About Hinge & Bracket

Hinge and Bracket

A Celebration

CONTENTS

Two Nice Old Ladies with a Musical Bent 2

Dynamic of the Partnership. 2

Final Curtain. 3

Encore! 3

Characters and Interaction. 4

Stage Business and Recurring Themes. 5

Favourite devices and themes of the act 5

Favourite props. 6

Gay references. 7

Flying the Flag. 8

Lives of “the Ladies”. 8

Musical & Academic Credentials. 8

Rosa Charles and the English Bias. 8

Hilda and The Rhythm Method. 9

Evadne’s Intellectual Edge. 9

You Celebrities Know Who You Are. 9

Village People. 10

One Little Maid. 12

Appeal of the Act 12

Reinventing Drag. 12

Dropping an Octave. 12

One Upmanship. 13

Moving with the Times. 13

Tongue-in-Cheek Tradition. 14

Music with Mischief. 14

Hinge and Bracket in the Comedic Timeline. 15

Musical pedigree of the performers. 16

Career 17

Early years. 17

Radio. 18

Television. 18

Stage. 19

Biographical Details. 20

Patrick Fyffe. 20

George Logan. 21

A Legacy to Theatrical Music. 21

DVD release. 22

External links. 22

 

Two Nice Old Ladies with a Musical Bent

Dr. Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket were the stage personae of the musical performance and female impersonation artists George Logan and Patrick Fyffe.

Active in theatre, radio and television between 1972 and 2001, this comedy partnership entertained the public in the guise of two elderly eccentric spinsters, living genteel lives in the village of Stackton Tressel and celebrating their former careers on the provincial operatic stage.

Early appearances have Dr. Evadne and Dame Hilda ostensibly emerging from retirement to perform in concert "by popular request". The ladies greet their public as old friends and give recitals in which they sing, play and reminisce about their past lives on tour in opera and musical theatre in the more elegant age following the Second World War.

Talented musicians and vocal performers, George Logan and Patrick Fyffe played exclusively in drag and in falsetto, serving up the musical numbers in a rich sauce of spinsterish bickering which formed the dynamic of the act. Logan acted as accompanist, arranger and foil for Fyffe's anecdotal and singing performances.

Details of the ladies' genteel lifestyle and theatrical history were shared with the audience for comic effect, and, in the spirit of authenticity, Logan and Fyffe enjoyed developing a detailed backdrop and career history for their characters.

For the duration of their stage partnership, Logan and Fyffe deferred to the identities of their stage personae, rarely agreeing to be interviewed out of character. In this way, they were consciously preserving the illusion of "the ladies" for an affectionate following, many of whom were happy to suspend disbelief and engage with these endearing characters as real people.

The Hinge and Bracket stage partnership spanned theatre, stage shows, radio and television, and continued for 30 years until the death of Patrick Fyffe in 2002. George Logan retired from the stage in 2004.

Dynamic of the Partnership

In a video interview, recorded in 2007 to accompany the release of Hinge and Bracket’s BBC television recordings on DVD, George Logan explains how he and Patrick Fyffe collaborated on their own stage material. 

They would develop the framework for a new show around a series of ideas, subsequently refining the gags and the timing in live performance, but, in Logan's words, in order to perfect a show, they needed to "play it like a duet with the audience”. He notes that the differences in their personalities served the act well: Logan himself was apt to work "from the head" as a performer, whereas Fyffe's approach to performing was more instinctive - a "natural comedian given to bouts of insane humour" and never happier than when deviating from the script. Part of Logan's role in such circumstances was to keep the shows on track whenever Fyffe’s muse sent him off at a tangent.

Final Curtain

When Patrick Fyffe died in 2002, George Logan decided that, without a Hilda, there would be no more Dr. Evadne Hinge. In an interview recorded at the Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in 2004 Logan spoke of working alone should the right opportunity arise, but made it clear that he did not miss the Hinge persona.

Feeling that the appeal of Hinge and Bracket lay in the interaction between the two characters, rather than with either of them as individuals, Logan determined that the body of work he and Patrick Fyffe had created together should now stand as a finished item.

Paying tribute to his stage partner, Logan praises Fyffe's comedic genius and observes: "[Patrick was] fabulously talented, a brilliant clown and a natural comedian. Since Patrick is no longer with us, [Hinge and Bracket] can never happen again. When you've worked with the best, there'd be no point in doing second-best afterwards, so I'd rather leave it as it is".

Fans of The Ladies still miss the wit, warmth and musical talent embodied by Hinge and Bracket.  Nothing quite comparable has been achieved since Fyffe passed away, and Logan laid aside his half-moon spectacles.

Encore!

After Fyffe's death in 2002, and with none of Hinge and Bracket's recorded work on official release, it seemed that the Stackton Tressel well had run dry.

Since then, diligent campaigning by Paul Dunford, keeper of the Official Hinge and Bracket website, has seen BBC recordings of the act released by Acorn Media on DVD. 

In 2012 a new campaign was launched in the form of an online petition[1], calling for a celebration of the act on BBC television.  Signatures in support of this initiative are still invited.


Characters and Interaction

Full Names:
Dr. Evadne Mona Montpelier[2]
Hinge (George Logan)
Dame Hilda Nemone Bracket (Patrick Fyffe)

Dame Hilda Bracket is portrayed as a lively, flamboyant doyenne of opera, dressed in old lace, and sporting a coquettish lop-sided grin.  In concert, she is often seen with a chiffon handkerchief dangling at the wrist.

