Documentary telling the story of the ENSA performers who kept up the troops' morale during World War II, with contributions from Dame Vera Lynn, Eric Sykes and Tony Benn.
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Being blonde, busty and the short skirts -
that was enough to bring the house down.
"I can't go out there. There are bombs, Germans and terrible mayhem!"
You could look and see the Germans looking at you with field glasses.
I've got theatrical experience, I've been to the theatre twice.
"Get off! Show us your..." Oh, dear.
Every night, something awful!
That were what the boys used to call it.
We must have travelled for thousands of miles.
We didn't care. We were entertaining the troops!
I was due to make my debut in show business on 3 September 1939,
would you believe. The day war broke out.
The Government has given instructions
for the following important announcements -
closing of places of entertainment.
All cinemas, theatres and other places of entertainment
are to be closed immediately until further notice.
The first thing I thought, "Well, there goes my career."
You know, there won't be a sort of entertainment during the war.
Everything will be very serious and safety-minded.
But entertainment was far from over.
And one man would make it his mission to ensure
that the world of show business played its part during the war.
Basil Dean was a renowned theatre and film impresario,
a legendary name in the world of entertainment.
During the First World War, he took on the task of
raising the spirits of his fellow soldiers in the battalion.
The commandant was concerned
that something needed to be done for the morale of these men
and Dean was the ideal person to be given the task.
And he went round the area. He looked for singers, dancers, magicians,
and slowly, he poured a wealth of talent in.
Dean certainly commented on the fact he felt morale had been lifted
and it never left him.
As a second world war loomed,
Basil Dean realised he could build on this idea.
He had a vision of a worldwide theatrical operation,
where entertainment would play a key role in keeping up morale
and helping to win the war.
When the war was obviously coming,
he was very active in proposing what became ENSA.
I think he approached the political authorities,
urging the Government to set up something like ENSA.
That is certainly so.
I think he wanted especially the theatre to do its bit in the war
and the people, not only the troops but the factory workers,
So, the idea for the Entertainment's National Service Association, ENSA,
began to take shape.
Basil was a man of great drive and extreme energy and vigour.
-And a difficult man.
You don't get a mild-mannered man who agrees to run a show like ENSA.
He needs to be a formidable figure.
To me, he was a Diaghilev, he was figure of power.
He was a magical name that people said, "Basil Dean!"
Basil Dean's impressive powers of persuasion finally convinced NAAFI,
the service's trading organisation,
to foot the bill for this ambitious operation.
But it wasn't just officials he could win over.
Due to his connections with West End people,
he got these big stars.
"You will do this, won't you?" "Yes, of course I'll do it."
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
You should wait till I finish. You shouldn't start mucking about now!
Gracie, obviously, was extremely famous -
one of our top performers.
WITH AUDIENCE: # Sally, don't ever wander... #
I think she was everything that they thought of home about.
She looked like a mother, a young mother.
She was, you know, the family, the one they were going back for.
# Marry me, Sally... #
And happy forever are we!
Her whole repertoire was songs that they all knew.
And men loved a sing-song.
# You're more than the whole world
# To me-e-e-e-e... #
# Hitler can't kid us a lot
# His secret weapon's tommyrot... #
Another glittering star to sign up with ENSA was George Formby.
George Formby was a very popular entertainer.
He did this thing also of getting everybody to come round.
And he played the uke.
He'd do My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock
and When I'm Cleaning Windows.
Some sort of double entendres in that, which the blokes loved.
# At eight o'clock, a girl she wakes
# At five past eight, a bath she takes
# At ten past eight, me ladder breaks
# When I'm cleaning windows. #
If you had George Formby,
if you had Gracie Fields, who was a tremendous supporter,
others thought, "If they can do it, why can't I?"
With a headquarters complete with staff,
offices and workshops set up at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane,
Basil Dean was heading up an already formidable organisation.
But to achieve his dream, he needed an army of foot soldiers.
Word went out to the show business world,
that they were needed for the war effort.
And performers - from singers to contortionists,
comedians to jugglers - heeded the call.
I simply saw an advertisement for dancers
to go abroad with ENSA.
I wanted to entertain the troops.
And so I went to Drury Lane Theatre and did an audition.
We were just sort of, as I seemed to remember,
looking out onto a vast blackness.
You did your first audition on THE stage,
and that was frightening, really!
It's a beautiful theatre. Really, one that
has got the ghost of ages there.
But they built on the stage, which was a beautiful big stage,
they built a small stage
because we would never have quite such a big one as that.
In Drury Lane, you had your inoculations there,
and we even had to make a will when we went abroad.
Our roving cameraman takes you behind the scenes
at the headquarters of ENSA, Drury Lane Theatre.
There, the wardrobe girls are dealing with another rush order.
