The Story of Walter and Herbert is a compelling one, with lots (and lots) of projections, photos and imagery. It starts with some context: Joe Bor, the show’s narrator, is sat in the car with his toddler son in the back seat. Asked for his views on grandads, the boy thinks for a moment, before concluding that they like a good sit down, enjoy gardening and are bald. Cue oohs and aahs from an Edinburgh Fringe audience. I was curious to discover quite how a World War Two story about two Jewish men who managed to escape the clutches of the Third Reich could possibly have enough laughs in it to fall under the category of ‘comedy’ in the Fringe listings.
It’s at least partly to do with one of the men, Herbert Lom (1917-2012) being a comedy actor. His sense of humour permeates through his letters to Walter Bor CBE (1916-1999), which have stayed in the Bor family’s possession, Walter being Joe’s paternal grandfather. Herbert Lom remarked, as an initial observation after arriving in the UK, that “every other word was either ‘bloody’ or ‘f—ing’” – certain things evidently haven’t changed. Joe Bor adds his own punchlines to proceedings, pretty much in the same mischievous manner. An example: members of the Labour Party who wish to cut up their membership cards to protest against anti-Semitism should really do so by cutting a bit off the end. Giggle or groan, or both, as you wish.
Lom was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru, which was ditched for ‘Herbert Lom’, ostensibly to make life easier for Western film studios and audiences. Walter Bor, meanwhile, was a town planner, responsible for the redevelopment of parts of London after the Second World War, and then later became the chief planning officer at Liverpool City Council before going on to design Milton Keynes. The timing in the show is very precise (Bor clearly does not use a slow computer), and if it were almost any other story, I might have been more than a little cynical about the narrator’s emotional state by the curtain call.
There are extenuating circumstances here, however. It is a deeply personal story that also touches on how friendships between men can be irreverent and more often than not laced with sarcasm and/or banter. Times are changing, though, and while there will always be banter just as there will always be football, perhaps shows like this one are indicative of a more nuanced approach, where thoughts, feelings and emotions can be shared without an obligatory whimsical reply. Here, it’s a gentle humour that permeates almost every moment of the performance. Some ‘vox pops’ from Joe Bor’s father are particularly amusing.
It’s a reasonably fast-paced narrative, whizzing through the story determinedly, and the use of an old-fashioned typewriter makes for a simple but effective visual and audio effect. A measured performance that contrasts well with the hustle and bustle of the Fringe, Bor’s wish for this story to be more widely told should be realised – and why not? This is far from a typical ‘triumph over adversity’ tale. An intriguing and ultimately uplifting production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Award-winning comedian, Joe Bor tells the story of the friendship between his grandad – world-renowned town planner Walter Bor – and his grandad’s best friend – world-renowned comedy actor Herbert Lom – and their journey from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to the UK.
Using personal accounts, family photographs, interviews and, often very funny, letters between the two, Joe tells us about Walter and Herbert’s perilous journey and their subsequent successful careers, with Walter’s CBE and Herbert becoming a film star (his significant credits including: The Ladykillers, The Return of the Pink Panther and Spartacus). Joe also charts the breakdown of Walter and Herbert’s friendship and what brought them back together years later.
Joe Bor: The Story of Walter and Herbert
Underbelly, George Square (Wee Coo)
Aug 1-25 Aug @ 4pm