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JUST THE TICKET!

MY 50 YEARS IN SOUTH AFRICAN SHOW BUSINESS

Part Two: One-Stop Shopping

Percy Tucker



Part One and Part Three are available on Smashwords

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

.


CONTENTS

Preface

Foreword

Introduction and Acknowledgements

Author's Note

Prologue: Exits



Part Two - One-Stop Shopping

  1. On Line

  2. The Show Must Go On

  3. All Aboard

  4. The Colour of Money

  5. Black Magic

  6. Bible Stories

  7. Glimmers of Light

  8. Market Forces

  9. Anger and After

  10. Struggles

  11. Entr'acte: The Trouble with Harry

  12. Everybody Welcome

  13. Some Do, Some Don't

  14. Entr'acte: A Place in the Sun

  15. Put Another Nickel In

  16. State of the Art

  17. And the Band Played On

  18. Future Indicative

  19. Burying the Past

  20. Hard Times

  21. Finding a Voice

  22. Soldiering On

  23. Puppets, Panto and Politics

About the Author

PREFACE

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


FOREWORD

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.



PIETER TOERIEN

Cape Town

1997



INTRODUCTIONS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS



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.



PERCY TUCKER

Johannesburg

1997

AUTHOR’S NOTE

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




PROLOGUE: EXITS



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.



CHAPTER SIX


PART TWO

ONE STOP SHOPPING





CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

ON LINE





The years 1970 and 1971 merge in my memory as the great watershed years in my career. It was during this time that I pursued, and finally achieved - through seizing an unexpected and lucky opportunity as much as through determination- my goal of setting up what proved to be the first fully centralised and integrated computerised box-office system in the world.

The decade began with a continuation of discussions with SAAN, represented by John King, Graham English and Barry Sinclair, about the possibility of introducing the Ticketron System in South Africa. Ticketron had opened in London, prompting a widely reported remark from Peter Cadbury, chairman of Britain's largest ticket agency, Keith Prowse, that 'No computer can tell you if a play is unsuitable for children or the vicar! '.

It was amazing that somebody in his position appeared to think that a dumb machine would serve the public without human intervention, or realise that cashiers would be manning the desks, using computer terminals only as a means to faster and more efficient selling. In March 1970, John King and I went to New York, where we were joined by Andre Pieterse, to take another look at Ticketron. I remained unimpressed with their system and, deciding to divorce myself entirely from any further consideration of using it, left King and Pieterse and went to take a look at the Computicket operation in London.

The Tottenham Court Road offices were a replica of the luxurious New York set-up and my discussions with managing director Geoffrey Naylor also smacked of déjà vu as I listened to him explain the same problems that Nick Mayo had outlined in New York the previous year. The few London branches were quite successful in selling unreserved tickets for pop concerts, but, as in the USA, the theatres would not hand over their tickets. It was a vicious circle, costing a fortune and presenting a problem that I felt confident I wouldn't have in Johannesburg where Show Service held the tickets for most managements and venues. I returned no further on to be contacted again by David Abramson who was trying to secure the patent rights for Computicket South Africa. And there was a new player on the scene, a computer specialist company called Sigma Data. Owned by Tiger Oats (whose chairman Rudy Frankel I knew personally), Sigma Data was the brainchild of Michael Faktor, Aubrey Cohen, Martin Ossip and Michael Nathanson - four enterprising men, all aged under thirty and destined to become millionaires as a result of their work internationally.

Mike Faktor was the most aggressive of this team and had read about Computicket in Fortune magazine. The Sigma Data quartet was also well-informed on the progress of Computicket and was keen to get involved with it in South Africa. I was fascinated and bemused to discover that so many people were running after a system that was programmed only to sell unreserved tickets and was of no use to South African requirements in its present form. Be that as it may, it emerged that Sigma Data were willing and able to supply the necessary computer hardware to operate the system. They proposed using their IBM 360/40 machine, which had back-up; and further foresaw that they could transfer the system to the faster, more powerful IBM 370 by 1972. At this stage, we got no further than this initial discussion.