We had to go to the wardrobe.
We had very pretty dresses.
What can't be adapted must be made.
That means a lot of work for the cutters and machinists.
If they didn't fit you,
you had wardrobe mistresses there who altered all the clothes.
If it fits, it's hers to take away.
If it doesn't, the backroom girls' nimble fingers will soon alter it.
It was a complete little factory of its own, really.
The wardrobe is doing a big job in a big way,
playing its part to help the artist play theirs.
And this new army of entertainers was even given its own uniform.
It would identify the ENSA performers when they were abroad,
in case they were mistaken for spies by the enemy.
Dean felt that the war correspondents had a uniform,
other people had a uniform, the American entertainers had a uniform,
why wasn't his people, why weren't they getting a uniform?
And he created a design.
It was a very nice uniform.
We didn't wear trousers.
Girls didn't wear trousers in those days.
It was like the summer khaki uniform.
The same material as the troops wore.
And it was just a skirt
and an army jacket and a hat.
That was a khaki soldier's uniform, officer's uniform,
with the most dreadful flat cap thing, which I never liked,
so I got myself a different one from a boyfriend,
borrowed a Scotch beret and I wore that.
I just thought it looked better,
so, I was a rebel in those days, certainly!
Really, I should be here in battle dress!
When I left England to come and work for ENSA they said,
"You'll have to wear a battle dress."
I said, "What's the idea?
"I mean, after all, I'm an actor, not a soldier."
He said, "You'll have to wear a battle dress
"because if you get captured by the Germans,
"they'll shoot you."
I said, "If the Germans capture me, they're entitled to shoot me."
Uniforms fitted, bags packed, the performers were ready to go,
but not before they were briefed on ENSA's rules of engagement.
We had the usual lecture that we had.
It was our duty to go in the mess and talk to them,
they were lonely and they were away from home,
but there was not too much involvement.
No maternity. Right, of course.
In the vastness of Drury Lane,
Leslie Henson is rehearsing his concert party
that NAAFI is sending out to the troops in France.
# Bop, bop, doodle-oodle-ay... #
Performers came from far and wide to play their part in the war effort,
but everyone had their own reasons for signing up.
# ..we'll have a beautiful...
# ..day! #
I was sort of called up,
but I didn't want to be a soldier,
so I appealed against it on the grounds that I was a dancer
and I needed to practice, which was a tiny bit of a fib, I should say!
But they said, "Well, if you join ENSA, that's OK."
So that's what I did, actually.
I got a set fee from ENSA to entertain.
Sometimes it was for the military,
sometimes it was for the factories, sometimes in air raid shelters.
But it was work and it was a payment.
The standard pay was £10 a week.
It was very nice money in those days.
But life as an entertainer was far from an easy option,
as these performers would soon discover.
They were very brave.
They went by ship or air and could easily be torpedoed or shot down.
We were put on board this ship with all our stuff that we brought.
We didn't know where we were going then, but...
..we were in a convoy, of course, and it was a hairy one.
On the boat, you had to drop depth charges,
hoping to keep the submarines away,
cos they were underneath all the time
and they would be dogging the convoy all way, following it along.
And the boat was rocking all over the place!
We ended up in Algiers.
I'd like to introduce you a lovely bit of homework. Joy Tudor!
# If you want to be happy
# If you want to go far
# Then I've a treat in Broadway
# Everyone is a star
# No one there has a fortune
# No, not even a car
# For I've a treat on Broadway
# Everybody's a star... #
The lucky dip, I was a dancer, really.
It was like a little variety thing
and whatever was going, needed, you had to do it.
# ..in Broadway.
# Everybody's a star! #
At that stage, I was doing speciality dancing,
so sometimes I did a Spanish dance,
I had a Spanish dress and frills and black earrings
and black things, a black cross, shawl and all the rest of it.
We were going forward one night to play this petrol depot.
The jerry cans, those big jerry cans were full of petrol
and they were all put in a row
and they built a little stage with planks on this petrol thing.
We had to do the show very quickly and smoothly.
We were shoved off and as we got into our lorry to drive back,
we were sitting in the back of the lorry and WHOOSH!
And a flashing of lights and boom, boom!
We were safe then
but we had gone right forward into the firing line.
You don't think about the job, you've got a job to do.
It isn't until afterwards that you would think,
"That was a bit dangerous."
AMERICAN ACCENT: Well...
look me over, boys, but don't try to reform me.
Stick around here, honey, you might learn something.
Mavis White set sail with ENSA, aged just 21.
I was a singer and impressionist
and we were a very small, little group
of about eight but we were a very talented little group.
A lot of variety.
Going out on the ship, we didn't know where we were going to.
We landed in North Africa.
"Oh, we're in North Africa!"
