Biggles and the PT50
Our intrepid aviator battles the latest yellow peril.
Biggles of the Air Corps investigates an exciting case of audio dysentry off the New Cross Road — and uncovers a much greater racket.
One fine, late October morning in the year of Victorian values and the resurrection of the family, a young officer in the distinctive uniform of the Royal Flying Corps appeared in the doorway of Nissen Hut Studios.
He started as the silence was shattered by a reverberating roar which rose to a mighty crescendo, then died away to a low-pitched whine. The sound, which he knew to be a Hammond, came from a giant structure across the expansive floor.
A faint smell was borne to his nostrils, a curious aroma that brought a slight flush to his cheeks. It was one common to all such spaces, a mingling of mould-injected plastic, oil, dope, and burnt grasses, and which once experienced was never forgotten.
After a last appraising glance around, he set off at a brisk pace in the direction of the excitement. He reached the nearest studio and then stopped, eyes devouring an extraordinary structure of low-slung grey/silver plastic that stood in his path. Beside it stood a short, bespectacled man with a high forehead and an inane grin; his grey suit which was not of a good cut intimidated the young officer. He knew the man was not from a good school, but from the East, and his manner suggested that he meant business.
"You the ferrow to try new PT-50?" he asked shortly.
"Er—er—yes, sir," was the startled reply.
"Your name so?"
"Bigglesworth, sir. I'm afraid it's a bit of a mouthful, but that isn't my fault. Most people call me Biggles for short."
A slow smile spread over the face of the man. "Ah, sensible idea," he said. "Okay, Birrles, sit down."
Biggles felt uncomfortable. He knew that he had come to the studio to test something extraordinary, yet the manner of this stranger was so commonplace, so relaxed. Stiffly he approached the machine.
"Keyboard is simple monophonic two-and-half-octave job going from F to C eight melody voicings sersected by sepalate tone switch above keyboard soh 16 rhythms, to get 'in the groove' soh with intro count one two three four ah hundred an eight different chords to accompany rhythms one hundred step sclatch-pad memory..."
"Sorry, sir," gasped Biggles, overwhelmed by the detail, "but I've always been more of a doer than a listener."
The instructor looked down at him with such withering contempt that Biggles nearly burst into tears. His experience with the old upright at his grandmother's in Lewes had not prepared him well for this. Banging out a removed version of "The Long And The Short And The Tall" seemed a million miles from the powerful computer replay system of the PT-50. To Biggles the keyboard seemed hopelessly inadequate, but he squeezed himself into it somehow, and settled down with a sigh of relief and a look of terror. Where to begin? Suddenly something struck him smartly over the back of the head, and he jumped violently.
"Strap in", said familiar voice, "and keep your feet off the controls. If you start any nonsense I'll lam you over the back of the skull with this!"
With some difficulty Biggles screwed his head round to see what "this" was. An A5 b/w CASIO PT-50 Operation Manual was thrust under his nose.
"Blow me down! Bertie!" his face spread into an incredulous grin. "Where the fuck did you get that?"
"Don't worry about that old man, sources, now let's show this Nip how to rock, Bertie barked.
Biggles' heart fluttered and his lips turned dry as he snatched the ROM pack from the Jap and slammed it into place. The keyboard lurched suddenly, and at the tap of a button or two a preprogrammed version of "Yesterday Once More" screamed over the camp PA.
The next few minutes, which seemed an hour, were a nightmare. The pitch rose and fell in a series of sickening movements; every now and then the programme would tip below all accepted standards of taste. He was capable of one thought only: "I shall never play this thing as long as I live — never. I must have been crazy to think I could."
"Well, how you like?" said a voice in his ear. "Feering sick?"
"Not a bit," replied Biggles, losing face. "Bertie, how do I switch this thing off?" he cried, looking hardly human with the ghastly glow of the instrument in his face.
"Page 23, old boy."
"What's the bally drill now?" queried Biggles.
"Don't get yourself in a flap old man, stiff upper lip and all that. Forget the ROM and bung her into manual drive and slap a latin rock rhythm over "Up Up And Away", and don't forget the 20-step tempo range. That's it old boy."
Biggles relaxed, and boogied.
"Now bring in some percussive grace and put an F sharp major 7th behind it. By deuce, I think you've got it," said Bertie ecstatically.
The keyboard leapt forward and careered wildly as it pulsed toward a distant tune. For a fleeting moment, as the machine started to 'swing', Biggles feared he was losing control and threw in a riff he'd picked up in Montserrat on leave, down-stepping the rhythm. All eyes were staring at the machine and the knot which was his fingers. Biggles continued to blaze away.
Rat-tat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat-tat. Wee-e-e-Bang. Finally the last note arrived with the noise of an express train and exploded with a roar like the end of the world.
Biggles, with trembling hands, reached for a cigarette, lit it, and, with an arm around Bertie, strolled out into the gathering dusk.
"Well old man, top hole?" put in Bertie.
"No Bertie, another bally direct hit for the Japs," replied Biggles, detaching himself.
Feature by Private W.C. John
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