Those Were The Days
..Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end
“I remember Mary Hopkins singing those words in a smoky clubby bar just down the Royal Mile, in the midst of the Edinburgh Festival, in the 60s.” reminisces veteran actor George Innes , finally returning to perform at the Fringe Festival 50 years later.
“In the 60s there was a real explosion, a true emersion in all of the arts . The Edinburgh Festival was a safe and rich haven, an artists’ Eden ,” says the actor.
“The city was still a busy crowded place during the Edinburgh Festival , more laid back than in this new century and a lot less competitive, a lot less stress and a lot less expensive. We were there for the fun, and great camaraderie, and we were never disappointed,” remembers Innes.
“The only flyers then, were the ones I remembered as a child that we would see over London in dogfights.” Now the streets are filled with their confetti.
Rose Street was said to be the place to go. It was a string of pubs and bars and clubs where actors, musicians, directors , painters, playwrights would meet . Edinburgh Festival was the 60s version of the 50s London coffee houses.
Back then the Festival was far away from the social unrest and counter culture movement and the Vietnam War protestors. The streets were filled with the music of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane and The Animals. Folk music was in every bar , Janis Joplin and a guy who had been seen on British TV, sitting on a staircase , singing Blowing in the Wind, that the world came to know as Bob Dylan.
People dressed the part of who they were, mods, rockers, hippies, radicals and style aficionados of Mary Quant and Twiggy, birds in boots , hot pants and mini skirts walking the Royal Mile, . Guys for the first time in flowing gauzy embroidered shirts, wearing jewelry and had long hair. Some of the younger men wore tight velvet, large lapelled jackets with fashionably extraordinarily wide ties, designer shoes with pointed toes , some shoes high heeled and sometimes with lifts. “I wore a green drayman’s coat with military buttons that came down to my ankles and mountain climbing boots , I was avant garde.” chuckles the actor .
“Pop artists David Hockney, Jasper Johns inspired us . In my festival digs I pasted beautifully crafted and artistically designed empty crisp packets on the wall, my art inspired by the Campbell Soup cans of Andy Warhol,” says George, who is a painter himself.
The summer of 1960 was the first time George Innes came to the Edinburgh Festival. The Fringe had not yet become a significant part of the festival. He was there with dream of Peter Mann by Bernard Kops, who was the resident playwright of the Bristol Old Vic. Frank Dunlop was the director. he took the play on a tour of England through Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool.
“Frank Dunlop had been my drama teacher when I was at Toynbee Hall, LAMDA and Bristol so it was good to be working together. The play ended its tour at the huge Bristol Hippodrome .We had to cut the stage down to half size, since there was hardly any scenery. There were 2000 seats in the house and we could not even see the audience.” reflects Innes.
“My first time at the Edinburgh Fringe was with a much younger Michael Rudman in the mid 60s. He was fun, upbeat and easy going. He directed me in a monologue, which I cannot remember the name. I played a crazy old man in a men’s toilet. The character wore a baseball hat and continuously knitted with his fingers.
I don’t remember where we did it, the venue was so small that it might have actually been a men’s toilet,” says Innes with a twinkling mischievous smile.
“I worked at Richard Demarco’s Traverse Theatre, before he left to form the Richard Demarco Gallery. He always had a collection of paintings at that time, often in the restaurant at the theatre. I can still remember how struck I was at his exhibition of Georges Rouault paintings. I loved the Traverse. I did 6 Characters in Search of an Author there, with Max Stafford-Clark directing, and Fred Proud producing. The Edinburgh Festival was a truly amazing place a half a century ago.”
Some of the best adventures seemed to center around the actor’s digs. “Fred Proud set up about 20 of us in a Boy Scout Hut. We got on great together, and had good fun and always up to some trouble. We all slept in bunk beds in one great room, and cooked in a small kitchen. One day, a sergeant major of a scout master came in and threw away all our food stored in the kitchen because he did not like the look of it.” mused Innes.
“Another time, we were put up in a row of empty houses that were due for demolition. All month I went to the markets and the auctions and bought up a wonderful collection of furniture and even a painting by Dunlop, ‘The Weir at Gilford’, painted at the end of the war . I only paid five pounds for it. The furniture was left unguarded and safe in one of the empty houses. No one bothered it. I was in my early 20s and did not drive at the time and had to rent a truck and pay a friend to drive it all back to London for me.” says George with a far away look back to that time.
“Even my last time at the festival had an adventure around my digs. I would like to say that last visit to the festival was as a performer , but in fact it was as a tourist. “
“I had married an American girl, and I brought her and my twin nephews here to see the festival, which we just missed, but were lucky enough to catch the Military Tattoo. We got a room in a very nice large hotel on Princess Street, that overlooked the gardens and across to the castle. Anxious to get out and enjoy everything we readied ourselves and went to leave. We tried the door to the room, it was locked and nothing we could do to unlock it would work. We tried everything; we called down to the reception desk, nothing, no one answered. We went to the window that fortunately faced the street, and called out for help, all of us hanging out the window shouting and waving our arms, but we were high up and no one heard us. “
“We threw down a note asking to be rescued, and it floated away on a breeze. It was busy, yet no one saw us. Eventually, we wrote a note, put in the envelope provided by the hotel and put a bar of soap in it to weight it straight downward . Fortunately, it landed at the feet of a passerby who just missed getting crowned by the large bar. He went in and got the manager and we were freed. “
This time Innes is not taking any chances. While he is here at
the Fringe performing in a Tribute-Gielgud’s Ages of Man
at The Outhouse,Aug 8-30, 12:15pm, Innes is staying in a private