We didn't have a limousine to meet us.
Believe it or not, that's a theatre.
Come round to the stage door
to meet Marylyn and Roma making up for the show.
A strange sight in the middle of the desert.
Here's some of the audience, men with a few hours' leave,
who, in between rounds, are coming in for a sing-song
with an ENSA company on location in Libya.
And we must have travelled for thousands of miles over potholes,
dirt tracks, dust, dirt, flies, mosquitoes.
We didn't care.
We were entertaining the troops.
You'll notice they bring their rifles.
Let there be no misunderstanding -
this roadshow is not so many miles from the enemy lines.
The troops would put one side of the oblong lorry down
and a little upright piano in the corner. That was our stage.
There's always a big hand for the girls,
singing under extremely difficult conditions.
It's not the easiest thing
to put over a song with sand blowing about.
I sang a little song called Tiddley Winkie Woo,
and it was there in the North African desert
that the troops nicknamed me the Tiddley Winkie Girl.
# Tiddley winkie winkie winkie
# Tiddley winkie woo
# I love you
# Tiddley winkie winkie winkie
# Tiddley winkie woo
# Love me, too
# I love you in the morning
# And I love you in the night
# I love you in the evening
# When the stars are shining bright
# Tiddley winkie winkie winkie
# Tiddley winkie woo
# ..love you! #
Not bad for 90!
Once we got on stage, it was magic. We were entertaining.
We knew that we were making them happy at this time.
And that's all we cared about...
to hear their laughter.
I loved to make them laugh.
A troop audience was at that time the best in the world.
You could not get better.
The little show has gone down well.
The boys have had a bit of fun before moving up to the line again.
Everybody liked a different sort of entertainment.
You had to give them a mixture of anything that they liked,
and we did that.
The troops loved pretty ladies, of course.
Singers, magicians, jugglers,
four people and a piano on the back of a lorry.
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
Contortionists. Of course, the blokes loved that. They had very little on.
It could be a bit saucy.
You didn't really have to do anything.
Being blond, busty and with a short skirt on,
and that was enough to bring the house down!
The shows were proving their worth,
as troops wrote in, praising the entertainment.
"You have literally radiated laughter and happiness
"to thousands of troops, whose lot is normally a hard and a dull one."
"Great excitement here last week. An ENSA show turned up."
"We all went to an ENSA concert in the gym
"and had a thoroughly enjoyable time."
Allen Clifford was working as a radio navigator
at RAF Methwold in Norfolk.
As well as entertaining overseas,
ENSA was touring shows around the UK,
and groups would stop off at his base and perform.
At least once a week, somebody came.
It was nice to have fresh people to talk to.
You'd talk to every girl on the station,
but you'd have some new ones coming in who were dressed in bonny things
and had their hair done and lipstick and all that.
It was quite exciting, but also because, after it was over,
you all retired to the mess and had a drink and talked to the girls.
They didn't bugger off, they did actually stop there!
You knew your time was fairly circumscribed,
so it was nice to get something different introduced always.
You felt just a bit civilised for a while.
And the troops themselves were creating their own entertainment.
Henry Lewis, a wireless operator,
performed magic shows at military bases around the UK.
I volunteered for the forces just after the day war was declared,
and as a youngster,
I knew Morse code,
I immediately got taken to the Royal Corps of Signals.
In the evenings, we used to have entertainments,
and various members of the unit were asked
whether they could do anything and so on,
and as I was always interested in magic since the age of eight,
I thought, "I could do something."
And in those days, I could do things with billiard balls
and thimbles and cards and so on. And I volunteered for these shows.
Then, I got transferred to Stars In Battledress,
which was the touring Army show.
But we were a military organisation, and they usually sent us places
where they didn't particularly want the civilian population to go to.
Everything had to be very portable,
and playing cards, making fans and diminishing
and producing them, that sort of thing.
The Army were very good to me.
The Army workshops, if I needed a piece of equipment,
would make it for me.
And that made a lot of difference.
So I was able to do things
which the average performer would have no chance.
We were bound up by the laws of secrecy.
We couldn't tell anybody where we were going.
If I was being sent from, say, Aldershot to Catterick,
I couldn't even tell my mother if I wanted to.
I mean, this was the Army, this was wartime.
If an enemy knew there was going to be a theatre full of soldiers -
what a target!
When you think of all these people who came to these shows,
they all had their own problems.
The fact they could forget all this and come to a show that evening
and laugh and enjoy what people were doing,
and we had some wonderful performers, that made it all worthwhile.
Somewhere in Rhodesia,
this English cadet is training under the Royal Air Force flag,
part of the Empire Training Scheme.
Proud recruits to one of the most gallant brotherhoods,
they are learning to do their job well.
