From stage to page for Newbury dramatist
David Slade’s Blitz play of 2003, The Third Tunnel, has now been published as a novel – he tells arts editor TRISH LEE how it came about.
David Slade, Newbury born and bred, has had his first book published at the age of 60.
The Third Tunnel was previously performed as a play at Arlington Arts by A Class Act – a theatre group with a difference; the company’s musical dramas bringing together adult and junior performers with great effect in a community-style show.
Directed by David, it was set in the Blitz and told the tale of various families and friends living through the darkest days of the Second World War.
David has long been involved in local amateur dramatics; he was in three of the big productions by Newbury Community Theatre: Speargrass, The Flower and the Nettle and Ghostwalks. He’s also been a member of The Box, Newbury Dramatic Society and Newbury Nomads and was in a show with New Era. He compered The Newbury Millenium show and its subsequent The Holiday show in 2002.
“In 2003 A Class Act theatre company was formed and we performed our first show, A Backstage Pass, which I wrote, at the now demolished New Greenham Arts,” he says.
“I first wrote The Third Tunnel back in 2003 when I worked in a shop in Newbury that I owned. Unfortunately, customers were few and far between, so to relieve the boredom I started to write another play for A Class Act to perform.”
And so the first version of The Third Tunnel was born.
The inspiration behind it is now “very sketchy” says David. “It was at least 20 years ago, but I remember being influenced by the TV programme Good Night Sweetheart.” This was a time travel sitcom starring Nicholas Lyndhurst, who went back to 1940s war-torn London where he masqueraded as an MI5 agent.
“Other than that I haven’t got the foggiest idea where it all came from, as it just seemed to pour out of my imagination as I went along.”
The production received a favourable write up from N2 reviewer Mark Lilycrop. (The crit is in Newbury Theatre archive (2004) https://www.newburytheatre.co.uk/archive/200406c.htm)
“In 2012 I decided to re-stage it, but by now our theatre of choice was Arlington Arts, which gave us more in terms of space to recreate the underground station. I also introduced two new characters. At the time I had two members who needed a part in the show so I basically wrote them in – it certainly worked though.”
This time it was reviewed for N2 by Daniel Morton: “Everyone performed with a marvellous vigour and enthusiasm.” (See Newbury Theatre 2012 archive.)
“It was well received on both occasions, with fabulous reviews each time, which made me extremely proud,” says David.
The decision to turn it into a book came much later.
“The Third Tunnel was always my favourite of all the shows I wrote and so it was the obvious choice when I had time to sit down and start, this was sometime in about 2016 after I’d broken my ankle skateboarding. I’ve always been quite good at painting a picture – or as my wife would say good at telling a story! But making it come to life without the actors visually telling the story was something I never knew I had the ability for.
“At the time I never thought it would ever see the light of day.”
He has inevitably made changes to the stage version for the page.
“I’ve added more colour to the text, for instance, with the back stories to the characters. I’ve also included a new scene which tells more of Connie and Charlie’s story. Incidentally, the couple who played these two characters first met doing this show and subsequently got married.”
And so he sent his manuscript off to various publishers.
“TBH I sent it off to a number of publishers very speculatively in 2020. I’d lost my mother to Covid during the first wave and feeling extremely low, I decided to try and make her proud, so off it went, never for one minute thinking very positively about the outcome. I had a number of replies from publishers, most of which were negative or from those wanting vast amounts of money up front. Austin Macauley, though, replied very positively and accepted the manuscript straight away with no changes to the story or text, apart from the obvious grammar issues.
“At this point I had a wobble and decided not to go ahead with it, but a few months later I was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which kind of focuses the mind and so I signed the contract. It would probably have come out a lot earlier, but in February 2022 I started five months of chemotherapy and so it all stood still and so many decisions that should have been taken got delayed.
“However in that time I managed to find a brilliant artist, Saffron Hewitt, who is local and she came up with the book’s cover. I’m very proud of the book and I’m pretty sure mum would have been too – although she wouldn’t have said as much...”
The Third Tunnel was published by Austin Macaulay on January 6 and is available from all good bookshops, cover price £9.99.
ISBN No: 9781398453616
Wartime tales of the Underground
London, 1940/41 and while most of its dwellers are having to cope with incredible uncertainty, many, including Alby and Gertie, two likeable reprobates from the East End’s stark and grubby streets prefer to take their chances along with countless others in tin shelters hurriedly built in their own backyards, however many more survive only by making the nightly move into the warren of tubes that is the London Underground, where some have their own agenda.Ralph, a tall statuesque figure, the epitome of good looks and suave sophistication needed to eke out a living as a spiv who was out to make money and con his way through life. Josey, on the other hand is having the time of his young life as the leader of a bunch of street kids with a careless attitude and a nose for trouble, befriending Ralph they embark on a tour of the underground disused tunnels which nearly end catastrophically.
Ralph decides to show the children a tunnel which has become a store room for many of the country’s artefacts, but also holds a deadly horde of armament. While on one of their many trips into the undergrounds old tunnels they get caught by the local policeman, Ralph, not wishing to do anything other than turn the episode to his advantage sweet talks the copper into letting him off with the promise of chocolate and fruit for Reenie the copper’s impoverished wife, to “improve” his marital relations at home, however Ralph has one stipulation, he insists that the policeman meets him to collect his booty and bring his wife along too! Will Reenie fall for Ralph right under her husband’s nose?
Alby and Gertie just happen to live under the Luftwaffe’s flight path, night after night Hitler’s bombers fly straight up their garden paths, the inevitable happens and one night Alby’s house gets bombed before he is even able to get dressed for the evening, leaving him not only homeless but without a stitch to wear, but his torn and tattered underpants. Gertie along with her best friend Reenie, not wishing to shelter down the tube take refuge beside Alby during an attack in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of Gerties garden. Alby who by now is dressed in Reenie’s dead uncle George’s best suit has drunk so much tea to calm his nerves he needs to desperately go to the loo, but does he take the chance and run up the garden to the loo and avoid getting bombed or run up the garden and get mistaken for a looter and get savaged by the next door neighbour’s dog or just pee in the suit, Reenie, suggests the latter is definitely not what uncle George would want and so when Alby thinks the bombing is over he takes his chance. But during one final bomb burst the unthinkable happens and Alby ends up in hospital in a great deal of pain.
Meanwhile taking shelter down in the underground Connie and Alice a couple of young socialites have to mix in, with the locals due to their country residence being requisitioned for the war effort. Connie is an Actress who has starred at the prestigious Drury lane theatre in her time, so in an attempt to while away the hours and make things more comfortable socially Alice suggests that Connie entertain those taking shelter, but not wishing to embarrass herself though she is very reluctant.
Charlie and Winnie, a couple of cockneys also on the platform sheltering, can see different things from this. Winnie, a brutish woman, hates the idea of a couple of posh sorts down the tube interfering but Charlie on the other hand, a real lovable rogue, immediately falls for Connie.
Charlie is a conscientious objector who has not yet been called up, however he is reluctant to fight either way, but Connie, however, convinces him to do his bit for the war effort much to Winnie’s disgust.
Finally all the parties are brought together when the third tunnel collapses following a large explosion in the tunnel, Ralph who is disliked by all but Reenie, becomes the hero of the hour as he saves the trapped children through his knowledge of the underground system.