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HARRY & ME / 2004

The performance begins with a video in which Robin re-enacts images from the show on Bedford bandstand. The soundtrack is of a bizarre telephone conversation he made to his old school asking if they have a copy of the Highway television programme.



Hello, this is St Thomas More School. If you wish to report that your child is ill, or unable to attend school, please press one. If you wish to arrange a sports fixture with a member of the PE staff, please press two. If you wish to speak to an operator, please press zero. Touch tone, recorded muzak.


Good afternoon, St Thomas More School, can I help you?


Hi. Yeah, my name is Robin Deacon, and I used to be a pupil at St Thomas More School, several years ago. I wrote to the school, a couple of months ago I think it was about an event I'd been involved with in the school choir when I was a pupil there. It was when Harry Secombe's 'Highway' television programme came to Bedford, and the school choir with filmed singing with him on the bandstand on Bedford embankment. Do you know if you received a letter regarding that at all?


Er...who did you address it to?


It was just a general one to the office, so maybe you wouldn't know either way.


I didn't see one I have to say, did it go through to the headmaster then?


I'm really not sure to be honest. Well the basic thrust of the letter was, I'm trying to locate a copy of the programme, and I'm wondering if the school would have it at all.


I wouldn't have thought so now...um...was that when...Mr...Thingy was head of music, he's gone hasn't he?


It was in 1989, so it was quite a long time ago.


I very much doubt they'd be a copy of anything left now to be honest. Have you tried...um...so who did the programme?


Well, it was filmed by Anglia television, and the school choir was part of it. I mean, I'll explain what it's for. Since I've left the school, I'm working in performance, and I'm doing a performance about childhood memory, and one of these memories is me being part of the choir. You see the problem is, if I don't find a copy, I'm going to have to film a reconstruction of the event for the show, and it won't look right because it will just be me on the bandstand, because obviously I don't know where the rest of the school choir are going to be now. I suppose I could use some passers by to fill in or something.


I'll just put you though to Mrs Cooper, see if she can help you.


Ok, thank you.

Recorded muzak. Video still of 'passers by filling in'.




Hello...um...I don't know if the person I've just been speaking to has explained what I was talking about.


Yes she has, more or less.


Do you know if you've got any idea of where I can get a copy of the programme?


No, I haven't got anything like that.


You see the problem is...my school uniform doesn't fit me anymore. So it's all going to look a bit strange. Because I'm nearly 30 years old now.

Sound of phone being hung up.



Dialling tone. Robin enters wearing a suit, walks centre stage to a microphone, and proceeds to sing a rendition of the hymn 'All Creatures of Our God and King' very badly. Halfway through this, it is revealed that Robin is actually miming, as he steps away from the microphone to sip some water - the singing continues as he does this. He then returns to the microphone to continue miming, only this time, completely out of synch. The recording stops, and Robin thanks the audience. He then sits behind a school desk on the stage.


Sir Harry Secombe, famed for his work with the Goons has died aged 79. The performer died in hospital in Guildford, Surrey, from prostate cancer with his wife, Myra, at his bedside. Fellow Coon, Spike Milligan...(LONG PAUSE) fellow Goon Spike Milligan paid tribute by saying: "I grieve for an unbelievable friend." Sir Harry had suffered from health problems, including diabetes and a stroke, and he announced his retirement from show business in 1999. During his last few months Sir Harry found his eyesight failing and he had suffered some paralysis down his left side. The veteran comic rose to prominence on BBC radio with his work on the Coon Show, THE GOON SHOW and was knighted in 1981. The C...(LONG PAUSE) The Goon Show, which also starred Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers was first broadcast in 1949, and enjoyed a nine-year run. Sir Harry later became known as a singer and frequently appeared at the London Palladium between 1956 to 1966. More recently, Sir Harry, a committed Christian, presented the Sunday night religious program Highway. For those of you that aren't familiar with the program Highway, its remit was to fill what is commonly known as the Sunday afternoon 'God slot'. The show was peripatetic, each episode consisting of a visit to a town, city or village in the British Isles, exploring the faith and religious beliefs of the local populace - each week, a different location.

The Bedford edition of Highway was broadcast on 12th February 1989 on ITV at 6.40pm. The program was made by Anglia Television, one of the regional subsidiaries of the Independent Television network. You heard in my telephone conversation, that I was a participant in the programme. But as you've also heard, locating the actual footage of the show has proved to be exceedingly difficult. But following a visit to the Bedfordshire County Council Records Office, I was able to unearth a series of articles referring to the event in the local newspaper, The Bedfordshire on Sunday. The first references are to the arrival of Harry Secombe and his entourage...

Bedfordshire on Sunday clipping, 9/2/89

'Anglia Television will be in Bedford next week filming Sir Harry Secombe's religious programme Highway'.

