wordsout by Godfrey Rust                                       Occasional pieces for St Johns  HOME  



The Sound of Dallow

for Gill Dallow, on her departure from St Johns to become vicar of Barlestone, in December 1998

Good evening. Today we bring you a preview of a sensational new stage show based on the life of one of the centuries' most colourful clerics. The Sound Of Dallow opens for what is expected to be a long run next month at the Theatre Royal, Barlestone and it is appropriate that the music for this part-fact, part-fictional account of the career of the woman they call the Vamp from the Valleys should be based on shows that starred one of her childhood heroines, Julie Andrews.  

In rehearsals the show was at different times going to be called My Fair Curate and Gilly Poppins before the final title was chosen. Indeed, the way that Gill Dallow's career followed that of her idol is quite uncanny. Few people know that the two were actually in competition for the film part of Maria in The Sound of Music. Dallow tragically lost out at the final hurdle because every time she ran to the top of a hill and burst into song what came out was Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.

The part of Gill Dallow in the stage production is taken by Joanna Whitfield in her Barlestone debut and the show opens with a young, untested Gill Dallow, newly out of theological college and with eschatalogical imperatives still very much on her mind, wandering in the flower market and thinking of what the future holds… 

                                                                                (to the tune of "Wouldn't it be luverly")

All I want is a church somewhere
Not too far from Trafalgar Square
which needs some loving care
Oh wouldn’t that be beautiful? 

Lots of home groups for me to lead
Lots of lessons for me to read
long hymns, long prayers, long creed
Oh wouldn’t that be beautiful? 

Oh so beautiful taking services week after week
I would never leave unless All Souls
invited me down to speak… 

Just a stone's throw from LBC
Not too liberal theology
perhaps a curacy
Oh wouldn’t that be beautiful, beautiful,
beautiful (there's pretty for you)

So Dallow comes to St Johns, West Ealing, a church which after a hundred years of male vicars and curates is desperately in need of a woman's touch.

She quickly brings a new sense of order into the place. Although only coming to the parish for a day or two each week, her occasional appearances in Ealing become likened to the whirlwind visits of Margaret Thatcher at her peak to ailing factories in depressed industrial areas. Her aides and entourage struggle to keep up with her as she races from pastoral visits to funerals to tea at the vicarage to diocesan committees to tea at the vicarage to home groups, finishing the day with that brief, 80 mile an hour dash back to her Northwood home, tireless in service, careless for her own well-being or for contents of the Highway Code.

How it must have reminded her of her heroine, Maria, as she stood before that congregation, reminding her of nothing more that those lovable but disobedient von Trapp children, needing to learn how a church should really be run…

(to the tune of "Doh, a deer...)

Lets start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with ABC
But at church you begin with you and me
you and me
The congregation happens to be
you and me, you and me… 

(All right, I'll make it easier…listen..)

Me - a priest, a female priest  
Ray - that covenant form's not done -
Mark - you chair the PCC
Steve - your flies have come undone
Don - you’re preaching Sunday night
Joan - please could you make the tea?
Mike - you must turn off the light
and that will bring us back to me!

Me - a priest a female priest
Gary - please rearrange the chairs
Wei Hei - the DCC minutes are late again
young people - now its time to go downstairs
David Conacher - take the collection in the next hymn please 
Graham Bothamley - we'll have the music on the OHP
Karen Taylor-Burge - please have the children ready after the Peace 
and you can bring them back to me…..!

Her impact is felt in all corners of St John's life. A new office answering machine is installed with tapes that will take messages of more that 90 minutes at a time. But nowhere do the winds of change blow more strongly than in the music group. This once dynamic ensemble had fallen into a sorry state. After years of neglect during which its repertoire was entirely drawn from a copy of the Spring Harvest Songbook for 1982 from which all Dave Bilbrough songs had recently been mysteriously removed, the music group finds itself faced with a service leader who actually selects music, and even more remarkably tells the musicians what it will be four days in advance. For some, this new regime is almost too much to take…

(to the tune of "Get me to the church on time")

I'm leading worship in the morning
Got to be there at five past nine
I'm feeling too sick         
Cos Gill's choosing mus-ic                               
So get me to the church on time. 