Troops near and far welcomed the chance to see entertainers,
and in remote corners of the world,
it created a much-needed connection with home.
I joined the Air Force in 1943. And I was sent to Southern Rhodesia,
now Zimbabwe, to learn to fly,
and I was there for about a year.
It was full of excitement. On the other hand, we were all very lonely.
We were far away from home. There was very little entertainment.
But one of the most quintessentially English stars of the time
was due to perform at Tony Benn's RAF base.
When I heard that Noel Coward was coming,
a few of my mates and I decided to go to the canteen
inside the camp where we were.
# Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun
# The smallest Malay rabbit deplored this foolish habit... #
It was quite a big thing to have a major London actor coming over.
# In Hong Kong, they strike a gong and fire off the noonday gun
# To reprimand each inmate who's in late... #
He was very neatly dressed. I noted in my diary,
"His programme, which lasted a little over an hour,
"was absolutely first rate."
He entered into it exactly as you'd expect Noel Coward would,
into the spirit of it all.
# In the mangrove swaps where the python romps
# There is peace from 12 till two
# Even caribous lie around and snooze
# For there's nothing else to do... #
He put on an absolutely first-rate show,
deliberately, consciously treated it
exactly as if we were a West End audience.
And that made people feel at home and comfortable.
# In Bengal, to move at all is seldom, if ever, done
# But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday, out in the midday
# Out in the midday, out in the midday
# Out in the midday, out in the midday
# Out in the midday sun. #
He was very suave and amusing, and it was a touch of home,
brought to where we were, and therefore was
very, very much appreciated.
But often, the shows weren't up to scratch,
and the troops didn't hold back
in their criticism when writing letters home.
"I wonder if you could see if there are any jobs for me
"around Drury Lane.
"I'm sure I could produce and tour a damned sight better show
"than the abominable tat we get out here.
"I have never in my life seen such an unprofessional
"and incompetent organisation overseas as ENSA.
"You will get my moan in full when I see you."
Word got round, "Oh, Christ, it's an ENSA show, let's not go tonight."
It did have a bad reputation, which, really, it didn't deserve,
except some of the acts weren't 100%.
I saw one show in the whole of my career in the RAF.
I saw one ENSA show.
I came out of it halfway through.
It was pathetic.
We weren't considered the creme de la creme, shall we say.
ENSA didn't have a very good name.
You'd get a rather poor-quality magician out there,
showing you a magic trick
and you've just taken a mine out of the ground and defused it.
You know, which is the better one?
For Basil Dean, this criticism was hard to take.
In his determination to provide entertainment
wherever it was needed,
the quality of ENSA's output had suffered.
He had high ideals. Of course, most of them had to go out the window.
With ENSA, he had to produce a vast amount of stuff
and some of it wasn't very good.
Oh yes, some of it wasn't very good. Well, he admitted all that.
I don't think he quoted the phrase "Every Night Something Awful",
-but that was said of ENSA.
-Yes, who was it that made that joke?
"Some low comedian," as Basil would have said.
And it was these "low comedians"
who brought a storm of protests down on ENSA.
Certain comics, desperate for laughs,
were resorting to risque humour once on the road
and away from the rules and regulations of Drury Lane.
Despite having their scripts signed off at HQ,
some still weren't toeing the party line.
This controversy about lewd jokes reared its ugly head
and Dean was insistent that was not what he wanted.
He has a story about listening to a second-rate comic
amusing the troops and the comic wasn't doing very well at all,
and then he produced some rather blue material
and this amused the troops even less,
and Basil, as director, sacked him on the spot.
Managing a giant operation like ENSA was no easy task.
And Basil Dean was starting to make some enemies.
He was fighting a variety of battles.
First of all, the press were in some ways hostile.
He noted that certain agents were unhappy
with the amounts of money that was to be paid to their stars.
There were senior officers who felt they could probably do a better job,
because they had chums in the entertainment world.
And, of course, the heavyweights of the entertainment world
were convinced they could do a better job than Dean.
What they didn't have was Dean's drive and initiative.
Well, it was very ambitious.
He was very ambitious, that's certainly the case.
He was dealing with officials and big boards,
and no doubt rubbed many up the wrong way.
But Basil Dean wouldn't give up on his dream
of providing entertainment at the highest level.
He tried to raise the standard of ENSA's musical entertainment.
There were orchestras, vocalists, all sorts of things, all under ENSA.
And it wasn't just the troops who needed respite from the war.
The civilian population was doing its bit, too.
Factories were working round the clock
to meet demand for the war effort.
Pauline Sadgrove began her ENSA career playing the cello
and touring factories around the UK.
When war broke out, I always felt I'd like to use
my talent for entertaining.
There were three of us, a trio.
Violin, piano and cello. We joined together.
