Excerpt for Just The Ticket! Part One - The Impossible Dream by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Percy Tucker

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the publisher. ©Percy Tucker 1997



For Graham Brian Dickason





Introduction and Acknowledgements

Author's Note

Part One- The Impossible Dream

Prologue: Exits


Setting the Standard

Welcome to the Club

Good Times and Bad

A Shower of Stars

Twin Tracks

A Ticket to the Stars

Treading Water

Fools Rush In

At your Service

Festival Fever

Music, Margot and Magic

Home and Abroad

Nerves of Steel

A Finger on the Pulse

Entr'acte: King Kong

Winds of Change

An Unofficial Impresario

Boom Town

Surprise Packages

Mixed Blessings

Greeks Bearing Gifts

The Old Order Changeth

Funny Things Happen

Outlook Threatening

Entr'acte: Legendary, Lovely Marlene

The Accidental Traveller

Colourful Characters

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Seeking Solutions

No Change Expected


Attending an opening night performance in Cape Town without meeting Percy Tucker and Graham Dickason is unimaginable and rarely is there a ballet or opera event to which they do not bring their elegance and charm. Despite his many decades in theatre, Percy’s regular attendance, unwavering support, enthusiasm and sheer delight in the industry that runs through his veins is remarkable. A chance conversation at one such opening performance at The Fugard Theatre led to the publication of this e-book version of Just The Ticket! An autobiography detailing Percy’s involvement and support of the entertainment industry, the book also serves as an archival document, recording the complexities of a theatre industry during the apartheid years.

The original proofs were destroyed in a fire at the publishers which meant that despite many requests a reprint of the first edition was nigh impossible. As a theatre scholar and critic, Percy’s book has been an invaluable resource to me and it seemed a fitting contribution to the South African archive to enable its reprint and accessibility in the digital age.

It gives me great joy to celebrate the occasion of Percy’s 90th birthday with the release of this edition. While he may have “retired” from Computicket in 1994 his involvement in and support of the performing arts in South Africa has never wavered and a second volume of his autobiography would not be a slim one.

I hope you enjoy reading the remarkable story of the “boy from Benoni” who put the East Rand town on the map long before Charlize Theron became a household name.

Tracey Saunders

Cape Town

10th July 2018


I am delighted, on behalf of our profession, to have the opportunity of expressing from the heart a few thoughts about a very special man. It is over thirty years since I, then a bumptious teenager, first met Percy Tucker. I arrived in Johannesburg just having signed pianist Russ Conway to tour South Africa and was taken to lunch by Percy. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The book you are about to read chronicles the four decades, and more, of his life spent in our strange and exciting world. Percy has earned a very special place in the history of South African theatre and entertainment. He was the first true gentleman I met in the business and was always in a class of his own - a friend of the theatre - and the theatre is deeply indebted to him.

Percy, bitten by the theatre bug at a very early age, has dedicated his life to the performing arts. By creating first Show Service and then the gigantic Computicket network, he has had an enormous influence over the development of the full spectrum of entertainment in our country. Without an audience a performance is meaningless, and he enabled people to see anything they wanted to with ease. The importance of this contribution can never be exaggerated.

A book about the theatre is born long before the actual writing begins- in Percy's case it was when he was a young stage-struck theatregoer from Benoni and went on to become a fledgling ticket agent with one booking office in Jeppe Street, Johannesburg. He persevered where, so many others had failed until he controlled the ticketing of every theatrical, entertainment and sporting event staged in our country.

Percy Tucker is an extraordinary man who personifies everything a ticket agent ought ideally to be. His vision of the theatrical world is always clearsighted, true and steady. He is unbelievably generous, always scrupulously fair and understanding, treating everybody - stars and beginners- in exactly the same sensitive way, and he is entirely devoid of malice - unusual traits in our profession. A wonderful showman, he has inspired people to think that the theatre is not only important but indispensable to our lives. Self-effacing ('And what do you do, Mr Tucker?' 'Oh, I just sell the tickets'), always optimistic and supportive, generous with advice and encouragement, he has been a true patron of the arts.

How well I remember his kind remarks about some of my early abortive efforts, and his praise, so gratefully received, for later and better efforts remains etched in my memory. He has had a great influence on a great many careers and we have all benefited from his wise counsel. For many reasons, connected with finance, the changing structure of the theatre, and the times we now live in, we will not see his like again and more's the pity. His departure from Computicket marked the end of an era and left a huge gap. Things will never be the same again, but his legacy remains.

No one I know goes to the theatre more often than Percy Tucker, and indeed, the entertainment world has always seemed to nourish and elate him, and he has spent his life organising the chaos endemic to the theatre business. He has enormous integrity, an accolade given to many but deserved by few. His prodigious memory for productions and people is a source of wonder to me, and he himself soon became one of South Africa's best loved theatre personalities.

Always in the wings, alert to every need and every crisis, Percy Tucker has played a vital role in keeping entertainment alive, coping with the changes that both the years and our political developments have brought, and feeding the arts with his love and admiration. Today, with the decline both of funds and respect, the arts are more vulnerable than ever before and people like Percy Tucker are needed more than ever. He has served our industry with fanatical loyalty and is the nearest thing we have to a guru. Friends like Percy Tucker come only once in a lifetime. Read and enjoy this indispensable account of his - and our - world across five decades.


Cape Town



There is an ancient belief that as long as you have good memories, old age will bring the pleasant experience of reliving them. Happily, I am quite a way from old age yet, but when it can no longer be kept at bay, I won't be short of memories- magic memories. In many ways I've lived a life of reflected glory, basking in the light of the many dozens of great performing artists I have met and worked with and, in several cases, with whom I've made lasting friendships. This enviable state of affairs came about through a love affair with the theatre, in all its forms, which began in my childhood and has continued undimmed ever since. Eventually this great passion led me to earn my living by the pleasurable means of devoting myself to my hobby.

