Colin M. Johnson - a potted history.
Born a rather frail child in April 1935, I was neither designed nor destined for an athletic life-style. In primary school I was noted for an apparent inability to tie my own shoe-laces, and for proclaiming my views accordingly: "If I sit here long enough, someone is sure to come and help me," - a juvenile utterance the logic of which still appeals to me. I also demonstrated an incurable habit of humming to myself wherever I went, and my first school report bore a stern reprimand: "Colin must refrain from singing to himself in class."
At the age of ten I was thrust suddenly into a harsh all-male public school in Brentwood, Essex. Reluctant to take part in compulsory physical sports, I preferred detention to the ordeal of having to stand for an hour on a chilly football field, or risking serious injury from a dangerously hard and fast-moving cricket ball. Above all, I detested the extreme discomfort of being required to dip my sensitive body into an unheated swimming pool, and thus I never mastered the art of staying afloat unaided.
Beyond the school gates, my hobbies included cycling, model railways, writing short stories, playing the piano, and taking various juvenile roles in the local operatic society of which my father was a leading member. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he had joined the Romford Civil Defence, and it was at the suggestion of a colleague, Norman Meadmore, that they utilise their waiting time by rehearsing a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Thus at an early age I was taken to see "Trial by Jury", then "The Mikado", and in time I grew to know and love almost the entire series. My father's very moving portrayal of Jack Point in "The Yeomen of the Guard" invariably reduced me to tears, and as a consolation prize I was allowed afterwards to explore back-stage, an experience which undoubtedly sowed the seeds for my life-long fascination with the theatre and the Savoy Operas.
On leaving school I was deemed to be suitable material for the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England and Wales), and so I spent five tedious years studying for admission to this highly respected professional body, working on miserable audit assignments throughout the London suburbs, all on minimal pay. Still unqualified when my term of articles expired in 1957, I spent two years in the accounts office of a construction company in the Middle East, and on returning home I turned my attention to the more interesting syllabus of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants, now renamed the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. After working for various other commercial companies in West London, it was as a newly qualified Cost Accountant that in November 1964 I joined an international company based in Ashford, Kent.
My innate fondness for logic, combined with a natural streak of laziness, led me to take a growing interest in commercial computing, and in 1966 I boldly switched my allegiance from accountancy to the world of data processing. In the fullness of time I learned to write programs, and used my ingenuity to devise ever more automated ways of extending the management information service, which was much appreciated by my employers. A reputation for rapid results led to my being offered brief trips to a newly opened branch of the company in the United States where I wrote and installed simple stock control systems, the progress of which I could then monitor remotely from our headquarters in England.
Meanwhile I devoted much of my spare time to the Folkestone-Hythe Operatic and Dramatic Society whose headquarters were in "The Little Theatre" in Sandgate. Coincidentally, this same building was once the Congregational Church where my grandparents used to attend regular Sunday services since it opened in 1905, and where my father was the first child to be christened.
After appearing in many plays, I was given the chance to direct a succession of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, all presented in accordance with the best traditions of the D'Oyly Carte, but with only piano accompaniment. The Little Theatre's auditorium of barely 100 seats could not sustain the cost nor spare the necessary space for a suitable orchestra. I have also played in many such operas myself, having first appeared as Ko-Ko's "attendant" and the Midshipmite in "H.M.S. Pinafore" in 1949, and then at the age of 19 as the Duke of Plaza-Toro, though nowadays I am usually given the heavier bass-baritone roles, my undoubted favourite being Wilfred Shadbolt.
My frequent business trips to America eventually led to a long-term assignment and I was accompanied by my wife Barbara and daughter Fiona. We joined a group of players in New Jersey, and it was during a run of the musical "Once Upon a Mattress" that Fiona in her capacity as Stage Manager met and fell in love with a member of the orchestra, a professional clarinet player named Russ whom she married in 1988. Shortly before the birth of our first grandson, Fiona was involved with rehearsals for "The Yeomen of the Guard" and, as they were still searching for a suitable Shadbolt, at her suggestion I crossed the Atlantic again and enjoyed the privilege of playing Master Wilfred on American soil.
In my retirement I've enjoyed many activities such as painting, watching railway videos, domestic cooking, and volunteer driving. Nowdays I spend most of my time at my computer, conversing with the world via email, and transcribing obscure Victorian or Edwardian light operas into MIDI files for my own website or the G & S Archive.
Until recently, Barbara and I often "crossed the pond" to visit our Anglo-American family, but all five of them have now relocated themselves to northern Scotland. No doubt they find the move a refreshing contrast from life in suburban New Jersey, but they're still a full day's journey away from us old folks down in the south-east corner of England.
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