Despite the shortcomings of Computicket, I was convinced that it was the best option to pursue and, with Abramson and Sigma Data both courting me, I decided to send Aubrey Louw to London in September to report back with his opinion. He returned with the information that, in the six months since my meetings with Geoffrey Naylor, the system had grown to the extent of operating twenty-eight terminals within a thirty-mile radius of central London. They were now selling a few tickets for certain West End Theatres, and booking for jazz clubs, football, tennis, and the circus. Although their tiny theatre allocations were growing, they were using mainly record shops as outlets (Aubrey thought this misguided), and their sales were averaging not much more than a paltry 2 000 tickets per month.

Aubrey also found that the cost of advertising, aimed at drawing customers away from traditional booking outlets, was substantial. On the positive side, the system had been debugged of a lot of problems that I had found so disheartening. In his written report, Aubrey concluded that he felt Computicket, suitably adapted to our needs, would be the ideal answer to taking the drudgery out of ticket-selling and that the instant information and statistics on tap would be a boon to managements. Furthermore, he shared my conviction that taking the box office into the suburbs via branch terminals would enhance the buying of tickets - both for the customer and for the theatre and cinema managements who could look forward to a consequent increase in sales.

In sum, Aubrey strongly recommended ongoing negotiations with Computicket. It all looked good on paper, but for one crucial factor - we couldn't afford to buy it. Once again, I put the matter on hold and carried on as usual.

Then, on 27 December, David Abramson asked me to attend an urgent meeting with Peter Campbell. They had learned that IPC (International Publishing Corporation) in London was involved in takeover negotiations with the Daily Mirror group. In this proposed merger, approximately 120 loss-making companies in the Mirror group would close. The twentieth company on the list was Computicket, whose staff had been told of the closure on Christmas Eve.

At the meeting, though no formal company or partnership existed, Abramson, Campbell and I agreed that efforts should be made to use the imminent demise of Computicket to our own advantage in trying to acquire the system. If we succeeded, it was also vital to procure the services of their team to write a programme tailormade for us. At last the system might be available at a price we could afford.

We met again on 31 December. Clearly, someone had to go to London immediately. Remembering the old adage that opportunity knocks but once, I again found myself spending New Year's Eve on a plane -this time to put in a bid for a system which didn't yet do the work we needed it to do and with little idea of how we would finance it. We all, however, realised that if we wanted it, this was the moment.



On 1 January 1971, I again met with Geoffrey Naylor, who behaved as though he were in the bargaining position. As I was quite evidently the only potential buyer, I was frank in pointing out to him that IPC should bless my arrival. If we reached an agreement, at least Computicket would get something back on their huge investment.

During discussions, I was elated to learn that there was still a nucleus of the system's engineering and operating team left at Computicket in the hope of just such a contingency as I represented. These people could be the key to my success. Geoffrey supplied me with all the literature on the system and its machinery, which had been custom-made for Computicket in the US by the Wyle Corporation of Boston, and we negotiated provisional figures for a buy-out.

Back in Johannesburg, I put Abramson and Peter Campbell in the picture. The country was seeing a steady expansion of the entertainment industry, which could only benefit further from streamlined marketing. Furthermore, between myself, Aubrey Louw and the experienced cashiers at Show Service we had, unlike the Computicket outlets overseas, a team of experts in handling box-office requirements- dealing with the public and with managements, first-hand knowledge of the venues, and experience of advertising, public relations and marketing.

Aubrey and I could concentrate on marketing the new operation while leaving the electronics to the computer experts.

Peter Campbell, our own computer wizard, left a few days after my return to interview the remaining members of the London Computicket team, choose his personnel and offer them a period of work with us. It was an ideal time to recruit: London was bitterly cold, unemployment was rife, and these people were about to be out of a job. Aside from salaries in a currency that was then negotiable in the rest of the world, our offer included bringing their families here and housing them for the duration. Despite their evident opinion that we were mad to be bidding for the system in the first place, they needed little persuasion. Their arrival was set for mid-March.

It was now imperative to put finance in place. David Abramson and I went to see senior executive Gerry Muller at Nedbank, Fox Street. After fifteen years of banking there, I was confident of his co-operation. In the event, he had checked neither my personal nor my company files and laughed the entire computerisation scheme out of his office. No assistance would be forthcoming from Nedbank. It was a blow, and I was tempted to change banks as I had done back in 1956.

The situation was very serious. Air tickets had to be issued and deposits paid on accommodation for the London team. I was carrying the cost of this and all else that was necessary to make the team members and their families welcome and comfortable. More costly still, the equipment for which we had negotiated (software, terminals, printers, spare parts, network control machinery) had to be paid for and shipped to South Africa for installation.