Dame Hilda’s mischief, foibles and Tiggerish enthusiasm make for a winning combination in her songs, accompanying dances and anecdotes. In every sense an entertainer, she works tirelessly to engage her audience, with whom she is clearly in love. 

Hilda leads every performance with gusto and infectious humour, but is comically incapable of sharing the limelight.  Co-performers are apt to be ushered off abruptly if they receive more than their reasonable ration of applause. Even mild interjections from her friend and accompanist, the long-suffering Dr. Hinge, are received with bossy impatience.  Hilda’s public is her first love, and woe betide anyone who interposes.

Dr Evadne Hinge is played in sharp contrast as a reserved, austere intellectual whose role is to provide piano accompaniment, musical direction and, where necessary, vocal support for Dame Hilda Bracket's singing performances. 

Somewhat morose and retiring in manner, the antithesis of Hilda’s cheery egotism, Evadne cuts a modest, almost apologetic figure on stage. Sliding demurely onto her piano stool and peering sideways at the audience over half-moon spectacles draped with a decorative chain, she devotes herself to peering at the score, and is generally content for Hilda to compère the performance.

However, Evadne is as wedded to accuracy as Hilda is to adulation.  She therefore sees it as her duty to provide helpful comments on the repertoire, and will interrupt, or even bluntly contradict, Hilda’s introductions and anecdotes in the interests of precision.  This behaviour invariably creates friction with Dame Hilda.

Together, Evadne and Hilda play and sing songs from a traditional light-operatic and musical repertoire, favouring Gilbert & Sullivan, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello (dubbed "Dear Ivor").  Occasionally the repertoire will haul itself into the second half of the 20th Century, in Hilda’s words "coming bang up to date" with "modern" shows like South Pacific.

The ladies’ musical turns are interspersed with comic anecdotes and frequent discursions into repartee, punctuated by flashes of cattiness and bickering. Between numbers, Hilda's wisecracking antics and Evadne's acid reactions to her companion's blatant attention-seeking generate the comic energy of the act.

Early on, Dame Hilda establishes the pecking order, explaining how they both came by their respective titles: her own damehood was awarded for "services to music and opera", whereas Evadne's doctorate was merely bestowed "for hard work".  As a prelude to their performance of Rossini’s Cat Duet, in which Evadne sings the role of a “ginger Thomas”, Dame Hilda is fond of alluding mischievously to Evadne’s having “been doctored”.

Disapproving, but never daunted by the theatrical and overbearing Hilda, Evadne raises her eyebrows and takes controlled revenge through terse and well-timed put-downs aimed at deflating Hilda's ego.  In a favourite assault on Hilda’s vanity, Evadne is fond of reminding the audience that she is in fact two years younger than her colleague.

In spite of their petty squabbles over such details as the date they first met (“Nineteen Forty-Six, Dear” – “Five”), or which opera was in rehearsal at the time (“I was singing the lead in Carmen” – “It was Aida, Dear”), the ladies are portrayed as indivisible companions and an unassailable partnership.

Hilda and Evadne never fail to address each other as “Dear”, and occasionally stop mid-concert for a spot of sherry, or to examine the fascinating contents of their handbags

Stage Business and Recurring Themes

Favourite devices and themes of the act

Hilda polishes her reading glasses:
Whenever she is required to read from the printed page, Hilda makes a comedic meal of polishing her spectacles. Each lens in turn is breathed upon in a loud, honking baritone (“hungh!”) before the glasses are finally positioned on her nose.

 

Hilda's cousin Evelyn:
Hilda recounts Cousin Evelyn’s career in the military: "He was in the guards..... Only for two weeks"

Cousin Evelyn ("Yes it's one of those difficult names") is caught playing [cards] with his privates, and dismissed the Service.

Hilda’s brother’s taste in jewellery:
Hilda checks the time on her brother's watch:
Evadne:           "Why are you wearing Gilbert’s watch, Dear?"
Hilda:             "Because he's borrowed mine."
Evadne:           [not seeing] “I see…”
Hilda:              “I know what you’re thinking, Dear.”
Evadne:           “Do you?”
Hilda:              “And sometimes he worries me too.”

Evadne's mysterious health problems:
Frequently aired in public by the indiscreet Hilda, Evadne's afflictions include knees prone to locking, a separate condition requiring treatment with three forms of Ralgex, and a non-specific rash. Letters from Evadne's clinic, invariably mis-addressed to "Mrs Ming", are seized upon and read sotto voce by Hilda, mumbling practical instructions such as "try not to pick it until it’s better".

Evadne's given names:
In start-of-show announcements, the list of Evadne's names is occasionally expanded beyond the usual Evadne Mona Montpelier, to include additions such as "Pauline", "Renee", "Albuquerque" and "Liversedge". Later shows, in deference to the advent of the cyber-age, incorporate "DotCom" into this list.

Hilda compliments Evadne on her singing:
Hilda:              "Very reminiscent of Lilian Baylis, Dear."
Evadne:           "But she didn't sing, Dear".

Hilda and Evadne receive their end-of-concert presentations:
Over the applause, Hilda and Evadne are presented with gifts of appreciation by the concert organisers. Whereas huge bouquets arrive for Hilda, for Evadne there is never more than a meagre token, ranging from the tiniest posy of flowers, via half a dozen eggs in a cardboard carton, to a banjo.

Favourite props

Evadne's half-moon spectacles:
Perched on the end of Evadne's nose, and lending an appropriate air of severity to the character, Dr Hinge’s brown half-moon spectacles are her trademark.  Always slung on a decorative chain, they evolve through various styles over the years, reinforcing frequent glances of disdain or disapproval.

