The Old West Downs Society

The Masters’ Plays, by Bassett Kendall

Bassett Kendall was the pseudonym of Kenneth Bassett Tindall who, better known as K.B.Tindall, was Headmaster of West Downs School, Winchester, from 1921 to 1954.

KBT wrote these plays to be acted by the Staff, both teaching and otherwise, and by his family and friends. Rehearsals took place after the boys were in bed, and in complete secrecy from them. Even when the play was put on, half the school would have no idea that they already knew the actors, so good was the make-up. I remember being quite amazed at the Grand Finale of “The Yellow Peril”, in October 1943, to find that all those wonderful people who had apparently come all the way to Blair Atholl specially to entertain us were only the Staff after all. I mean, can you imagine KBT, who was quite a big burly man, passing himself off as a Japanese? Well, he did, and very well too.

Sadly, that performance in 1943 was the last of the Masters’ Plays to be put on. With the loss of his sons in the war, the move back to Winchester and his increasing age, his energy had to go on other things. Fortunately he was still able to put on the summer Shakespeare Play, and so give vent to his acting and directing talents.

There were nine plays, of which the first, rather short and probably written for the Tindall’s Christmas House Parties rather than the larger cast available with a School's Staff, predates the others by about ten years.

The original foolscap typescripts, mostly only the flimsy copies though, were made available to the Society after the 1994 Dinner, by Ann Bass, Kenneth Tindall’s daughter. They were scanned into the computer during November and December, and then the texts cleaned up over the next few months, in the Editor’s spare time. This was not very easy, due to the poor quality of the originals, but it was completed on St. Patrick’s Day 1995.

A new computer program was written which enabled the setting up of the pages as actors’ scripts to be done efficiently. Basically this recognises the names of each part at the beginning of each speech, and converts it to bold. It recognises stage directions, which are enclosed within parentheses, and converts them to italic. It then lays out the pages in a common format, and collates each page to enable them to be printed in booklet form.

Click on one of the following list to return to the Home Page or see a review of a Play.

Volume 1: My Phoebe

An Edwardian Comedy in one Act, written about 1912

Miss Emma Child is a middle aged lady with a passion for charitable work on behalf of orphans. She has two young people whom she has invited to live in her home, as they are orphans, the only kind of person she has time for. One of these is Phoebe Willow. The domestic peace is shattered when two visitors arrive in quick succession. A series of misunderstandings arise, and Phoebe is at the centre of things. There is a good deal of slapstick business, and eventually everything is sorted out, but in a quite unexpected way.

My Phoebe (one-act play)
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Volume 2: The Great Unknown

An “Historical” Play in three Acts, written about 1928

The date of the play is supposed to be 1975, at that time nearly fifty years into the future. The League of Nations has had a fair success, and in Europe only the small country of Klovenia is not in the League. English had displaced Esperanto as the common language of the world, weaponry had been everywhere abolished. A Klovenian scientist has decided to make a bid for power, which would need the destruction of all the power centres and major cities of the world. This is to be achieved by the simultaneous detonation of a particularly nasty bomb, in each major city and centre. How can it be possible to ensure that all the bombs go off together?. This book will reveal the answer.

Play: The Great Unknown
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Volume 3: The Yellow Peril

A Spy Play in Three Acts, written about 1933

In the 1930s the Japanese threat was beginning to be recognised. Some important Naval design papers go missing at the same time as the house is visited by a Japanese businessman. Two young men set about proving that the Japanese man has removed the papers, and they push a bit ahead of the law. Eventually the culprit is found and the papers recovered, but not everything is what it seems.

Play: The Yellow Peril
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Volume 4: The Vulture

A story of modern commerce, written about 1935

Arms smuggling during the Spanish Civil War. This is probably one of KBT’s very best plays. The Arms deal is struck between an English Arms manufacturer and a Spaniard. The second and third acts tell how the goods arrive in Spain, and what happens then. There is plenty of suspense as various of the “goodies” get into difficulties and various of the “baddies” get into control. Does it all come right in the end?

Play: The Vulture
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Volume 5: The Wild Geese

A Comedy in three acts, written about 1930

Play: The Wild Geese
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Volume 6: The Destroying Angel

A story of the Ultimate Military Weapon, written about 1930

A French priest invents a weapon of colossal power – one bomb would wipe out a whole city. He offers it to the French and British Governments, with the proviso that it must be used against Communism, and to make a rift in the alliance between Russia and China. Events move swiftly after that, in this thrilling tale.

Play: The Destroying Angel
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Volume 7: The Morris League

A Detective Play in three Acts, written about 1928

The action takes place in a small hotel near Peterborough. The Police have had information that a wanted man is on the run and will very likely make for the Blue Boar, as he has connections with it, and it is near a golf course, which would also be attractive to him; it’s also near the A1. The man is expected to arrive with a Morris tourer. The village policeman, traditionally acted by Mr D.L.Rose, appears from time to time and asks each of the hotel guests as they book in what kind of car they drive. Of course, they’ve all got a Morris, so in turn they all get arrested by the cop, much to their mystification! The audience of course love the bumbling old policeman, and the way he has to get out of having arrested the previous arrivals before he can arrest the next.

It all gets sorted out in the end

Play: The Morris League
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Volume 8: The Grey Shadow

An Adventure in three Acts, written about 1920

Who exactly is the Grey Shadow? A group of people from the West have been helping various Russian noble families to escape from the Revolution and get to England. Each of these exploits has been master-minded by “the Grey Shadow”, but who is he – or she?

The action starts in Russia, and it is known that in a few hours the peasants will storm Prince Boris’ country house, where the family is. The rescue takes place, and the action moves to Copenhagen. Finally, back in Britain, we find out who the Grey Shadow is, but only because, after rescuing 376 aristocrats in the fashion of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the team has done as much as it can.

There are various misunderstandings, arising from the disguises we see our heroes in, and even perhaps a murder or two, but things get sorted out as the Prince gradually gets to realise who is on his side and who is not.

This Play would owe much to its being well directed, as KBT would have done. The action is so snappy, that every moment has to be presented well, in its own right, as a little play on its own.

Play: The Grey Shadow
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Volume 9: The President Elect

A Political Play in three Acts, written about 1934

The small Central European State of Keinland is German speaking, and the Nazis in Germany are very keen to annex it, but to be seen to do so democratically. The problem is that Keinland has a popular but ailing old King, and Crown Prince Otto is equally popular. There is to be a Revolution, signalled by the death of the King; 15,000 Nazi adherents are ready to seize power; a Dictator has been elected, but his name is being kept secret till the big day. Then there is an unexpected turn of events...

Play: The President Elect
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Membership Secretary and Keeper of the Archives