Bunfight History

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Origins of the Bunfights   by Stuart Barry

The idea for the Bunfight grew gradually from the desire to have some sort of annual party.

The pre-cursor to the Bunfight was a Christmas drinks evening organised in the Hope & Anchor, Wokingham.  When Berkshire Bedlam started we used to practice in St Paul's Church Rooms, next to the Hope & Anchor.  This building was then owned by the local church and was in a fairly run down state.  We were only charged £1 a week or so to rent the rooms.

Since the Hope & Anchor was next door it was very convenient to go there for a drink after practice.  Occasionally the drink extended into the practice as we got into the habit for a while of buying a large container of beer and drinking it during the practice.

The Hope & Anchor in those days was also fairly run down, but was a comfortable drinking pub.  We got to know the landlord, Ted, quite well.  There was a wonderful, small room to the right of the smaller bar, where we all used to congregate on Thursdays after practice.  There was also a large collection of single malt whiskeys.  Steve and Nick did their best to try the whole collection .... anyway, I digress.

One evening we decided to book this snug room for a Christmas party.  We asked Ted the landlord if it could be reserved for us and he agreed.  When we arrived at about 8.30 in the evening there was a tape across the entrance with the words 'private party' written on a piece of paper.  When we went in there were other people drinking in the room.  We were too polite to say anything, but when we asked Ted about this he marched straight up and asked them 'can't you read?'.  The pushed off immediately, muttering about the rudest pub they had been into.

We had a pleasant evening drinking and talking, but it wasn't exactly exciting.  So we decided to have a more organised party.

Co-incidentally, several members of the team who played instruments started gathering for separate musical get-togethers.  This idea developed during one of the Dorset tours, when people would play tunes in the pub in the evening.  The musicians got a bit better at playing together and decided they needed a target.  So Ted Mansfield was roped in by Jeff as a caller and the first Bunfight was born.  The team practices had to move from Wokingham temporarily because the Church Rooms were being re-developed.  We were able to rent a room at the snooker club in Binfield.  This is where the first Bunfight was held.

The first Bunfight was a real mixture of celidh and entertainment.  Each of the team brought some food, which provided decent nosh for the evening, and we bought some barrels of beer, of course.  The band at that time included Michael Venner, the oldest ever member of Berkshire Bedlam, since deceased.  His photo can just been seen in one of the gallery shots.

The funniest moment of the evening was when John Cross performed a magic spot.  One of his tricks was a guillotine.  He called for a volunteer and Jeff Bates reluctantly went forward.  John demonstrated the power of the guillotine by swiftly chopping a carrot in two.  Jeff was then forced to put his wrist under the blade and with a mighty push - the blade shot past his wrist and thumped the table below.  Jeff looked as if he was about to faint.

The evening was a great success and we immediately decided to repeat the event the next year.  By this time we had still not returned to Wokingham, and the Bunfight was held at Braywood  village hall, in the middle of nowhere.  Eventually the team returned to Wokingham and practices started up in the newly-built Scout Hut.  The Bunfight moved to the Barkham Memorial Hall.

Each year the event got more elaborate.  We would end up practising individual and team spots for weeks.  The food and drink were also a big feature.  Alan Morton was always the beer meister.  The number of barrels increased from one to three.  The food became a hot main course with lots of accompaniments.  Sometimes we got it wrong and once had to throw away three tons of spaghetti.  Well, can you judge spaghetti for two people, let alone 100?  And all this was run by the team.

At the last event in Barkham we hardly saw our guests and the evening was a bit of a blur, what with cooking food, playing music and performing various entertainments.  The highlight of that year was the life sized Punch and Judy.  Jeff made a superb, larger than life Punch and Judy booth.  All the team had a part.  We also invited guest teams to perform.  On that last evening in Barkham we had a clog team.  They succeeded in making black clog marks all over the newly sealed floor.

After the floor incident and all the hard work we decided it was time for a change.  So the following year we moved to California Ratepayers’ Hall, dropped most of the entertainment, simplified the food down to each person bringing baked potatoes, and booked another band to play.  That meant that we could relax and enjoy the dancing with our guests, instead of working all evening.

Some of the Bunfight entertainment actually went on tour.  One Christmas we took the Punch and Judy show on a tour of Wokingham pubs.  The evening was famous (to us anyway) for Mel’s ad-lib remarks about contraceptives.  At another Bunfight we performed a Mummers’ play.  This was performed at some barn dances by Kick Shins, and also went on a tour of Wokingham pubs.  We got the landlord’s agreement to perform in the pub, but we did not tell the locals.  So it was always rather a shock when Dave Williams swept in, unannounced, with his broom, saying ‘in comes I’ in a loud voice.........

Do you have any more early Bunfight stories? e-mail them to malcolmmajor at ntlworld.com for inclusion here!!

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