[ED: this subsection is included for the sole benefit of an eyewear-fetishist-minority among Hinge and Bracket fans]

Evadne’s spectacles begin life as brown half-moons on a gold chain. This is subsequently swapped for a pearl chain.

In 1984, for the final series of 'Dear Ladies', the BBC provided George Logan with a slightly different pair of brown half-moons on a chain of very large pearls. Logan continued to use these in a few live stage shows before reverting to a chain of smaller pearls. When that chain finally broke, Patrick Fyffe donated the silver chain from Dame Hilda's reading spectacles (c/f “Hilda polishes her reading glasses” above).  Logan subsequently replaced this chain with a daintier gold one, bringing the whole spectacular look full circle.  

In the later years of the act, and after Logan's props were accidentally lost, Evadne acquired a pair of red half-moon spectacles on a gold chain.  
[That’s enough about spectacles. ED.]

The Ladies' Handbags:
Being contemporaries of Her Majesty, Hinge and Bracket share the habits of her generation and are rarely separated from their handbags. With each successive concert, these bags appear to grow in size.

The metal top-clasp of Dame Hilda's vintage Fifties “classic” closes, at Hilda’s whim, like the snap of a crocodile’s jaws, and Hilda is fond of claiming that this action is an attention-getting trick learned from Mrs Thatcher ("… and she got it from Harold Wilson").

The handbags' contents reflect the personalities of their owners:

·         Hilda's bag holds little beyond her reading glasses, a chiffon hankie, and the obligatory powder-compact which often makes its appearance mid-concert as a scene-stealer - usually when another performer is attempting to command the stage.

·         Evadne's handbag doubles as a portable pharmacy, but is also revealed to contain an “anti-rape” pepper-pot, and many schoolboy-friendly items equally likely to be found in Just William's trouser-pocket.

A favourite humiliation tactic of Hilda’s is to perform a public inventory of Evadne's handbag in front of the audience.

Gay references

As gay performers with a mixed fan-base, Fyffe and Logan were apt to lace their shows with gay-themed reference and innuendo which was usually fairly mild.  Their live stage shows were, however, typically less restrained than the television and radio recordings made for broadcast.

A favoured medium of expression was the double-entendre, underpinned by anecdotal mentions of artistic or “musical” young men of their acquaintance, or by musings on peculiarities of dress or habit designed to indicate louche or eccentric tendencies.

Examples to be found amongst the BBC-produced Gala Evenings and Dear Ladies television series are sufficiently tame for the recently-released DVDs to have earned a “U” rating. Nevertheless, old fashioned slang references to friendship with "Dorothy" do coexist with racier remarks detectable only to the attuned ear (and almost certainly missed by unprimed audiences of the time).  The radio shows were pitched at a similarly mild level, attracting listeners of all ages and persuasions.

Hinge and Bracket were inveterate teasers of their concert audiences, mining a rich seam of double-entendre in the songs they performed.  Much of their light operatic repertoire was selected for no better reason than the term “gay” figuring in title or lyric.  This habit extended to Gilbert & Sullivan classics, with pointed renditions of "Then One Of Us Will Be A Queen" from The Gondoliers, and the "blithe and gay" opening aria from Patience.  The “Hinge and Bracket in Concert” recording launches with a gleeful summary of the plot of Iolanthe, in which Dame Hilda sets the scene with her description of a fairy ring, and muses that the “fairies always come out on top - one of the hazards of nature…”. 

Flying the Flag

No Hinge and Bracket concert is complete without a rousing rendition of Land of Hope and Glory to end the show.  Dame Hilda is fond of coaxing the audience into Last Night of the Proms mood: “Up Colin Davis!”.  Indeed, Hilda lets rip in more ways than one, when the underarm seam of her evening gown invariably “gives” under the strain of directing her promenaders to hit the high note on “make thee mightier yet”.

Lives of “the Ladies”

Musical & Academic Credentials

According to their invented background, Dr Evadne and Dame Hilda win their musical spurs touring England with the Rosa Charles Opera Company.

Hilda is already singing leading roles when Evadne joins in a junior capacity. Evadne quickly rises to the full musical directorship of the company.

Eventually, the ladies leave Rosa Charles.  The most frequently referenced reason for their departure is that they are left to run the company on behalf of the owners and get into financial difficulties – ‘as we faced Loyse Paton-Varda from the dock…’.  Another contributory factor (immortalised on the Hinge and Bracket EMI Comedy CD) is the reported strain on Hilda of being required to perform 18 Mabels [Pirates of Penzance] in 6 days:  “It was more than flesh and blood could stand, that, you know! Two, Five and Eight, and three flights of stone stairs between.  And to cap it all, a dressing-room like a postage-stamp.”

Rosa Charles and the English Bias

Audiences of the 1970s would have recognised in the fictional Rosa Charles Opera Company a respectful nod to the real-life opera troupe founded by Carl Rosa.  His troupe toured England and Ireland in the late 19th Century, flourishing well into the 20th and continuing to put on performances until 1960.  The company did much to popularise opera across Victorian England because its entire repertoire was performed in English. 

Accordingly, a bias towards English as the language of performance is a recurring joke in Hinge and Bracket’s act. Dame Hilda signals annoyance whenever called upon to perform an operatic aria in its original language.  Producing reading glasses from her handbag with an irritable flourish, she polishes the lenses in theatrical fashion, squinting impatiently at the libretto and declaring “I’m a quick reader”. 