In assessing our position, it became clear that if we brought Sigma Data into the equation, we would have a readymade computing facility in their IBM 360/40 to which we could immediately attach the Computicket terminals - a highly desirable option given the astronomical cost of buying our own machine.

I had to make the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle fit. If computerisation was to be viable, it was imperative to bring the cinema-releasing organisations, the biggest players on the entertainment scene, on board. I also felt strongly that financing should come from within the entertainment industry rather than from the newspaper owners. It was also a matter of urgency to have Computicket operative before the inevitable introduction of television in South Africa.

The cost would be just short of RI 000 000.

If we could tie up the loose ends satisfactorily, we would have a proposal for Barry Sinclair of Kinekor to present to his board. Satbel, the owners of Kinekor and Ster were not enamoured of computers, though Kinekor (unlike Ster) did have a computer system in place in their administrative offices. This, plus Sinclair's grasp of computer possibilities, convinced Peter Camp bell that Kinekor was the best route to take.

I arranged a confidential meeting in Cape Town with Dr Wassenaar who, as chairman of Sanlam, the major shareholders -in Satbel, was the most powerful man in the conglomerate. I pressed my ideas of changing the face of cinema marketing through computerised booking and left him cautiously intrigued. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to meet Johan Marais, CEO of Satbel. After innumerable meetings with Marais and board member Joe Pamensky, Satbel agreed to join this venture. Everything, it seemed, was almost in place.

It was David Abramson's stated desire and intention to become chairman of the new Computicket board. However, David's company, National Fund Investments, launched with much fanfare on the Stock Exchange, had been one of those to suffer in the 1969 stock market crash and Johan Marais wouldn't entertain the idea of any involvement with him. He was eventually paid to relinquish his rights in Computicket.

Negotiations were at last concluded. The first shareholders were finalised as Satbel (representing Ster and Kinekor), Sigma Data, Peter Campbell and myself. Johan Marais was appointed chairman and I managing director, with sole discretion in the running of the service- a situation which, happily, remained intact. As the acknowledged ear of the entertainment managements, I was left free to operate as I always had and Satbel never attempted to interfere. The balance of the board of directors was made up of Barry Sinclair, Graham English, Mike Faktor, Charl de Kock (Satbel) and Peter Campbell, who was also appointed financial director.

Thus, Computicket, the fruit of seventeen years of hard labour at Show Service, was born in South Africa. Show Service, retaining its name and its premises at Rand Central, would remain in existence until 1985, functioning as the first, and later one of several, city centre outlets for Computicket.



In mid-March 1971, almost exactly a year since my first abortive meeting with Geoffrey Naylor, the London computer team arrived in Johannesburg. The party, including wives, numbered eleven, and there were three children. The working team was headed by Peter Stanbrook and included Tony Grimshaw, the only member to settle here permanently. He was still working as a consultant for Computicket in 1997.

Peter Stanbrook was charged with having the re-programmed system ready within six months and instituted a plan of action which was rigidly adhered to. In accordance with my instructions, the team's first task was to spend a period of time at Show Service, watching and listening to the public and the staff, making a close study of our multiplicity of requirements. Even the basic procedure of customers looking at plans and choosing their seats was completely foreign to them. They spent day after day at Show Service observing the complexities of manual booking and acquainting themselves with the (to them) strange arrangements regarding preferential membership bookings, discounting, and subscription concerts.

We leased offices at Medical City on the corner of Jeppe and Eloff Streets. Aubrey Louw shifted from Show Service to Medical City and was joined by Peter Campbell. My immediate concern was marketing. We conceived a scheme in line with my determination to market entertainment like any other consumer product by charging shopping centres a rental to house a Computicket terminal in their precinct. As we saw it, this facility for customers in the suburbs would prove a magnet, attracting them to other purchases within the centre. The idea was initially vilified in the press but, on implementation, proved successful.

Local staff were recruited: consultants to train terminal operators, network controllers, terminals maintenance engineers. A vitally important aspect for the British team to comprehend and programme was how to 'dress' a house, that is, how to offer the best seats first and the worst last so that your audience spreads from the centre outwards rather than being scattered all over the place when a house isn't full. This was a very complicated problem which was only addressed overseas many years later. Stanbrook's people also had to take into account that if a customer's specifically requested seats were unavailable, the computer should offer the closest available alternative.

