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Lustful carousing amid mercantile ships, a tavern, and a lender's bank... a drunken, peg-leg street fiddler narrowly avoids trodding on a mongrel hound... dockworkers go about their business... a peeping tom imbibes merrily... an older couple quarrels in the foreground, the robust female clearly winning... sailors and prostitutes cavort freely.... Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) etched this bright, bawdy scene of the Point district in England's foremost seafaring town, Portsmouth, ca. 1811.

The South African city of Johannesburg, whose seventieth anniversary Walton celebrated in 1956 with this spritely overture, is a radically different city today. It was a painfully divided city then, with racial oppression the law of the land. Yet a common thread links the city's past and present. Like many California towns, it grew spectacularly during the nineteenth-century gold rush.

Walton had been working in film since the mid-30s before writing the score for Laurence Olivier's wartime masterpiece, Henry V (1944). Olivier described Walton as "extolled to the skies. His paleness and coldness made the passionate blaze in all his music a thing of wonder and amazement." Olivier produced, directed and starred in Henry V, a play he had acted on stage in his army uniform) and radio. Charles Laughton, the famous stage and film star who witnessed his debut in the role at the Old Vic, told him "my boy, you are England.