Meet Toni Arthur-Hay Part 2

After my work in children’s programmes for the BBC I wrote and presented many Radio 4 series on subjects as diverse as folk song and folk music, medical history and medical lore, and a series on the Special Olympics. The series was called ‘Surprised by Joy’ about athletes with physical and mental disabilities and it coincided with the Special Olympics held in Dublin.
Senator Edward Kennedy was at the games I asked my producer ‘Shall I try to get him to do something for the show?’ He blanched and said; ‘You’ll never get near him’. To which I replied; ‘But he’d be great.’ I ran off, went straight up to Senator Kennedy and said; ‘Sir, I’m doing a programme for the BBC on the Special Olympics could you give me a few words, please?’ He smiled and said; ‘Meet be by that gate in precisely 15 mins and I’ll give you 5 mins chat.’ Senator Kennedy arrived exactly on time and said; ‘OK, little lady, what do you want me to say’ I just said; ’What makes Special Olympics special, sir?’ ‘I’ll tell you’ he said. Four minutes later he had given me a brilliant answer, kissed my hand and left on his helicopter.
I loved doing all those programmes and even stood in for Sue McGregor several times as a holiday replacement on Woman’s Hour. There were many TV programmes as well. I worked almost continuously.
In the early 80’s I was asked to write a book for children for Puffin called ‘All the Year Round’ which was listed as one of the top 10 children’s books of that time. The book was about how to celebrate every month of the year with folklore stories and awful jokes. I had written it while appearing as Aladdin with John Nettles and Henry Kelly at the Bath Theatre Royal. I wrote another book called ‘1000 ways to Amuse your Children’ while I was presenting TVAM Breakfast show with Henry Kelly when Mike and Mary Parkinson did half the year in Australia.
Together with David Wood and David Arthur I’ve written three plays that are still being performed by amateur and professional companies. I wrote the libretto for a Community Opera ‘Salomons’ Dream’ with music by Stephen Neff. I ran a Drama school in Tunbridge Wells giving five lessons an evening for two days a week. Was Artistic Director of two different Youth theatres. And have directed various productions all over the country.
I helped train the Police force at their national college in how to lose their formal ‘proceeding in a vehicle in a westerly direction’ to a more approachable style. This led to forming a Speaker Training company ‘Scott Arthur Associates’, with Philip Scott, whom I had met when he had been the pianist when I was in Pantomime in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, Philip died and that venture came to an end.
Eventually when age caught up with me and I was no use to TV I decided to go back to University to do the degree I mentioned earlier the University of East London. Here I met Malcolm Hay, my mentor, who was then Comedy Editor of Time Out Magazine; he had previously been a Visiting Professor in Dramatic Literature at University of Massachusetts as well as a well -known Theatre critic. He was a Senior Lecturer at University of East London.
We both eventually moved from London to Cambridge. Married in 1996 and then moved onto Northwold. The reason for the move was simple. We had between us some 10,000 books and needed room to house them. Our converted barn came up for sale and we went with Jonathan and his wife to see it. The rest is history. We fell in love with the house, the village, the county and the people.
In Northwold itself for a time I ran a drama school for two nights a week and put on an Olde Time Musical Hall for three nights in the Village Hall. For Northwold’s St Andrew’s Church I was asked to write and put on production of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. The cast were all from the village. It was to last 10 mins. We did it with a second to spare.
Malcolm is now registered blind but does have a little sight and we often go at London Theatres to keep up with current dramatic trends. If we can’t make a performance we buy the script and I get to play all the parts when I read it to Malcolm. I’m now Malcolm’s Carer. For a while I worked for Sure Start, in Thetford as a drama therapist and although I loved this work the hours were too long for me to be away. So I began to train comedians for their stage work. They came to Northwold for me to work on their script analysis and direct their show. Malcolm gave his professional critique of the final product. The village could often see quite well-known comics walking about as they rehearsed their material in time for the Edinburgh festival. One of the plays, ‘A Very Naughty Boy’ won a Fringe First Award and had its very first preview in our house. Approximately 40 local people crammed into one of our rooms to see it. What a delight and a laugh!!
To make sure we can stay in Northwold we now run a holiday cottage in order to keep the wolf from the door. We cannot imagine living anywhere else.
I have recently taken up oil painting. My style is Abstract Expressionism which I’m aware is not to everyone’s taste but I have been lucky enough to have sold some already.
Just to bring this right up to date as Norfolk and the Duke of Edinburgh are current news. I once went to go to Buckingham Palace to interview Prince Philip for BBC about The Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme. During the interview he asked, as I was a patron of the Tunbridge Wells Branch, why I wanted to interview him about the Award Scheme. I replied; ‘Well, Sir, you are the Duke of Edinburgh’. To which he replied ‘Yes, I suppose I am’ and roared with laughter. He was a very nice man. I had to wear a hat for this interview which got in the way of my headphones. I asked if I may remove the hat as I was not used to wearing one. ‘Of course,’ he said; ‘My daughter-in-law, Diana, doesn’t like wearing them either’.
There have been many things I’ve left out from serious acting in the West End, to editing the Caxton Encyclopaedia and to working as a journalist. Suffice it to say I have loved every minute of my life. But I’m now boring myself. I’ve been a Jill of all trades and possibly a mistress of none.
I’ve been very lucky. It’s been fun.

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