We're playing Kendrick in the morning
Don’t care if some of them don’t rhyme
the singing is crusty
the guitars are Rusty
so get me to the church on time. 

If I am leading then let us pray
If I'm rehearsing (well that'll be the day…) 

We're singing Youth Praise in the morning
(if you're under forty you can mime)
pass me my hankie
at least its not Sankey
and get me to the church on time.
 

Gill wants tradition in the morning
Gerald is coming to his prime…
She likes the organ
cos she's from Glamorgan
So get us to the church, Get us to the church
Be sure to get us to the church on time.

But Gill is not all business and bustle. Between the hairdressing appointments, sermon preparations and appearances before the magistrates for minor traffic offences, we see glimpses of a sensitive woman searching for her true identity. This is touchingly revealed in an impromptu visit she pays one day downstairs to the young peoples' groups, where she finds some children crying, upset because Mark Sheard has stolen their teddy bears to use as visual aids in a corporate video he is shooting. Gill draws them round, and shares with them her secret of happiness…

(to the tune of "My favourite things")

News spots and song sheets and orders of service
Men who aren't tall and don't make me feel nervous
Telling the music group just what to sing
These are a few of my favourite things…

Tuesdays in Northwood and Sundays in Ealing
Songs from the valleys that choirs sing with feeling
Suits by designers and dangly ear-rings
These are a few of my favourite things…

Pictures and nick-nacks and paraphernalia
Globetrotting missions to visit Australia
MasterSun holidays taken in spring
These are a few of my favourite things… 

When the clock stops,
when the mouse bites
When the traffic's slow
I simply remember my favourite things
and then I don’t feel so low…

People who visit and like what I feed them
Radio mikes that will work when I need them
Big parking spaces when I'm motoring
These are a few of my favourite things…

Keys that aren't lost and Emmaeus group meetings
Friends from the past sending wishes and greetings
Hosting a dinner that goes with a swing 
These are a few of my favourite things… 

Giving egg-timers for timing the sermin
Houses with tenants and no mice or vermin
Hope for the future whatever it brings
These are a few of my favourite things… 

When the time flies
When the job's done
When I have to leave
I simply remember my favourite things
and then I don’t have to grieve. 

Of course, all successful shows have love interest, and this is no exception, although it is love of a secret, unrequited kind. As Gill's meteoric star blazes across St Johns, in the pew sits a dazzled but tongue-tied young man (played sensitively by Andrew Mole), tragically aware that it is their destiny never to be lovers because of the unbridgeable gulf that lies between them…

(to the tune of "In the street where you live")

I have often sat in this aisle before
but the sermon never seemed to raise a smile before
All at once am I seven heavens high
Knowing I'm in the church where you preach

People stop and stare they dont bother me
even tho' you’re 4 foot 10 and I am 6 foot 3
Oh what joy if I only caught your eye
Sitting here in the church where you preach 

And oh that towering feelingmargin-left: 8.5cm;
Of looking down and hearing how your words will please
The overpowering feeling
to know your eyes might any moment meet my knees…  

Are there horse-chestnut trees in the Avenue?
Oh you've conkered me with charm and passion, haven you?
O how thrilled I’d be - please look up to me
Sitting here in the church where you preach! 

Under the watchful theological gaze of Ian Fishwick, played imaginatively here in a change of career by Kevin Keegan, and aided by the young, ambitious curate Mark Bratton - a part handled I thought well, if a little overacted, by Brian Blessed - Gill's preaching has indeed gone from strength to strength. How had this transformation come about…?