From the moment I opened Show Service in 1954 and became what my horrified father called 'a ticket seller', work and pleasure became indivisible. I actually enjoyed slaving away, virtually round the clock, for some forty years before reluctantly having to concede, in 1994, that I'd reached the age of retirement. The work was hard and not, of course, without difficulties, dramas and disappointments, but these were far outweighed by the constant challenge and excitement of keeping the arts alive in our complex, constantly changing, often troubled, but always vibrant culture. Nobody, in my view, lives a totally charmed life, but I've come pretty close, blessed as I've been by good fortune.

None of this, however, makes a good reason to tell my story, and when it was suggested that I write my autobiography, my first reaction was to think, ‘Who on earth would be interested in the life of a stage-struck small-town boy, who followed a dream and found a niche in the confines of a relatively small entertainment industry?’

Forced, however, to give the matter some thought, I realised that my story is the story of six decades of entertainment in South Africa in general, and Johannesburg in particular. Looking back, it is astounding how many gifted artists of international repute have visited these shores, through good times and bad, during my own lifetime, bringing pleasure and enrichment to hundreds of thousands of South Africans, many of whom might never otherwise have had the opportunity to see and hear them perform.

Then, too, I've watched homegrown talent develop and prosper, finding fame both here and overseas, and seen the number of theatre buildings grow to house the ambitions of our own producers, directors and actors. I've marvelled at the courage of those who fought the iniquitous colour bar, using the universal language of drama as a weapon, and been awestruck by the powerful and uninhibited gifts of black performers, struggling to make their voices heard in a land which denied them access to its privilege.

Delving into the archives, I realised that my own life encompasses a remarkable pageant of people, places and events which deserve a mention in our recorded history. I realised, too, that despite the handful of memoirs and histories of individual lives and institutions, no book has been published that gives an overview of the last sixty years of entertainment in this country.

And, on a more frivolous and egocentric note, why not share some of my more amusing and glamorous memories as a pleasant reminder of things past for the older generation and, hopefully, a fascinating journey into their parents' and grandparents' world for the young?

And so, I invite you to journey back and forth with me over the years…..

This book would never have seen the light of day without the unstinting help of a great many people. It is, alas, impossible for me to mention everyone by name but there are several debts of gratitude that cannot go unrecorded.

To Patric van Blerk must go the credit for instigating the project by introducing me to Nicholas Combrinck of Jonathan Ball Publishers. It is thanks to Nicholas' persuasion, encouragement and commitment that the book became a reality.

My thanks to Clive Hirschhorn for suggesting that I bring Robyn Karney from London to work with me on the book. Herself a former South African who began her working life in the Johannesburg theatre, and subsequently a writer and editor, Robyn gave up a year of her life to apply her expertise to guiding me through the morass of memories and piles of paper - a task which she originally thought would take a little over six weeks! For once she was wrong. It's impossible to express my appreciation of such dedication.

In correcting and polishing the text, my editor Pat Tucker (no relation) gave her time, her encouragement, her experience and, most importantly, her skill, well beyond the call of duty. We were extremely fortunate to have her services.

Countless other people gave of their time and effort to answering queries, confirming facts and sharing memories. Again, I cannot list all of them, and I beg the understanding of anybody who has grounds to feel excluded. However, in no particular order, I must record the. help given by Malcolm Hacksley, Jeremy Fogg and Ann Torlesse of the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown where my research began. It is an inspirational institution and the unstinting courtesy of the staff will be long remembered. Thanks too, to Linda Boswell, Marius Basson and Carol Leigh of the African Studies Library, Johannesburg, for their endless co-operation, to archivist Edna Beukes at the Civic Theatre, Marie Human of Bailey's African Archives, Louana Brewis of the National Archives in Pretoria, and Clive Chipkin, whose book Johannesburg Style was a rich source.

Prominent among those who allowed me to drive them mad in my quest for accurate facts were the ever-helpful Rita Ehlers, Peter Terry and Jaco van der Westhuizen at PACT Drama, Johan Mare and Christine Keitz at PACT Opera, and Jonathan Hurwitz of PACT Ballet. I also tormented Joan Brickhill, Eghard van der Hoven, Michal Grobbelaar, Mannie Manim and Des and Dawn Lindberg, as well as several former colleagues from Computicket, notably Aubrey Louw, Peter Campbell and Iona Myburgh.

Anthony Farmer was a mine of information and memories, as were Hazel and Sam Feldman, Marilyn Lurie and Kay Blythe of Showtime International, and Gail Jaffit-Leibman and her sister Lorraine Conidaris. I owe a very special 'thank you' to the incomparable Percy Baneshik and to my dear friend and mentor Leonard Schach who, sadly, did not live to see the finished product.

The thorny path to completion was also made easier by Henry Ascar, who generously loaned me his archival material, Peter Feldman of The Star, Brian Brooke, Michael Brooke, Fiona Fraser, Olive King, Vanessa Cooke, Philip Morrall, Robert Burring of SAMRO, the staff of the Vita Awards office, Bob Courtney, John Cowen, Kathy Brookes of Museum Africa, Wendy de la Harpe, Mike Dunk, Hilton Morby-Smith, Shirley Firth, Irene Frangs, Ruth Oppenheim, John Kani, Nielle Roux, Butch Evans, June Hern, Bryan Hill, Michael Hobson, Shelagh Holliday, Michael McCabe, Michael McGovern, Richard Loring, Judy Page, Kerry Jordan, Michael Lovegrove, Patrick Mynhardt, Verity Lloyd, Michael Maxwell, Philip McDonald, Lynette Marais, Geoffrey Neimann, Gertie Awerbuch, Andre Pieterse, Dennis Reinecke, John Roos, Charles Stodel, Di Sparkes, Lotte Spider, Alan Swerdlow, Brian Thomas, Louis van Niekerk, Jean-Claude Laurent of the State Theatre, John Whiteley, Graham Wright, Jenifer Williams and Sun City's splendid photographer Lewis Horwitz.

In Cape Town, Basil Rubin was infinitely helpful, as were CAPAB archivist Hope Malan, Marilyn Holloway of CAPAB Ballet, Rodney Phillips at the Baxter Theatre, Ronnie Quibell, Robert Kirby, Joan Manners and, of course, my friend Pieter Toerien. Special thanks to Joy Wildman for allowing me to read her unpublished memoirs of Taubie Kushlick, and to Emmanuel Zabar who diligently helped me to file my massive collection of memorabilia.

