Elsie, Doris, Gert and Daisy by Annie Caulfield

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Elsie, Doris, Gert and Daisy by Annie Caulfield (1996). Dir. Marian Nancarrow. Perf. Celia Imrie, Susie Blake, Tessa Peake-Jones. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 29 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer

Elsie and Doris Waters were a female comedy double-act, performing under their stage-names Gert and Daisy, who began their careers in variety and later became stalwarts of radio and television, especially during World War II. Their joint careers continued into the late Fifties, when their series Gert and Daisy appeared on ITV. Following Doris's death in 1978, Elsie continued to perform until just before her death in 1990 at the age of ninety-three.

Annie Caulfield's affectionate tribute to their work had the sisters (Celia Imrie, Susie Blake) deciding to go on the stage, despite the opposition of their well-to-family. It wasn't the thing for respectable young women to do, but once they had made their decision, they never looked back. Their brother Horace John Waters likewise carved out a successful career in entertainment under the name of Jack Warner (George Dixon in the well-loved police drama "Dixon of Dock Green").

The sisters' stage personae were familiar enough; two homemakers chatting to one another about anything and everything, especially their fictional husbands Bert and Wally. Through this apparently innocuous variety-act they managed to satirize many of the social ills of the time - for example, the ways in which rationing encouraged people to become acquisitive, to bend the rules, so to speak, in pursuit of illicit provender. Gert and Daisy's performance-style had its origins in Edwardian variety, with a cross-talk act interspersed by frequent songs, both popular as well as newly-written; but their subject-matter was up-to-the-minute. This was one of the main reasons for their extraordinary popularity during World War II; an appearance by them on any kind of stage could guarantee large audiences.

Caulfield drew attention to the efforts the sisters made to entertain the troops, both at home and abroad. Often they endured the most primitive conditions - especially in the Far East - but they accepted their lot with a smile and a metaphorical wave of the hand, in the belief that it was their bounden duty to raise morale. It's hardly surprising that, once the War had ended, they were awarded the OBE in the King's Birthday Honours List in 1946.

What made this drama even more attractive was director Marian Nancarrow's skillful blend of drama and archive footage of the sisters in performance. Granted, some of the recordings were a bit scratchy, but we got a clear sense of why they were so popular. It was their sheer ordinariness that appealed the most; they played ordinary people trying to make the best of extreme situations, and were not averse to singing popular songs ("A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square") so as to perpetuate the feel-good factor among their audiences.