After months of intensive work, Peter Stanbrook and the team were ready to demonstrate the Computicket system. I invited the press to Sigma Data's computer premises at the Catholic Centre, Saratoga Avenue, Doornfontein, on Friday, 11 June 1971. Our guests were suitably impressed, and the next day The Star ran Percy Baneshik's story on the front page, informing the public of the launching of a 'space-age' ticket scheme. Reports on the demonstration were carried in virtually every newspaper in the country, on radio, and in certain London papers. The news even made Variety in the States.



On Saturday, 12 June, delighted with The Star coverage, Graham and I set out in good spirits to join my old school friend, architect Harold Schneider, and his wife Leah, for dinner. We got home at midnight to a shrilling telephone and the shocking news that my father had been involved in a serious accident. I rushed to the Boksburg/Benoni Hospital where I learnt that he had died.

He and my mother had been to see Kiss Me Kate at the Benoni Town Hall. While they were crossing Prince's Avenue to their home, a drunken motor-cyclist had struck my father down, killing him. Thankfully, my mother, who was walking slightly ahead of him, was unhurt.

I will never know whether he ever saw the publicity announcing the launch of Computicket which, I knew, would have banished any remaining doubts about my career and would have filled him with pride.

My brother Sam and his wife Barbara flew in from London over the weekend, and my father was buried on Monday. As a prominent leader of the Benoni Jewish community and President of the United Hebrew Institutions (UHI) for fifteen years, my father's life was honoured in death by his being the first person to have the burial service start in the synagogue. From there, his coffin was carried to the hearse by past presidents of the UHI, and on arrival at the cemetery was escorted by the council of the UHI, as well as representatives of many Jewish organisations, his Masonic lodge, his family and close friends, to a special section of the burial ground reserved for those who have given outstanding services to the community.

Over 1 000 people attended the two-hour funeral service for Harry Tucker, a great tribute to a self-made man of courage and integrity.

The motorcyclist responsible was charged with drunken driving and fined R 50.

After the traditional Jewish week of mourning, I returned to work, desperately sad, but resolved to honour my father by making a success of my new venture.



The board of Computicket gave the green light for launching the system. Being a dedicated sentimentalist, I chose 16 August, the date on which Show Service had opened in 1954, as the day on which we would open to the public. The team worked desperately hard to meet this deadline by which terminals were to be installed and ready to operate at Show Service, at African Life which was the central office of Kinekor, and at Ster City which housed the main cinema complex of Ster Films. Our marketing manager Dan Liebenberg also signed contracts to install terminals at Highpoint in Hillbrow, and at Levison's Man's Shop opposite the Stock Exchange in Hollard Street.

Although, in theory, the system was ready to go, we couldn't know how it would operate in practice and, accordingly, we began on a very small scale, servicing six cinemas: the three in Ster City, Ster in Orange Grove, the 20th Century and His Majesty's. We were planning on a regular, ongoing expansion of terminal outlets, and therefore cinemas.

The very first films for which we took advance bookings (they were opening on 25 August) were, ironically, minor and unmemorable- Big Fauss and Little Halsey at Orange Grove, and The Raging Moon at His Majesty’s. Nonetheless, on 16 August, a historic day in my life, I made certain that I was the very first person to use the system. First thing in the morning, at Show Service, terminal operator Marcia Taylor sold me a ticket for Big Fauss and Little Halsey, the first ticket ever to be sold in South Africa via a computerised system.

As yet there were no computer terminals in the cinemas themselves so Computicket had to send the plan over for the evening performance so that the cinema cashier could see what was available to sell manually to customers on the door. This combination of methods was responsible for several teething problems, some more severe than others.

I went to His Majesty's on 25 August to await the arrival of the seating plan for the first 'Computicket' performance of The Raging Moon at 8 p.m. (in those days there was only one evening showing), but by 6.30 p.m. nothing had arrived. I made an anxious phone call to Sigma Data who assured me the plan was on its way. Eventually, I saw a messenger cycling down Commissioner Street at a leisurely pace. He handed over the plan, which I discovered was the wrong print-out and I had to race off in my car to collect the right one. The manager of His Majesty's wasn't impressed, and neither was I. Here we were, pioneering a revolutionary system designed by and for the technological age, and everything was dependent on a piece of paper and a bike messenger.