Hilda and The Rhythm Method

Dame Hilda's early musical education includes a period spent in Italy in the run-up to World War II.  There, she studies an obscure vocal technique, referred to as "the rhythm method", under a large Italian operatic impresario, Signor Bonavoce (sic).  This apprenticeship purports to explain Hilda’s facility with the Italian language – though in practice, she only demonstrates such ability when cornered into doing so, and then only with a distinct smell under her nose. 

Making the default assumption that her audience has no knowledge of Things Continental, Hilda pauses to translate problematic foreign song titles “for those of you whose knowledge of Italian is little more than Asti Spumante”.

Evadne’s Intellectual Edge

Dr Evadne Hinge's academic reputation rests upon her doctorate in music, awarded at the age of 16, and her career as a pianist.  Whilst supposedly competent to perform full concertos on stage, she offers Hilda's "limited attention span” as the reason for being denied an opportunity to do so. Once in a while, however, Evadne is allowed to borrow the limelight, and the audience is treated to a brief taste of George Logan's virtuoso ability at the keyboard (the result of formal training at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama). Accordingly, a performance of Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, albeit condensed to two minutes, appears in the BBC recording of Gala  Evening 1.

Evadne tends to vaunt her language skills, which are clearly superior to Hilda’s, and is not shy of demonstrating them: "I do have the advantage of French, you see, which I picked up many years ago… from a wine list". Not to be outdone on this front, Hilda attempts to compete by tossing in the odd French phrase with her customary "joie de vie" (sic), and invariably exposes her own ignorance.

You Celebrities Know Who You Are

The Ladies’ credentials on the celebrity circuit are bolstered by allusions to numerous famous guests “sadly unable to attend” their concerts – names from the world of opera and music with whom they claim intimate acquaintance. 

Some are invented figures, such as the felicitously-named, spirited diva Giulietta Cottodorata, who, according to Hilda’s favourite anecdote, was fiercely temperamental, and fond of beating her breast backstage prior to a performance, declaring “I cannot-a go on! I cannot-a go on.”  And then,” as Hilda goes on to relate,”of course she couldn’t – no breath, you see…”

Some distinguished audience-members are completely nebulous, loosely embraced by Dame Hilda's blanket welcome-line to the supposedly famous: "You celebrities know who you are, so we'll say nothing".

But others are real figures, and actually present in the audience at Hinge and Bracket performances or recordings - Dame Joan Sutherland[3], Dame Eva Turner and Olive Gilbert being three notable examples.

Artists from the real world of opera and musical comedy who made stage, or broadcast appearances with Hinge and Bracket include Tito Gobbi[4], Valerie Masterson, Ramon Remedios,  Josephine Veasey, Pauline Tinsley, Rosalind Plowright, Anthony Newley, Evelyn Laye, Benjamin Luxon, Michael Rayner and Ian Belsey.

Village People

Hinge and Bracket's fictional home life is regularly referred to in their stage shows, and further developed in their BBC series The Enchanting World of Hinge and Bracket (radio), The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket (radio) and Dear Ladies (television).

Their invented back-story has the ladies residing in the village of Stackton Tressel in Suffolk, which Dame Hilda describes as lying 17 miles from Bury St. Edmunds "as the crow flies, though there haven't been a lot of crows this year". 

Theirs is a genteel English post-war world of cucumber sandwiches, bell ringing, church fêtes and ladies' bowls matches, all served with a liberal helping of old-fashioned values recalled, and the inevitable sprinkling of double entendres.

Here, the ladies share a house, variously called Utopia Ltd (in the television series) or “The Old Manse” (radio).  They share their home with a menagerie of pets: Sandy the goldfish, Milton the budgie, and three cats.

Evadne is not keen on pets, or more accurately, on Hilda's sugary attitude towards them - “Oh Sandy! I could go right through your arch!”[5]. In one story from Dear Ladies, Sandy the goldfish is banished to a bucket under the sink when Evadne borrows his bowl to use as a crystal ball for her turn as "Gypsy Mona" at the village fête.

Supposedly belonging to an era of fair play, the ladies themselves do not always play fair: in one episode of Dear Ladies, Hilda and Evadne organise the refreshments for a inter-village friendly football match between two teams of Stanley Matthews lookalikes, and deliberately slip the visiting team a mickey-finn of laxative in their tea.

The ladies otherwise amuse themselves with recitals of Gilbert & Sullivan, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello ("Dear Ivor"), and employ an eccentric housekeeper, Maud Print, (played in the radio series by character actress Daphne Heard and, on her death, by Jean Heywood). Though the TV series and stage shows do not feature Maud in person, references are made to her in the first two episodes of Dear Ladies Series 1, and in many of the stage shows.

The Maud persona is characterised by a strong West-Country burr, a fierce devotion to "Dame 'ilderr", a barely disguised antipathy to Evadne, and a general suspicion of men. She declares herself particularly wary of men with beards, men with moustaches, and foreign men (Evadne's French friend André, played in the radio series by André Maranne, is suspected by Maud of being a white slaver). Maud systematically breaks, steps in, ruins or otherwise bungles every aspect of her household duties, but is indulged by Dame Hilda because of her history as Hilda's dresser from their days with the Rosa Charles Opera. Evadne constantly makes snide and critical remarks at Maud, who retorts with curt observations such as "we can't all be musical".

Dame Hilda drives an open-topped vintage Rolls Royce, whilst Evadne eschews motorised transport (one episode of Dear Ladies shows her attempting to learn to drive) and is content to rely on her faithful old tricycle and trailer.  The Dear Ladies title sequence shows both ladies’ preferred modes of transport, with Hilda sweeping majestically along in her Rolls and Evadne cycling along a cobbled street shedding fruit and vegetables from the back of her tricycle-trailer.

