King Arthur & the Saxons
First performed on the 1st October, 1977 at Foster Beck Watermill Inn, near Pateley Bridge, this play, believe it or not, was based on an opera called King Arthur, co-written by poet John Dryden and composer Henry Purcell, staged in 1691/92 in London. Team member Stuart Rankin adapted the themes of the opera to flow along the lines of a traditional Hero Combat play. A presenter set the scene, the hero being King Arthur, King of the Britons, and the adversary Oswald, King of the Saxons. Their struggle was supported by various magical figures, Guillemar, Philadel, Grimbald and Merlin, who cast spells on each other in the struggle for supremacy. This resulted in plenty of fun and action with various “deaths”, the whole cast being saved at the end by Merlin’s magic. The play finished off with a rendition of the song “Harvest Home”, sung by King Arthur.   From the collection of songs “Pills to Purge Melancholy”, this song was written by Thomas D’Urfey around the time of the original opera.

Much hilarity usually resulted from the entrance of Guillemar – who was “mounted” on a duck!  The whole structure was very “Reeves and Mortimer” (before their time!) and the weight of the false legs at the front were delicately balanced by a kettle full of stones hanging from a hook at the back.   In the premier performance, with its own sense of perfect timing at a space in the dialogue, the hook decided to give way and the kettle fell to the stone floor with a beautiful loud “plop”, pitching the surprised Guillemar forward.   No-one could have timed it better and it was some minutes before the play continued, with everyone including the cast, collapsed with laughter!!

Oswald: Chas Marshall, Merlin: Stuart Rankin (with the bat-mobile!), King Arthur: John Burrell, Galahad:Dominic Ward and the Presenter: Graham Bickerdike


This shows Grimbald: Arthur Jackson, displaying Sprites and Fairies Union solidarity with Philadel: Dave Dearlove, with Galahad: Dominic Ward, King Arthur: John Burrell and the Presenter: Graham Bickerdike looking on.

The final shot shows Guillemar “mounted” on the duck: Jim Mayer (with counter balancing kettle just visible!), being taken on by Galahad: Dominic Ward and King Arthur: John Burrell, with Grimbald: Arthur Jackson and Philadel: Dave Dearlove floundering in Grimbald’s Fen.

The pictures were taken on Monday 21st August 1978 at the Bandstand, Whitby Folk Festival.

Because of the nature of the props, this play was usually reserved for concerts and festival appearances and would probably be banned today in indoor venues because the pyrotechnics involved would set off fire alarms! However, in 2008 the play was resurrected, albeit using minor “explosions” but hopefully it has the same effect!

The picture below was taken at the FEVA Festival in Knaresborough on Monday 11th August, 2008 as part of one of the Blind Jack Folk Concerts.


From left to right: Merlin (Martin Ord), Galahad (Julian Sharpe), King Arthur (Mark Ellison), Philadel (Jeff Garner), the tatters of Grimbald just visible (Ted Dodsworth), Oswald (Chas Marshall) and Guillemar (John Burrell). The Town Cryer (Dave Williams) is lurking somewhere in the shadows!

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