Last, but certainly not least, I must express my gratitude to photographer Ruphin Coudyzer for making his superb work available to me and to Francine Blum of Jonathan Ball Publishers for her help and interest.

Finally, without the loyalty and devotion of my staff at Show Service and Computicket, my dreams and ambitions would never have come to fruition. They know who they are, and I will be forever grateful to them. I mean no disrespect to the others when I single out in particular Sheila Thomas, Joan Manners, Martie Geerdts, Glynnis Davies, Molly Meredith, Rene Hodkinson, Isabel Mendoza, Martie Bettini, Florence Msimango, Alice Nawrattel, Tommy Mahlobogoane, Cynthia Jurrius, Mary Harding, Mavis Oliver, Rose Ryder, Mary Rise borough, Cheryl van Doorn, Graydon Fry, and a special thank you to Maria Faria. Rina Minnaar, Eddie Edwards, Pearl Niemach, Dan Liebenberg and Peggy Henriques who are, alas, no longer with us, deserve to be remembered. This book doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive listing of every theatrical event that ever happened here- that would take several volumes - but I hope that the information will prove useful to future historians, and the content interesting and entertaining to present readers.

On the 26 April 1997, just prior to the publication of this book, Brian Brooke, the last of the great South African actor/director/managers passed away. His memory will live on in these pages.





Aside from my own experience and memories, the major source of information for this book has been my substantial archive of personal and business letters and documents, mementoes, photographs, diaries, theatre, programmes and press clippings collected over my lifetime.

The facts have been supplemented or verified by the records of theatrical managements, cinema and sports personnel, critics and journalists, library news archives and, of course, former colleagues.

In addition, I consulted the following books:

Beginners Please, Patricia Storrar, Children’s Theatre, 1968

Broadway's Greatest Musicals, Abe Laufe, David & Charles, 1969

But the Melody Lingers On, Malcolm Woolfson, Perskor, 1992

Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Margaret Webster, Alfred A Knopf, 1972

International Theatre Annual No 3, ed. Harold Hobson, John Calder, 1953

Johannesburg Style, Clive Chipkin, David Philip, 1993

My Own Personal Star, Brian Brooke, Limelight Press, 1978

My Story, Harry M. Miller, MacMillan Australia, 1983

Stage by Stage, Donald Inskip, Human & Rousseau, 1977

The Best of Company, Pat Schwartz, Ad Donker, 1988

The Boys, Christopher Fitz-Simon, Nick Hern Books, 1994

The Fighters, Chris Greyvenstein, Don Nelson, 1981

The History of Ballet in South Africa, Marina Grut, Human & Rousseau, 1981

The Long Road, Malcolm Woolfson, Napac, 1986

The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, ed. Phyllis Hartnoll, Oxford Press, 1993

The Penguin Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, ed. Donald Clarke, Penguin Books, 1989

They Built a Theatre, Arthur and Anna Romain Hoffman, Ad Donker, 1980




At 11.30 a.m. on 14 August 1994, sporting an uncharacteristically colourful waistcoat made in London for the occasion, I made my way to the Johannesburg Civic Theatre. The new management of Computicket were throwing a farewell party for me, the last of a series of such gatherings at which I had taken leave of my staff and the representatives of theatre managements in Cape Town and Durban. It was difficult to believe that two days later, on 16 August, I would be officially retired - forty years to the day since I had started my career with the opening of Show Service.

I had no idea what form the party would take, other than the provision of a buffet lunch during which I would see friends and colleagues with whom I had spent my working life. I knew that Mike Egan, the CEO of Interleisure, Computicket's parent company, would say a few words, and that I would have to reply, but I was totally unprepared for what actually awaited me.

The foyer of the Civic was hung with boards recording the history of my years in show business, plus hundreds of photographs of me with the often-glittering international stars who had visited here: Marlene Dietrich, Trini Lopez, Victoria de los Angeles, Roger Moore, Margot Fonteyn, Liza Minnelli, Elton John, and dozens of others. Over a podium hung a large banner of farewell greetings from my staff; on the podium, two grand pianos faced each other; in the centre of it stood a waiting microphone.

The buffet tables were bedecked with flowers, and well-known show tunes played through the speakers as I chatted to Mike Egan, to my Operations Director and rock-like second-in-command for twenty-eight years, Aubrey Louw, and my loyal, stalwart and funny Head of Information, Iona Myburgh, with whom I had fought and laughed for thirty-four years.

Despatched to the doors to greet the guests, I was astonished by the size of the crowd of luminaries who poured in. The first lady of South African musical comedy, Joan Brickhill, blonde and beautiful as ever, 3 arrived with Ian von Memerty and Bryan Schimmel the piano-playing stars of A Handful of Keys; producers Des and Dawn Lindberg came, followed by impresario and producer Pieter Toerien and my cousin, the high-profile impresario Hazel Feldman, with her father, my uncle Joe Goldstein; the elegant Public Relations executive Wilma Lawson Turnbull, director and designer Anthony Farmer, former Mayor Sam Moss, and actor-singer Richard Loring. Melanie Millin-Moore, Sol Kerzner's public relations supremo came, as did actor and executive director of the Market Theatre, John Kani and actor-producer Shirley Firth, actor, director and TV producer Bobby Heaney, actors Michael McGovern and Annabel Linder, as well as PACT Ballet's Dawn Weller and Martin Raistrick, Alan Joseph, then chief executive of the Civic, and my close companion Graham Dickason.

And that was just the start. A good hour later I'd been greeted - and often hugged and kissed- by five hundred people. I was immeasurably moved that the eighty-five-year-old former actor-manager Brian Brooke, as handsome and urbane as ever, and his gracious wife Petrina Fry had made the journey from their farm, and by the appearance of Percy Baneshik, the best-known and most knowledgeable of South Africa's theatre critics.

After lunch, critic and columnist Barry Range, a forceful, witty and articulate Master of Ceremonies, made a wonderful speech and announced that a succession of people would now pay tribute to my achievements. Since I prefer to hide behind the limelight of others, what followed embarrassed me but, I must admit, also filled me with a warm glow of pride.