Fellow villagers make occasional appearances, answering to such unlikely names as Methuen Hawkins (pharmacist) and Tewkesbury Ptolman (butcher). Also co-opted in as guest performers, they make appearances at the ladies' gala concerts – most notably baritone Tewkesbury Ptolman, who appears in a number of the staged concerts "by kind permission of Christopher Underwood”, and once, briefly, in the television series.


One Little Maid

Dame Hilda’s “autobiography”, One Little Maid, was published by Heinemann in 1980, ghost-written from original material submitted by Patrick Fyffe, and with a foreword by George Logan in Evadne voice.

The content can be characterised as a “Hilda’s Progress”, tracing her early life at the ancestral pile Bracket Towers via pre-war and wartime Italy, through her post-war operatic career and partnership with Evadne, to semi-retirement in Stackton Tressel.

A worthwhile curiosity for the dedicated fan, the entire text of the book has been recorded by artist David Rumelle, reading as Dame Hilda, and is available via the Official Hinge and Bracket website.

Appeal of the Act

Reinventing Drag

To describe Hinge and Bracket as a drag act would be to simplify their appeal and undervalue their art. Logan and Fyffe, in full “fig” both looked and sang like two elderly eccentric spinsters, but they also built up a rich background for their characters, embellished by detailed reminiscences.

To audiences of the Seventies, who easily remembered real-life equivalents of Evadne or Hilda - ladies in black sequined gowns whose precise diction and vocabularies included the strange words "orf" and "gel" – the comic appeal was obvious. Logan and Fyffe in performance inhabited Evadne and Hilda to the very fingertips, and bolstered the illusion by creating a rich fictional landscape for their characters. 

Though the performers channelled aspects of their own personalities through their invented personae, both the intention and the effect of the act was that the ladies should exist in people’s imaginations quite independently of their creators. 

Hilda and Evadne were icons of the day, a status conceded when popular comedians of the 1970s and 80s The Two Ronnies, Kenny Everett and Billy Connolly spoofed them by appearing in drag.

Dropping an Octave

As indicated earlier, Hinge and Bracket were not a “drag act” in the traditional sense of extreme caricature.  Their aim was impersonation, and “passing for real”, rather than exaggeration.  Hinge and Bracket were impeccable in the image they projected and never dropped out of character.

However, the inherent disconnect of two men in frocks was always a rich source of comic effect in the act: a favourite device in concert was for one or both singers to drop suddenly out of falsetto in the lower registers of a song and grant the audience a blast of full-blooded baritone. Because Hinge and Bracket’s falsetto performances were otherwise unforced and convincing, such manoeuvres of musical bathos caught the listener unawares and carried a powerfully comic impact. 

 

One Upmanship

As comic inventions, Evadne and Hilda operated as perfect foils for each other. Hilda would assume the lead, hog the limelight and monopolize the audience, whereas Evadne would wait patiently for her moment, then swiftly deflate Hilda's ego with a well-aimed barb. This cycle of behaviour amounted to their comic signature, and formed the dynamic of the act. If Hilda dared to grandstand and linger too long over a high note, Evadne was apt to race through the rest of the phrase on the piano and finish without her. Hilda fancied herself in charge of the stage, but Evadne had control of the keyboard and could undermine Hilda at a stroke if her patience was tested.

Moving with the Times

The Hinge and Bracket appeal worked on several levels: double-entendre based on the gay angle, highbrow musical parody, eccentric humour, farce and pantomime-dame grotesque. Over the 30 years of the comedy partnership, the act graduated from minority interest, via art-house to mainstream and populist appeal.  Its development reflected the changing attitude in British society towards culture and the arts in general and gay entertainers in particular.

Over the years, the balance of the act shifted from musical performance towards verbal comedy and gentle farce. Hinge and Bracket evolved an appeal beyond their original gay audience, developing "the ladies" into fully rounded characters who became familiar figures on popular television and chat shows. 

However, a level of double-entendre was carefully preserved in all media of delivery, and the allusions were always more risqué in their stage shows. Hinge and Bracket concert performances of the 1970s give the definite impression that some of their more involved double-meaning gags flew easily beneath the audience's radar. In the closing minutes of one BBC Gala Evening concert, Patrick Fyffe’s Hilda persona may well have expressed a wish to be seen across the road by a boy scout, whilst carrying a big bag of shillings (“bob a job”), but this bawdy joke was wasted on a largely unprimed audience in the Royal Hall Harrogate. Likewise, allusions to "Dick Turpin's doings on Wimbledon Common", softened as they were by disingenuous references to The Wombles, were apt to raise a laugh from the audience before the true thrust of the reference was properly absorbed.  By the 1990s, the age of innocence had passed, and people were both alert to and eager for a gay gag: in their 1994 21st anniversary show "Shaken, Not Stirred" from Regents Park, double meanings were served up in spades, and to the audience’s sharp appreciation.

This said, the appeal of Hinge and Bracket was never merely in the disposition of an extended gay joke. The pitch was always warmth, nostalgia, musical appreciation, gentility, quasi-highbrow in the recitals, playful eccentricity in the radio shows, and light, cosy mischief in the television series.