This first minor 'glitch' was as nothing compared to what happened four months later, on New Year's Eve, 1971. For once I wasn't on a plane, but when I arrived at the 20th Century cinema to see Diamonds are Forever, I rather wished I had been.

Being New Year's Eve, the 9 p.m. showing of this popular James Bond film had been sold out in advance via Computicket, but when the cashier at the cinema received the plan, she considered it impossible that no seats were available. She obviously knew nothing about Computicket and, taking matters into her own hands, ignored the printout, settled herself with a fresh plan and tickets and, with no consultation, began selling tickets to door customers.

By the time I arrived there was chaos. The ushers were totally bewildered by the double bookings and I rushed off to find manager Brian Thomas (whose wife Sheila was to join Computicket in 1972 and become staff supervisor for most of the Transvaal network).

Brian and I went into the box office, saw what had happened and put a stop to the cashier's activities. Brian had the unenviable task of persuading the cash customers, by means of bribery with a refund plus complimentary tickets for another show, to vacate their seats to the Computicket holders. I thought of my trip to London a year to the day previously, and the immensely hard work, intricate planning and vast investment that had gone into making Computicket a reality and was appalled to see how easily it could come unstuck through human error.

But back to August. In our first week, our five terminals sold 1 216 cinema tickets. Our service charge ranged between five and ten cents a ticket, and by 28 August, this figure had risen to 4 029 tickets per week. In September we added a sixth terminal, to operate in conjunction with our manual service at the Belfast in Rosebank, and October saw a new branch at Total Centre in Braamfontein. By the end of October, our weekly sales were approaching the 10 000 mark, but old habits die hard, and the majority of these were still bought at the booking offices most familiar to the public- Show Service, African Life, and the Belfast.

By November we were selling nearly 19 000 tickets per week, with a new terminal opening at Darras Centre in Kensington. In December we opened branches at Rand Park Centre in Blackheath, at Bryanston Shopping Centre, and in Kempton Park. In December we sold 110 000 tickets. It was beginning to seem possible that we would meet our target of establishing convenient terminals throughout the Transvaal, but my personal goal of servicing live theatre had yet to be realised.

In October, Pieter Toerien, the first theatre management to express interest, asked for a demonstration of the system. He immediately saw that if his booking was computerised, it would spread his facility and thereby expand his customer base. The following year he would, indeed, become our first 'live' client to go online. Meanwhile, we were still on a learning curve, treading gently, and didn't approach the managements. We knew there were still faults in the system which would have to be addressed and, until they were sorted out, Show Service continued as the central, and only, office for handling live entertainment bookings, dealing with them manually as before.

Immediately after Computicket went live, we received a letter from the Office of the Price Controller stating that we could not add the service charge to our ticket prices. We replied that this charge had already been made for some years on advance cinema tickets at the African Life booking office, and no objections had been raised. A fortnight later, the Controller approved the charge but forbade any increase without prior permission from his office.

The launch of Computicket in 1971 coincided with the start of the flight to the suburbs. People were, increasingly, moving further north, which would see an explosion of shopping centres. In an interview I said, 'Outlying areas have become more populated and as a result of the better entertainment offered and the stimulus given by the formation of the performing arts councils, the public living in these areas are demanding the facility of advance booking in such far-out areas as Hyde Park, Bryanston and Sandown.' Soon, they would have them and, in due course, so would the whole country.



CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

THE SHOW MUST GO ON





The negotiations for, and the subsequent acquisition and installation of, Computicket during 1970 and 1971 served to double my workload: my activities as managing director of Show Service continued in parallel and as before. Outside of the boardrooms concerned with computerisation, the entertainment industry remained untouched by any ideas of change and shows flowed into all available venues.

PACT and TRUK continued to provide the backbone of serious theatre, opera and ballet during this period. In 1970, two of François Swart's productions stood out- Shakespeare's King John with Ken Leach in the lead, and Ampie, which was a major commercial success. That year, too, Leonard Schach directed Lang Dagreis na die Nag, an Afrikaans translation of Long Day's Journey into Night, with Schalk Jacobsz as James Tyrone. Athol Fugard directed his own Boesman and Lena and People are Living There, both starring Cape Town actors Yvonne Bryceland and Glyn Day and jointly presented by PACT, CAPAB and Phoenix Players.

In 1971, PACT highlights included Much Ado About Nothing which brought Helen Bourne from London to play an award-winning Beatrice, the especially successful Siener in die Suburbs, a tour of Patrick Mynhardt's A Sip of Jerepigo, and two heavyweight productions from Leonard. These were Paul Zindel's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in the-Moon Marigolds, starring Marjorie Gordon and future director Janice Honeyman as mother and daughter respectively, and The Case of J Robert Oppenheimer. This last had been branded 'communist' by the Administrator of the Transvaal in 1965 and was forced to sit on the shelf for six years. When it saw the light of day, John Hayter played the title role of the controversial and brilliant atomic scientist.

There were signs of managements joining forces to maximise resources. Langford-Inglis and Hymie Udwin's Academy Theatre Productions collaborated with PACT to present the distinguished British actor Max Adrian in his one-man show of readings from George Bernard Shaw at the Alexander in June. At the same theatre, Margaret Inglis, Robert Langford and Hymie revived The Old Ladies, with Peggy, Zoe Randall, and Bess Finney who, away from the theatre, made a sterling contribution in her work with the black community. This choice of play, a dated piece about old age and loneliness, reflected the paucity of material available to South African managements. Not that the partnership fared any better at the Brooke where, in collaboration with Brian, they presented John Whiteley in The Au Pair Man, a mildly avant-garde piece in which Peggy was hideously miscast as a young girl and which flopped badly.

Since marrying Robert Langford, Peggy, in addition to playing several roles for their own management, had directed Michael Atkinson in The Lady's Not for Burning and her old friend and partner Nan Munro in The Importance of Being Earnest, both for NAPAC in Durban.

The Academy Theatre of Laughter continued along the path that had led to its immense popularity. Rex Garner directed The Lionel Touch for the Academy at the Alexander with a cast that included Joe Stewardson (best actor award-winner the previous year for his King Lear), Vivienne Drummond, Kenneth Baker and Diane Appleby (later Mrs Joe Stewardson). Kenneth had arrived in South Africa from Britain ten years previously, and Diane, who had come out from England for Chase Me Comrade, remained on to become a long-running and valuable member of Rex's stable. The Academy's next, She's Done It Again, was stage-managed by Tammy Bonell, later the second Mrs Rex Garner, and Rex also directed the hit Stand by Your Bedouin in 1970.



Pieter Toerien and Basil Rubin brought Hermione Gingold from New York and Joan Heal from London to play Noël Coward's Fallen Angels at the Alexander. The extrovert Miss Gingold’s substantial career had included the famous war-time 'Sweet and Low' revues in London, which had made her a star. She had settled in America, and her performance opposite Maurice Chevalier in the film of Gigi made her widely known.

Entertaining, exhausting and shrewdly feigning eccentricity (she was nothing of the kind), Hermione was petrified of flying and travelled to Cape Town by boat from New York. The journey took nearly a month. Once here, she displayed a healthy appetite, and I invited her to our home with Pieter Toerien one Sunday evening. She had expressed a desire for 'bangers and mash' so, doing my best to oblige, I bought kosher sausages and Graham made mashed potatoes. We also served bagels and watched transfixed as she packed a bagel, not with sausage, but with lots of mushy potatoes. She ate very noisily, dropping bits of potato all over the carpet. She had dreadful teeth and, with impeccable timing, would surprise and alarm one by taking out her front tooth, saying, 'Welcome to the Black Hole of Calcutta'.

Hermione was, however, a stimulating guest, who kept us in stitches with her hilarious stories about the several productions of Fallen Angels in which she had played on both sides of the Atlantic. I saw her for the last time in New York in 1977 when she was appearing as the narrator in Side by Side by Sondheim at the Music Box Theatre.

Ah, yes! I remember it well ...

At a revamped Intimate Theatre with a new seating capacity of 235, Pieter, Basil, and Shirley Firth gave us Anthony Shaffer's ingenious twohanded thriller Sleuth, for which they brought actors Ralph Michael and Nicholas Arner, and director Warren Jenkins from London. Also, from London for Toerien/Rubin at the Civic, came director Anthony Sharp with London stars Cicely Courtneidge, her husband Jack Hulbert, Roger Livesey, his wife Ursula Jeans, David Kossoff and Robertson Hare in the comedy Oh, Clarence, with a local supporting cast. After this production, Toerien and Rubin dissolved their partnership, and Pieter carried on solo, as well as in partnership with Shirley Firth.