I am a very emotional man and the honours that were showered on me brought me to the verge of tears that needed all my willpower to control when, some three-and-a-half hours later, I had to acknowledge them. Ian von Memerty and Bryan Schimmel sang songs for me, as did Richard Loring, Des and Dawn Lindberg, and the remarkable Joan Brickhill, whose rendition of what might have been my own signature tune, There's No Business Like Show Business, gave the patient crowd the excitement of a first night.

Councillor Cecil Bass, on behalf of the Johannesburg Civic Theatre Foundation, did me the great honour of making me a Patron of the Civic; Market Theatre chairman Grahame Lindop ended his deft and gracious address by making me the first ever Friend of the Market Theatre with tickets for all the Market shows for the rest of my life; and many further presentations and speeches were made - by former executive director of the Civic Theatre, Michal Grobbelaar and by Sun International's Michael Lovegrove; by actor Patrick Mynhardt and radio personality Paddy O'Byrne; and, of course, by Mike Egan, who 4 conferred on me the status of the first and only Patron of the organisation I had founded. There were tributes on a very personal note, too, such as that from Iona Myburgh who made a presentation on behalf of the Computicket staff, some two hundred and fifty of them.

I reflected that there is, indeed, no business like show business.

Recollecting this momentous occasion in tranquillity, what really surprised me that afternoon was to learn that I was variously and widely perceived as 'Mr Show Biz', 'the father confessor to the profession' and a 'doctor' with the cure for all box-office ailments- this from Michal Grobbelaar, who, in a fulsome flight of fancy, seemed to think that in opening up what he called 'a new sphere of marketing for live theatre', I had single-handedly made the theatre a going concern. And for the young Barry Ronge, sitting in the Chesa Coffee Bar back in the Sixties and watching the comings and goings across the arcade, Show Service had been 'a tiny little window into a large and fabulous world'.

Well, it was a large and fabulous world, and one that I entered with no thought other than to follow my boyhood dream of working within the theatrical profession. Everything I did sprang from my passionate desire to see the theatre flourish and its audiences grow, and I foresaw none of the results. I was just, as I told a TV interviewer, 'a boy from Benoni who got tired of standing in queues'.

At home, the party over, I looked back on the rich harvest I had reaped from the seeds that were sown in my youth, and couldn't help wondering what my parents, Ray and Harry Tucker, and my maternal grandparents, Mannie and Malka Goldstein, would have made of it all. I couldn't get them out of my mind.


Mannie and Malka Goldstein had never attended a cultural event in their lives. They lived in Schubitz, a shtetl (or small village) in Lithuania, one of many hundreds of such communities where the Jewish population eked out a living and cherished their religion and tradition in the face of often brutal oppression. The pogroms of the Tsarist era drove the Jewish inhabitants of Russia and Eastern Europe to leave in their thousands and seek a safer, better life in America and Britain, Palestine and South Africa. Their story was poignantly told on stage arid screen in the musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

The obscure village of Schubitz no longer exists. Together with its Jewish inhabitants, it was obliterated by the Nazis in 1939, but it was from there in 1904 that Mannie Stein (as he then was), leaving his wife Malka behind with their two small children, Rachel and Sam, began the long journey to South Africa. He chose his destination partly because he had heard reports that it offered exciting prospects, and partly because his sister Leah had emigrated there twelve years earlier to join her husband, Jacob Nestadt, a saddle-maker.

Mannie had never been further than the nearest large town of Kovno, where, helped by fellow Jews similarly fleeing persecution, he boarded a train for the ancient Baltic port of Libau, from where he sailed to England. In Southampton he found himself in a transit hotel until a place became available on a ship bound for Cape Town. He arrived at the Cape in October 1904 after an interminable and uncomfortable voyage, characterised by bad food and sea-sickness. He had been travelling for seven months.

The final leg of Mannie's journey took him a thousand miles north to Johannesburg using the train service which had been inaugurated in 1891. By now, he had acquired a new name, courtesy of the immigration authorities. Unable to speak English, when asked on arrival at the Cape why he had come and what his name was, he replied, with the help of a fellow traveller, 'Gold' to the first and 'Stein' to the second. Thus, he became Mannie Goldstein. A new name, and a new beginning. Mannie's sister Leah Nestadt and her husband Jacob were living with their family in a small town called Benoni, about twenty miles east of Johannesburg - an area that would become commonly known as the East Rand. Since 'Benoni' is a name from the Book of Genesis, Mannie took the news of his final destination as a good omen (even though it means 'Son of my sorrow'). The first Jews had settled in Benoni in 1892. Five years earlier, in 1887, the official discovery of gold in the area had been recorded on the nearby farm 'Benoni'.

The Jewish immigrants learnt English by dogged persistence, persuading whoever they could to read them the newspapers and explain the meaning of the words. Mannie joined their struggling ranks in November 1904, facing the almost insuperable difficulties of an unqualified foreigner in trying to find work. With the help of his few friends and his brother-in-law he managed to get piece-work and odd jobs. Determined to bring his family from Lithuania, he lived on the barest minimum needed to survive, saving every penny he could, but it was six long, hard years before he saw Malka and the children again.

Finally, in 1910, he was able to send for them. It was a difficult as well as a joyous reunion: Rachel and Sam, the babies he had left behind, were now eight and six respectively and, besides finding themselves in a harshly unfamiliar place, they had no idea who their father was.

Mannie found a modest house near the Nestadts and eventually opened a small leather goods shop. In 1912, Malka gave birth to a second son, Joseph (Joe), and the family was completed with the arrival of two more daughters, Lena in 1914 and Edie in 1918.

In 1922, their eldest daughter, Rachel, married Harry Tucker, also a Lithuanian immigrant, from the small town of Krok. At the age of fifteen, Harry, in common with many Jewish children, had been put on a boat out of Europe in order to avoid conscription into the Russian army. Like other parents, his own suffered traumatically in order to protect their child, doubting whether they would ever see him again. The young Harry, in the care of his cousins, the Bear family, eventually ended up in Benoni, where he met and married Rachel. (The original name, which became 'Tucker', also probably by courtesy of the immigration authorities, is in the family records as Tocker.)

