Friday, 27 October 2017

The Student Prince and Janette Miller

Janette Miller in The Student Prince UK National Tour
It is strange to be dragged back into one's youth at the ripe old age of 73. This week I was reminded that I had played Kathie in the Sigmund Romberg musical of the 1920's when I was just 20. It is a period of my life that I have chosen to forget as although I was good at musicals I wanted to produce opera but life is life and one must eat so I was forced to be in them and I did enjoy the camaraderie of the theatre.

I remember getting the job to tour 14 cities in England  in the mid 1960s. In those days there was a career path and I was well on my way. I had risen from tour to London Musical in the chorus. Ruth Madoc and I had very minor roles in the ill fated but fondly remembered House of Cards produced by The Players organisation at the Phoenix and I auditioned for two roles. One was for The Admiral Crichton which I got but the company was procrastinating about when it would begin and the other was for unhappy Princess in The Student Prince which was to star Bryan Johnson who had made such a hit in the European Song contest.

With no sign of the Crichton role materialising I accepted the Princess part in the Student Prince. I knew I could make a good show of this Lady Di part. It had a nice easy to sing number and I was right for it. To get into London in a major role it would be useful to have played a role on tour. The rehearsals were just about to start, I had bought a little second hand red mini minor to drive myself around UK as I had done it by trains and said never again.

Then came the bombshell. The leading lady had had to withdraw at the last moment and I suppose the company was desperate so they offered the role to me. This of course was a huge step up professionally and an honour but I was initially wary. I knew that I was just not right for Kathie who is a Bavarian Innkeepers daughter. I am perceived as middle-class English and even in those days type casting was becoming the norm. They needed a Barbra Windsor who could sing not me. Besides that I have never had a full top C. I have a stunning B in alt but some days I cannot reach a Top C so I told the company this and I was happy to stay where I had been cast. But they were desperate so I said yes but only if they would take the duet down  a semi tone. The employers promised they would and they didn't. I was most unhappy.

So I had days to relearn my part and do the best I could. The only thing I could think of was Giselle.  I should have to play Kathie as Giselle who although  a peasant girl is so young, appealing and virginal that she attracts a genuine Royal suitor. Today royal mistresses get to marry their princes and become Queens but back in 1965 the Lady Di debacle was still to come.

I think I got away with it. Three days before we opened in Oxford the Crichton Company wanted me to break my contract and go with them. I was unhappy and should have loved to have had a year in London's West End in a decent role that suited but I couldn't do it morally so I had to see this through.

I had little direction or time to research. NO internet in those days. My hair was too short for a plat and the company refused to buy me a wig so I knew my hair was all wrong and there was nothing I could do. My make up to begin with was a disaster but Bryan Jonson had a wonderful make up artist friend who came down, sorted out my make up by virtually removing it all and I have lived with her advise successfully ever since. The top C's were a nightly problem but I have a recording of myself, the only one I have with an orchestra and in fact I sound quite acceptable, in fact I sound rather good but after that I always refused to sing Top C's.

But the experience was so valuable. 14 UK cities in a row certainly does things to your voice.  Bryan had the most enormous  Wagnerian voice and I was straight out of singing in rooms at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There was no vocal enhancement in those days. This made me push my voice too hard and it was only in later life when I started to record using Garageband and hear myself sing that I began to like the sound of my voice.

My speaking voice was just too cultured and if I had had a director he would have stopped me and made me roughen up but then I should not have been me and as the stage is the mirror of the soul I don't think I should have been so convincing. It is emotionally draining making an audience cry their eyes out every night and at the end of 14 weeks of this one becomes cynical.

We ended in Wolverhampton. I was moving on to The Windsor Pantomime. It was the first time I had seen the last curtain come down and not think I might never see it go up again. I had played Bournemouth the week before and rehearsed Windsor! That is a feat I suggest nobody tries!

I was glad to say Goodbye to Kathie.  I did not return when the tour resumed.

Strangely I had another encounter with The Student Prince. I had made a success in The Desert Song playing the comedy lead Susan, a part that did suit me down to the ground and John Hanson asked me to play Gretchen  which again needs a young Barbara Windsor. Even though it meant a year in London I could not face it. I was wrong to begin and I had played and sung Kathie and I needed to escape the clutches of The Red Shadow. I asked if I could play The Princess, I was right for that but Hanson could not see me as a singer only as a comedian and dancer. He was wrong. I am a singer.

Now in the wake of Lady Di The Student Prince is no longer relevant and musicals and I moved on but the old 1920's musicals still have an appeal and a structure that is hard to beat. I and the world have consigned them to memory. I have fortunately never had to produce one!


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

How to answer the BBC in 1988

Dance Tales Story Ballets Janette Heffernan


In 1988 I was honoured by a commission from the BBC Children's Department for my Dance Tales story ballets series. This was the first and only time TVNZ had actually had an entertainment programme concept accepted so it was important that everything went well. I was the first woman independent director into the bargain as their boys would not take directions from me! I was informed. It was the 1980s!

Sad to say my experience with this BBC department was a nightmare. The BBC felt they were dealing with colonials and colonials needed to be kept in their place. They made life impossible. They insisted on having the choice of ballets. I sent 60 possibles and the BBC chose five, one The Little Match Girl for their Christmas programmes. The BBC insisted on choice of voice for voice overs and although audition tapes were sent three months before production refused to say if the voices I had chosen were acceptable. Even after many letters and eventually expensive toll calls I never received an answer.

I just went ahead! The male narrator had a soft East Enders accent and I had the received English. It was and still is a good choice especially as in hindsight the BBC of those days is now rather over the top. The BBC was furious and wanted me to rerecord. On my budget this was out of the question so I stood up for my actor. Fortunately the BBC liked my voice!

All through production I received the most hostile epistles. My commercial half hour productions relied heavily on expensive after effects which again are  essential today but the BBC insisted that in the 15 minute versions not one effect was in sight. This was because in those days the BBC could not afford the effects and if the British children were introduced to them they would insist on them all their programmes. The BBC went to great lengths to see that this did not happen.

The programme  sample VHS were delivered on time but were not shown at Christmas and it was not until Easter that they were put into the schedule. Easter Week has just three days so two programmes were not wanted and the BBC decided not to pay for these.  They did not tell me this but just said two of the programmes were not up to standard and not required.  This was very serious for me as I relied on this payment.

The BBC were adamant and turned nasty. They cancelled all five. I too was furious  and hurt as I felt that the programmes which were good enough to be finalists for the LA Monitor Awards for  technical excellence were worth broadcasting by the BBC and they had chosen them.

I went straight to the top. I wrote a long letter to the Director General complaining of the treatment that had been metered out to my small professional opera/ballet company and asked him to have a look. A few days later I got a call from the BBC Children's Television telling me that the BBC had found they could use the programmes after all. Victory!

BUT there was still the sting in the BBC's tail. When we sent the final finished tapes I received this telegram in Auckland New Zealand dated 20 April 1988:

Re: Dance Tales 
REGRET MATERIAL SENT IN RESPECT OF DANCE TALES TECHNICALLY UNACCEPTABLE. YOU HAVE SUPPLIED PLASTIC G SPOOLS WHICH CAN SPIN ON THE MACHINE. CLAUSE 7 OF THE CONTRACT CALLS FOR1' METAL SPOOLS. FORMAT PAL . 

THE G SPOOLS ARE BEING RETURNED TO YOU. LET ME KNOW WHEN THE CORRECT MATERIAL WILL BE SENT.

MS DUGGAN.

London to Auckland and back  is 22 thousand miles and the tapes had already cost a fortune to send by airmail as they were so heavy. I was not happy. I rang my wonderful Executive Producer at Vidcom.

Bill Harman who had the most delightful cockney voice ever and who voiced  The Carpenter in Walrus and Carpenter was  up to the BBC and wrote them a letter. A letter of such brilliance I wish I had composed it myself. It summed up all the BBC silliness in a few simple phrases.


