The Harry Blacker Admiration Society: A Brief History in Mime.


Program cover for 'On Monday Next' This history is simply a reformatted copy of the excellent history provided by Tim Hill on the official "Harry Blacker Admiration Society" Memorial Website. (You can click through to read the original) Except for a short tag at the end of this article, I've placed my own recollections on the pages for each of the individual productions.

1983 - The Sound of Crickets Chirping

Thomas Walker began forming a new drama group on RAF Upper Heyford in 1983. He dubbed the small group "The Don't Quit Your Day Job Players" and produced both "Sorry, Wrong Number" and "September Song". Both shows played to disappointingly small audiences due to lack of planning and advertising. One performance had more people on stage than in the audience! The group decided that some organization was in order and Tom asked Desi Lee to assist him. The group also decided that a new name was in order but was at a loss for a suitable one.

The group's next project was a Christmas pageant for the AYA at Upper Heyford. With posters being placed around the base as well as some pre-publicity from The Guardian, this venture proved a modest success.

1984 - Getting Better...

At the beginning of 1984 the group decided to organize even more. Membership was opened up and publicity generated to advertise the USAF Tournament of Plays. The group requested sponsorship from MWR and MWR agreed to support the (still unnamed) group under the direction of Desi Lee. Several projects were undertaken that year including a Fourth of July special (directed by Theresa Finken), and three Christmas; performances of a play written by a member of the group. Again, thanks to support from the Guardian and base bulletin systems, these performances were well received.

1985 - Success!

On Monday Next

In 1985, the Coordinator of the group appointed by MWR was Chris Peterlin. Bobby Wells and David Leigh joined the group. And they were elected to produce "On Monday Next", for the USAFE Tournament of Plays to be held at RAF Mildenhall. At this time Desi Lee was again appointed as Coordinator of the group. "On Monday Next", a British comedy, promised to be the greatest success of the: group to date. and the drama group elected to name themselves "The Harry Blacker Admiration Society" after a character in the play.

(The name was chosen for three reasons: one, it was totally original and highly distinctive. We would NEVER be confused with another group anywhere. Two, it provided an opening to talk to prospective members ("Why are you called the Harry Blacker Admiration Society?" Well, let me tell you...). Three, the line in the play was just too perfect: "What are we, a reperatory company or the Harry Blacker Admiration Society"?!? Not being a pompous group, we ALL knew the answer.

"On Monday Next" was first presented at the USAF Tournament of Plays in Mildenhall and was very well received. Then it played for two consecutive nights at the RAF Croughton Middle School to packed houses. This was largely due to posters being placed in strategic locations over both RAF Upper Heyford and RAF Croughton. by word of mouth generated members of the HBAS, and by the generous publicity given to as by the Guardian.

1986 - Heyday!

Guys and Dolls

Fueled by the group's success, Bill Lee began production of "Guys and Dolls" in late 1985. This was called "the most ambitious project ever" by the Guardian, and it was certainly true that nothing of this magnitude was ever attempted in the local community. With a cast of over forty civilians, officers, and enlisted personnel, Bill Lee directed and produced the first major musical ever at Upper Heyford and Croughton. The musical played for two consecutive dates on RAF Croughton to full houses, and in early 1986 was taken to the British public at several local communities for charity. Newspapers were impressed with the efforts of the base both for the quality of the performances and for the amount of money raised for local charities. Several members of our cast were lauded as "better than" the originals from the Broadway show and the movie. Each and every venue played to a full house Later in 1986 the 20th TFW commander requested that the cast perform the show one more time for those who missed the first two base performances. Again, it was a full house.

In the summer of 1986, Desi Lee and another member of the HBAS met with MWR to discuss organizational structure. The group had decided it might be a good idea to have a president, vice-president, and so on The head of MWR advised the two members that this was not possible unless the HBAS wished to incorporate as a separate club. As a group being sponsored by MWR, we had to abide by their constitution and rules that were presented for inspection. We were advised that MWR (In this case our liaison being through the Recreation Facility) would appoint a coordinator and that person was responsible for assignments within the group. Desi Lee was then named coordinator.

Chris Peterlin volunteered to head up a committee for the HBAS to gather together various monologues for presentation for special requests made to the HBAS for entertainment (at dining outs, etc). The group also voted to produce a Christmas play, "Scrooge", Chris also agreed to direct and produce this. Neither of these projects were ever completed.

Harvey

In 1986, Desi began the production of "Harvey" for the HBAS. The group was to go to Ramstein Air Base, Germany for the USAFE Tournament of plays. "Harvey" was presented at the RAF Croughton Middle School to full houses and traveled around the local communities for charity. The play, directed by Desi, was very well received.

The base commander called the HBAS in the early spring requesting that they present something for American Heritage Week. Bobby Wells was to be in charge of this production. Later Wing Headquarters made a request for something special for Black Heritage Week, which Deb Boss volunteered to head up. Sadly, this production was not completed.

In late summer, Terry Kruse directed "Celebrate Life" in conjunction with the HBAS and the chapel community. It was performed for two nights at the RAF Upper Heyford Base Chapel.

1987 - Murder!

Out of Sight, Out of Murder

With the advent of 1987, Chris Peterlin, the new co-ordinator appointed by MWR, undertook the production of "Out Of Sight, Out Of Murder". It was presented for the 3rd Air Force Tournament of Plays, where Tim Hill received a nomination for "Best Supporting Actor" for his brilliant dual role as the butler and one of the butler's murder victims (figure that one out!) It was also presented as a dinner theatre at the RAF Croughton NCO Club.

1988 - Horrors!

In 1988, MWR requested that Bill Lee co-ordinate the HBAS for the new year. A meeting was held to discuss the USAFE Tournament of Plays for November and the group decided to do a summer play before work began on "Frankenstein". The play chosen for the summer was "Arsenic and Old Lace", and Bill was to direct this, as well as the USAFE entry. "Arsenic and Old Lace" did well as a dinner theatre, but it pulled in a small crowd at the following performance at the RAF Croughton High School.

"Frankenstein" was certainly the most intense production, dramatically, that the group has ever produced. It is quite unlike any telling of the story that modern audiences are used to, and follows the Mary Shelley classic book very closely. With superb costuming, and, special makeup effects by Kent Allsebrooke.

1989 - Those Were the Days

I left England in 1989, and do not know the fate of the group after that time. Sometime thereafter, the US Air Force withdrew from RAF Upper Heyford, then even from RAF Croughton and Barford St. John. Perhaps the archaeologist of the far-flung future will someday discover the secret of the End Days of the Harry Blacker Admiration Society. Then again, somebody reading this website could just send an email; it would be easier.