Before Brian and Georgina met

Brian Luff writes…

I grew up in the sixties, in the London borough of Tottenham, but that despite this tough urban setting, most of my childhood memories are of trees and grass and sunshine. 
I always fancied myself as a bit of performer. My best friend Richard Comerford and I used to bomb around the streets of Downhills Park dressed as Batman and Robin and in the evenings we’d set up a stage in my parents’ garden and would perform a comedy double act – copied word for word from that of Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze, in the kids’ variety show Crackerjack.

Here’s the only gag I can remember from those little shows in the garden. It was probably the first joke I ever told in front of an audience:

BRIAN:     What’s the name of The Lone Ranger’s horse?
RICHARD:    Silver.
BRIAN:     Well, he used to be called Silver, but he’s been out in the rain all night.
RICHARD:  So, what’s he called now?
BRIAN:    Rusty.

I was always at the front of the queue when they were casting the school plays, and my mum and dad were endlessly dragged to the school to watch me performing in various dreadful shows, most of which seemed to require me to wear a towel on my head.  When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, they had no idea how much the show was going to boost the sales of colourful bathroom towels.

Meanwhile, Georgina was growing up in a tiny village in North Yorkshire. Blink while driving through it at 29 mph and you’d miss it completely. But luckily, it wasn’t too far removed from the city of Middlesbrough, so when Georgina was in her teens there was no shortage of places to go and party in white stilettos and fake tan. Georgina’s little home town was not crammed with public amenities. It had a post office – which was located in someone’s front porch – and a small pub. So, there were only two jobs in the village, and Georgina did both of them. She began by working in the pub, serving scampi and chips in a basket to “townies”, then worked as post mistress, handing out stamps and pensions to little old ladies and farmers. Georgina had exhausted the entire village job market before she had reached her 17th birthday.

With all its quaintness and charm, such a small village was never going to challenge the creative powerhouse that was Georgina Sowerby. As much as she loved the place, she always knew that she’d have to move on sooner or later – though she says that an elastic band attached to her heart pulls her back there, almost every day of her life.

Georgina’s future would probably have been fairly predictable and mundane had she stayed in North Yorkshire. Not much call for comedy at a village fete in which the only prizes given out are for bonny babies and best fancy dress. Not that Georgina didn’t have a crack at the fancy dress herself. In fact her very first performance – in the village fancy dress competition at the age of three – was as a bird.  The costume was completely made out of newspaper. Her mother being a costume designer and her dad being an architect meant that Georgina’s fancy dress costumes were ingenious beyond belief, but in that first competition her appearance was swiftly halted when her parents spotted little wet patches under the bird’s eyes – she had been secretly crying inside her uncomfortable little origami masterpiece.

Georgina had fond memories of her life in North Yorkshire – summer fetes, agricultural shows,  even a farmer who named all his calves after the girls in the village. As in many rural villages, time seemed to run more slowly, and in during the winter they were regularly snowed in. The narrow roads were sometimes blocked by furious blizzards and the school bus was often unable to collect Georgina and her school friends, leaving them to spend their day excitedly digging tunnels and having adventures in huge banks of drifted snow – a perfect escape from lessons, without the need to make up fibs.

It had been a reassuringly safe and comfortable place to begin your life, but not one of great contrast or excitement. So, just like me and my friend Richard, she’d fabricated fantastic games and adventures in the woods and fields surrounding her home. She said she was certain that that was where her creativity and desire to perform had come from.

One day the garden would be made out of sweets, then it was a fairground, or a department store into which Georgina stole quietly like a thief. Every day, she participated in elaborate imaginary events and made up a myriad of different roles for herself to play.

Like me, Georgina also “found fame” at school. When asked to take in “something red” for Show and Tell, she took a huge Danish wooden horse – one of the many fabulous items on display in her parent’s house. That night the school cleaners moved it while tidying up the classroom and the next day Georgina declared that this was “magic”. Of course, this placed Georgina firmly at the centre of attention, a position she quickly learned to maintain and enjoy. Meanwhile, the cleaners aided and abetted her special powers by changing the wooden horse’s position at least three times a week. Her role as The Great Fabricator was established.

Georgina loved entertaining others as a child. From an early age she interviewed people with the intensity of a news journalist. She found she was able to hold people’s attention with jokes, and quickly discovered that being funny could be a valuable commodity. 

Exactly as I did when I was at school, Georgina told the other kids in the playground that she had a secret joke book, and she absorbed funny stories like a sponge, to later relate as currency. “Funny” made you friends a lot quicker than handing out fruit gums. And it was cheaper.

Just as I remember that gag from Crackerjack, Georgina remembers the day, aged four that she rushed home to tell her parents her first ever joke.
“What time did the Chinaman go to the dentist?” she asked her dad.
“I don’t know, what time did the Chinaman go the dentist?” he politely responded. Little Georgina took a deep breath and proudly delivered the punchline: “Half past two.”

She remembers falling on the ground with laughter, while her poor dad was left to figure out that she’d actually meant “tooth hurty”. Not the most PC of punchlines today, rendering young Georgina’s original version both funnier and less racist.

Georgina told me that it was as early as those days that she decided she wanted to be an actor. Many grow out of it. Not Georgina. She was determined to turn make-believe into a career. So, at the age of 18, she chose to study drama at university in London. Three years of acting was going to be bliss for a born drama queen like Georgina. She loved, and still does, the camouflage of pretending to be someone else. What could be better than having your thoughts given to you on a page? She said it still made her bubble inside when she pretended to be someone else, but often wondered, like so many actors, if it meant that she was not entirely happy being herself.