the forties - a time when you could leave your door unlocked,
when you could enjoy a singsong around the piano. A time when
you could take your girlfriend to the movies and a meal and
still have change from a pound, even if Jerry was bombing the
living daylights out of your neighbourhood and everything was
on the ration!
talks to Johnny Victory and Frances Belle about their highly
tribute show 'Victory Belle'. This show features music, dance
and comedy banter in a nostalgic package that is guaranteed to
get you singing along and waving your flag.
Victory and Frances Belle
Digger: Can you
please tell us about your musical backgrounds?
I started at three years old, at Barbara Fothergillís school
of dance and drama, progressing to the Italia Conte Stage
School, where we received tuition in acting, singing and
dance. I performed in the West End in various musicals and
continued my singing development under the tuition of local
vocal teacher Annette Woods.
I have a passion for all sorts of music from opera to the
classics - to Lady Gaga even! Saying this, I have always had an
affinity with the songs from the 20s, 30s and 40s. I studied
acting and drama throughout school and afterwards took tuition
in classical operatic singing. I became part of a local opera
company performing nationally, but the draw of the great songs
from the golden period of writing, by masters like Gershwin,
Cole Porter and the like has brought me to where I am now.
We have interviewed Dame Vera Lynn and Petula Clark many among
others. Who were your musical inspirations and why?
Frances: Without thinking I can say Judy
Garland. And the masters
of dance Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, with Gene Kelly
coming a close third. Without having seen their movies, I
wouldnít have been inspired to undertake the journey into
the footlights and the years of training involved. Just as
they created a dream in me, I wanted to inspire and entertain
Johnny: I watched the movies of Busby Berkeley and was entranced
by the glamour of the art deco period. I wanted to be like the
hero and get the girl, so naturally I wanted to be Dick Powell
and sweep Ruby Keeler off her feet. Musically, I love Noel
Coward, a fabulous mix of composer and witty lyricist.
And I suppose a reason I love George Formby tracks: slightly
naughty, but ever so comical and clever.
Digger: Can you
tell us about your forties shows and what options are
and Frances: Our shows are a high energy mix of 1940s
song and dance - a mixture of wartime and nostalgic songs.
We aim to entertain our audience but also to get them
involved, whether it be up and dancing, singing along or
reminiscing of better times. We provide a total service
coming complete with our own PA and stage decorations.
We entertain in original period costumes, both uniform and
civvies, creating an authentic experience. We travel all
over the country and have performed at all sorts of events:
from a Birthday party in someone's front room, to the Imperial
war Museum, to an aircraft hangar in front of thousands.
We are very hands-on in our shows and encourage people to get
involved, dancing along or dancing with us! We can perform at
an all day event, on and off, or provide a wonderfully
atmospheric evening for any occasion.
what about the other shows and 'packages' you offer?
And Frances: We also provide entertainment for other
periods or occasions. As Equity registered performers we can turn our hand to anything!
We have done carols at Christmas in period Victorian dress,
1950s Rat-Pack and 1930s as Fred and Ginger. As
individuals, we are also available for any other theatrical
work such as, acting, modelling and extra work.
and the forties seems bigger than ever - why is it such
a big thing for people and so enduring?
and Frances: We all acknowledge the horrors of the second
world war, but at the same time it was a period when the country truly was united
for one cause. The sense of camaraderie that existed was
comforting to a whole generation and its this that we look
back on with fondness. Having said that, none of us are aiming
to celebrate war, just to recreate and educate those who come
after. Also for the re-enactor, the dressing up
opportunities are endless! Whether it be civvies or
uniform, there is so much to choose from and for us
entertainers the music of the period is magical. They didnít
call it dance music for nothing! You simply can't not move your feet to the strains of Glenn Miller and the romance
of the vocal talents of Dame Vera Lynn are simply divine.
We are also helped by the fact these events are held in
wonderful surroundings: steam railways, beautiful countryside,
museums, stately homes... the list is endless!
Digger: Do you
think the British still have the same kind of spirit and
character that they demonstrated in the war years?
and Frances: Yes, We like to believe that somewhere within
each of us still lies that Churchillian spirit and that we
shall all stand together united for a common cause. In
todayís society people are so distracted by other issues,
that the communities we once lived in are so very different
from the wartime years. Even with conflicts abroad,
until our own homes are under risk of attack, we shanít see
hard is it to reproduce the different sounds and styles of
these various artists so authentically?
and Frances: The key to getting the sound right is research
and rehearsal. So many of the artists of the 40s were so
distinctive that we feel it is our duty to do them justice.
Itís a process of listening to them and developing their style
What are your retro and vintage passions?
Frances: One of my passions is the history of the Titanic. I have a
direct link, as an ancestor of mine was one of the survivors.
I collect memorabilia of all kinds and my newest acquisition
is a dinner service; an exact replica of that which was used
in the First Class restaurant.
Johnny: I have so much old junk
it's unbelievable! Saying this, I
do love vintage wirelesses and gramophones, which Iíve been
restoring for years. Iím also qualified as an antique
furniture restorer, which means trips to the auctions always
reveal an Aladdinís cave for me. Wartime memorabilia has
become a passion too and we use lots of it to dress our stage
area in our shows.
sort of feedback and comments are you getting from audiences?
and Frances: We couldnít be happier with the feedback from our audiences. Weíre constantly amazed by the
number of complementary comments and the number of people who
take the time to talk to us after our shows. The biggest
compliment of all is that many people book us for their own
events after seeing us, so you canít say better than that!
It fills us with a deep sense of satisfaction that not only
have we enjoyed performing, but that it has touched and
stirred long forgotten memories.
Digger: What do
you enjoy most about performing this sort of material?
Frances: It fills me with an immense sense of pride. I love
the love about it. I love the feeling it gives me, seeing the
audiences react and respond. It transports you to another
world, a time when, when everything seemed dark, we were able
to overcome the worst.
I love to perform. I love being Johnny Victory and
dancing with Miss Belle. I love transporting the
audience back in time and recapturing the past. The
music is so evocative and thereís no escape from its charm.
I am honoured by meeting Veterans who fought for us and I am
amazed by their stories of heroism, though so humble
are your plans and ambitions for the future of these shows?
and Frances: Victory Belle is going from strength to
strength. We aim to widen our sphere of work and add to
our repertoire of song and dance. Johnny hopes to learn the
Banjolele so that he can do some George Formby numbers,
ďturned out nice againĒ and Frances is
choreographing new dance numbers for us. Our overall aim
would be to fulfil our dream of performing full-time;
entertaining and educating across the country.