The factories, of course, we gave lunch breaks,
and the lunch breaks had got to be at 12, sort of six o'clock,
any time, four o'clock in the morning or two o'clock in the morning.
So our life was upside down.
All these huge factories,
they'd only had, you know, very popular music
and squeezebox, and a comedian. They gave us a rousing reception.
It was unbelievable. But I think we were an experiment.
That's why they were so surprised
when every factory asked to have us back again.
It gave one a great buzz.
Despite the criticisms, ENSA was on a roll.
And for Basil Dean, the sky was the limit.
I think ENSA was very clever to send the ballet,
because it's so far from everyday life in a sense, isn't it?
And there's wonderful music and a lot of girls.
The troops said to me, "Well, if the ballet's coming out here,
"it must be all right. Can't be dreadful, can it?"
Gillian Lynne was a young dancer
touring the country with the prestigious Sadler's Wells Ballet.
We were in Leeds and we heard this rumour we're going abroad in ENSA.
We went to London, we were all fitted out,
and to be in a uniform with a cap! And we were in officers' uniform!
And we were rather smart
and it was so different from the rest of our lives.
We did feel that we were at last going to have
a really helpful contribution to the war.
I hate to say it, but it was sort of exciting.
Two sections of society that would never probably have met up,
you know, because ballet's a sort of isolated world
and then the troops came from all different walks of life.
To their amazement, the majority adored it, and of course,
it's very physical, and there are girls with long legs and tights.
I mean, they were starved of female companionship
so that went down rather well.
I think it would have been a really lovely eye-opener for them
and they kind of might have forgot a lot of the horror
they were having to go back to.
When we were flying at night, I had to have a curtain round me
so as I could have a light on to do my job.
But everybody else was sitting in the dark, and the first time
I went over a heavily defended target, I was sat behind a pilot.
He said, "Come and have a look at this, Allen." I opened the curtain,
all hell was breaking loose!
So I closed it and got on with my work!
It is a very tense sort of business. For a quarter of an hour,
when you're over the target, it was indescribable.
But for a half hour either side of that, it was pretty rough.
Aircraft going down around you, it's very disconcerting.
On his 22nd flying raid, Allen Clifford was shot down
and captured by the enemy. Held captive for seven months,
he was moved between prisoner of war camps across Germany.
In one, Stalag Luft 7, the inmates would stage shows
in an attempt to lift their spirits.
Well, when I got there, they already had a concert party
and one of the things that the Swiss Red Cross did
was to encourage that sort of thing for morale reasons.
And because they'd negotiated getting musical instruments
and suchlike, when you've got a couple of thousand people,
you've got enough musicians amongst them to make it work.
And apparently it was fairly common in most camps.
Virtually every week there'd be a musical concert,
an hour or something like that. It was fairly amateurish,
but it was very much appreciated and even the Germans liked it.
They would come to it. The costumes were all made.
I don't think any of them were imported.
At that time, there was all sorts of textiles available from blankets
and things like that and towels. It was remarkable what you could do
with dining towels and suchlike.
Prisoners in these camps would often create their own entertainment
by staging extravagant shows.
Making the best of limited resources,
servicemen would be transformed into starlets.
There's always people who like dressing up as girls.
I don't know where they got their make-up from,
I presume the Germans helped there, I suppose.
The girls looked pretty good actually.
-They were always blondes.
We never had any brunettes or red heads on the show.
Always, always blondes.
Subversive comments were made from time to time.
Every now and then the Germans would expostulate,
"No more of this, no more of this."
Most of your life was enlivened by being awkward.
We were up-to-date on what was going on
and where our troops were
so you managed to work in a reference to the places
that we'd occupied that morning.
So they knew it was up-to-date.
You'd say something innocuous like, "What's happening in so and so?
"Quite exciting, isn't it?" Or, "Quite interesting?"
Or, "I don't believe that!"
They frankly weren't as up-to-date as we were on it, actually.
Life as a prisoner of war was brutal and unrelenting.
But during his capture, a moment's kindness from Allen's guard
had made a connection across the greatest of divides.
In the corridor was a grand piano, quite a battered looking one
with no front on.
He was obviously a classical pianist,
he obviously thought, "What would we know that he knew?"
So he started tinkering this out
and I smiled and he said, "Marie Marlene".
I said, "No, Lili Marlene".
# I'm Lili Marlene
# I'm Lili Marlene... #
It was the one song that we picked up from the Germans.
The Eighth Army brought it home.
It's a very evocative piece.
It was nice, it was a moment's tenderness.
It brings tears to my eyes.
I'm going to have it played at my funeral.