Tongue-in-Cheek Tradition

For those whose tastes ran to uncomplicated, eccentric humour, Hinge and Bracket's radio and television series, broadcast by the BBC between 1977 and 1989, served up the English village antics of these two elderly dotty spinsters in the manner of a traditional cream tea. The Dear Ladies sitcom arrived on Britain’s television screens in the 1980s as a series of gently absurd antics with a flavour of post-war manners, and celebrating English village life. Scripted from original material by Fyffe and Logan in collaboration with Gyles Brandreth[6], Dear Ladies was preceded by three radio series of The Enchanting World of Hinge and Bracket, but ran parallel to, rather than developing, The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket radio series.  All of the radio series were written by Gerald Frow. 

The Hinge and Bracket sitcoms were a framework for Logan and Fyffe to play out their invented world, a colourful "take" on the observed behaviour of the elderly ladies of the WI and churchgoing-communities of their youth. The series’ atmosphere was borrowed from an era when people chipped in for the community, involved themselves in one another's lives and believed in the importance of cultural pursuits. 

Music with Mischief

Hinge and Bracket's prevailing identity was as a musical act. Songs were performed primarily for their comic potential, but Hilda and Evadne would also express their appreciation of the pieces.  Their performances and personae stood as a tribute to amateur operatics - where the term "amateur" expressed, in its purest sense, a love of the music and of the show.  Together, the figures of Hilda and Evadne represented the exuberant spirit and intellectual rigour which had underpinned an entire golden age of operatic and musical spectacle.

On stage Patrick Fyffe conveyed nothing if not the joy of vocal performance, and trod the boards with the dignified poise and conviction (if not quite the voice) of a provincial Callas. Whilst this dignity was a device deliberately to be undermined in the service of comedy, it nevertheless set a standard for the audience's expectations. Fyffe and Logan believed in the quality of their material, and always paid careful tribute to its origins, even when milking their material for comic potential.

These performers knew their subject and the science of raising a laugh. Part of this science was to achieve a successful rapport with an audience. Precisely because Hinge and Bracket projected an air of seriousness about their music and the performing arts, it was necessary for them to demonstrate a conviction that the audience must feel the same way. A familiar device in performance was therefore the ladies' apparent confidence that the audience shared their taste in music.  This created an atmosphere of complicity into which the performers could decant all sorts of mischief.

Accordingly, songs which, delivered from a more conventional platform would have sounded hackneyed, melodramatic or over-sentimental, were presented to the listener in comic context, and with regular doses of stage-mischief to defuse excessive sentiment, mawkishness or melodrama. In performance, this release-valve could be vented in all manner of ways.  For instance, their rendition of Novello's "We'll gather Lilacs" has both ladies bursting into tears and bawling into their chiffon hankies by verse two. On other occasions, the solemnity of a song would be undermined by Hilda's impish chortling during the more melodramatic passages (c/f Noel Coward's "Zigeuner"). In one performance, Hilda sails majestically through the first bars of Aida's aria "Ritorna vincitor" only to segue into a rendition of "Pedro the Fisherman" à la Gracie Fields.

Hinge and Bracket in the Comedic Timeline

In interview, George Logan has acknowledged that the overall style of Hinge and Bracket harks back to the era of Ealing comedy and owes a great debt to Joyce Grenfell.

Moving forward in the timeline, borrowings from Hinge and Bracket in modern British comedy are detectable in several comic creations of recent years.

Most notably in the eccentric personage of Hyacinth Bucket – yet another example of singing household hardware!  In full amateur-operatic flow Bucket (Bouquet) is effectively Bracket (Braqué?) in both voice and stiff-legged gait.  Indeed if one removes the working class low relations of Hyacinth, she is effectively Dame Hilda in another life, down to the singing, inveterate snobbery, and the one-sided telephone conversations with the obviously gay son (cf. Hilda’s nephew Julian, and her conversations with Teddy).  Moreover, the essential foil to Hyacinth's egotism, her forbearing, modest but quietly competent spouse Richard bears more than a passing resemblance to Dr Evadne Hinge.

 

Comparisons have also been made to the Florence and Emily ("I'm a Laydee") characters from Little Britain. But here, the borrowing is more by way of deliberate contrast to all the things that Hinge and Bracket did so well. Whilst there is undoubtedly adoption of the genteel mode of dress of Hilda and Evadne, and the Florence and Emily characters claim refinement in pursuit of being “laydees”, the blunt, deliberately unconvincing transvestite antics of Walliams and Lucas only serve to emphasise how badly short the characters fall of their professed aspirations. An object lesson in how not to handle drag, and, some might conclude, a respectful nod to those who did it first and did it right!

Musical pedigree of the performers

Both George Logan and Patrick Fyffe were born into musically talented families with a strong stage background. Logan went on to study music at the Royal Academy in Glasgow and attended Glasgow University. Fyffe appeared in amateur theatre before turning professional.

In a 2007 television interview, George Logan explains that both he and Fyffe had been boy sopranos, and found themselves able to produce a falsetto voice after puberty. Patrick Fyffe's falsetto voice was additionally gifted with the full rounded tones of a mezzo soprano, and capable of producing some rousing high notes in performance. His vocal interpretations demonstrated a deep emotional connection with the songs, and with his audience.

George Logan, who claims not to have regarded himself as a singer in the same vein, nevertheless projected a light quavering soprano of clarion tone, and admirable breath control in the "patter" songs, whilst simultaneously providing piano accompaniment. Though formally trained as a classical pianist, he also has the ability to play by ear, and used both skills to the benefit of the act, since, in many instances the material performed by Hinge and Bracket required transposition to a different key or other special musical arrangement.

Just as the inspiration for Dr Hinge’s character as a serious musician came from Logan's formal musical background, so Patrick Fyffe's affinity with musical comedy and operetta informed the character of Dame Hilda. This meshing of their two areas of interest allowed the act to explore and exploit a broad repertoire of vocal music.


