colour sense; drawing exercises and evening classes; seeing his obituary in The Stage; feeling determined to pass on KC’s knowledge. [0:23:03] Not knowing about RC before going to work there; working there at an important time; mention of making tea for Samuel Beckett during rehearsals for ‘Waiting for Godot’; working on ‘Saved’ by Edward Bond during censorship court case; ‘A Patriot For Me’. First play BM worked on at RC, ‘Inadmissible Evidence’. [0:26:36] Feelings about plays produced at RC; actors; advantages of having a Liverpool accent. First day at RC; KC’s flat next to The Aldwych Theatre; his personality; lack of opportunities to learn scene painting. Mention that Bill Gaskill was taking over at RC as BM left; reasons for returning to Liverpool; job as Property Master at RCL; working with Cameron Mackintosh [CM] on props for tour of ‘Oliver!’; Sean Kenny’s set; his engineering influence on British theatre design; story about CM buying the set for ‘Oliver!’; spending money on a holiday. Work as an electrician at the Shakespeare Theatre Club [STC] and as Technical Assistant Stage Manager [ASM] at LP; mention of John Toogood. [0:33:39] Description of a typical day working with KC at RCL; traditional construction techniques; Head Carpenter, Joe Addison, from a family of theatre carpenters; their equipment; wood smell; canvasser, Percy Tweedale. Designers’ models; mention that BM has never had an assistant to make a model or do drawings; learning JH’s preferred colours. Clothes worn by BM in the paint shop; buying clothes on Carnaby Street; giving suits away to a school for the blind in Liverpool; sending money to mother each week; saving small change for sister. Further comments about working as an electrician at STC; story about meeting wife and her pregnancy; working in a tool shop then going back to LP initially as a Technical ASM, and eventually as designer; story about becoming assistant designer to Martin Morley; being given a design project for Max Frisch’s ‘Andorra’ by Artistic director, Dick Tuckey; being given Ann Jellicoe’s ‘The Neck’ to design with Barry Kyle directing. Making model for ‘Andorra’; using spray paint; designing play by Alan Bleasdale set in Edge Lane bus depot; description of the design in the studio theatre at LP; title of the play, ‘Fat Harold and the Last Twenty Six’; mention that it was also staged at the Shaw Theatre, London and was directed by Sue Wilson. [0:48:48] ‘Down the Dock Road’ in LP main auditorium; high volume of work at LP; beginning to work as a painter at The Everyman Theatre [ET]; mention of working on ‘Sherlock Holmes’ written by Chris Bond [CB]; painting plays designed by children, ‘Dick and the Beanstalk’ directed by CB; story about being invited to be resident designer at ET; taking a wage cut to do this; ET company; designing first show in new ET, ‘The Beggar’s Opera’; mention of working with Alan Dossor, Hedda James and KC; being introduced to agent, Sally Hope, by Bob Hoskins and becoming freelance from this point onwards. [0:53:09] Painting in studio at home during time working on props and as Technical ASM; exhibitions in LP foyer; giving paintings away. [0:54:18] Story about meeting wife, Les; first impressions of her; her skill as an artist; moving in with Les while she was at art college; sofa infested with spiders; other furniture; working in the evenings to get extra money for a pram and baby things; providing digs for actors, including the cast of ‘Hair’; story about making a Wendy house for daughter. [1:00:47] Parents’ response to Les becoming pregnant; meeting her family; Les’s good relationship with BM’s grandmother. Marriage on Jocelyn’s fifth birthday; blessing from theatre Chaplain, Canon Young; seeing him on first night of ‘When the Wind Blows’; wearing a white suit to get married; trying to dye the suit afterwards. [1:05:17] Choosing daughter’s name, Jocelyn, after JH; story about Les giving birth; influence of JH; story about painting a backdrop with a rusty drawing pin mark; description of painting a pixelated design using a roller; painting dotted newsprint with stencils; painting backcloths for pantomime at Oldham Coliseum; working with different designers; painting own designs; designers who are not good at communicating; being given inaccurate research photos.
Life story interview with Billy Meall (????-), theatre designer.