In 1925 Mannie and Malka Goldstein suffered a tragedy when their eldest son, Sam, was killed. He was en route to a celebration of his twenty-first birthday when the motorcycle he was riding was hit by a car. My grandparents were devastated and barely ever referred to their loss.

Harry and Rachel became the parents of three sons. Displaying a splendid sense of symmetry, the boys arrived nicely spaced, two years apart. Maurice, the eldest, was born in 1924, Sam in 1926, and the 8 youngest of the three- me- in 1928. As is the Jewish custom, we were each named for a deceased relative, but in my case, it didn't work out quite as intended. I was named Peretz after my great-grandfather, but the English nurse sent by my father to register my birth, chose Percival as an English name for me!

Mannie and Malka's surviving son, my uncle Joe, married Vera Forlezer in 1939. They had two children, Philip and Hazel - my cousin Hazel Feldman, who would also make a substantial and influential career in the entertainment industry.

Something unknown to them must have been in the genes of Mannie and Malka Goldstein. There's no other way I can account for my fervent pursuit of show business that made itself felt at an early age in a small East Rand town where, to all intents and purposes, I lived a very ordinary life in a loving, orthodox but essentially practical Jewish family.

By 'ordinary' I suppose I mean average. On the whole I got along well with my two elder brothers, and with my parents whom I loved and respected. My mother was a lovely woman, warm, caring and undemanding; my father a man of great moral integrity, strict with our religious upbringing but surprisingly understanding in letting us indulge our own interests. I think his tolerance sprang partly from the fact that he worked at his butchery all the hours God gave, returning tired and uncommunicative in the evenings.

However, Dad's natural reticence disappeared at the large family gatherings that took place on Friday nights, and the even larger gettogethers on Sundays, which included many friends and neighbours and my father's cronies from the synagogue, with whom he felt thoroughly at home. In fact, outside of his work, the shul was my father's life, and the education of his sons - a privilege he had been denied - was his ambition. It was a common story among the Jewish immigrant population of the day.

I enjoyed my childhood. Small-town Benoni was friendly, secure and safe, and the three hundred and twenty Jewish families formed a solid and close-knit group within the larger community, whose first Jewish mayor (elected in 1929) was Morris Nestadt, Leah and Jacob's son, and my godfather as well as my cousin. My first encounter with Mr Chaim Friedstein, the shammas (a lay officiator) at the Benoni Synagogue, however, was certainly not enjoyable. I'd completed my first week at St Dunstan's school, where I'd been issued with school cap and blazer. Bursting with the pride of this new image, I set off for the Saturday morning service with my elder brothers, only to be met by a barrage of fury from Mr Friedstein. Pride became humiliation as I was sent home in disgrace. The reason? The badge of St Dunstan's, adorning both cap and blazer, was an embroidered Christian cross! I was five years old, and the memory of that incident remains vivid.

After two years at St Dunstan's, I progressed to Benoni West, then, finally, Benoni High. I can't say I was noted for my academic enthusiasm or prowess, although I enjoyed English because of the set work plays and stories and loved history because of one Miss Sadie Starfield. Miss Starfield was a gifted history teacher who made the facts come alive in a gripping way, and I was so devoted to her that I actually managed a Matric History distinction.

On the whole, school life was fairly uneventful, with sport developing as a major interest. We had a lively soccer 'team', made up of friends and neighbours who used to play in our large back yard, and although I was an enthusiastic member, I was always in the shadow of my brother Sammy, whose skills later led him to play for the Province and in the South African team at the Maccabi Games. I also played tennis and had some minor success at athletics. But sport was soon joined by a new interest, indeed, a practically all-consuming passion - the live theatre.

In 1935 Gracie Fields, the famous British entertainer fondly known as the 'Lancashire lass', toured South Africa. Benoni was definitely not on the circuit for international stars, so when it was announced that Gracie was to give a concert at the local Criterion cinema, a fever of excitement gripped the community. So enormous was what we would today call the 'hype' - the radio stations doubled their already generous broadcasts of her popular songs such as Sally and The Biggest Aspidistra in the World, the newspapers were awash with pictures of the star - that I and my friends were caught up in it along with our parents.

Like everybody else the Tucker family booked tickets (price three shillings and sixpence) and from that moment life no longer seemed ordinary to me. I loved Gracie's songs on the radio, but I'd never been to a live show and had no idea what we were in for. Anticipation mounted as the great night approached, and even getting scrubbed, polished and dressed for the event seemed special. We drove the few short blocks to the theatre, my parents, my brothers and I, arriving much too early. Most of our friends had done the same, and the buzz of anticipation as we awaited 'Our Gracie' was palpable as well as audible. It increased as we took our seats in the fifth row.

The lights dimmed, and the orchestra struck up. I don't remember what they actually played, but the entrance of Gracie Fields is as vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday. Tall, fair-haired and wearing a long blue dress which sparkled under the spotlight, she seemed to me, aged seven, the most glamorous of creatures. (In reality, she was quite a plain woman, but with a very strong and inviting personality).

I suppose Gracie Fields was the first person to win my heart. As her clear and resonant voice soared over that cinema auditorium, my love of vocal music, which was to expand and embrace the whole spectrum of music over the years, was born, and my young soul was filled with total happiness.

There was no holding me after that. Also, popular on the radio was the music of English bandleader Jack Payne. When it was announced that Payne and his musicians were to perform in Johannesburg, I begged my parents to take me. My father wasn't at all keen, but I must have been very persuasive because he gave in. I recall the excited preparations for the outing to Johannesburg, the great metropolis with which I was unfamiliar outside of Sunday family visits to the suburbs, but it was the thrill of sitting in the stalls at the old, grand His Majesty's that gave the evening its flavour. I enjoyed the band and the supporting acts, though not with quite the fervour that Gracie had awakened. Still, the evening remains in my treasured memories because it was my first visit to a proper theatre.

That same year, 1936, I was taken to see the Pageant of Southern Africa, mounted in celebration of the fiftieth birthday of Johannesburg. It was staged in the Empire Exhibition Arena by the distinguished British director, Andre Van Gyseghem, and was a most extraordinary affair by any standards.

