Monday, April 11, 2005

Lest we forget...

I give below a reprint of a number of postings made to Tabslist about the death of Fred Bentham, a name uttered with (mostly) reverence in stage lighting circles.

It is coming up to four years since he died. I was going to repost it on the anniversary but sod it, this is my blog. If you don't like it you can go and read something less arcane.

Date: Fri May 18, 2001 11:24 pm
Subject: Re: Ninety Years of Light Work
Send Email Send Email
Ban Author
--- In tabslist@y..., grangehouse wrote:
> There will be a celebration of the life and work of Fred Bentham at
> London Palladium (Courtesy of Really Useful Theatres) at 12.30 on
> Thursday 28 June 2001 (Doors Noon) and afterwards in the bar! All
> welcome.

A good choice of venue, maybe they'll let us stand in the SL Circle
slips with the Tabs in for a few minutes reflection. I'm on holiday
then (in Filey, of all places!) but have been given a pass out & will
try to get down. I might even make the Cremation but it has been on &
off for me more times than an Avolites Rolacue! (Joke, don't sue me

> The Bentham Family have been touched by the tributes posted on the
> list. Please keep them coming. Some of them will be used on June

When I joined CCT in 1988, I was delighted to find that there were
still a number of people working there who were approaching
retirement or getting on a bit but had been at Rank Strand or even
the old Strand Electric pre Rank days. I used to ambush them and get
them to tell me stories about what it was like then, why things ended
up the way they did & especially about Fred & his way.

It did a Deja search on fred Bentham (now owned by Google) & didn't
found too much, what did amuse me was a posting I had made myself in
>I am a British Ba (Hons) Theatre Design student and as part of my
>examinations I have an oral exam. The titles are as follows:
>Fred Bentham`s Light Console

I don't know a great deal about Svoboda but FPB is another matter.

He has written several books as well as editing and contributing to a
number of technical journals. A good starting point is his 1992
autobiography, "Sixty Years of Light Work", published by Strand
Lighting, ISBN 0 902277 02 2. If you go along to the ABTT show in
on April 10th/11th members of the archaeology committee (and possibly
even Fred himself) will be delighted to talk to you.

I have actually touched a real working light console in a real
the 216 channel Drury Lane one with 10 piston memory combinations
and a
rather poor view of the stage from a room down stage left in the splay
wall. Unfortunately, I was only 14 at the time, it was 10.30 in the
morning and the racks were switched off. There are a selection of
wonderful machines preserved by Jim Laws Lighting of Suffolk (who has
two huge barns full of lighting and control equipment). The above
mentioned Console took another bow at the ABTT show last year.

Hope this helps...

_____________Telecommunications and Theatre Technology_______________
|Ian Grey Voice (0113) 252 0662 Fax (0113) 252 4205 Mobile 0973
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~"We may be TaTT but we're not cheap!"~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I must confess to having plagiarised The signature line, someone I
knew as a Stage Manager from my Rock & Roll days went on to set up a
small TV production company called Colin Rowell Productions, his
strapline was "We may be Crap bet we're not cheap!"

Just to prove I'm not making this up, if you can be arsed have a look
at's.htm but I've noidea how old the site is,
they don't seem to respond to their emails. (Or maybe Colin remembers
that he once promised me a pair of Tannoy Reds & is terrified that
I'd actually turn up one day with the back seat of the car folded

Anyway, back to Fred. Was he 89 or 90? anyone got his Biog handy?
A substantial crowd made it to Mortlake to pay their last respects to
Frederic P Bentham. Here are my impressions of the afternoon.

The Service commenced with Fred's son outlining Fred's wishes for the
proceedings which he had articulated and documented many years ago.
It was to be simple with no money wasted on extravagence (underlined
in red!), it should have no religious content as that would have been
hypocritical in the extreme, the music for the start & finish had
been selected (Bach, although I can't remember the exact pieces, Fred
had suggested a Crematorium sound system probably wouldn't be up to
much but Mortlake has a pipe Organ), he wanted two particular
writings, of which more anon. Fred also wanted a good sendoff- there
was a technical cue for the committal. He talked a little about Fred
the man, Fred the father and how his childhood was steeped in Strand
Electric & Theatre. He then called upon Roderick Ham to say a few

Rod recounted memories of Fred at the Palladium demonstrating his
Light Console, Fred at 29 King Street and Fred on the ABTT planning
Committee. He particulary mentioned his acerbic wit and ability to
cut through pomposity and hypocrisy at all levels, something that
Architects can be prone to!