# I'm Lili Marlene... #
-We won the dogfights and finally the battle,
but many of our pilots were horribly injured
in the wreckage of their Spitfires and Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, other members of the RAF who had been badly burned in action
were convalescing at the Marchwood Park facility near Southampton,
under the care of pioneering plastic surgeon,
Sir Archibald McIndoe.
Brenda Logie had been performing in the south of England
with a concert party and a chance encounter
led to her playing an important part on their road to recovery.
We had been told that they were at Marchwood Park
in the case we should see them.
This particular morning, I'm walking along
and I saw this chap
in RAF uniform coming towards me.
I didn't want him to think he looked any different to anybody else,
so we sort of passed one another and that was that.
When I got back to the office, the boss said,
"You've got to go up to the personnel", he said.
He said, "You passed squadron leader..." whatever his name was,
"..in the yard this morning and you smiled at him.
"Would you like to go to Marchwood? You obviously can cope with it."
He said, "If you would go, you could go and take your pianist with you,
"and do a few songs and talk to them and dance with them,
"if they're having any dancing or anything like that."
And I said, "Yes, sure. I'll go."
Well, they liked sort of sentimental songs
and they liked patriotic songs, that was one of the main things.
They talked about their families and their parents
and all that sort of thing.
And, as I say, once they got to trust you,
they would tell you what operations they were going to have.
I admired them tremendously, I thought they were so brave.
I thought it was absolutely dreadful, you know, what had happened.
And I hope they all realised that I thought that they were
all pretty special people.
If music was good to them and they wanted it done,
I was quite prepared to do it.
Further along the south coast, Betty Hockey was also keen to do
her bit for the war effort and had an idea.
I was passing all these camps under canvas
and general activity and I thought, "I must do something.
"What can I do?" Then I suddenly thought, "I'll run a concert party."
I'd never done it before in my life, but nevertheless I did.
So I chose 16 that wanted to be in the Forces,
but couldn't get released from their jobs,
so that was the nearest they could get.
There was a ventriloquist,
and there was a man and wife, accordion and xylophone.
We really had the lot.
We had all sorts of dancers.
There was the hula hula, we used to do.
And we had made skirts out of raffia and straw and things like that.
At one RAF camp, they gave us a lovely parachute.
The men had shirts out of it, we made the shirts.
It was amazing what we did use it for!
Then I suddenly thought of the can-can.
It was risque.
It wasn't considered nice.
Actually, it wasn't allowed in England at that stage,
it was banned.
Nevertheless, the boys loved it and they kept asking us back.
# If I were the only girl... #
One place in particular was to make a lasting impression on Betty.
I shall never forget Hurst Castle.
# Nothing else would matter
# In this world... #
The theatre, of course, was so tiny.
16 of us couldn't get on that stage
so we had to make do and mend.
We did most of the show on the floor in front of the stage.
They were almost on top of us.
I can hear them all singing
and doing their acts.
I really can. It's almost like a ghost.
# If I were
# The only girl
# In the world
# And you were
# The only boy. #
And even on 5th June 1944, the night before D-Day,
Betty and her troupe were in the camp
unaware of what was about to unfold.
Strangely enough, they allowed us to do a show.
I don't know how it happened, but it was at Holmsley.
We guessed something pretty major was going to happen
but nobody really knew.
We had to be very careful what we said and...
But actually, we knew where everybody was.
I could have done a lot of damage.
We really couldn't do the show properly
because they were coming and going the whole evening.
The planes were taking off on one side
and the trucks and the tanks the other side.
It wasn't the normal, happy atmosphere
that there had been before.
They were very agitated, because you knew that the next lot
you were entertaining were the next lot to go.
And half of the others didn't come back, of course.
They sang, they sang. They sang their hearts out.
They knew jolly well what they had ahead of them.
-D-Day has come. Early this morning, the Allies began an assault
on the north-western face of Hitler's European fortress.
The first official news came just after half past nine,
when supreme headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force
issued communique number one. This said,
"Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces,
"supported by strong air forces,
"began landing Allied armies this morning
"on the northern coast of France."
D-Day proved to be a major turning-point in the war
and Basil Dean wanted the entertainment world
to show its mettle and be there for the troops as they went into action.
Dean was desperate,
he would have liked to have been the first entertainment unit ashore.
In his heart of hearts,
he knew that he was going to run second on this one,
because of that business of, should the Germans counter-attack,
then what would happen to the ENSA party.
This time, rather than the civilian entertainers of ENSA,
it was Stars In Battledress -
the military organisation who got there first.
You had a collection of very talented people,
but they could go anywhere and if necessary,
they could defend their location or they could attack if necessary.
But ENSA was hot on their heels.
Just weeks after D-Day,
the organisation sent over one of its best-known stars.
# I'm leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street
# In case a certain little lady comes by
# Oh, me, oh, my
# I hope the little lady comes by... #
Other ENSA stars soon followed to do their bit for the troops.