Quite literally using a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, the pageant unfolded the history of Southern Africa from the fifteenth century to the declaration of the Union in a series of set-pieces, re-enactments, tableaux, ballets, speeches and music. Different segments were performed by different groups from all over the country and Rhodesia under titles some of which I still remember: The Bushmen, Lady Anne Barnard Gives a Ball At The Castle, Rhodes' Indaba With The Matabele, and sixteen other similarly conceived pieces, climaxing in a Grand Finale called A Symbol of Union.

I was entranced by the atmosphere, the colour and the spectacle of this huge pageant, and the die was cast: I've remained star-struck - and stage-struck - ever since.


My sense of the theatre as another world, functioning magically and mysteriously parallel with my own, was increased by the Afrikaans-language companies who included Benoni among the many small towns to which they toured. The house where I was born, 121 Prince's Avenue, found itself directly opposite the Town Hall when this was built in 1937. The new edifice quickly became a mecca for these companies, whose earnings and goings were a constant source of fascination to me.

My first direct encounter with actors came when, aged ten, I answered a ring at the doorbell and was offered complimentary tickets for my family if they would be willing to lend their furniture to the company for that evening's performance. I was alone in the house at the time and thought nothing of eagerly granting this request, made in person by the great pioneering Afrikaner actors Hendrik and Mathilda Hanekom (not that I knew who they were at the time). When my parents came home, they found their youngest son happily helping to load the lounge suite and the verandah table and chairs onto a truck. They thought I was beyond redemption.

This was the first visit of a touring company to Benoni, and my introduction to the world behind the scenes in the theatre. It was also my introduction to the famous Afrikaans actors of their day, the De Groats, the Hanekoms, and most famous of all, Andre Huguenet, in whose memory Pieter Toerien named a new theatre in 1977.

By the way, we did get all the furniture back.

When I started high school at the age of eleven, I was allowed the regular treat of a train trip to Johannesburg to attend the matinee at the Standard Theatre, behind the Rissik Street Post Office. A real Victorian horseshoe theatre, such as is common in England and Europe, the Standard had opened in 1891. It was the first solid, purpose-built theatre in the then gold rush town, where the colourful populace of speculators and prospectors had previously been entertained by local chorus girls and vaudeville performers at the grandly named Theatre Royal, which was actually a corrugated iron hall.

The Standard seated eight hundred people, but, with the addition of extra seats, could take a thousand. It played host from its earliest days to visiting theatre and opera companies from England, later becoming home to the company of actor-manager Leonard Rayne and his popular leading lady, Freda Godfrey. All red plush and gilt, with beautiful boxes for the elite, part of its attraction was its glamorous, romantic and intimate ambience.

I spent many wonderful hours at the Standard, particularly during the war years when the Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies - Marda Vanne Company presented some unforgettable seasons of plays, using actors who became, and remained for many years, big names. Among them were Siegfried Mynhardt, Wensley Pithey, Rolf Lefebre, Zoe Randall, and Sid James who later found fame as a comedian in Britain (notably as one of the team in the deathless Carry On ... films).

Gwen and Marda - partners on stage and off- were paramount among the great pioneering professionals of the infant theatre in South Africa, as were Margaret Inglis and Nan Munro, who also formed a company soon afterwards. All four were actresses of the first rank. Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, the most illustrious of the four, enjoyed a very long and distinguished career on the British stage.

London-born, she had begun as a contralto, singing oratorio and opera before becoming known as a dramatic actress, initially at the Old Vic and at the Birmingham Rep in its heyday, later in the West End and at the Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon. She co-starred with the foremost actors of our time, most famously with John Gielgud. She was versed in the classics, both ancient and modern, and it was a lucky day for South Africa when, in 1941, she came out here, formed her company, and presented plays until 1946. Miss Ffrangcon-Davies lived to the awesome age of a hundred and one and was made a Dame of the British Empire shortly before her death in 1992. Interestingly, her partner, Marda Vanne, was briefly married to J.G. Strijdom, the granite-faced verkrampte who preceded Dr Verwoerd as the Republic's Prime Minister. They were divorced well before Strijdom climbed to his political pinnacle.

With the country's men engaged in war work, both in the armed services and at home, it was not surprising that women played a significant role in theatre production. Other women whose drive and talent were at the forefront of the growth of professional theatre were the great Hungarian-born director Leontine Sagan, Muriel Alexander who founded the Johannesburg Repertory Players (Reps), actress Marjorie Gordon, and the flamboyant and redoubtable Taubie Kushlick.

I had no idea in my early years how strongly Taubie Kushlick would come to figure in my own life and in the South African theatre world. And for the theatregoing public she was a personality of enduring interest. Keeping a low profile was never in Taubie's repertoire! Born Taubie Braun, the daughter of a prosperous businessman, Taubie had arrived in Johannesburg in 1939 from her home town, Port Elizabeth- where she had staged the first ever open-air production in that city, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream- and had begun producing and directing plays at the Standard. One of the many coincidences of my life was that my science master at Benoni High was Isaac Kushlick, the brother of Taubie's husband, Dr -Philip Kushlick. It was Isaac Kushlick who, on questioning me as to how a kettle worked, elicited the reply, 'You plug it in and switch it on.' I couldn't understand what I'd said wrong ...

Though my trips to the Standard Theatre over many years remained a highlight, my greatest treat in 1938 was a trip to the Empire Theatre in Commissioner Street to see the versatile entertainer and impersonator 'Afrique', who had headlined at the London Palladium. In fact, he was South African-born Alec Witkin. At the Empire he was appearing on the same bill as Larry Adler, to this day the world's best-known and most innovative harmonica player. Witkin's brother had married a relative of my father's, which gave me a thrilling entrée backstage.

Despite my generosity with my parents' furniture, I only saw Andre Huguenet act for the first time in 1939, when he played opposite Berdine Grunewald in Die Kwaksalwer, an Afrikaans translation of an English play, The Outsider by Dorothy Brandon. Huguenet was an actor in what was known as the 'grand style', and he was well-matched by Berdine Grunewald, a woman of strikingly dramatic good looks and a powerful emotive talent. Although my grasp of the Afrikaans language was elementary to say the least, it was an overwhelming experience.

