A biography of one of Ireland’s best loved performers…
I just finished reading The Fun Palace by the late Agnes Bernelle. One of Ireland’s best known cabaret singers and actors, (she moved here with her husband), her legacy lives on, with the likes of Camille O’Sullivan keeping the Bernelle name alive…
Bernell’s autobiography is a tumultuous, semi-linear tale of a woman who, while burdened by her parents wants, a foreign culture, her eccentric husband’s philandering and two children, somehow manages to rise above it all, and become one of the divas of modern cabaret, as well as being the first ‘non-stationary nude’ in British theatre (she decided to dispense with a leotard during the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ in Wilde’s Salome. That was in 1956!
Her aforementioned husband, ex-Spitfire pilot and cousin of Winston Churchill, Desmond Leslie, co-wrote ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’ with George Adamski, and was quite the character himself.
Born in Berlin, Agnes’ Jewish-German-Hungarian family fled to Britain before WWII, where made her life and career. Along the way, she and her father were working for a propaganda radio station in Britain, run by the OSS (later became the CIA)
By bouncing the radio transmission around the place, the Nazis thought they were broadcasting from inside germany, and had half the Gestapo looking for a bunch of performers that actually lived in Buckinghamshire.
One day, Agnes announced that for test purposes (and to help Germany win the war), listeners should send a urine sample to the Ministry of Health in Berlin.
Apparently the postal system and the ministry were clogged for weeks, with bottles of piss.
Agnes befriended Claus von Bulow and King Farouk, and many other weird and wonderful characters, who wander in and out of the narrative.
Fame finally struck on the stage of The Establishment, run by Peter Cook, alongside comedians like John Bird and John Fortune. While Agnes performed Brechtian satire through Weimar era songs, while the first issues of Private Eye were printed in her dressing room.
A fantastic read, an insight into a world of refugees, war, and the desperate need to express oneself artistically.
Buy The Fun Palace on Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Fun Palace on Amazon.com
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