A curious musical performed for car workers and written By Britain’s library music maestro.
Some years ago, your Reprobate editor, alongside sometime writer Daz Lawrence, made a sterling but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bring the collected works of easy listening and library music maestro Cy Payne to an eager new audience. Everything fell apart as much of the music he supplied was owned by music libraries for whom the potential profits were not even worth the effort of sending someone to in the vaults for master tapes, and Cy’s own collection of his other work was frustratingly incomplete – there was much discussion of trying to find things in garden sheds and a lot of enthusiasm on his part for us releasing his extensive ballroom dancing oeuvre, despite our doubts about just how many people would be interested.
But among the groovy library tunes and super-kitsch oddities that, to this day, I very much regret never managing to release, was a genuine oddity. A twenty-minute piece called British Leyland. This appeared to be a theatrical show, a collection of songs that mixed humour, pathos and very specific details about vehicle models and part numbers. British Leyland, for younger readers and foreign types, was the UK’s nationalised car manufacturer, responsible for famous names like the Jaguar, the Land Rover and the Mini, but also infamous for the levels of industrial action that regularly brought production to a halt in the latter half of the 1970s – it was said that British Leyland became a byword for strikes and one of the factors that helped bring in the Conservative Thatcher government after the Winter of Discontent in 1979.
British Leyland was huge. Really huge. At its peak, it had almost forty manufacturing plants across the UK. So the company commissioning a brand new musical show for the entertainment of its employees is not as bizarre as it seems. Sadly, Cy’s memory of this was frustratingly vague – he couldn’t quite remember how it came about, where (or when) the show took place, or even who was in it, with the exception of Last of the Summer Wine star Bill Owen, who is immediately recognisable. His long-suffering wife, with whom he duets on Yes Dear, remains unidentified. Owen plays a bitter boss, tackling the 667S (how the staff must have chortled at the reference) and moaning about foreigners in his jaunty number. This comes after a sweepingly majestic opening that you imagine came complete with a dance troupe prancing across the stage. You start to get a feel for the broad strokes of the show, but then Cy pulls the rug from under us.
Another Truck on the Road might be Cy’s masterpiece. it might be one of the great unsung moments of 1970s music, a wistfully plaintive daydream by the unidentified housewife as she ponders the tedious realities of life (“what does he want for his supper tonight/will steak and chips be alright?”) and the emptiness of her marriage. Quite how this went down with the blokes in the audience is anyone’s guess, though some laughter at a presumably humorous visual moment suggests that the despairing misery was lost on them.
Things get funky with what sounds suspiciously like an advertising jingle that clearly comes with another lively dance routine, possibly with vehicles on stage. It’s absolutely absurd, but if you are familiar with Cy’s library work, it’s immediately recognisable as his work. After this multi-layered epic about the superiority of the Leyland vehicles, we get more dialogue with – can it be Wendy Richards of Are You Being Served? – moaning about randy sale reps before we get some more hard sell about how the new Leyland vehicles are better than Ford. The audience loves this – I suppose it was rare for them to hear anything positive about their company.
Things end on a cliffhanger – will our reluctant boss take up the Leyland salesman’s invitation to a conference in Scotland? Sadly, we may never know. This incomplete recording seems to be the only record of the show, and the intricacies of the plot have long since vanished from Cy’s memory.
It’s likely that there have been hundreds of these corporate entertainments – some grand, some small scale – that were performed once or twice, never recorded and immediately forgotten. Ephemeral entertainments from the days of huge factories and work dos. That this one exists at all is a miracle, but my God, I can’t tell you how glad I am that it does.
Obviously, if anyone reading this was by some miracle a witness to this performance or knows anything more about it, we’d love to hear from you. Similarly, if anyone has evidence of similar workplace theatrical spectacles, please get in touch. These lost moments of throwaway history are fascinating.
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From listening to Cy Payne’s British Leyland Musical Extravaganza, part of me really wants to see someone give this the Spamalot and Book of Mormon treatment.
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