RCAF Blackouts

RCAF Blackouts. Entertainment troupe, one of several organized during World War II by air force personnel.

RCAF Blackouts

RCAF Blackouts. Entertainment troupe, one of several organized during World War II by air force personnel.

The Blackouts were organized early in 1943 to perform at air bases in Canada and overseas. The cast of about 35 singers, instrumentalists, dancers, and comedians gathered at Rockliffe Air Force Station, Ottawa, under the direction of Flight Lieut Robert Coote, an English singer-actor who had been previously successful in Hollywood and later played Col Pickering in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady.

The show, also known as The Blackouts, exploited the versatility of the cast. Members of the 12-piece pit orchestra also appeared as actors and soloists, and performers were responsible for erecting and striking sets, maintaining costumes, and loading and unloading equipment. Original music and lyrics were written by cast members: Henry Singer, Sam Levine (b Toronto 1915; d Toronto 22 Jan 2005), John Gallant, Bryant Fryer, Wishart Campbell, and Fran Dowie. The songs 'Why Am I Always Joe?' (Singer) and 'You've Been Darn Swell' (Levine) were published in an RCAF songbook. The orchestra, which included Levine (string bass), Gallant (piano), D'Arcy Shea (violin), and Stanley Solomon (viola), was conducted by George Calangis.

In May 1943 the troupe began a tour of western Canada, starting in Yorkton, Sask, and continuing to the west coast and as far north as Annette Island, Alaska. In December it performed for service personnel in the British Isles and at the end of the war it entertained troops in Belgium, Holland, France, and Germany. The final performances were given in September 1945 in the south of England.

A second RCAF troupe of comparable size presented the show All Clear, written by Singer and produced by Coote, with songs by Kenneth Bray, Maurie Hyman, and Lloyd Edwards. Musicians included the pianist Edwards and the violinists Hyman Goodman (who served as concertmaster) and Morry Kernerman. All Clear also toured in Europe, as did some smaller RCAF entertainment units, the W-Debs (featuring eight women with two-piano accompaniment from Bray and Neil Chotem), Swing Time and the Tarmacs.