In 1971, Toerien/Firth presented Who Killed Santa Claus? with English stars, John Justin and Naomi Chance, directed by Anthony Sharp, and Don't Start Without Me, directed by Roger Redfarn and starring the urbane English actor Jeremy Hawk (ex-husband of Hermione Gingold's co-star, Joan Heal). This management also staged No Sex Please, We're British, which had run forever in London. Director Allen Davis came from London, together with actor Billy Boyle for the lead role originally created by Michael Crawford. Shirley Firth, an accomplished cook and hostess, gave a memorable dinner party where we met Alien and another treasured friendship was made.

Also, in 1971, Pieter Toerien, flying solo, teamed Heather Lloyd-Jones with a trio of imports- Paul Massie, Margaretta Scott and Mervyn Johns for Ronald Millar' s Abelard and Helӧise. Audiences flocked to this medieval tragedy of doomed love, thanks to Pieter's judicious publicity campaign which left Johannesburg agog with speculation as to whether or not Heather would appear nude on the Civic Theatre stage. Pieter has used the nudity ploy many times since, and it always works.



In 1957 West Side Story had exploded onto Broadway. Based on an idea by Jerome Robbins, inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the show (book Arthur Laurents, music Leonard Bernstein, lyrics Stephen Sondheim) elevated the American musical to a new dimension.

In common with every other management, Hymie Udwin had been chasing the rights for years. Finally, after judgement was given in the copyright case in 1969, the rights were granted to Hymie's Academy Theatre productions and, in 1970, South Africa got to see the show. Auditions were held in several overseas cities. From the States came Michael Harrison and Patricia Arnell to play the lovers, Tony and Maria; fourteen cast members were drawn from Canada, Australia and the UK, and fifteen were local, among them Lynton Burns, who had toured with Luisillo's Spanish Dance Company, and Richard Loring. Wendy de la Harpe conducted the auditions in London, where she persuaded Lynton Burns to return home and engaged Delia Sainsbury and her husband Keith Galloway. Delia and Keith stayed in South Africa and became clients of mine when they opened small theatres in Johannesburg and, later, in Cape Town on the Waterfront.

American Kip Andrews (who had staged the dances for Fiddler on the Roof for Taubie) directed and choreographed the production in sets designed by Anthony Farmer. Paul Jannsen, later to be head of entertainment at Sun City, was the stage director, and the lively, energetic and expert Joy Raphael was in charge of public relations. Lorraine Jaffit-Greenberg, who had been my personal assistant at Show Service for a couple of years, had now joined Hymie and acted as production secretary. Lorraine's sister Gail replaced her as my P.A. and stayed for eleven years. She left Computicket to become a full-time mother, but the lure of show business called her back, and she formed an actors' agency in partnership with Lorraine. Today, as Gail Jaffit-Leibman, she is well known as a major theatrical publicist.

West Side Story opened not, as might have been expected, at the Civic, but at the Alexander, and lived up to its reputation. Such was its success that Hymie Udwin decided to extend the run. He made the disastrous mistake of moving the show to the Empire, four times the size of the Alexander, and nothing worked. The show left for Cape Town where Michael Harrison, a disciple of 'The Method', was moved to rediscover his inner being and disappeared for a few days. Richard Loring stepped in as Tony and made a big impression.

A musical success of a different kind came along with the JODS production of Canterbury Tales at the Civic Theatre. The advertising warned that the show, based on Chaucer, was 'not suitable for children', and it was doing poor business. The headmaster of an Afrikaans high school on the West Rand, a Mr Riekert, who had obviously not read the ads, brought his pupils to see the show in preference to permitting them a matric dance, of which he totally disapproved. He was quoted in the paper as saying 'no good can come of young people dancing together'.

The school party, over a hundred of them, duly arrived- and the fun began. The bawdier the show became, the more the kids loved it. Mr Riekert was beside himself, and we watched in amazement at interval as this almost hysterical man and his staff tried to drag the kids into the school bus before the second half. He didn't succeed in getting them all out in time and had to wait outside till the final curtain for the rest of them. In But the Melody Lingers On, the show's director Geoffrey Sutherland tells how, while the headmaster was trying to drag pupils out of the theatre, the rest were in the bus lustily singing one of the opening numbers called 'I Have a Noble Cock'.


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