An innocent doodle on an envelope may not seem extraordinary, but more than 50 years of weekly scribbles between a man and his wife provide a unique insight into both their lives and society as a whole. Tony Glynn caught up with Danny Braverman, who brings his show Wot? No Fish!! to North Devon.
IN 1926, Danny Braverman’s great-uncle Ab doodled on his wage packet before handing the envelope to his wife Celie. In those days, men brought home the bacon and women cooked it – or, in other words, looked after the money.
For 56 years this doodle became a weekly payday feature for Ab and Celie. Now, some 88 years after they married, Danny has discovered this stash of scribbles and decided to present them to the rest of the world. The question is: What relevance do they have to anyone else?
“They are cartoons, and very much in the newspaper style of the time,” says Danny in reply. “You can see echoes of Andy Capp, and they speak about the times they lived in.
“The stories of everyday people are often forgotten because they aren’t recorded, but when I found my uncle’s drawings I found a wealth of stories I had to share. Besides the history, they’re entertaining too.”
Danny’s show, which he brings to West Anstey and Berrynarbor Friday and Saturday is a presentation of these pictures using a projector, but it is by no means a dull slide-show scenario.
For each doodle, Danny explains the story behind it – both in the context of the society the couple lived in and of their private lives.
Their extended family history, too, is important.
“The doodles were just about Ab and Celie at first, but as the years passed they started to include the wider family,” says Danny.
“I was amazed to find myself in some, from the Sixties onward. We had a very big family and Ab and Celie were a big part of it when I was growing up. It’s amazing to see things I remember, but through their eyes.”
It’s worth noting that the family in question is Jewish – living in East End London – so culture is an important theme in the pictures. The aspect of belonging to a community, Danny feels, is something we all can relate to – and so he hopes to make the audience feel as if they are in his home.
“I prefer everyone being together, rather than a cold experience,” says Danny.
“It’s a very warm spirit in the venues, we try to bring that sense of community. Food is important of course!”
Unlike Danny, who has made a name for himself as a writer, producer, performer and teacher in the theatre world (besides Wot? No Fish!! earning rave reviews at Edinburgh Fringe, he is also a lecturer at Goldsmiths in London), uncle Ab’s talents remained undiscovered his whole life. Apart from the historical and cultural value of his doodles, Danny believes he has unearthed someone the art world should know about.
“Although he didn’t paint and just used pen and ink, I would actually call my uncle a great artist,” he says. “The doodles are symbolic and impressionistic, and speak of the time and people from all walks of life.
“Ironically, his son – my uncle – became an art dealer. Yet these works of art remained in a shoebox. This raises the question: what is the value of art?
“But most importantly, these doodles cause people to laugh and cry. They are moving, and if art should do anything it’s move people.”
Catch Wot? No Fish!! at two Beaford Arts shows:
West Anstey Village Hall on Friday, February 7, 7.30pm. Tickets: £10 (adult), £7 (child), £32 (family). Includes supper. Box office: 01398 341615.
Berrynarbor Manor Hall on Saturday, February 8, 7pm. Tickets: £7.50 (adult), £5 (child), £22.50 (family). Box office: 01271 882675.
Tickets and information also at www.beaford-arts.org.uk.