Vidcom  Ltd, Auckland, NZ 

20 April 1988

Dear Ms Duggan
Re Dance Tales 
As the production house that produced these programmes, we have been informed by Janette Heffernan that you have rejected the programmes due to the tapes being wound onto small plastic "G" spools which can spin.

We do not encounter this problem as we use up-to-date Ampex VPR 3 machines, but would suggest is your VTR's are not compatible that you re-spool the tapes onto reels which will function correctly for you rather than send them back to us (in NZ) to put onto metal spools.

If this is not possible, please contact me so that I can arrange for an independent production house in London to re-spool them for you to save an inordinate amount of time and unnecessary freighting.

Yours sincerely
Bill Harman
Executive Producer


We never heard another word. The programmes were a great success all over the world but the BBC Children's Department did not survive the year and I am not surprised.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Hugh Miller Golf Ball Manufacturer The Professional Golfer June 1924

I thought I knew about my grandfather's early life until I found this article in The Professional Golfer June 1924 Page 4. Just shows you how wrong one's family can be on occasions.

Our readers will have no difficulty in recognising the familiar features of Hugh Miller whose picture appears in this issue. Hugh is rather bashful where autobiography is concerned, but I have managed to extract from him a few particulars concerning his own career which will doubtless interest the "boys".

Hugh is of course a Caledonian.His school days, however were all spent in the U.S.A. These over , he returned to Scotland and entered the firm of his late uncle, Mr. Hugh Miller (Messrs. Miller and Taylor) as an employee. In 1904 Hugh assisted his uncle in experimenting in the manufacture of rubber-cores, and when the firm put their first ball on the market ( The "Reliance") Hugh started to travel among the professionals, covering practically the whole of the British Isles. As time went on the firm decided it would be more convenient if Hugh made his headquarters in London, and he accordingly moved south as their London agent. This was in 1910.

The firm was located at 10 Dyer's Buildings Holborn, and Hugh carried on here until he joined the forces, serving in the Mechanical Transport. On his demobilisation in 1919 he joined Messrs. Miller and Taylor and remained with them until February 1922 when he left the golf trade - as he thought, for good. But three months were as long as he could stay away from the "boys," and in May of the same year he started out in business for himself, from the old address of 10 Dyer's Building which he had taken over.

Many a joke was cracked over his venture in being the pioneer in taking round his goods in a "tin lizzie" and no one enjoyed them more than "the victim", but all good things come to an end, and on selling his business in April to Mr. D.M. Stocks, son of the well known caddie bag maker of Edinburgh, Hugh joined the firm of Messrs. Game-Balls Co.Ltd. of Brentford, Middlesex as golf ball sales Manager.

To use his own words, Hugh is "convinced that his firm has the goods." while we, for our part, wish him every possible fortune in  his new venture. At any rate his heart is in the golf trade: he will be in his element in his new and responsible post and success must come.

It did!  Grand Father Miller knew success and failure. He made and lost three fortunes.  The first loss was when his uncle Hugh Miller who had relied on his nephew running the firm since 1904 died having promised the firm. Instead in 1922 it seems, uncle Hugh left his firm and fortune to Hugh's younger twin sisters Martha and Mary Miller remarking in the will that Hugh Miller was a young man and well able to make his way in the world. My grandfather left with an  inscribed silver plate and nothing else.

The Harlequin Golf Ball of 1924, The Magic Performer from Tee to Green, was manufactured by the Game Balls Co. and cost 2/6. One was sold by Christies in 1996 for £1000.

He made another fortune with the multi coloured golf umbrella which we all know today.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Special Constable Hughie Miller directs traffic at Hyde Park Corner during the Blitz.



At the start of World War II my father, who had been a young Lloyds underwriter, a job which he hated had enlisted as a Special Constable and for the first 18 months of the war had been billeted in St James's Park near Hyde Park Corner.