It was not until the following year that I saw my first plays in English, sharing a 'first' with Andre Huguenet, who was acting in English for the first time. He starred in two contrasting dramas by Emlyn Williams, Night Must Fall (in which he played a psychopathic killer) and The Corn is Green (as a young Welsh miner in search of an Oxford education). Both of these were presented under the aegis of the mighty African Consolidated Theatres and were directed by Leontine Sagan.

Born Leontine Schlesinger in Budapest in 1889, Sagan's links with South Africa began in 1867 when her father spent some time in the gold-bearing district at Klerksdorp. When he had made enough money, he went back to Budapest, returning a few years later to settle in South Africa where his family joined him in 1899. Leontine gained some of her education at the German School in Johannesburg before studying 14 acting in Germany as a pupil of the legendary Max Reinhardt. A notable stage career followed and, in 1932, she made the German film Madchen in Uniform.

The film won her international acclaim but, curiously, she made only one other, devoting herself to the theatre in Germany where she lived with her husband, Dr Victor Fleischer. By contrast, she also directed several productions for the famous British actor-composer Ivor Novello - the only woman ever to have directed musicals at London's Drury Lane Theatre. She returned to South Africa just before World War 11, swiftly becoming a legend in the theatre here, and exerted a great influence. In those days, that influence had to be exerted over André to get him to tone down the flamboyance and declamatory postures for which he was so admired in the Afrikaans theatre.

The Viennese tenor Richard Tauber visited the country in 1939. He was doubtless more aware than I of the storm clouds gathering over Europe which would unleash World War 11. I was aware only of being lost in the music and romance of my first visit to an operetta, Land of Smiles. Very soon after, I saw my second, Rose Marie, at the Standard. It was produced by the Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society, or JODS as it was commonly known.

It was a busy and· richly formative year for an eleven-year-old boy. I saw George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart's Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can't Take It With You, which exposed me for the first time to the delights of American Broadway humour; and, on a less sophisticated level, enjoyed my first big pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, directed by Phil Levard for African Consolidated Theatres (ACT). The war had just broken out but, despite this, Ivy Tresmand and Leslie Henson came from London to star in a show called Going Greek. Perhaps they were only too pleased to escape the air-raid sirens and the rush to the shelters from which actors and their audiences were not spared in wartime London. An important footnote to history of which I was totally unaware at the time was the transformation of a group called the Bantu People's Theatre into the African National Theatre. The actors performed a play called Patriot's Pie by Guy Routh, a trade unionist who had been involved in the formation of the Bantu People's Theatre and went on to stage two plays entitled The Word and the Act (author unknown) and The Rude Criminal by black writer, Gaur Radebe. The African National Theatre was the first radical organisation in the South African theatre, but its full history appears to be lost.

I was equally unaware of much that was distressing about South African society at the time. In common with most privileged white children (and adults), I took entirely for granted the presence of black people as servants and workers, only dimly perceiving that a gulf existed between us and not bothering to dwell on its nature or its reasons. We were not, on the whole, a politicised family, and such problems as there were didn't intrude into the safe haven of our cosy life in Benoni. During the early Forties people were more concerned with the course of the war, and Jews in particular had reason to fear Adolf Hitler. My parents, Harry and Rachel, chose 1939 to visit my father's sister in America, after which they returned to Europe for the first time since they had left as children. In June 1939, they went by boat and train to Lithuania, where my father was reunited with his parents and the rest of his family for the first time in thirty-five years - a deeply emotional meeting. In late July, my parents received a telegram in Lithuania from the South African High Commission in London advising them that war appeared imminent and they should leave immediately.

Once again, the family was torn apart, and, in a sad replay of their early lives, my parents boarded a train at Kovno. The destination of the train, however, was Berlin. On arrival there, my father was ordered to accompany the Gestapo to have his papers revalidated, leaving my mother on the train, isolated and surrounded by swastika pennants and SS guards. While the Gestapo read and re-read my father's documents, the train began to move- it was in fact shunting over to a new track for departure - and my petrified mother, without passport or papers and my father nowhere to be seen, could do nothing. After what seemed an eternity, the train reversed back into the station, and after another hour or so had passed, my father was escorted back.

My parents caught the last boat that left Southampton for South Africa before war was declared. Three years later, my father received a telegram informing him that those members of his family, including his parents, who had remained in Krok, had perished in the Holocaust. Whether they were massacred in their village or taken to the death camps, we have never known. I remember to this day the moment when my father opened the telegram. He was turned to stone for several hours, silent and still, shattered by the horror of the news.

The war again impinged on our world in June 1944, when my brother Sammy decided to take leave from his studies and join the air force. There was much concern and discussion in the family, but Sammy was not to be deterred and went to Port Elizabeth where he trained as a navigator. It was only many years later that we learned of his top-secret training flights to North Africa, undertaken by the SAAF in anticipation of possibly having to join in the hostilities against the Japanese in the Far East war. It was a far more serious and emotional matter when, three years later, in the face of parental opposition (born of fear for his safety), he left to join the Israeli Army and fight in the 1948 War of Independence.

While my parents were away, Grandpa Mannie and Grannie Malka moved in to our house to look after me, Sammy and Mossie (as brother Maurice was known). My aunts, Edie and Lena came too. Lena, a schoolteacher, taught my Standard Five class at Benoni West, an event which caused me some considerable embarrassment since she persisted in addressing me as 'Percy' in front of my classmates. It just wasn't done for a boy to be called by anything but his surname, and it represented a painful loss of dignity. My status was restored on the day that the headmaster assembled the pupils and chose me - addressing me as 'Tucker' of course - to go out and buy a newspaper for the school so that he could read us the declaration of war. I regarded this small errand as an enormous honour. For the rest, life took its usual course, and while I was as interested as the next boy in staging pretend battles and seeing newsreels about the war at the movies, or bioscope as we used to call it, I kept an eager eye on theatrical events, which included a JODS production of Monsieur Beaucaire and a season at the Standard produced by Andre Huguenet and the great Jewish actress Sarah Sylvia. Madam Sylvia's son, Alfred Herbert, would become a dedicated promoter and protector of black musicians in later years, bringing Township Jazz to white audiences.

