Radio and Theatre, and the Works of Sheila Stewart.

In my last blog I mentioned that the Roundham Lock Theatre staged a play titled A Boat’s Yer Whole World, based on Sheila Stewart’s book Ramlin Rose: …

A Boat’s Yer Whole World:
“Birth, death, tears, laughter… and tons of coal!  Adapted from ‘Ramlin Rose: The Boat Woman’s Story’ by Sheila Stewart, this one-woman show takes you to the canals, to a world you didn’t know we’d lost.” [I  pinched this small excerpt from a blog posted on 7 August 2005 by “Granny Buttons”]

Below: from the Roundham Lock Theatre blog a couple of years ago:

A BOAT’S YER WHOLE WORLD

A world premier, adapted by Kate Saffin, staged by Roundham Lock Theatre

2pm daily at Sweet on the Grassmarket (Venue 18)

4th-29th August

“It’s your wedding night, you know everything there is to know about running a boat, the canals and coal… but nobody ever learned you nothing about IT. Neither of you knows ‘ow to set about IT.”

Ramlin Rose the boatwoman’s story by Sheila Stewart has become a much loved classic on the inland waterways of Britain. A poignant account of astonishing courage and resilience, capturing a unique way of life during the first sixty years of the last century.

Based on the stories of real boat women, who raised families in cabins 10’ by 7’, sharing their homes with thirty tons of coal, working alongside their husbands in all weathers, this enchanting one woman show takes you to a lost way of life.

NB Morning Mist, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxon OX5 1HT Tel: 0208 020 0256 Fax: 0208 020 0257 Mobile: 07976 818959 Email: roundhamlock@fsmail.net

When researching Sheila Stewart’s work a few years ago, I had somehow gained the impression that Sheila Stewart had written a number of plays for radio. Nevertheless, at that time, other than for the little written in the Roundham Lock Theatre’s review about  the stage play A Boat’s Yer Whole World, I could find nothing about any other plays in relation to Sheila Stewart.

Sadly, Sheila Stewart died last year. One or two of her obituaries, but by no means all her obituaries, mentioned that she had written several plays, one of which was from her book Country Kate. I found these sites on the net:

Sheila Stewart – obituaryTired |

https://johnblakey.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/tired-7

21/09/2014 · … Sheila Stewart – obituary Writer … in later life she became a successful author of books and plays

Best-selling writer could draw on all her humble beginnings

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/community/obituaries/obits/11479207.

Best-selling writer could drawSheila Stewart was a best-selling writer whose own lack of roots … It was followed by several short stories and radio plays, …

[A paragraph in this latter article reads]: “At age 40 she began to write books, with her autobiographical debut A Home From Home published in 1967. It was followed by several short stories and radio plays, as well as her biggest success, Country Kate in 1971.”

Apart from this tantalising scrap, I could not find any further information.

Very recently, new information came to hand: Sheila Stewart had only ever written one play, and that was titled The Taxman Cometh. It seems as though I had long been labouring under a mistaken impression about plays she may have written, and my earlier impressions may have later been encouraged by my reading of some of her  obituaries.

I searched the net for a  copy of The Taxman Cometh to add to my library. I couldn’t find anything, but this is what I found on Amazon Book’s websites for Sheila Stewart:

Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land – Based on the Life …

http://www.amazon.com › Books › Politics & Social Sciences › Sociology

  • Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land … Sheila Stewart is the author of the bestselling Ramlin Rose, and several short stories and radio plays.

Ramlin Rose: The Boatwoman’s Story: Amazon.co.uk: Sheila

http://www.amazon.co.uk/372/dp/0192853023

… Based on the Life of Mont Abbott of Enstone, OxfordshireSheila Stewart is the author of … She has written several short stories and radio plays  …

Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land: Sheila Stewart

http://www.amazon.com › … › Medicine › Internal Medicine › Family Practice

  •  Lifting the Latch is a record of the joys of a country … Sheila Stewart is the author of the bestselling Ramlin Rose, and several short stories and radio plays.

Later, I found this piece below which had appeared in the review pages of “The Oxford Times” on Friday 19 September, 2014:

At age 40 [Sheila Stewart] began to write books, with her autobiographical debut A Home From Home published in 1967. It was followed by several short stories and radio plays, as well as her biggest success, Country Kate in 1971.

A radio play of the book was … created by the BBC and the script also scooped the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Drama Award in 1974.

Further works were Country Courtship in 1975, Lifting The Latch in 1987 and Ramlin Rose: The Boatwoman’s Story in 1993. Her radio plays, both for the BBC, included Country Kate in 1974 and The Taxman Cometh in 1975.

I also discovered the entry below listed under “Lost plays”:

Taxman Cometh, The” Sheila Stewart R4 27.12.1975/1505 Denis McCarthy/Alan Dudley/Kathleen Helme.

Searching further, I discovered that the play Country Kate was an adapation written by the BBC for their radio plays from Sheila Stewart’s book of the same name. Country Kate (1971), Sheila Stewart’s second book, is largely written in Warwickshire dialect.  The work is based on the recollections of Old Kate, an elderly countrywoman who had grown up as the daughter of the local vet in a Cotswold village before the Great War. The adaptation of Country Kate for radio, is also largely written in Warwickshire dialect. The sole actress in the play delivers her lines in dialect as she plays her role of Old Kate recollecting the old agrarian  societies of the Oxfordshire-Warwickshire areas, which Old Kate knew intimately, and of life as it was lived by the ordinary folk back then.  It was largely these factors that gained Sheila Stewart her richly-deserved Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Drama Award in 1974. The adaptation of the book for radio won the Writers’ Guild Award of 1974 for Best Radio Feature Script.

Likewise, Sheila Stewart did not actually write the play A Boat’s Yer Whole World, and which was first performed at Roundham Lock Theatre. Rather the play was an adaptation of Sheila Stewart’s book Ramlin Rose: … written by Kate Saffron.  In this monologue, the sole actress plays the role of an old traditional boatwoman who worked the waterways of Oxfordshire. Just as does the sole subject Rose Ramlin in Sheila Stewart’s book Ramlin Rose: … , the sole actress in the play A Boat’s Yer Whole World delivers her lines in dialect as she speaks to the audience as Rose Ramlin, about her life and past times.

I feel I have to wonder why Lifting the Latch, which is arguably the best of Sheila Stewart’s books, hasn’t yet been picked up for adaptation for radio, or better still, made into a film for small screen. What an absolute delight that would be–I can’t help but think it would be up there with the extremely popular series based on the life and times of the English vet James Herriot who worked the dales area in England.

Sheila Stewart’s technique of writing in the vernacular would be shown to best effect in Lifting the Latch; A Life on the Land (1987), on which she began work after a local butcher suggested she write the life story of Mont Abbott, an elderly former farm labourer living in the Oxfordshire village of Enstone. “Thee can come if thee wants,” Abbott wrote in reply to her letter of introduction. “I have no transport, only a wheelbarrow.” (“The Oxford Times” on Friday 19 September, 2014)

For me, this has proved to be a very fruitful exercise–it has certainly clarified the issue about plays written by Sheila Stewart.

Sadly, though, I cannot find anything on Sheila Stewart’s play  The Taxman Cometh–I would dearly love to read the script.

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