During on enemy raid in 1941 the traffic lights in Central London went down and it was up to the likes of my young and inexperienced father to keep the roads of the West End moving My father had to step in it appears without any prior training and take on perhaps one of the most challenging roundabouts in the whole of the city, Hyde Park Corner, as Oedipus will relate, a place where three roads meet.

A passing journalist was so impressed at my father's performance that he wrote a review of which my father was particularly proud and he kept it for years in his wallet and he would produce it at suitable moments to impress anyone unwise enough to give him the opportunity. Sadly this precious fragment was lost until tonight cleaning out the attic I came across his old army kit bag. There is was and here it is:

The Professional Stroll
 Up at Hyde Park Corner I found the perfect Traffic Special. He was in complete control of the roadway where is says "Piccadilly Traffic," "Knightsbridge Traffic", "Hyde Park Corner Traffic".
He had even learned to stroll negligently to the island after letting loose the floodgates.
Most of his colleagues still scuttled like frightened rabbits or like  you or I would.
With just the right professional touch he pulled them up and let them go. He looked professionally bored. He had accepted just that "Am I wasting my time on you?" expression of the true traffic policeman.
My father loved to tell these stories of his adventures during the War but regretfully they fell on stoney ground with me. I cannot recall one of them so it is with some pleasure that I can add this to my blog as a sort of apology for being so unkind. I would expect that the unknown journalist too would be surprised that this tiny entry knocked off in a few minutes would be remembered  75 years after the event.

My father could have stayed in the Specials as it was a reserved job and indeed he was awarded the Territorial Medal which is the Dad's Army medal but he chose to go into the army as a private. As can be seen from this story Daddy had talent for leadership and with three weeks he was spotted sent to Octu and became an Officer. He ended up a Major.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Glasgow Home of my Ancestors



My grandfather, Hugh Miller, came from the slums of Glasgow. He made a fortune by giving the world the multi coloured golf umbrella. He bought Mackintosh furniture in 1900 which I still possess but he left for London, admittedly he was  shafted by his family. He was not left the family firm which was gifted by his uncle to his two sisters after Hugh had made the fortune as according to his uncle Hugh was a young man and well able to look after himself. Hugh sent his son, Hughie, my father to Glasgow Academy, which my father hated and never returned.

He retained his Glaswegian accent and so did my father but they never returned and I have never been either. For them Glasgow was a grim reminder of a life they disliked rather like my aversion to the semi detached in Canons Park where I lived for 18 years after the war.

I have never set foot in Glasgow so from the safety of New Zealand where I choose to live as it is so beautiful and the weather is acceptable it was fascinating to watch Glasgow's Commonwealth Games which I think may give a rather true picture of a rather dour place. I think is is a near as I shall ever get to the home of my ancestors.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Baden Baden - My Magic Mountain


Once in a blue moon one has the sort of day that surprises the living daylights out of you and turns from a hum drum day into that special memorable moment. It is not planned. It is not expected but fate intervenes and it just happens. It is one of those magical days you will never forget. I had such a day when unexpectedly I was taken to Baden Baden for a walk!

The day had not started well. I was in Germany, a country I had vowed since my youth, never to visit. Living in London during and after the Second World War had put me off Germany for life. I lived daily with the damage the bombs had done but I was forced to visit as my daughter was competing in a gym competition in Karlsruhr so I had to go.

The Rythmic gym trip to see my daughter compete internationally in several European countries and then to travel on to Venice, Paris, London and LA should have been the trip of a lifetime but had turned into a nightmare for me. I had been promised in NZ that all arrangements had been made for me. I should travel as part of the NZ team and be treated as one of them. Unfortunately this was incorrect. Although my airfares had been booked as part of the team nothing else was, no hotels and more importantly no passes to events. I had to beg my way around Europe. The official coach Leslie could not have been more unhelpful or nastier and took a delight in being offensive. I was not invited to any function, but I just went anyway. It made me feel as if I was definitely not wanted on voyage.