Career

Early years

Patrick Fyffe and George Logan were already acquainted from their separate appearances in London cabaret when Fyffe approached Logan to stand in briefly as the piano accompanist for his drag act.  Logan explains that one thing led to another, and before he knew it, he was sitting at the keyboard in one of Fyffe's spare frocks.

The names "Hinge" and "Bracket" were selected after loose consideration, but in deliberate preference to bawdier alternatives, notably "Dr P. Nissen" and "Dame Ava Fanny".  The choice was perhaps fortuitous, since suggestive names would have likely compromised their future acceptance as family entertainers.

From June 1972, Hinge and Bracket worked for two years around the London pubs and clubs. Most notably, they appeared at a gay Kensington restaurant, called AD8, every Sunday lunchtime. The restaurant was owned by Desmond Morgan and the transgender celebrity April Ashley, who became well known in the 1960s after a sex change in Morocco. Hinge and Bracket were popular with diners, and their Sunday slot became a ritual in moneyed gay society. [7]

It was from this circuit that Hinge and Bracket were recruited to appear at the 1974 Edinburgh Festival.

Their Edinburgh show was a one-hour scripted vignette, presenting them in a Victorian church hall setting, along with a visiting baritone. In this intimate atmosphere, Evadne and Hilda circulated amongst their audience, handing out glasses of sherry. News of the show (Logan suggests it might have been the promise of a sherry) quickly spread around the festival, and after the first couple of nights, Hinge and Bracket were playing to packed houses. Immediately after Edinburgh, the show relocated to London, where they appeared for an interim fortnight at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, immediately followed by a six month season at The Mayfair Theatre.

The format of the show remained largely unchanged until the act moved to The Ambassador’s Theatre. One month into their run, they were approached by playwright Ray Cooney to provide a show for the late night slot. And so, the first specially commissioned Hinge and Bracket show, Sixty Glorious Minutes, was written.  An extended version of Sixty Glorious Minutes went on to replace the current farce There Goes the Bride as the early evening show at the Ambassador’s when the latter closed.  This longer show became the template on which all later H&B shows were based,  and the pattern and trademarks of the act were thus established.

Radio

Hinge and Bracket toured theatres with their double act for some years before appearing on the radio. Their first series, The Enchanting World of Hinge and Bracket, ran on BBC Radio 4 for three seasons from 1977 to 1979.  Produced by James Casey, (invariably referenced in the closing credits as ‘Gentleman’ James Casey) at BBC Radio in Manchester and scripted by Mike Craig, Laurie Kinsley and Ron McDonnell, these programmes were a mixture of period songs and situation comedy. Actress Daphne Heard was a series regular as housekeeper, Maud, and each show featured an appearance by a guest artiste.

The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket, which ran for 68 episodes on BBC Radio 2 from 1982 to 1989, was scripted by Gerald Frow, and placed the stars in a variety of comedy situations, each episode being introduced from a supposed entry in Dame Hilda's diary. With the death of Daphne Heard in 1983, Maud's mantle was assumed by character actress Jean Heywood. Maud in her later incarnation was periodically joined by her uncouth and mischievous sister Gudrun, played with bloodcurdling relish by comedienne Liz Smith.

Their final radio series, At Home with Hinge and Bracket, had the format of informal musical evenings with a celebrity guest, and ran for a single season in 1990. Guests in this series were Anthony Newley, Rosalind Plowright, Benjamin Luxon, June Whitfield, Evelyn Laye and Jack Brymer.

Certain of the radio episodes have been re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in recent years, and continue to be aired since the station was renamed Radio 4 Extra.

Television

A number of Hinge and Bracket gala and concert performances were televised by the BBC between 1978 and 1983. Venues included the Royal Hall, Harrogate and the Opera House, Buxton, and the repertoire ranged from Verdi through light opera and musical comedy to music hall. In addition, the BBC recorded a Dear Ladies Masterclass (with early-career contributions from baritone Gerard Quinn and pianist Janet Mellor) held at the Royal Northern College of Music and A Prize Performance, co-scripted with Gyles Brandreth, from the Princess Hall, Cheltenham Ladies' College in 1985.

Hinge and Bracket appeared in their own series, Dear Ladies, on BBC 2, between 1983 and 1985. The scripts were written by Fyffe and Logan in collaboration with Gyles Brandreth, and location shots were filmed in picturesque Cheshire towns and villages, including Knutsford, Great Budworth and Nantwich. Three series were made in total, including a pilot.

Stage

As well as touring as a double act, Hinge and Bracket also made stage appearances independently of each other: Dame Hilda as 'Katisha' in a 1993 Regency Opera production of  The Mikado and 'Ruth' in The Pirates of Penzance; and Doctor Hinge as Miss Marple in Murder at the Vicarage in 1994.

The characters appeared together in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for a West End run, followed by a nationwide tour, and a six-month tour of Australia in a re-case production.  They toured the UK with the Peter Shaffer play Lettice and Lovage, as well as continuing to appear in their variety act, touring with the variety show Palladium Nights until 2001.

Hinge and Bracket appeared on the Royal Variety Show twice, being particular favourites of the late Queen Mother[8], and took part in her 100th Birthday Parade.[9] They also guested at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in a 1984 New Year’s Eve performance of Die Fledermaus, conducted by Plácido Domingo and starring Kiri Te Kanawa.

Fyffe as Hilda also toured in a one-woman show entitled By Kind Permission, in which Dame Hilda sang new songs (written by Fyffe, Barrie Bignold and Stuart Calvert) and perform sketches as different characters.


