Stella and Sadie had grown closer to each other through maturity. In fact, Stella found that she was sometimes too protective towards her ‘little sister’.
Sadie had what she termed a ‘real job’. She was an assistant at the cake shop in Corn Street. And Tommy was still a fundamental part of their lives. The three of them would meet up most evenings at the girls’ home, and, whilst Stella would prattle on about her dreams of stardom, Tommy would be half listening and half wondering if Blackpool would reach the Cup Final.
He had little ambition, and always did as he was told, especially by Stella, although his boyish feelings of love for her had long since dissipated. It was Sadie to whom he had diverted his affections.
She’d developed into a beautiful young teenager who seemed to have been spared the puppy fat and acne that most young people endure. She was gentle, full of charm and personality, and happy with her life. Sadie could also laugh at herself, which he had noticed Stella was unable to do. If Stella said or did anything that wasn’t quite accurate she would argue with you until you finally weakened and gave her the benefit of the doubt. It was always the other person who would inevitably end up apologising.
Although Sadie didn’t possess a wealth of topics she enjoyed discussing, she wasn’t as limited as Stella, who could only think ‘showbusiness’ to the point of obsession. Not only had Stella decided where her own career was going to take her, she also knew where Sadie’s was going to go. She was going to give up her regular job in the cake shop and be her partner in a dancing act. Already they had been rehearsing a few things together; the only problem now was to find somewhere to play.
It was their father who fixed them their first showbiz date. He worked at Heysham Harbour, and, while waiting for the bus to Lancaster one day, he stood in a queue next to a man he had been at school with. It was Frank Bland, and at school poor Frank was considered to have been not all there. He’d never played games or participated in any rough or mischievous activities.
The growl of the red bus could be heard as it assaulted the steep incline up to the bus stop. ‘So what are you doing in Heysham?’ asked Jack. ‘I’ve never seen you out this way before.’
‘I work at Mission,’ came the reply.
‘Mission? What Mission?’
‘The Mission. You must know the Church Mission?’
‘Bloody hellfire,’ swore Jack through a short, sharp laugh, before adding, ‘Sorry, Frank, it just came as a surprise.’
‘It’s for old folks really. I don’t work for the Mission proper, like. I just try and help ’em out with the old folk.’
They both glimpsed the front grille of the bus as it levelled on the crest of the hill. ‘I try and keep them occupied and so on,’ continued Frank. ‘I’ve just been down there now.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘We try and arrange for them some entertainment and so on. Do a few songs on the piano and have a singer. That sort of thing.’
The bus jerked and squeaked as it pulled up in front of them. ‘It must be difficult to get entertainers, regular like,’ said Jack. The thought of his talented daughter looking for work was making his interest in Frank grow with each passing second.
‘Good ’uns, it is, yes.’
‘It’s a bit difficult ’cos we can’t pay them owt, so we end up with the same old faces who don’t mind doing it for nowt.’
‘It must get boring for them,’ said Jack with feeling.
Jack put a penny in the conductor’s outstretched hand. ‘I know some youngsters who would be interested.’
‘Oh aye,’ said Frank. He was always looking for new talent.
The bus lurched forward, seemingly propelling him into conversation. ‘Well, if they’d like to come down to the Mission next Saturday I’ll give ’em a try-out.’
The bus swung off the main route and pulled up a few minutes later. Jack peered through the dirty windows where some kids had drawn their own version of the female anatomy. It was Jack’s stop, and as he climbed down from the bus he smiled to himself in the knowledge that he had secured his daughters their first date.
Still smiling from the good news, Stella trotted to Gaynor’s and informed the caretaker that they had a special booking come in and so would require the rooms for a while longer that evening. He smiled and nodded, though she doubted that he had understood fully as he was hard of hearing.
As the girls lay in bed that night, exhausted from their work-out at Gaynor’s, Stella began to consider the finer details of their act. ‘What do you think we should close the act with?’ Sadie fought to keep her eyes open, knowing how much her sister wanted her to share in the excitement.
‘You’ll think of something,’ came her bland reply. ‘You always do.’
‘Maybe the military routine is a good one to close with,’ she mused. ‘It’s a bit too serious, though. No, maybe the selection from the Broadway musical.’
She gave Sadie a firm shake to make sure she hadn’t fallen off to sleep. ‘Now, there’s one important thing I want you to listen to, Sadie. When we introduce . . . Sadie, wake up and listen.’
‘I am, I am,’ said Sadie feebly.
Stella watched her for a short while, making sure she didn’t shut her eyes. When satisfied she had her full attention, she continued. ‘When we introduce the songs and dances I want no Lancashire accents. We mustn’t sound common; we must sound posh. Understand?’
‘I can only talk the way I talk,’ said Sadie, almost apologetically.
‘Look, I’m Lancashire, Sadie, but I don’t have to talk it,’ said Stella in a forced southern accent.
She sighed, and then smiled down at her sister. Sadie’s head was rolling loosely round her neck. ‘Now, just before you leave the land of the living we must decide on what we’re going to call ourselves. We can’t use Ravenscroft, it’s too long. People’ll forget it.’
‘Let’s call ourselves the “Goodnight Sisters”,’ suggested Sadie, as she let herself slip further under the warm covers.
‘You’re a fine help, you are. I suppose I’ll have to think of everything from now on.’
Stella curled up but continued to think. There was no point talking aloud any more. Sadie was beyond her reaching.
The Champagne Sisters, p’rhaps? No. Too fancy. The Ravenscroft Sisters . . . Yuk! The Raven Sisters? Hmmm.
Stella blew out the candle. Had Sadie stayed awake she would have heard what her stage name was to be from that night onwards.
The concert at the Mission wasn’t quite up to Stella’s expectations. They had arrived at precisely six o’clock, with Sadie having spent the day secretly hoping the building had been burnt down, flooded, or undergone any other equally dramatic disaster.
Stella had insisted that they enter by the stage door, which proved exceedingly difficult to do as it turned out that the Mission didn’t have one. They settled on filing in with the audience, with Stella carrying the music and Sadie carrying all their props. One of the younger men in the audience volunteered to assist Sadie with the props, but he was at least seventy years old – albeit a young seventy years old – and Sadie ended up assisting him to his seat.
Stella took an audience’s view of the stage, which looked more like a coffee table with a piano perched on it. As they made their way to it Sadie kept her head hung low so she wouldn’t be seen, while Stella lifted hers defiantly at them, so as to show she had no fear. As it happened, it wasn’t possible to see their faces because the Mission was full of pipe smoke.
She whispered to Sadie, ‘They’re too old to inhale.’
‘Is it a full house?’ asked her sister nervously.
‘From what I can see through the smog, it is.’ She paused to count the audience. ‘Yes,’ she said at length. ‘All seventeen seats are taken.’
They stepped behind the curtain and, to Sadie’s relief, out of sight. The Reverend John Wright was awaiting them there, calmly pacing the floor with his hands behind his back. ‘Hello,’ he beamed encouragingly.
‘Hello,’ replied the girls suspiciously.
‘You must be the new talent we’ve heard so much about.’
Stella and Sadie exchanged furtive glances. ‘Yes, that’s right,’ said Stella confidently.