As we can see, the intention is to explore a wide range of aspects of life in Bedford from a singularly multicultural perspective, with visits to a Pentecostal Church and a Sikh Temple. There's even a bit of a secular twist with a visit to 'Sweetings Nightclub'. And then of course, there's my connection, my local Catholic school. Now I'm sure you're all anxious to see what 'the common man's hymn warbling equivalent of Songs of Praise' actually looks like, but with no footage, we'll unfortunately just have to make do with some of the journalists reactions that the programme elicited after its broadcast.

The first example is from John Balls Diary.

Robin picks up a newspaper from desk and reads:

'I found yesterdays Highway programme side-splittingly funny. The memory of Harry Secombe leading the choir of St Thomas More School over the suspension bridge frantically miming a hymn while trying not to fall base over apex will be with me for a long time. He looked like an overweight pied piper.'

Away from the choir, and onto the programme as a whole, the opinions of seasoned Beds on Sunday hack Fred Plester are also of interest. His primary objection seemed to stem from what he perceived as the programmes rather rose tinted image of good race relations in Bedford. The headline of his column the following week pulled no punches…

Bedfordshire on Sunday clipping, 19/02/89

Robin reads from paper again:

'The camera zoomed in on Sir Harry standing outside a house on Ashburnham Road, still being used by Islamic Zealots paying tribute to Allah long after its grant of temporary planning permission expired. This, according to the Italians living next door makes life on Sunday unbearable. Harry boy swiftly moved up the road to the Miracle Church of God, where miraculously, every face in a packed congregation was Afro Caribbean black. Not much integration here either, but plenty of harmony in a performance which must have sent the share price of every tambourine manufacturer through the roof! Rhythm man!'

Reactions from local residents in the letters page compounded this disdain...

Clippings from letters page, 19/2/89

As a churchgoer, K Scace is unsure as to whether he or she lives in Bedford or Pakistan. R Huckle describes the portrayal of Bedford in the show as being DISGUSTING, displaying particular concerns for the implications on the local tourist industry. Now at the time, the implications of these criticisms were somewhat lost on a fifteen year old. I was still reeling from having seen my face on national television. It's funny reading this stuff now with the gift of hindsight. The question is, have we moved on? In some ways maybe, but in today's contemporary society such negative undercurrents still exist to the detriment of us all. Now I'm sure we'll all agree that the future of racial equality lies with our children. The real test as to whether Bedford has built up a genuine community will be in the equality of opportunity that the next generation finds. So perhaps its time we started to focus, not on the things that divide us, but on the things that bind us - our common and shared humanity. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that racial harmony should be rammed down peoples throats. But surely positive images of minority groups can't be a bad thing…"

Highway video plays


Now as Kuldeep has just said, the future of racial equality lies with our children. The real test as to whether Bedford has built up a genuine community will be in the equality of opportunity that the next generation finds. Our last hymn comes from the children of St Thomas More School…

The choir proceed to sing 'All Creatures of Our God and King' (3.25)

Robin Deacon and Harry Secombe


And so the day came of the broadcast. And this was when the rumours started…

Beds on Sunday, 12th February 1989

Robin exits and re-enters with a large blackboard. 'Ebony & Ivory' by Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder plays.


Ok, the subject we're going to discuss today is (Long pause) memory, and more specifically, childhood memory. So, question one…

Robin writes on the blackboard: "When did you join the choir?" Robin produces cane from behind black board, and repeats quote, tapping words with cane.


When did you join the choir? A key question. I was recently going through some of my old things when I found this:

Robin takes out school report from pocket.

A school report from Autumn 1988. It begins with a personal assessment from my form teacher, consisting of the usual platitudes: 'Robin is quite a reliable pupil, and is well organised, apart from remembering to get his diary signed! He is very polite, and usually well behaved in class. He always looks smart, and his school uniform is always correct…'

Robin drops the report. He then takes off his suit to reveal he is wearing an ill fitting school uniform underneath. Robin then picks up the report again and reads:


Robin has recently joined the choir… Now this is dated 18 December 1988 - so in answer to the question, a possibly co-incidental two months prior to filming. So the question now is…

Robin walks to blackboard, crosses out the word 'WHY' and writes 'WHEN'…

Why did you join the choir? (Tapping out words) Or more specifically…why now? Or perhaps the question would be even better phrased, 'Why were you asked to join the choir'?

Robin slowly puts up his hand.

'Because I can sing?'

Beds on Sunday, 12th February 1989

At least that's what you'd tell yourself. However, the powers that be, or were, may have had other ideas, other agendas:

For example, according to my school report… 'Robin is co-operative and accepts authority easily.' Now on paper, such a pliable, malleable child would surely be an ideal candidate in the role of an 'ethnic stooge'. But the process of conscription wouldn't just be a matter of choosing a 'co-operative child'. Further contingencies would also be required if, say, this story was leaked to the local press. Of course, this is exactly what happened… but the school was on the ball with a swift rebuttal, and an 'ethnic breakdown'.

