It is with great sadness that I note the passing of Bernard Fishlock, a leading member of the Marshfield Mummers, the Old Time Paper Boys. Bernard died peacefully at home in Marshfield early on Saturday 17th May 2008 in his fifty-eighth year.
Some of you will remember Bernard's wonderful description of his childhood and how he became a Mummer at the Here we come: traditional and contemporary folk performances in Britain conference in Aberystwyth in 2006. He was already seriously ill at that time but was eager to contribute his particular experiences of traditional practice. He was truly astonished and delighted to be stopped and congratulated by delegates in the street. I wasn't surprised, for I had long grown to appreciate his unique and revelatory perspectives on the very nature of performance.
I was fortunate to meet Bernard on many occasions and to discuss the origins, history and techniques of the Marshfield team at length. And I was honoured to accompany the team to Cecil Sharp House in 2007, when they were invited to participate in a celebration organised by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Their performances were, well, not very good. It was, I think, rather expected. For theirs is an event that only comes alive, only makes sense, on certain street corners on a certain day in a certain village when a certain group of men gather. Only here could Bernard strut and boast and proclaim in his beautiful brogue:
"I comes I King William,
A man of courage and bold.
With my sword and spear all in my hand,
I gained three crowns of gold."
It was a real pleasure to see him performing King William with such gusto last Boxing Day. And it was his suggestion that King William should take on all-comers in the final performance, resulting in a series of energetic, improvised combats that left a pile of colourful, paper-decked figures in the street [Photo]. I think perhaps he knew that this would be his last...
Bernard was a great enthusiast – his passion was vintage tractors. But it's for his work on the Mummers that we have most to thank him – as archivist, as advocate, as tireless cajoler...
Bernard will be greatly missed – by his family, by his friends, by his community. But he will linger in the performances of the Mummers. Older members say that it takes many years for them to stop imagining their departed colleague still there in a role. And every time Tenpenny Nit strikes himself on the head - to show that it's "made of iron" - Bernard will be present: this action was his invention when for many years he played that character...
And when at 11 o'clock in the square we hear these words, it's Bernard's voice we'll remember:
"Room, room, a gallant room I say..."
Professor of Performance Studies
Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies