There seems to be something of ‘a variation on a theme’ in relation to what exactly happened in the ”Alfred The Great’ scene of ‘1066 and All That’; although the continuing speculation about the cause and responsibility for the ‘explosion’ is, at least, balanced out with some facts about why an explosion was required, the composition of the device and the subsequent results!
Unfortunately the script, and therefore the stage direction, is not currently available, but the gist of the required action was that whilst sitting by his royal trivet, Alfred had to bake a cake – which was to explode in the process!
Fact 1 – this did happen, but, Fact 2 – the velocity of the explosion was considerably greater than anticipated by Alfred (Alan), the rest of the cast, Mr M and, one would like to assume, whoever was responsible! Fact 3 – a Le Matrie Flash Box – normally used in theatre productions, was not used on this occasion – but was substituted by a ‘home made’ device!
It is the ‘arrangements’ betwixt the script requirements and the actual explosion that are still subject to speculation – beginning with who made the actual device? There is a view amongst a number of ‘witnesses’ that this was either made, under supervision in the School Science Lab – or not under supervision in the Bicycle Shed – but it was genuinely intended just to obtain the required and safe level of impact.
Also, that this consisted of a either (1) a test tube or (2) the strong (blue) cardboard tube from a ball of string (Circa 1966!), flash powder, fuse wire connected to the mains and a cork – the latter being to seal in the powder and create the required pressure. It is thought that ‘somehow’ either, on the night in question, too much flash powder had been added, or the cork was pushed too far in – thereby creating more than the desired pressure.
There has been some ‘level of admission’ as to who was in the stage crew responsible for locating and activating the charge but, as this was by two of what may have been three or more members (and the programme is not available to provide any damming evidence) it would seem somewhat unfair to name names – at the moment – especially as a prime suspect only smiled when the matter was last raised in a futile attempt to get at the truth of this ‘cold case’
So – back to verifiable ‘facts’ – the result of the explosion was (i) to knock Alfred off his stool and leave him and his costume ‘smoking’, (2) to embed the remains of the cake tin in the wooden rafter above the stage (forensically showing that it had gone upwards and fortunately not side-wards) and that the Drama Club had to pay 4 dry cleaning bills for those sitting in the front row of the audience – e.g. those whose clothes had turned a dusty grey!
Despite one ‘witness’ being of the opinion that the effects of the explosion were felt some several rows back, the Treasurer of that time is absolutely certain that it was four bills and only from the front row – as evidenced by his recall of the personal pain he felt having to shell out the club funds – made worse by not being able to pass the cost on to those whose knowledge of physics had proven to be somewhat lacking – then again, one might suppose that this subject probably wasn’t on the school curriculum at the time!
Fortunately – Alfred managed to recover and, indeed, re-appear in subsequent productions, including ‘Long John Silver’ in Captain Blood – Mr Jones in ‘The Man with no Eyebrows’ and the musical version of ‘Jake The Peg’
KING ALFRED’s OWN VERSION!!!
” It was with great interest that I read the article ‘Alfred and his exploding cake” – I remember it well – as anyone in my position would do …..
I was unaware that the device was made by a pyrotechnic lunatic but I do remember at the time watching as three unnamed cast members decided to hammer in the cork ‘for a better effect’
I blame the whole incident for the Tinnitus that I now suffer from , but am only grateful that the tin went skywards and not in my direction!!! I can still remember the look of horror on the faces of the audience as the equivalent of a modern day Etna eruption gradually settled on the unlucky ones – great times!!!
Thank you your highness – a nice touch – writing on velum!!!!!