In 1765 the Kirk Session of Banff gave 10s to Robert Thomson, master of the English School, “to assist in paying the funeral charges of his wife, he being in indigent circumstances”. Their son, George, then 8-year-old, went on to fame, as Robert Burns’ musical partner in collecting Scots songs, and George’s grand-daughter, Catherine Hogarth, was the wife of Charles Dickens.

Dickens was a master of words, not only writing them, but aloud, and he made a fortune reading extracts from his novels on the stage. Someone said he did this once in Banff, and I checked, and at once there was this advertisement for a reading by Charles Dickens (see illustration) but it was the wrong man, and twenty years too late. This was his son turning an honest penny. Charles Dickens himself gave a reading in Aberdeen. It was absolutely wonderful if you were near the front of the Music Hall. They had no sound systems in those days.

There were occasional touring theatrical companies, and one of them which came to Banff had Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It wasn’t top of the bill: that was Professor Pepper’s Ghost. The more detailed advertisement for the same show at Peterhead talked about ‘the New and Astounding Effects developed by an ingenious application of the ELECTRIC AND OXY-HYDROGEN LIGHTS’. The audience must have shuddered in delight.  There was a Scotch Comic further down the list, and Kool Kennedy (late of Hague’s Minstrels).

But Banff didn’t need Charles Dickens in person, or a touring company. In 1868 ‘a number of gentlemen in the town’ took up amateur theatricals, after a ten-year lapse, and put on the ‘Memorable Trial of Bardell against Pickwick’ from the Pickwick Papers. This was in the St Andrew’s Hall, the Town Hall on the corner. There was a farce as well, which was ‘on the whole, pretty well acted’ which is as near a critical review as the Banffie would dare. They gave a big spread to the story: if only there had been pictures in those days. “The performances reflect very creditably on all who took part in them – whose names, for obvious reasons, we abstain from mentioning.” But if anyone has a picture of their great-great-grandfather as Mrs Bardell, we would be delighted to see it.