1981: Underneath the Arches
The 1981 season is fondly remembered at CFT for the musical revue Underneath the Arches, the story of two of Britain's most popular entertainers: the wicked Bud Flanagan, and the urbane Chesney Allen, and their association with a bunch of knockabout comedians known as "The Crazy Gang".
Starring Christopher Timothy (Chesney) and Roy Hudd (Bud), the production featured a cameo appearance from the real Chesney Allen, the last surviving member of the group, who was revealed to the audience in a surprise set revolve sequence. When Chesney Allen died two years later in 1983, the production was still playing in the West End after receiving an Olivier Award nomination for Musical of the Year in 1982.
CFT's Artistic Director Patrick Garland said in 1983: "I, for one, shall never forget the summer of 1981, when Chesney appeared in every performance of Underneath the Arches, as slightly and precise as ever, a glowing and vital reminder of a lasting and ancient tradition of foolery." Read his full speech at the bottom of the page.
Production photographs Underneath the Arches 1981, photographer Reg Wilson
Cast List Underneath the Arches 1981
Artistic Director Patrick Garland, summer season speech notes 1983
With an affectionate love in the direction of The Prince of Wales, where 'Underneath the Arches' is even still a welcome migrant from the summer of 1981, and entering its second year in the West End this week, Bernie Winters as Bud, and Lesley Crowther as Chesney, have replaced the original Chichester casts.
It is a sadness going alongside that triumph – the new company opened last night to a standing ovation – to reflect for a second that Chesney Allen the last survivor of the legendary Crazy Gang died this year, aged 87, and I, for one, shall never forget the summer of 1981, when Chesney appeared to every performance of 'Underneath the Arches', as slightly and precise as ever, a glowing and vital reminder of a lasting an ancient tradition of foolery, going beyond Grimaldi, to Armin, to Will Kemps of the Elizabethan stage – he, and the hand, combine a certain instinct for comedy – together with a genuine innocence, and a lack of pretence, which makes the comic gift universal and important – though frequently uneducated and untaught. So I salute Chesney Allen at this moment, and as well Peter Glaze also from the cast of “Arches” who understudied the gang and died last month. “It is the greatest of all Epitaphs, to say you did it, just for laughs..”