Beds on Sunday, 12th February 1989

And herein lies the genius in their choice of this particular minstrel. Hearing these bizarre allegations, who would you believe? A respected Catholic School pedagogue, or a child, described by his art teacher as being… '…very imaginative'.

Now I know how this is probably starting to sound, but one thing I do wish to make abundantly clear is that none of this in any way represents some kind of vendetta against my old alma mater. On the contrary. Retribution (Long pause) RETRIBUTION (Long pause) but undeniably, in terms of the school covering their arses, the sort of child who could be dismissed as having a tendency to 'make things up' would be…useful. So lets just recap. Co-operative, imaginative…and black! The perfect candidate...

'Black & White' by Michael Jackson plays as Robin moonwalks and pulls various unconvincing Jackson dance moves.

It don't matter if you're black or white, well be that as it may…there is something else…The question of the bandstand. In terms of areas most needing improvement, my art teacher wrote…'I would like to see Robin work on his observed drawing more.' So what I'm going to do now is draw a floor plan of the bandstand on which the choir is congregated, scaled down to 10 to 1..." Robin draws octagon on the blackboard. Octagonal in shape, the actual dimensions are as follows. Each of the eight sides of the bandstand are 114 inches in length. The side facing the river has an entrance in the centre, 39 inches in width. This entrance is reached by five steps, the whole raised 26 inches from the ground.

Robin walks centre:

So scaled up, one side of the bandstand is about this long.

Robin draws white line on floor in front of audience:

Let's say this is the side of the bandstand facing the camera. Now, Harry Secombe is standing here. Robin draws white cross on floor. And surrounding him…

Robin clicks his fingers, and the audience are illuminated.

…is the fully…integrated choir. Now I'll be dealing with you all in a few moments but first…

Bedfordshire on Sunday clipping, 12/2/89

You see, the question isn't who or who isn't singing. Everyone on the footage you've seen is actually miming - a couple of weeks previously, the choir had been taken to a recording studio, where we sang the song, which was then played back during filming. Now whatever we feel about the veracity of the allegations regarding the presence of ethnic impostors in the ranks, the first thing we'd need to do is establish the ethnic quota of the choir and see if it tallies with the ethnic quota of the school as a whole. Unfortunately, I've been unable to locate Headmaster McManus' ethnic breakdown, but some of the images from the video perhaps tell their own story. So, this is my ethnic breakdown. I'm basing this on certain cut away shots in the footage of the choir that include black children. Firstly, we see a still where the balance is initially established…

Still from broadcast 12/2/89

One black face indicating perhaps, a token presence…

Robin produces a wooden cut-out of a choir member, and walks into the audience.

Relative to the front of the bandstand, our first female non-Caucasian choir member stands approximately here…

Robin places cut-out in audience

In my second ethnic breakdown we have some evidence of 'racial clustering' to the right of the frame, suggesting a suspiciously contrived composition perhaps.

Still from broadcast 12/2/89

But nonetheless, a stereotypically harmonious image is created, despite the rather marginalized positioning of the black faces. Robin produces two more wooden cut-outs, and walks into the audience. These two female non-Caucasian choir members stand approximately here and here respectively.

Robin places cut-outs in audience

Then, there are always those who aren't so easy to categorise…the lighter skinned types for example…

Still from broadcast 12/2/89

However, such images are useful in discouraging outmoded forms of separatism, and are evidence of procreation between the races in Bedford, which is of course to be encouraged.

Robin produces a wooden cut-out of a choir member, and walks into the audience.

Our final female non-Caucasian choir member stands approximately here.

Robin places cut-out in audience. Robin switches on a camera on the stage, and trains it on the audience. The image of the audience is projected on screen.

So why are we really here? Why am I here? There is the old adage regarding paranoia vis a vis the possibility of somebody following you, i.e, just because you are, doesn't mean there isn't….anybody following you…look, what I'm trying to say is, visibility can be used against you, and there are creative, elaborate and yet subtle ways of…humiliating people. And in this case, the humiliation is encoded. And perhaps if we knew the code, we'd know why I was asked to join the choir. Now bear in mind that the effectiveness of this demonstration in racial gerrymandering is contingent on tonight's audience having some equivalence to that of the school choir, relative to the placement of these wooden cut out representations of the ethnic minorities. So, ironically enough, the less black people there are here, the better this is going to work. Now, I'm speculating, but what if I said, for the sake of argument, that to understand what's really going on here, the key lies in where each of us were told to stand? Now, I don't know how many times I've watched the footage (I mean, its been a lot), but by studying this establishing shot of the bandstand, and the various cutaways, I worked out to a good degree of certainty that the choir had thirty eight members - twenty three female and fifteen male.