It was the last day and Stephan, our designated host, had arranged a trip in a van so we could see some of the local scenery, i.e. The Black Forest. Everyone was tired out and not enthusiastic. I had had a particularly nasty night as I had been left out of  a 'do' yet again. Stephan I found irritating too. When I had tried out my less than brilliant German he had gone into a long explanation about the different cases. I was only trying out my German ! So in all I was not a happy bunny. 


But the trip was arranged so I thought I ought to go. The start was not encouraging. The Black Forest is rather overrated to a native of New Zealand.  All the fir trees looked ill thanks to the acid rain. A local beauty spot looked very poor beer in comparison to some of the NZ lakes and the van was none too new. I wanted to go home! We drove up a mountain and the van was parked in a field and we were told we had to walk down the mountain into Baden Baden where we would be met at the bottom. This I felt was the last straw.  I had my wrong shoes on and I did not want to walk anywhere. However the driver insisted I walked and refused to let me ride with him.

He dumped us and drove off. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I was left in the middle of a field of yellow daffodils that you see above for as far as the eye could see. It was May and the countryside when I really looked was awash with blossom of all colours. The day was balmy and warm and the sky was blue flecked with white clouds. There was absolutely no noise but the hum of bees in the clover.

I took a deep breathe and realised I was standing in the opening shot of The Sound of Music. As I started to walk I realised that perhaps this might be something out of the ordinary. It certainly was. This one walk is one that I shall always remember. It was an epiphany. It took us about one hour to walk the path down to the Spa town of Baden Baden. Down and down we went, through the Alpine meadows into the valley where the town was situated. All the way were wonderful views to enjoy and every house was surrounded by bulbs and blossom. The scent was intoxicating. It was like walking through a Grimm's fairy tale and a perfume factory.

My mood changed. I began to appreciate just how beautiful the world was. The warm day, the smell of the spring flowers, the wonderful feeling of the joy of life. Oh why isn't life always just like this moment. I wanted to find an excuse to stay like the hero of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann who does. He thought he might have TB and stayed for seven years in his sanitarium in Davos only to be rooted out by the Great War.

On the way we passed a romantic German Schloss with the grounds teaming with colourful tulips and cherry blossoms. Snow White's castle perhaps? Down to the old steps with iron gas lights that Stephan climbed and lit. I used to watch the lamp lighters at home in London come with a long pole and light the gas and now Stephan was showing me how it was  done.

At last we reached the attractive town square for coffee and kucken. I found to my surprise and delight that traditional Black Forest Gateau was actually white. Then we sauntered around the Spa, Baden Baden is an expensive spa resort but you can drink the healing waters for free. It tasted awful, like warm weathered vegetable stock but you can't have everything. That unexpected walk made me feel good to be alive. I felt ecstatic. This alone was worth the journey from NZ and Stephan annoying though he had been had given me a day I shall treasure. I never would have believed that anything could be so glorious.

It was one of life's bonuses. Something unexpected and life changing. I knew I was privileged to be in Baden Baden. I wanted to stay forever which of course I could not and if I did the dream would fade as the light of day break through. If I had to choose one walk or even one perfect morning in my life this would be it. I was totally alone amongst people who really wished I was not with them but this did not seem to matter. I could enjoy it without them although it would have been nicer with them. It was one of those elusive moments in life when one is truly happy.

I shall never go back, a return visit may disappoint, return visits often do but I did take a few photos and they impart some of the idea but not the whole idea of my glorious morning in Baden Baden









Saturday, 5 July 2014

My dress from Benjamin Britten

Sekers Silk fabric given to Janette Miller by Benjamin Britten
 Cleaning out an attic after a life time has been a daunting operation. I have had to confront 40 years of things that are only worth pennies today but were too nice to throw away. Nobody wants old dresses or costumes any more. They are binned.

However I cannot bin them and over the years I have opened up my cavernous attic and just thrown things in but today I have to have a new bathroom if I want to remain in my house and that means clearing the attic. Citizen Kane has nothing on me. Day by day a life time of memories is parading before me and I delight in every one of them. Things, unlike people on some occasions, are just objects of pure joy and so it is with the dress above. The photo does not do this beautiful dress justice. It has a curious story as the prologue from The Turn of The Screw so rightly puts it because the fabric of this dress came from Benjamin Britten.

I was nineteen, small for my age but very beautiful. I had known Mr Britten for four years but it was only this year that he took a personal interest in me. He was a perfect gentleman and a delightful friend I was bright and very intelligent and fun. I like the things that he enjoyed, Mahler, Bartok, sports cars and Gaudia Bretzka! I was performing in The Screw at Rosehill a delicious tiny theatre run by the silk millionaire Mickie Sekers who was so rich he could afford to bring the whole Covent Garden cast including Britten and Pears to Whitehaven where his mills were located for three weeks at the best hotel in St. Bees.

For those few months  I was Britten's favourite although in truth I did not realise it at the time. I don't think he had ever met or talked to a girl of my age and I think he found the experience new and enjoyable. During this time and for a couple of years after I was spoilt by him. He gave me tickets to concerts and invitations to concerts and sit with him even when he saw me in the crowd outside. I found his company enjoyable as he had so much that I would like in life but he envied me my life too. Ah if only he had been 19 and not 50! But he was 50 and I was 19!

As a treat it was announced that the three ladies of the cast and Ben, Peter were to be given 6 metres of what ever fabric they chose when we all visited the Sekers factory. It seemed that Quint being a man and Miles and Flora being children although I was 19, didn't count. I was used to this situation by now. When it came to my turn somehow the rules are changed. I was not amused and I unlike the others had the ear of the master. Why no one noticed that I shall never know. I just told him that is was unfair that three of us should be excluded.  Ben was immediately sympathetic and we were upgraded without further a do.

The mills lived up to their reputation and were satanic and noisy. One would go deaf I reckoned in about a week. After much deliberation I decided on 6 metres of a beautiful Prussian blue striped silk satin. I knew that this would look glorious as a gathered skirt for the evening and I look good in this colour, especially with white. I was thrilled as I could never have afforded to buy such luxurious material and to see it being made was fascinating. An afternoon I shall never forget.

However Ben did not accompany us that day so the next morning he asked me to bring and show him what I had chosen the following day which I did. I humped 6 metres of blue satin to rehearsal. It was on a big roll so as not to crease it and this caused a furore in the Pullman car and comments of Flora being annoying. Being Flora was not fun. Ben liked my choice very much. He said I had perfect taste but he thought it might be difficult to find something for the bodice. Obviously the large stripes would not suit. I said I thought a white blouse would do it  and in truth I think would have been the best choice but Ben was not convinced.

To my surprise the next day another 6 metres of plain blue silk satin arrived on a roll at my hotel for Die Schöne Müllerin, (my name is Miller) much to the surprise and annoyance of the rest of the company. Flora had been given 12 metres and everyone else had to make do with 6! Britten had asked Mickie Sekers as a favour and Sekers complied. Years later I needed a recital gown and I had the material made up by Morris Angel the theatrical costumier in Shaftsbury Avenue. It had the prettiest little corset to make it look beautiful and a tiny pad in one shoulder as my shoulders are uneven.

When I think back on this I have a horrible feeling I never said a proper thank you to Mr. Britten for going to all that trouble on my behalf. I could be thoughtless as many 19 years old are. I remember the feeling of hostility from some of the cast and especially Britten's older ladies of whom he had one or two. Viola Tunard was so sharp I cut myself on her more than once as she was so jealous.  Peter Pears was not amused either.  He used to call me My Dear Young Lady in public and Die Schöne Müllerin in private! But I was 19 and blissfully unaware that I was the current favourite and youth can be cruel.  I knew I did not belong to their world and I had other things I wanted to do. Maybe that was the attraction as I was unobtainable. I wonder how many other young women were given beautiful material from Benjamin Britten? And I still have the dress.