Acts as diverse as Ivor Novello,
Flanagan And Allen and Margaret Rutherford
crossed the Channel in the weeks after D-Day.
And ENSA's army of unknown entertainers weren't far behind.
It was about September before I started going, therefore,
you are three months behind the fighting.
Wherever we went, the devastation was absolutely horrendous.
Every time you entertained the boys,
they were very happy to be alive, I suppose, but a little depressed.
You're so appreciated.
You didn't have to be clever, you just stood on the stage
and that to them, I mean, you can imagine the horrors of war
and everybody, they experienced it, where we only ever saw the aftermath,
which was horrific at places,
but nothing to what the boys were going through.
But ENSA parties travelling and performing
in the midst of war zones themselves
weren't immune to the dangers.
The reality of war was about to hit close to home.
She was blonde and vivacious, a very good dancer,
and she and I got on as sisters.
Vivien Hole had been Audrey's dance partner
before they both joined ENSA.
They were driving from one venue to the other, in the coach.
Unfortunately, they took a wrong turning and went into a minefield
and the wheel over which she was sitting was hit and she died.
I was devastated.
I mean, she was so lovely and 19 years old
and it's just incredible, really.
It comes home to you, when somebody so close to you gets killed.
Troops continued to land at Normandy to support the push into Europe.
Amongst them was a young Eric Sykes, serving with the RAF.
I was a wireless operator, yes, in what was formed,
especially for the invasion of Europe, was a mobile signals unit.
Eric decided to try his luck with show business at the end of the war.
They started a concert party, with a notice on the notice board,
"All those with theatrical experience...
"..report to..." what do you call it.
And I thought, "Yeah, I've got theatrical experience,
"I've been to the theatre twice."
They were mainly troop audiences and, you know,
we went very well, so that's it.
These shows, we all stood on the stage when the curtain went up
and all on chairs, leaning on the back of the chair
and singing our opening number.
But every one of us was in our uniforms
with the badges of rank and everything.
All throughout the show, we never changed out of that uniform,
so we could go straight off the street,
on the stage, do the show, straight out and...
We were a team and that was really enjoyable.
Whilst serving abroad,
Eric found he could tune into his own favourite entertainer.
Being a wireless operator, you see, sometimes,
in between sending out messages and receiving them,
we had quite large breaks,
so we could either get the cricket scores from London
when we were abroad in France or Holland or somewhere,
or we could get Vera Lynn
and I'd prefer Vera Lynn to the cricket scores.
-From home to the Forces, from Vera Lynn and Fred Hartley.
VERA LYNN: This letter of mine is getting to be a sort of rendezvous,
where husbands and wives, torn apart by war,
can be brought together by music.
On the wings of these melodies,
the sentiments go from me to both of you, from you to her.
Here's our song together tonight.
# Night and day
# You are the one... #
The young star was broadcasting a weekly show, Sincerely Yours,
which conveyed messages between troops and families
separated by the war.
# Whether near to me or far... #
I was getting all these letters from the boys and I thought, "Well,
"I wonder what the possibility is, if I could get out there,
"actually, and sing to them in person
"instead of over the radio and talk to them."
I approached ENSA, so they said, "Well, where would you like to go?"
I said, "Well, if I'm going anywhere,
"I want to go where they don't get any entertainment."
So they said, "Well, Burma is one that gets very little, if anything."
So I said, "Right, that's where I want to go."
The boys never talked about their experiences when they were out there.
I suppose they wanted just to forget it, really.
It was rather a nasty war out there.
Everywhere I went, they said,
"When you go back home, will you tell them about us?
"And remind them that we are here still." The war isn't over for them.
They really did feel they were forgotten.
I was performing in all sorts of places.
It might be in a tent
or it might be a whole crowd of 6,000 in a big open area.
They came from miles and miles around
and it was so lovely to be able to be there and not just sing to them,
but to go round and talk to them
and chat, bring them a little bit of home.
Tell them how we were facing the bombs and everything
and try and cheer them up. Tell them not to worry. You know,
we were OK, we were getting food.
It wasn't just the singing, it was contact with home.
# We'll meet again
# Don't know where, don't know when
# But I know we'll meet again
# Some sunny day... #
It was a very popular song and popular I think
because it was optimistic and it spoke of hope
and better things to come that, you know, that we all would meet again.
# Drive the dark clouds far away... #
Any song she sang, she could sing the advert on a coco tin
and make it sound musical.
She's just that kind of a genius.
What she did give her audiences,
she had that amazing ability to have that quality in her voice
that went home to all the individuals
and everybody that looked it, felt that she was singing just for him.
I feel blessed that I was in a position
that I was able to do something.