Francis Reid then read out Fred's last Editorial in Tabs (from memory
issue 101 in december 1973), an apt choice as Francis then took over
the editorial reins of Tabs in its new A4 format for a couple of
years and his first contribution as Tabsman was called "Thank you,

I don't have the editorial readily to hand but hopefully someone else
can scan & OCR it in (Mervyn, perhaps?)

There was an opportunity for a short moment of reflection for those
of use who wanted any private thoughts, secular or otherwise.

Fred's son then read a passage from "The Tempest" by William
Shakespeare, which on reflection had inspired Fred in his editorial,
as the phrase "Leave not a rack behind" had been referred to in the
closing down of 29 King Street, a delightfully corny pun.

The organist then played the closing piece (extracts from what I
think was probably Bach's Fantasia in G Minor (BVW542), a Midi file
of which can be found at,
although it seems Bach wrote several Fantasias in different keys. I
can't be certain this is the right piece as the organist only played
the melody line of the first part a little hesitantly & single
handedly (& the action wasn't brilliant), not probably being called
upon to vary from the house selection too often.) There was a
distinct change in the piece from scalar to chordal harmony at which
point the big button was pressed under the lectern, the tabs slowly
and inevitably came in down the sides of the Catafalque and finally
closed off our view of Fred's Coffin as the music solemnly ended.

I think this was the passage...

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

These are tremendously powerful words and I can see why they appealed
to Fred so much.

(I like the Pageant reference too!)

Advert.....(as handed out by Roger Fox)

90 years of light work- A celebration of the life and work of Fred
Bentham will be held at the London Palladium on Thursday 28th June at
12:30 and afterwards in the theatre bar. Doors open at noon.

All welcome. Please distribute this invitation to all who knew Fred,
or knew of his work. Further details will be advertised nearer the
date. (Or call 020 8878 6626)
A sad day for me, but also a very happy one.

Ian Grey
I notice that IE5 makes the link clickable but the comma on the end
blows it out.

> The organist then played the closing piece (extracts from what I
> think was probably Bach's Fantasia in G Minor (BVW542), a Midi file
> of which can be found at

should work. Of course I'm going to look a little stupid if that
wasn't the music!

> Francis Reid then read out Fred's last Editorial in Tabs (from memory
> issue 101 in december 1973), an apt choice as Francis then took over
> the editorial reins of Tabs in its new A4 format for a couple of
> years and his first contribution as Tabsman was called "Thank you,
> Fred!".
> I don't have the editorial readily to hand but hopefully someone else
> can scan & OCR it in (Mervyn, perhaps?)
In obedience to Ian's command:
from TABS December 1973 Vol. 31 No. 4 p.136

The Third Act

One of the things that struck audiences in the London Coliseum during
the visit this summer of the Chinese Acrobats and Jugglers was the
endearing modesty with which the wonders were unfolded. Marvel succeeded
marvel of dexterity right up to each climax without the usual
tarradiddle on the snare drum or a roll or crash on the cymbal. It is
true that the orchestra and the music are Chinese but, even allowing for
the custom we attribute to them of doing things the wrong way round or
upside there were no ultra pianissimo passages as a signal. No, the
music continued its steady rhythmic burble or rather twangle. The
communication between stage and audience was that they seemed as
surprised and as pleased as we were that each item had been carried step
by step fully to its unnatural conclusion. A lesson to us also was the
attachment of a safety line w hen necessary so that no blood-thirsty
element should pep up what was an exhibition of pure skill and balance.
How far removed from Chu Chin Chow or Doctor Fu Manchu of our younger
The acknowledgement by the Shanghai company of the applause at the end
of the performance was equally charming. We have always approved the
Russian custom where those on the platform or stage applauds the
audience which applauds them. The mutual hand-clapping is a visual
expression of that fact which the French recognise so well in their
expression assister à une pièce. The show and the audience are one in
live performance.
Where's this leader leading you will ask! Your Editor is seeking a
formula to make his last bow - a farewell that has to be under-played on
the one hand and dramatic, of the theatre, on the other.
Stemming, we hope, the cries from all sides of "Good God, I had no idea
that old Fred was so near retirement age", it has to be said that it is
not a case of age but of a change of Rank policy.
It is not the intention of our new managers to close down TABS but to
change it. It may well increase its format to A4 and have more colour
photographs, but it will be different in content and the way it is
presented. It must be, otherwise the present editorial team would have
continued. It may well be that those who want to know about stage and
theatrical lighting, and that is what Rank Strand make, will be better
served by the new TABS.
A larger page would help the publication of actual lighting layouts for
productions, for example-something we have had to fight shy of in our
small pages.
As we go to press my successor has been announced-Francis Reid. TABS
readers who know the articles he has done for me, and who doesn't, may
feel that this appointment does not presage a great change of style!
Maybe he has decided to turn over a new leaf and forsake sallies for
sales, the soft sell for the hard stuff-we shall see.
By now our Covent Garden Demonstration Theatre, the home of TABS and of
Strand Electric, and a habit for so many, will be but a memory. The last
of many parties will have been held and the content of our excellent
cellar sunk without trace. The last hangover will have hung up and
except for the odd "cirrhosised" liver here and there not a rack be left
But is this so? Of course not, for there were unbridled as well as
unbottled spirits abroad through the years. Without wishing to be
sadistic, it has been gratifying to hear of the genuine anguish with
which our news has been received.
The various well lit up mourning crowds have all tried to express what
we have done, and indeed under Rank were still doing. TABS, it is
generally admitted, has never been better than in the five years since
the takeover. It was left to John English to put his tongue on the exact
word, to sum all up and send a warm glow rushing our veins. Another rush
took us to the bookcase* and under "Gropius" there it was-the word
BAUHAUS. As long ago as 1936, Nikolaus Pevsner wrote of that unique
" was to become, for more than a decade, a paramount centre of
creative energy in Europe. It was at the same time a laboratory for
handicraft and for standardisation; a school, and a workshop. It
comprised, in an admirable community spirit, architects, master
craftsmen, abstract painters, all working for a new spirit of building."
And if you read it again carefully, substituting the word "lighting" for
"building", I think you may agree that English had a word for it too.
FPB celebration last Thursday