Biographical Details

Patrick Fyffe

Patrick Fyffe was born on 23 January 1942 in Stafford, Staffordshire and died on 11 May 2002 at Wellington, Somerset from spinal cancer. He is survived by his sister, the soprano Jane Fyffe, who was a performer with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the late 1950s.

Two of Fyffe's immediate family, his mother and maternal aunt, had been active in musical theatre, but he initially trained as a hairdresser, and ran his own salon in Stafford before making a career on the stage.

He was a regular star of local amateur productions, but a desire to turn professional took him to London. His early professional appearances included a 1964 production of the musical Robert and Elizabeth, at the Lyric Theatre,[10] (in which his sister played the lead for a period, and he played one of Elizabeth's brothers), and a 1971 production of the same show at the Alhambra Theatre, Glasgow.[5]

With some experience of repertory and a couple of provincial tours behind him, Fyffe invented the character of glamorous soprano Perri St Claire. Played on stage as a sophisticated young lady with singing talent, the "Perri" character was sufficiently eye-catching to earn him some television slots, and Fyffe was asked to appear in character in a number of television series of the late sixties, notably Z Cars and the last programme of Doctor in the House Series 1 in 1969, when he appeared as a cabaret singer.[11] Fyffe also appeared in the first Steptoe and Son film, as a drag artiste who becomes the mistaken object of Steptoe Senior's lust.


George Logan

George Logan was born on 7 July 1944 in Rutherglen, Scotland, to a musical and theatrical family. He was educated at the Rutherglen Academy and Glasgow University, while studying piano at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music.

A classically trained pianist, he has a particular interest in opera and vocal music.

Immediately after leaving Glasgow, Logan worked in London as a computer programmer, but continued to use his skills as a pianist around the London clubs and pubs, accompanying stage acts. In 1970 he met and became friends with Patrick Fyffe, and together they formed Hinge and Bracket, making their first appearance in 1972.

Logan applied his formal training to producing all the musical arrangements for the act. Because of the atypical vocal range of the performers, much of Hinge and Bracket's musical material required transposition or adaptation for performance.

After the death of his stage partner, and a few seasons of pantomime, he retired from the stage in 2004.

Having, like his counterpart Evadne, "the advantage of French", as well as an interest in fine food and wine, Logan moved to France with his partner and opened a bed-and-breakfast in the Limousin,[12] which they continue to run today.


A Legacy to Theatrical Music

Following special provision in Patrick Fyffe's will, The Dame Hilda Bracket Trust was established in September 2004 and registered as a charity in March 2006. The stated aims of the Trust were "to encourage and advance the education of the public in the study, performance, understanding and appreciation of theatrical music, in particular grand and light opera, operetta and musical comedy...through the establishment and maintenance of scholarships and trusts". Fyffe's stage partner, George Logan, and his friend, Hilary Miles, were among the appointed trustees. In 2007, it was decided that Patrick Fyffe's wishes would be better furthered by handing over administration of the funds to an organisation with appropriate expertise and administrative capability. Accordingly, in 2007, The Dame Hilda Bracket Trust was subsumed into The Sadlers Wells Trust.

DVD release

  • Hinge and Bracket's television series Dear Ladies is available on DVD distributed by Acorn Media UK.
  • Hinge and Bracket: Gala Evenings is available on DVD distributed by Acorn Media UK, featuring over 6 hours of material.
  • The Complete Dear Ladies & Gala Evenings set is available on DVD, distributed by Acorn Media UK. This includes all three series of Dear Ladies as well as the Gala Evenings DVD.

External links



[1] The Hinge and Bracket Comedy Classic TV Tribute Petition can be found at PetionOnline.com: http://www.petitiononline.com/HandBTVT/petition.html.

 

[2] Specific reference to the non-standard spelling of "Montpelier" is made in an episode of "The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket" radio series

 

[3] Dame Joan attended a performance in Sydney after which she came backstage - whence the photo

[4] In an interview recorded at the Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in 2004, George Logan relates that Tito Gobbi, though appearing with Hinge and Bracket at a gala performance in Covent Garden, was completely unaware that they were two men in drag.  Once acquainted with the facts, Gobbi was initially speechless, and then made a particular point of seeking them out to congratulate them in person.

 

[5] Very bad of Hilda to slip this naughty “Julian and Sandy” reference into family entertainment!

[6] Fyffe and Logan are uncredited as writers of the series. Gyles Brandreth contributed about 40% of the actual scripts, with the balance being provided by the artists themselves, often from pre-existing stage material.

[7] Source = Wikipedia. Vernon Page, personal recollection of AD8 (henrypage.personal@gmail.com)

 

[8] When Fyffe and Logan were filming 'A Prize Performance' at Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 1985,  news reached them that Princess Anne had expressed a wish for a short H&B clip to give as a present to her grandmother on the her 85th birthday.  A short 3-minute video clip was duly recorded, where Hilda discovers Evadne in the college grounds and narrowly prevents her from chopping down a tree planted/dedicated/climbed by the QM many years before.  Sadly, no information exists as to how, or even if it was received!

 

[9] Hilda and Evadne portayed suffragettes - Dr Hinge chained to a (plastic) set of railings!.

[11] Network DVD; 'Pass or Fail', Doctor in the House, 1969.

 

[12] Daily Express Whatever Happened to Hinge from Hinge & Bracket?, (19 August 2006) .

Bel Ombrage – Chambres d’Hôtes http://www.belombrage.net/Eng/home.htm