The Conely way is Essex

I think the first time I ever appeared in public in costume was in Chelmsford carnival, way back when I was a sixth former at the local grammar school. I was sporting a rather fine papier mache pig’s head which we had made in our art class and I won first prize in the comic character category. Could this have been the spark that led me to spend my whole adult life as a street theatre performer? Forty five years of wearing silly things on my head wasn’t exactly what the school careers officer had suggested for me!

Anyway, fifty years later, last weekend in fact, the Natural Theatre’s famous Coneheads invaded Chelmsford’s normally somewhat featureless High Street as part of the tenth anniversary of the newly-dubbed city’s street theatre festival. The Coneheads, having regularly visited this highly successful event over the years in teams of four or five staged a mass invasion. During the course of a few days, over thirty participants learned the Coneheads’ funny walk and sense of naïve curiosity for all things on Earth. When teamed up with the Naturals, the group numbered nearly fifty pointy-headed aliens.

Our props boffins had spent a month laboriously casting the latex masks and others had scoured charity shops to source the rather dull macs that these creatures wear.

There were students, housewives, business men and even city councillors participating in the project. One guy said his boss had forced him to join and he had seriously thought of resigning on the morning of the first rehearsal. After three days he was saying it was one of the best experiences of his life.

The Coneheads went out in seven groups, each led by a Natural regular. About two hundred people followed each team, so when all of them came together there was a massive crowd. It looked amazing and when the little spacemen all moved in unison, set off by secret signals learnt in the rehearsals, the audience was in stitches, especially when, as a finale, they all struck the Lightning Bolt pose. Fabulous!

‘What the hell is going on in Chelmsford?’ a young man was heard to bellow into his mobile phone. I blame that pig!

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6 Responses to The Conely way is Essex

  1. Barrie Stevens says:

    Hello Ralph! You won’t remember me but you, myself and John Parsons of Roxwell used to attend the Junior Museum Club at the Chelmsford and Essex Museum in Oaklands Park, Chelmsford when we were about 11-12 years old. I think you came on the ‘bus from East or West Hanningfield every Saturday morning. You and Parsons were from King Edward VI Grammar School and I was from Moulsham Secondary. I was the first Curator of the Museum Club which was created by John Woodward BA Assistant Curator. He went on to the Steam Railway Museum at Swindon. I am still adding material to the Museum’s “Social History of Chelmsford Project”.. Maybe you would like to contribute a manuscript in your own words?…Regards, Barrie Stevens…

    • Ralph Oswick says:

      Aha, yes I do remember you and the club.I used to really look forward to it. Your memory is pretty good, yes it was West Hanningfield (recently in the news for the expenses scandal allegedly involving Lord Hanningfield (who also went to King Edwards!) Jon Parsons had a pretty good museum of his own in a shed in his parents garden.I might have a Chelmsford related piece lurking. I’ll think about it!


      • Barrie Stevens says:


        I have a George Washington moment!
        Go on line and Google “SEAX” being the catalogue of the Essex Record Office and enter the name “Ralph Oswick”…for a surprise!
        I extracted your memories of Buxted’s chicken extermination camp and of the cottage deep in Essex and as they were so good I printed them out on archival paper designed to last 200 years if stored correctly and used archival pigmented inks designed not to fade for about 200 years.
        I gave full credit to you as to the origins which were in any case in the public domain being on the internet but they remain your copyright.
        I also printed a picture of you as “Lady Margaret” (Nearly said Lady Margate!)
        I sent the same archive to the Chelmsford and Essex Museum in Oaklands Park with a note regarding you and the Junior Museum Club of which I was the first curator!
        Dr Mark Curteis runs the museum now and it is much more modern and interactive with a new wing. The old house is still used but a lot of the Victorian exhibits have gone but much remains.
        The old front door is now sealed.
        The museum has an environmentally controlled store where exhibits and documents are kept and that is the home of the Chelmsford Social Project. Dr Mark Curteis specialises in social history.
        He commented that I was contributing to the museum fifty five years ago and am still doing so. I have supplied a lot of Chelmsford memoirs and photos and especially highly detailed writings on Moulsham School. Recently Nigel Fanshaw former Head of KEGS died age about 101 or summat and he got two pages of praise in the Essex Chronicleand so I replied with ditto about J V Jenkins of Moulsham Secondary School that too is on SEAX. My name comes up a bit on SEAX especially as regards Moulsham Schools.
        In 1993 I was in Lancaster on an unemployed course for computers and with me was this musical fellow who said he had worked with you in Bath. Tall, thin, moustache, glasses. Played the Xylophone and was busking and claiming Benefits also!!!
        He mentioned he had been in Bath with a company and I said “Was that Ralph Oswick’s company?” He replied that it was. I mentioned the Museum Club & etc. He then said “And he is about your build as well!” (True!)
        I used to hear you on Radio 4 doing “Lady Margaret” and knew it was you as there is only one Ralph Oswick!
        One day in the pub I was reading the Daily Telegraph and there was a full face picture of you as Lady Margaret doing a big kiss to the camera. I said how I knew you from ages ago and they looked at the photo, looked at me and then looked away sort of bothered!
        Hope you don’t mind me archiving your material? Bit late now and it is in the public domain and fair game although the copyright is yours

      • Barrie Stevens says:


        The xylophone player I met in Lancaster and who said he had worked with your company in bath answered to the name of “Chad”…If that helps?


  2. Barrie Stevens says:

    Bath I should have written!

    • Ralph Oswick says:

      Chas (not Chad) very talented and much loved by many in Bath, sadly died suddenly a few months back. Last time I saw him he had built a beautiful mobile stage called The Melodrome (Google it) which he erected on my lawn for my retirement party.

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