# But I know we'll meet again some sunny day... #
Hostilities will end, officially,
at one minute after midnight tonight, Tuesday the 8th May.
The German war is therefore at an end. Advance, Britannia!
Long live the cause of freedom. God Save the King!
On the 8th May 1945,
cheering crowds gathered to celebrate victory in Europe.
Just over three months later, Japan surrendered to the Allies.
World War II was finally over.
REPORTER: The curtain rises on London's victory parade
as their Majesties leave Buckingham Palace
for the saluting base of the Mall.
The following year saw official celebrations in the victory parade
where all aspects of wartime service were honoured,
from military regiments to broadcasting organisations.
The biggest moment of all was when our own boys appeared,
the men who have fought our battles the world over.
Also taking in the procession, a Movietone sound-recording car,
just one of a fleet which saw service on many battle fronts.
The men and women of the home front were there -
people who kept on working whatever the danger,
turning out the weapons, running our transport, delivering our food.
Yes, they were all there, the ordinary people.
It was their day, a day of rejoicing and of thanks.
But it wasn't to be Basil Dean's day,
there was no place for ENSA in the victory parade.
Every actor and actress would have loved the chance
to have marched on that parade.
They'd been to the most dangerous places in the world.
But were denied this.
All the army were, they have their service medals
and things at the end of the war.
And somewhere, somebody gave us some little bits of ribbon,
all frayed-out with nothing else.
It was just wiped out, more or less. It was a pity.
Between 1939 and 1946,
ENSA had put on over 2.5 million performances,
from Iceland to India, Burma to Berlin.
Along with other entertainment troupes,
the world of show business had done itself proud.
But things were going from bad to worse for Basil Dean.
I do remember a certain rumpus
when an MP made an attack on my father in the House Of Commons.
While I am mentioning expenditure,
might I refer to that very much travelled gentlemen,
the worldwide traveller at public expense, Basil Dean.
With his £3,000 a year salary, his unlimited expenses,
free car and chauffeur, two secretaries
and medical expenses provided and uniforms and ribbons as well.
All paid for by soldiers, sailors and airmen?
He has been, throughout the war,
or at least since NAAFI took over the responsibility,
more generously rewarded than Montgomery.
That deprived him of any kind of serious honour for his ENSA work,
that I do know as a fact.
He got a CBE as quite a lot of other people in ENSA did.
I think he would have got a knighthood.
You see, he put people's backs up, that was the trouble.
But even so, he ought to have been honoured much more often
for ENSA, there's no doubt about that.
ENSA had by this time too many enemies.
Perhaps it's better to say Basil Dean had too many enemies.
People wanted him out of the way.
There were stories of generals who would no longer talk to him in Germany.
So I think he realised the writing was on the wall.
But at the end of the day,
the generals may have had their view, but some of the lads
in far flung places would have said to them, "No, he did a good job.
"I had some entertainment thanks to this man's idea."
Those people who joined ENSA, those soldiers
who put down their rifles and put on a frock and had a dance
and made the boys laugh was just as important as medicine and food.
After ten years of blackout and semi-darkness,
the lights go on again.
# There's no business like show business... #
The war ended, but the invasion of show business started.
Because all of a sudden
you were getting all these talented people coming out
at the same time into the West End of London.
Anybody who thought they could do a turn, anything, coming out.
It was sort of reinvigorating or invigorating the theatres again.
People wanted to be entertained and new names coming all over the place.
Tommy Cooper and Frankie Howerd, Spike.
Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock.
Eric Sykes of course was another one. Dear old Eric.
I desperately wanted to go into show business
after I'd had such a wonderful time at the end of the war.
What was good about it all was the fact that it was all new ground.
And for this band of intrepid entertainers,
the memories of those performances would last a lifetime.
You look back and you think, "Good gracious, we did that. We saw that."
I can't believe it now when I think of it.
It must have been another person.
It can't have been me doing all that, you know?
I wouldn't have thought I had the guts to do it.
I was glad I did it. Very glad I did it.
It's funny to say in a wartime, I wouldn't have missed.
They were some of the happiest days of my life.
# And go on with the show
# There's no people like show people
# They smile when they are low
# Even with a turkey that you know will fold
# You may be stranded out in the cold
# Still you wouldn't change it for a sack of gold
# Let's go on with the show. #
During World War Two an army of performers from ballerinas to magicians, contortionists to impressionists, set out to help win the war by entertaining the troops far and wide. Risking their lives they ventured into war zones, dodging explosions and performing close to enemy lines. Featuring the memories of this intrepid band of entertainers and with contributions from Dame Vera Lynn, Eric Sykes and Tony Benn, this documentary tells the remarkable story of the World War II performers and hears the memories of some of those troops who were entertained during the dark days of war.