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The Scrivener: When The Sun Comes Out

After one of his letters had been published in a Melbourne newspaper, Brian Barratt received an unexpected telephone call which took him on a rewarding, if emotional, conversational journey.

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Letters to the Editor, The Age, Melbourne, 1982

An advertisement being screened on commercial television by a religious organisation states that, unlike the trapeze artist, the circus clown "does not have any particular skill". This is a gross misstatement.

The people who dress up as clowns and appear in parades around Melbourne and at other public functions certainly show no special skill. But there is a long line of circus and theatrical tradition, including such names as Grimaldi, Grock, Popov and Percy Huxter, which indicates the true nature of the clown.
It is also noticeable that the skilled clown, who may be an expert acrobat, or musician, or horse-rider, often shows a much deeper understanding of human pathos than spokespersons of some religious bodies.

Many of my letters were published in those days. They sometimes gave rise to counter-argument or even controversy. But this one gave rise to something quite different.

A few days after it was published, the phone rang. A quavery old voice asked if I was the Brian Barratt who wrote to the newspaper. At that time, friends sometimes phoned in Goon Show voices, and we would launch into a Henry and Minnie nonsense conversation. I very nearly started one, but realised that this voice, this person, was real. Whew! Sigh of relief, in the light of what followed.

He was an elderly, nay, very old retired theatrical performer. In his own words, he used to tread the boards many years earlier. He'd travelled the world, and actually seen Grock, the great musical clown, perform in Europe. I was delighted. He'd heard Feodor Chaliapin sing in Moscow. I was thrilled. He'd heard John McCormack sing in Melbourne. The roll-call continued. Tears were running down my cheeks.

He'd phoned just to say thank you for reviving some of his precious memories. My gratitude was far, far greater. I was weeping for joy, pretty well lost for words, and agreed that we'd meet one day when the Winter weather had cleared. "When the sun comes out," he said. "Yes," I replied. "When the sun comes out again." That was twenty-five years ago.

Feodor Chaliapin, the glorious Russian bass, died in 1938. John McCormack, the incomparable Irish tenor, died in 1945. Grock (Adrien Wettach) died in 1959. And that wonderful old performer who left an indelible impression on me might well have been close to his departure when he phoned in 1982.

I still feel guilty that I never got round to visiting him when the sun came out again. On that Winter day, he gave me something very precious indeed ó a glimpse of the sunshine of his former years.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2007


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