Yorkshire Evening Post (20/Nov/1930) - A Very Rare Species: Origin and History of the "Thongbirds" of Yorkshire

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


Origin and History of the "Thongbirds" of Yorkshire

The "Thongbirds," Upperthong's own cabaret party, are to give their new show early in the New Year. In the following article the Rev. H. G. Wilks, Vicar of Upperthong, describes how the party was brought into being, and how it got its name.

(By the Rev. H. G. Wilks.)

Holmfirth is an island surrounded by public-houses and butchers' shops: in it there is great vitality — which is very natural. This vitality has produced many things, including four banks in one street, a swimming-bath, a famous male voice choir, a fire-brigade and the "Thongbirds."

The "Thongbirds" are girls. I hasten to explain this point in case I should raise false hopes among those of the poultry world in search of rare species.

Having excelled in revue and pantomime, they have graduated into cabaret, and just as Rome wasn't built in a day, our full-fledged “Thongbirds" weren't hatched in a night.

The story goes beck to a dark November evening when I was bearded in my den by two serious-looking people disguised as church wardens, who spoke grave words concerning the financial position of the parish. Expenses were heavy, income was not enough — the old, old story, but unpleasantly true.

Left alone, I thought long into the night. One by one I discarded the traditional methods of wheedling money from the pockets of long-suffering parishioners. In my own mind I felt that, good cause or bad cause, people nowadays demanded something for their money: if they paid to be amused they expected amusement, not boredom.

The Troupe is Born.

In common with many, I had suffered in good causes. A few weeks previously I rashly bought a ticket which my Yorkshire blood compelled me to utilise. They called it a “concert.” The schoolroom was depressing, badly lighted and murally decorated by pictures of a cow, Gladstone, and the internal machinery of the human digestion. The "star" was a sweet little girl of ten, who, wearing a white frock and holding a black wand, recited "I am the spirit of the Ages."

I caught my 'bus home at the interval. Inspiration is born of suffering; I resolved to inoculate parochial efforts with the serum of vitality and brightness. Hence the "Thongbirds," a sprightly troupe of artists.

The early try-outs involved much labour and heartburning. Queues outside a remnant bargain sale were insignificant compared with the rush by would-be entertainers. But they were compelled to observe the iron rule. To the tinkle of the schoolroom piano, each one was bidden to do a solo turn. Adenoids and weak knees were disqualifications.

Plenty of excellent material was at hand, and soon the revue chorus was working strenuously under the able direction of Mr. Vernon Sykes, whose knowledge of production work is widely recognised in the district.

The Naming.

We saw in our venture a dual benefit. The public would respond, and our little army of revue artists would revel in a new outlet of social activity in the parish. Our belief was more than justified.

The backbone of the revue was obviously going to be the chorus; anyone not suffering from optical jaundice could see that much. But we had not named them, and they were now all dressed up and had somewhere to go. What should we call them? During the long and exacting rehearsals the producer had called them many things...

We searched high and low for some arresting name. Early one morning I strolled in the vicarage garden (insomnia, not virtue), and chanced to notice a little troupe of sparrows having a tug-of-war over a luckless worm. On closer observation I noted they struggled with rhythm and grace. Four of them would do a high kick and heave in unison to the left. The right wing would then retaliate by a unified and graceful movement in the opposite direction.

The "Chicks" Arrive.

My mind flew to the finale of the third scene in the revue; birds and Upperthong — "Thonnbirds." And that was that.

Emboldened by the unqualified success of the revue, we attempted a pantomime on ambitious lines, and engaged the local theatre for a week. This production saw the genesis of the "Thong Chicks," the tabloid edition of the "Birds." Besides the comedian and a bevy of beauties, every pantomime to be a success must have the juvenile "Chicks." A pathetic ballad about mother looking from the sky always delights father in the pit.

Directly a cabaret show was mooted, the “Thongbirds" rallied once more round the colours. They are full steam ahead once more.