148 years of history in 35 seconds
Writing a poem for ACME Whistles.
by Gabriella Gay (GKA Gay)
With one toot every cop and robber, runner, budding footballer, bulldog, plane and dancer stood still to attention. I learned very quickly in my year training to teach that my cheap plastic whistle, used for years at carnival, was not enough. Its half-heard whimper left the children that actually stopped quite confused, while the other half continued their games until they spotted the statues amongst them. The best teachers and teaching assistants invested in a good whistle and kept it hung around their necks. They were always ready for playtime duty, P.E, lunchtime and the rare occasion where a hand in the air, sharp ‘Are we ready?’ or the pure powerful presence of standing still was not enough.
In a voice care workshop we were told that the best way protect your voice but still be heard clearly from afar was to speak in a high pitched twangy politician style tone. I never tried it with the kids. I could just picture their laughter. In reality the whistle has been the tool helping many teachers throughout the years. So, when I shared with friends that I was going to write a poetry piece for an ACME Whistles advertisement, know by us for their reliability, durability and assertiveness, I wasn’t surprised that the most excited responses came from my teacher friends.
‘I used an ACME Thunderer for years as a teacher and never needed another,’ said one.
‘The ACME Thunderer was the go-to whistle for us PE teachers and hill walkers!’ said another.
‘The Metropolitan has a more classical sound.’ one chipped in.
‘I gave away my Thunderer when I stopped teaching. It did me well for 25+ years.’ another reminisced.
I was excited too, not only from the perspective of a teacher of ten years, or because I was working with Junction 15 again, but because I loved the idea of spotlighting the importance of a reliable, everyday item, that may often be overlooked. The innovation of Joseph Hudson, a Birmingham tool-shed tinkerer, changed the course of history. In my eyes, that was definitely something worth celebrating. Normally commissioned to write pieces of up to 10 minutes, I knew it would be a challenge to convey the rich history and importance of this vital tool in just 35 seconds.
After spending some time researching in detail the history of ACME Whistles I started to think of it as an instrument. After all, Joseph Hudson was a musician, a violin player who rumour has it, had the idea of putting the pea in the whistle after observing the far travelling, discordant sound of his violin shattering on the floor. Traditionally used at prestigious events, the whistle to me became less an everyday but more a prestigious, fine, loyal instrument that people were proud to play and have by their side. I imagined the instrument of an ACME whistle being played with as much pride as the anthem at important football games. I liked the idea that the notes and music the whistle conveyed was different depending on who played it. The Bobby, and Captain John Smith played to call for assistance and the WW1 Tommy would have heard it when fighting for peace. The RAF pilots would have carried the whistle on their uniform as a friend and lucky charm, an instrument that would have provided comfort and assurance. I was born in Trinidad, so I was amazed to find photographs of Caribbean RAF pilots wearing their ACME whistle. Finding a bit of their story was quite special to me.
In the 90s, the whistle was adopted as an instrument by a new generation. As a teen then I remember being at raves or dancehall parties annoyed at the constant peeping and whistling through each tune. I viewed it like the vuvuzela during football matches until I understood that the vuvuzela is part of South African football; A sound traditionally used to summon distant villagers to attend the community gathering. When I understood, that our 90s rave whistles were adding an addition and appreciation of the music, I finally fully joined the party.
As well as the sense of tradition, I was fascinated by the sense of innovation at ACME. Who knew there are so many whistle designs! There were even silent ones that only animals could hear. I quite liked the thought of being the person on the machine that blows on every single whistle before it leaves the factory, a quirky tradition that Joseph Hudson would have done himself for many years. Like the whistles, my poem evolved several times. It took a few edits to ensure it fit the visuals and timings. Even in the studio Darren and I were cropping and chopping so it was a perfect fit. As a writer, I’m getting better at letting go of carefully crafted lines in order to benefit the poem as a whole. Normally a poem has to do all the work, creating the characters, mood and scene with just words. However, the brilliant acting, visuals by Junction 15 and sound by Karl Waye, told half the story already. I had to add just enough words to create a sense of pride in this vital British invention, which has served and been played by so many.
Seeing the advertisement aired was quite special. I had seen a brief example without the sound effects added when recording the voiceover at Staffordshire University, but it was full and alive on TV. I was sat comfortably on the sofa with my son, who I hadn’t told it was going to come on. It took him a split second to hear my voice, stop still and listen. It was as though I had blown a playground whistle. When it was finished he turned to me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you’. I was proud of me too, us, the Stoke team behind the advertisement. I think we did a good job of celebrating the history of an instrument made just down the road in Birmingham, an instrument used by all across the world. I hope that those who don’t know the company will hear the advertisement, stop and listen too.
Celebrating ACME (Draft 3)
have played their part in history.
Drew attention on land
An invention worn with pride.
Assistance should trouble arise.
has travelled the distance-
A brave brass trill that still resonates
around the world.
our mate and lucky charm
We blew victory in 66’ –
Triumph, Glory, Tradition
The dance floor’s applause for a mix well done.
Of one man’s pursuit of excellence.