I got up at some unearthly hour on Thursday morning to do the
Filey/London run. Here are my slightly weary recollections of the

The Stage at the Palladium was set very simply, a lectern DSL with a
small table nearby for water jugs. A starcloth formed a suitable
background and the elephantine archways, statuary & house dressing
for "The King & I" gave the auditorium a Hippodrome feel, something
familiar to Matcham.

On arrival, we had been handed a simple programme and I noted with
satisfaction that the cover was a clever composite illustration of
the stage viewed from behind the Light Console in the Circle slips
(PS), the actual tableau being the Tabs players taking a bow as per
the 50th issue and the initials "FPB" on the Tympanum.

There must have been 250-300 people in the stalls by the time the
house lights dimmed & Roger Fox opened proceedings.

The following people spoke about Fred, the man and his life:

Roger Fox (Jack of all trades & master of quite a few!)
Francis Reid (Lighting Designer, ex Tabs Editor)
Brian Legge (Ex Strand, reputedly retired)
Alan Luxford (Ex Strand, still works for Strand Lighting)
Bob Anderson (Ex BBC/Freelance, reputedly retired)
John Watt (TV LD, still writes for L&SI)
Richard Pilbrow (Ex-Angry young man, Theatre Projects/TPC)
Ilse Bentham (Fred's 2nd love after Strand Electric!)

I won't attempt to distill what people said, although hopefully it
went onto a tape or mini-disk. I enjoyed all the speakers, especially
Ilse, a lady I had met twice & heard speak once! There is a brief
review on the Plasa site at the following URL:

As a grand Finale', the stars faded out and Roger welcomed the
special appearance of the 216 way Drury Lane Light Console that
trucked downstage to the accomplement of the (presumably reel-to-
reel) recording of Fred's last Colour Music performance at the Strand
Electric Demonstration Theatre, 29 King Street, Covent Garden.

Whilst the console was brightly lit and tracked via some moving
light heads on No. 2 bar as proceeded gracefully towards us, it
couldn't compare to my own memories of the occasion back in 1973 when
the Maestro performed his magic on the house DDM with his
surprisingly small rig lighting the famous shadow set.

As the music finished and the King Street audience applauded (along
with the Palladium one) Fred said a few words. He talked about a
teacher telling him at one performance he was "fixated", an entirely
visual joke that would lose a lot in the telling but there might be a
photo around that makes the point (or rather two points) succinctly.

It was very spooky sitting there hearing that distinctive booming
voice & remembering the original event as though it was last week,
rather than 28 years ago. His final words were a suggestion to
adjourn for a drink in the bar, something Roger came back on to
sheepishly tell us that was the cue to do the same courtesy of the

I didn't have a chance to talk to too many people afterwards as I had
to get back, the London/Filey run. Good job really, I was driving &
the drink seemed to be flowing rather freely.

No comments: