London Life

Meet the Three Belles: left to right, Gail, played by Sally Taylor; Betty, played by Anneka Wass; and Dorothy, played by Isabelle Moore.

Founded in 2011, the Belles are a close-harmony trio modeled on the Andrews Sisters: they specialize in shows that evoke the upbeat side of the mood and atmosphere of the Second World War years.

One day they found a pile of 1940s magazines in a Portsmouth antique shop: London Life. Good background material for a show about the period? Certainly… depending on what kind of show it was! For London Life wasn’t some kind of metropolitan equivalent to Country Life: it was a fetish magazine.

After the Belles had gotten their eyebrows down from the ceiling, they saw the potential for a comedy revue about the world of alternative sexualities in the 1940s – and so their own version of London Life was born.

The show begins with a chance encounter between the three girls and the editor of London Life, who takes them one by one through peculiar ‘fads’ covered by his mag, from rubber to high boots to women’s underwear, illustrated with songs and sketches and extracts from authentic London Life letters. Of particular interest to readers of this site, of course, is Fad Number 3: Discipline. The sketch deals with a WREN training course in Morse Code, which one trainee keeps failing. The consequence is what might be called a percussive Morse revision session, as also enacted by Betty and Gail in a publicity photograph for the show:

All together now: dit-dit-dit dit-dah-dah-dit dit-dah dah-dit dah-dit-dah!

London Life premiered in London in July 2014 and went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. It’s a happy, humane, positive show, and by great good fortune, a preview performance was audio-recorded; the recording may be heard here.

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