Most of us remember Sybil in Fawlty Towers, the classic mid 1970s Brit-comedy sensation with John Cleese as miserly misanthrope husband Basil. To me, Prunella Scales will always be Sybil, would-be imperial boarding house proprietess of the English Riviera - and yet the West End stage has a new design for such a grand, old dame of dramatics.
Currently appearing as the fading Welsh socialite-turned recluse, Mrs Gotobed in the stage adaptation of Nina Bawden's excellent "Carrie's War", Prunella pulls a dickensian-type character out of the deep, dark valley of World War II evacuation.
Carrie's War was my favorite novel in elementary school and its subsequent serialization on after-school tele was the highlight of my week at the time. Entranced by the romance, danger and drama of that era and the sheer phenomenon of the British government managing to evacuate so many youngsters to supposed safe havens all over the world, the story of "Carrie's War" told of one girl's coming-of-age experiences in Wales and the characters who colored her far-removed world.
With war-time music and original war recordings from British radio broadcasts, the intimate and newly restored Apollo Theater on Shaftesbury Avenue came alive with the sights and sounds of the 40s. Gaggles of school girls seated behind myself, my sister and the boys brought to mind the sheer monumental task of moving immense amounts of youngsters out of London and Britain's largest cities and into other people's homes in remote, rural outposts, for years at a time.
Three million, seven hundred and fifty thousand young Brits were displaced in the war. Of those, some 827,000 were children and with the population of Wales today only 3,000,000 itself, the enormity of absorbing so many of the war time evacuees must have been staggering.
Famous evacuees during World War II included Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Peter O'Toole and Carrie's War author Nina Bawden, herself.
It took the British government just three days to evacuate nearly one and a half million people from British cities during World War II. The thought of putting our modern day offspring onto trains with gas masks and hold-alls and with no idea as to where they would be sent is a mind boggling one and history tells us that not all of the young evacuees were received with open arms and farm house dinners.
The smallest of the playhouses on Shaftesbury Avenue, the Appollo celebrated its centenery in 2001. "Carrie's War" was the one and only West End show the travel schedule allowed and was well worth the selection from several other contendors including Jude Law as Shakespeare's tragic Prince, Hamlet.