Still from broadcast 12/2/89

Let's concentrate on the females first. Now there's several ways of doing this. The first step is to assign each female figure in the choir with a number, one to twenty three, going left to right, back row to front row.

Adjusted still from broadcast 12/2/89

Now let's look at the numbers assigned to the female non-Caucasian choir members." Robin switches on the camera again. The image of the audience is projected on screen. Robin then walks into audience. In our three dimensional representation, we can see the roughly equivalent spatial distribution of the numbered female non-Caucasian choir members. (Cut-out figures turned to reveal numbers on their backs). But some rather disturbing patterns start to emerge regarding the roughly equivalent spatial distribution of the female non-Caucasian choir members if we change these numbers, to their equivalent letters in the alphabet…" The letters in the backs of the cut-outs are revealed to be C-N-O-S. 'C-N-O-S'. CNOS. It probably means nothing…until that is, we look at the spatial distribution of numbered MALE non-Caucasian choir members…

Still from broadcast 12/2/89

…of which I was the only one. Same process again, we assign each male figure in the choir with a number, going left to right, back row to front row, one to fifteen, Robin Deacon being number fifteen.

Robin holds up a piece of paper with a number 15 printed on it. He sticks it on his back. He then walks into the audience, retrieves the cut-outs, and arranges them in a line on stage. He then takes off his jumper, revealing a letter 'o' written on his shirt, and stands in line with his back to the audience. The letters on the back of the cut-outs and Robin spell the word C-N-O-O-S.

So if you know the code, you can find exactly what you're looking for."

Long pause. Robin looks at the backs of the cut-outs, and swaps two round. The word spelt is now 'C-O-O-N-S'.

Like I said, if you know the code, you can find exactly what you're looking for. So, why did I join the choir? Robin turns to face audience Because-they-asked-me-to. Between each word, Robin knocks down a cut-out with a baseball bat But does perception of a message prove that message was deliberately created? If someone finds a hidden message in a piece of text or a song played backwards, does that prove someone else put the message there intentionally? A cabal theory perhaps, possibly involving Headmaster McManus, some rogue Anglia Television executive, or, without wishing to speak ill of the dead..."

Video blip of Harry Secombe

Let us pray. Robin kneels behind his desk, hands together, eyes closed. Our father, who art in heaven. Harry be thy name…

Robin then holds a séance during which his desk begins spewing dry ice, and the sound of Harry Secombe's voice is played in reverse to frightening effect. Robin then attempts to recite the following over the noise:

…it because the scientist yearns to find and eventually know the truth, and that the religious man wants the truth to fit his preconceived mould? And as a result, the scientist alters his perception to conform to the facts, and the religious man tries to change the facts to conform to his beliefs? So maybe we believe that we believe what we want to believe, that we see what we want to see, and facts and visions which don't conform to those beliefs are merely inconveniences to be ignored.

Noise stops. Robin pours himself a glass of water.

Half full or half empty? Its all a matter of perception. So, perhaps meaning…the perception of meaning…the meaning of perception…is entirely in the eye of the beholder…

Robin throws glass of water in his face. He walks to blackboard and wipes it clean. He then walks back centre, and reveals another school report from his pants:

School report, 12 July 1989 - 4 months after broadcast: 'Robin's attitude and behaviour continue to be good, although perhaps he is less enthusiastic than last year…' The number of half day absences had also increased from 3 to 23. It's tempting to imagine this loss of enthusiasm and increased absenteeism was the result of this rather shabby episode. But the more time passes, the more one battles with unclear, exaggerated, or even imagined recollections. The more observant of you might have noticed that it my opening video, I was actually facing the wrong way on the bandstand relative to the actual…but of course, I wouldn't necessarily know the truth of what really happened. While I was writing this presentation, I showed the footage of the programme to a friend, and they were rather impressed by the fact that the little boy standing to the left of Harry Secombe looked so remarkably like a younger version of me. But of course, they certainly weren't stupid or gullible enough to believe that this miniature doppelganger actually was me.

Long pause

But it did get me thinking - what would have been the more interesting story? How I found some mildly amusing footage of myself on television fifteen years ago, or how I fabricated a convincing narrative based on some faked newspaper cuttings, a doctored school report, and three minutes footage of a total stranger? I'm only saying this because I want to clear up something…The inference that I can't sing…

Robin brings on the microphone.

Because I can sing!

Robin stands open mouthed in front of the microphone while the slide of the letters 'ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING' are switched into the anagram 'ADD A FAKE COON SINGER TO CHOIR'. The performance ends with a video section showing the final sequence of the original programme, with Harry talking about next weeks show. The credits roll.