Kisses on a Postcard

Celebrated playwright and author Terence Frisby talks about his years as an evacuee in Cornwall, the subject of his book, “Kisses on Postcard”

It was June 13th 1940, round about teatime when a train from London pulled into Liskeard station. Among the 500 or so wartime evacuees on board the train were Terence Frisby aged 7 and his brother Jack, 11. Finding themselves in Cornwall far away from the suburban capital, they stepped onto the platform, Terence remembers the sun was slanting down the cutting. “We had spent the whole day on the train and had no idea where we were” he recalls. “But we thought the whole thing was one big adventure. We were put on buses that fanned out in all directions. I remember we went down this long hill, under a huge viaduct and on through the countryside to Dobwalls School”.

 

Lining up with all the other evacuees for local families to choose Terence recalls the moment when he met Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack Philips, the people with whom he and his brother would spend the next three and a half years. “A woman came and tugged my hair. ‘Ow! That’s my hair’, I squealed.  She took one look at me and said ‘Yes and it could do with a cut too!’. And so it was that we were picked by this couple who seemed very strange to us. Strange accents, strange manners and much older than my parents”

 

Terence and his brother were taken to 7 Railway Cottages Doublebois, 3 miles west of Liskeard and that night the boys settled in to their new home a little bewildered. “When we arrived at the cottage we thought it was far too small for all of us. No electric and a lavatory at the bottom of the garden. There were chickens in the run and a pig in the shed. But Rose and Jack, a GWR plate layer and his wife, were very kind and welcoming and glancing across the garden, we looked down to the valley covered in trees and the Fowey River flowing by, it was beautiful and my brother and I thought we had died and gone to heaven!”

The next day, Terence and Jack woke up on that early summer morning and remembered they had to send something to their mother. “When we left London, my mother was concerned that we wouldn’t be happy living so far from her and dad, so she came up with a secret code that would let her know how we were. She gave us a postcard and on it was written ‘Arrived safe and well, everything fine, love Jack and Terry’. Addressed to mum and dad, there was a space for the name and address of the people we were with. She explained that if it was horrible, we were to put one kiss on the postcard she would come straight down and bring us home, if it was alright put two, and nice put three. Mum needn’t have worried; we covered the postcard in kisses, we were so happy to be in Cornwall and to be with with Rose and Jack”

These events and many other vivid recollections form the basis of Terence’s book, aptly named “Kisses on a Postcard”. Terence, wrote the script and screenplay for the classic comedy “There s a Girl in My Soup” which at the time, was the longest running comedy in the West End from 1966-1972 and later a hit film starring Peter sellers and Goldie Hawn. He also wrote the hit 1970s comedy Lucky Feller starring David Jason.

Butit wasn’t until 1988 that he wrote a 20-page reminiscence of his years as an evacuee. “I had written TV scripts and screenplays but never anything about my time in Cornwall” Terence explains. “I gave it to Enyd Williams at the BBC who said I should write a radio play which I called ‘Just Remember Two Things, It’s Not Fair and Don’t be Late’, the advice given to a young boy by an older man in the play”

 

From the play (a huge success on Radio 4) came the idea of the book and a musical first staged in 2004, both recounting the brothers’ adventures in their new Cornish home.

 

The population of Dobwalls almost trebled when the evacuees arrived and Terence went to a ‘vaccy’ school, at the Methodist chapel. “We were in a room out the back, like a glorified tin hut” he recalls. “We were the townies and they were the turnips, and it was instant war between us and the village kids! We use to thrash them at cricket and I remember we once beat them 30- nil at football, which only caused more animosity. In the winter of 1941, it was bitterly cold with lots of snow and I can recall one day the battle spilling out of the school and there being a mass snowball fight which lasted for hours all around the countryside”

 

It was while Terence was researching his book that he started to revisit that countryside after an absence of almost 60 years. It was amongst these high hedges, streams and woods that Terence remembered he used to go trout fishing with Uncle Jack, chase adders to show how brave he was and spend hours with the signalmen on the railway, moving the giant levers and watching the steam trains pass by.

 

Wandering the narrow lanes around Dobwalls, Terence was in search of an avenue of beech trees where he used to practice singing, and luckily, all those years later, he found them. “I use to love singing and won the East Cornwall Silver Voice competition singing ‘Jerusalem’ at the cattle market in Liskeard against the background of mooing cows!! The trees were my own private cathedral, they made a wonderful echo”

 

Terence says that the time he spent in Cornwall were rich, happy wonderful years. “My brother and I were two of the luckiest kids on earth to get the people we got. Auntie Rose and Uncle Jack were so kind to us, both warm and affectionate

 

After Jack had died, Rose went to live with her son in Weston Super Mare and always had a picture of Jack and me on her bedside table. I don’t think they were ever properly thanked for all they did for us and for giving us such a rich part of our childhood, so I hope the book will be a fitting tribute to them both”

 

More info www.kissesonapostcard.com