The Johannesburg Repertory Players, or Reps, presented Shaw's The Millionairess and Noel Coward's Fumed Oak at the Standard. The Millionairess, which opened just before the outbreak of the war, was the first production staged to raise funds for refugees. Leontine Sagan's production of The Corn is Green, which I had seen in Benoni, was staged at the Library Theatre in Johannesburg, along with They Walk Alone, which she also directed. This miserable apology for a theatre was situated in the Johannesburg Public Library, and much as many regret the passing of the Standard, we can only give thanks that the Library is no more. Nevertheless, in those early days when the greatest obstacle to the growth of the theatre was a lack of venues, the profession and its audiences had cause to be grateful for its use, and it housed many excellent productions over the years.

It was at the Library Theatre that the Reps produced the play version of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which starred Sid James. They also mounted Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, but while the opening night audience was revelling in one of the wittiest comedies ever written in English, Holland was falling to the Nazi invasion. The rest of the season was blighted by this tragedy which signalled the menacing escalation of the war.

One of the stalwarts of the Reps was Minna Schneier who, also in 1940, directed American playwright Robert Ardrey's Thunder Rock for them. (Ardrey, years later, married Berdine Grunewald). Shortly after the run ended, she married one of the cast members, Sydney Witkin (brother of none other than Alec 'Afrique' Witkin). The Schneier family were in the property business where they were associates of a family called London. The Benoni branch of the London family came to play a vital part in my life, and, to add to the coincidence, when I worked as an accountant, I was allocated the audit of the Schneier and London business accounts.

The Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit was formed in 1940, engaging the services of several people who would go on to make a name for themselves in the field of entertainment, among them the organiser Frank Rogaly, actor Gordon Mulholland, orchestral conductor Leo Quayle, and musical director Harry Rabinowitz who made a notable career in England.

Throughout this first year of the war proper, the local theatre continued to provide distraction for worried audiences. JODS ventured into Gilbert and Sullivan with The Gondoliers and The Pirates of Penzance, while a production of J.B. Priestley's When We Are Married featured an attractive and gifted young actress named Moira Lister, of whom much more would be heard.

July 1941 was the month of my Barmitzvah. Because of the war, the celebration was modest, a luncheon for family and friends at our house, but I received the usual quota of fountain pens, shaving sets, leather wallets and, best of all, gifts of money which would one day stand me in very good stead. I was now a man in the eyes of the religious authorities, but my feelings remained those of a thirteen-year-old adolescent who was overjoyed to be free of Hebrew classes and the accompanying blows that were administered by the teacher whenever concentration flagged.

In 1942, I saw Andre Huguenet in an Afrikaans version of Absalom, My Son, and another great Afrikaner actor, Pierre de Wet, playing in the Afrikaans translation of Gaslight for Huguenet's company, Teatergroep. He was wonderful, opposite Berdine Grunewald, as the calculating husband who drives his wife mad, a role taken by Anton Walbrook and, later, Charles Boyer, in the two popular film versions of the play. Pierre was a pioneering actor and director when the local film industry began making giant strides at Killarney Studios (now the site of the shopping mall). At various times during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, he managed the Civic Theatre, and we became close colleagues and great friends, living through many an administrative crisis together.

The bill of fare in 1941 was a rich one, offering something for everyone. Frank Rogaly's first production of a wartime revue called Springbok Follies was a hit at the Empire Theatre; Reps successes included Kaufmann and Hart's uproarious The Man Who Came to Dinner and, by way of stark contrast, Pirandello's drama, Six Characters in Search of an Author. Both of these starred Huguenet and Margaret Inglis, under Leontine Sagan's direction. The Reps also gave a couple of Shaw plays, while Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and Marda Vanne were presenting J.M. Barrie's Quality Street and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. JODS contributed two operettas, Lilac Domino and Ruddigore; Bertha Egnos, another name which would become famous in later years, presented Swing 1941 at the Empire, and in December I saw Taubie Kushlick on stage for the first time, acting for the Reps in Double Door.

This was also the year when ballet teacher Teda de Moor got together groups of black labourers and domestic workers, and choreographed programmes which enacted their struggles to adapt to life in Johannesburg. This enterprise marked the formation of the Black Dance Drama. For Christmas Phil Levard, who produced all African Theatres' major shows, directed Alice in Wonderland at the Standard, cast entirely with children.

In October 1942, JODS had mounted an exotic production at the Empire of Chu Chin Chow, one of the hit musicals of the West End and Broadway, and at the same theatre, at the end of the year African Theatres brought a pantomime version of The Sleeping Beauty. The highlight of the Reps' year was undoubtedly their production of Clare Boothe's The Women. Directed by Leontine Sagan, the large cast included Moira Lister, who left for London and stardom not long afterwards. The Reps' sophisticated and varied programme of drama also included Emlyn Williams' The Late Christopher Bean, S.N. Behrman's English version of Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38, and Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (the film version of which was Garbo's first talking picture).

The most fascinating item in the Anna Christie programme is one usually overlooked by playgoers - the names of the backstage workers. Taubie Kushlick, displaying rare self-effacement, had taken on the always thankless task of stage manager; couturier Louis Jacobson, a flamboyant and outrageous German immigrant and a great character in social and theatrical circles, had charge of the costumes, and the props were organised by John Cranko and Cecilia Sonnenberg. With Rene Ahrenson, Cecilia (like Helen Suzman, an aunt of actress Janet Suzman) would later found the Cape's Open-Air Shakespeare at Maynardville, and, later still, was one of the Company of Four with Leonard Schach, Donald Inskip and Rene Ahrenson.

Cecilia's co-worker on Anna Christie, Rustenburg-born John Cranko, had choreographed his first ballet at the age of sixteen for the Cape Town Ballet Club. At the end of the war he became resident choreographer for the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet in London, achieving fame with Pineapple Poll as well as many other subsequent works, and was then appointed artistic director of the Stuttgart Ballet in 1960. Hailed as 'The Stuttgart Miracle', he transformed that company, and it was a tremendous loss to world ballet when he died tragically in 1973 at the age of forty-six, choking while on board a plane from the USA to Stuttgart.

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