Well boys, at first I was nervous and could hardly string three points together, 
but then one day I was introduced to a word that changed my life…

(to the tune of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious")

SUPERCHARGED-EVANGELISTIC-ALPHA-CHARISMATIC
Even though the thought of it may sound a bit fanatic
If you say it fast enough it makes you quite ecstatic SUPERCHARGED-EVANGELISTIC-ALPHA-CHARISMATIC

Because I was afraid to speak in church without a hat on
One day I took a lesson from the wisdom of Mark Bratton
He said it didn’t matter much what words you really used
As long as they were long enough to leave the church confused… 

SUPERCHARGED-EVANGELISTIC-ALPHA-CHARISMATIC
Even though the thought of it may sound a bit fanatic
If you say it fast enough it makes you quite ecstatic
SUPERCHARGED-EVANGELISTIC-ALPHA-CHARISMATIC 

So now my every sermon's full of grace and hermaneutics
The formula's so simple I can write it up in two ticks
A bible verse, two words in Greek's enough for making may-hem
and finish with a quote from someone Welsh or Billy Gra-hem……

SUPERCHARGED-EVANGELISTIC-ALPHA-CHARISMATIC
Even though the thought of it may sound a bit fanatic
If you say it fast enough it makes you quite ecstatic
SUPERCHARGED-EVANGELISTIC-AL…PHA…CHAR…IS…MA…TIC

The impact of such a woman in the church is remarkable. Inspired by her example, dozens of women rush to take up holy orders. And yet, in spite of it all, the source of her charismatic appeal remains an enigma, a question to which there is no ultimate answer. In a rousing climax to the show, some of the newly-ordained from the congregation join in tribute to her successes, and bewilderment at the contradictions of her character…

(to the tune of "How do you solve a problem like Maria")

She'll turn up right on time and then she'll find she's lost her key
She changes round the service and ignores the OHP   
And underneath her cassock she wears skirts above the knee
She's surely not the clergyman we're used to…

I’d like to say a word on her behalf
Then say it Joan
She makes me laugh… 

How do you solve a puzzle like Gill Dallow?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that isn’t shallow?
A flibbertigibbet a will-o-the wisp a clown! 

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
but how do you make her stay and listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

How do you solve a puzzle like Gill Dallow?
How do hold a moonbeam in your hand?
 
When I'm with her I'm confused
Out of focus and bemused
And I never know exactly where I am!
Unpredictable as weather
She's as flighty as a feather
She's a darling!
She's a demon!
She's a lamb!

She'll outpester any pest, 
Drive a hornet from its nest
She could thrown a whirling dervish out of whirl
She is gentle, She is wild
She's a riddle, She's a child
She's a headache, She's an angel
She's a girl!

How do you solve a puzzle like Gill Dallow?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that isn’t shallow?
A flibbertigibbet a will'o'the'wisp a clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
but how do you make her stay and listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
How do you solve a puzzle like Gill Dallow?
How do hold a moonbeam in your hand?

All good things come to an end, and Gill's tenure at St Johns is done, her clerical shirts packed away and her Harry Secombe CDs put into storage in preparation for her next career move. A small, sleepy rural village called Ambridge, sorry Barlestone, waits unsuspecting in the midlands for the arrival of their new vicar. As the curtain falls, Gill pauses while shopping for a dozen new pairs of ear-rings in the Broadway Centre, and again we see as one story ends, another begins

(to the tune of "Wouldn't it be luverly")

All I want is a church somewhere
Somewhere rural like Leicestershare
which needs some loving care
Oh couldn’t that be Barl-e-stone?
Much too quiet to make advance?
No endeavour and no romance?
Just give me half a chance
Oh wouldn’t that be Barl-e-stone?
Barl-e-stone, Barl-e-stone, Barl-e-stone

Spoken: (Ah, that’s what women priests can do for you…)


With humblest apologies to Rodgers, Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe. Performed in St Johns, December (5th?) 1998. Jo Whitfield played Gill Dallow, various others the other parts, and I narrated.