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Memories of Show Business by Percy G Court, 1953

CHAPTER TWO

Index and Preface

Percy G Court I again fall back on singing and entertaining at the clubs, with a few dates at viz. Ralph's Variety, Canning Town, and The Alhambra at Sandgate, each paying £2.50 per week but after paying expenses, only a few shillings remained. I now had the offer of a local stage carpenter - job which included stage management at Oxford. The man who was a lessee of the Hall was Albany Ward: he wanted a canvas proscenium made and some temporary dressing rooms. This enquiry was by telegram. I replied yes, I could. Well from Sandgate to Oxford had to be a quick piece of thinking. I had to call at Woolwich to pick up my tool chest then to Paddington, from there to Oxford. However I arrived and met Mr Ward who made a small fortune in running Camp Theatres in the 1914 war. This proposed theatre was over a Conservative Club. It was called the Empire Oxford and though very small, some renowned music hall artistes of repute appeared there viz. Signor Pepi the well known quick change artist, the world renowned Jenny Mills in her "Dames de Fer", Dale and 0 Malley, Irish comedians, Weptonormah - a famous red Indian, Gillen, ventriloquist, Sisters Phillips and Bros Lorenzi in a sketch "Cooks Birthday". This was in the Cowley Road, Oxford and opposite the theatre was a cycle shop. The owners used to chain several cycles around a huge Elm tree, his son is now I believe a well known industrialist, Lord ... On occasions he used to visit our show and I think he enjoyed the entertainment. One of our six piece orchestra was a George Goodfellow, he afterwards became Goodfellow and Gregson, topping many bills. Jenny Gregson is still playing parts and recently played Aunt - in Oklahoma at Drury Lane.

I was not in love with this job, I felt that I would suffer later, if I stayed, so I wrote to Arthur Collins at Drury Lane Theatre. I felt afterwards that it was audacious, but I received a very promising reply saying Mr Collins had passed on my letter to Henry Dundas, who had the touring rights of all the Drury Lane dramas. After a wait of three weeks I received a letter to open at the Empire Southend-on-Sea in the drama "A Life of Pleasure". I was engaged as second carpenter at thirty five shillings a week. The first scene was a blacksmith's forge, the stage lighting was by gas. During the first scene on the Monday evening a current of air blew a canvas border into the gas-batten, immediately- flames were bursting everywhere, but the flymen got out fire hoses and controlled it within five minutes and after a pause - the show went on. During the week I was transferred from - A Life of Pleasure - to The Derby Winner which followed at the same theatre. therefore I did not leave the town. I was given the same position viz. second carpenter with the company here on the personnel - "Staff engaged with "Derby Winner," Coy, 1. Business Manager, 2. Stage Manager, 3 Master Carpenter, 4 Second Carpenter, 5. Property Master, 6. Baggage Man, 7. Principal Wardrobe Mistress, 8. Assistant Wardrobe Mistress, 9. Wardrobe Man, 10. Stud Groom. 11, 12, 13, 14 Jockeys and Grooms. Without exception everyone on the staff had to appear in the race course scene. Also the company of actors and actresses were quite forty: to this were added sixteen to twenty supers or extra locals and about ten to twelve local ladies. More were added if the town was large - Birmingham or Manchester would call for more extras in the contract. The locals were paid about 1/- to 1/6 per show.

Poster for the Queen's Theatre, Manchester for Wednesday the 3rd of March 1841, advertising: 'The Wreck of the Royal George' and 'Yew Tree Ruins or, The Wreck, the Mirer, & the Murderer.' - Courtesy Trevor J Dudley.We left Southend, which was late summer and opened at the New Queen's Theatre, Holbeck, Leeds owned by Emest Dottridge, who with Ernest Longden had a small chain of good class theatres in the north of England. Queen's Theatre Deansgate, Manchester followed Leeds, this was owned by Richard Flanagan. Our opening scene of the "Derby Winner" was a large baronial hall. A large staircase led to a gallery which overlooked a large billiard table by Burroughs and Watts and at the back of the gallery were doors leading to bedrooms etc.

Left - Poster for the Queen's Theatre, Manchester for Wednesday the 3rd of March 1841, advertising: 'The Wreck of the Royal George' and 'Yew Tree Ruins or, The Wreck, the Mirer, & the Murderer.' - Courtesy Trevor J Dudley.

On the Tuesday night we were unlucky to have a fire in the inglenook of the hooded fireplace on the P. S. of this very scene. Our juvenile lead - Sainsbury, tried to emulate the real hero, he snatched and grasped a large rubber tube where gas was escaping followed by large flashes of flames: his hands and face were soon blistered, and the episode of the fire quickly terminated as a gas key turned off the current of gas. Rounds of applause were his reward for the moment: but it was some weeks before he was fit to resume the part; the understudy stepped into the breach and gave a very excellent rendering of the part.

Theatre Royal, Preston followed Manchester, towns followed and the tour came to an abrupt close owing to The Theatre Royal Sheffield being burnt down just previous to our impending visit which was now November and I was out of a job although during the tour, I signed a contract for a pantomime at Christmas and again I was lucky. I made a contract for Marie Corelli's "Sorrows of Satan". The actor manager being C. 0. Somerset but as this drama was booked at Theatre Royal, Sheffield we had to transfer the show to a very small theatre at Colne - near Bumley. At this theatre the old time method of fixing the flats upright was by long iron dogs, this had a spike at each end, a man used to hit the angle of the dog and drive it into the togel rail of the flat and then a second tap into the stage. The universal accepted appliance today, all over the world is a sliding brace and screw eye and stage screws resembling a kind of cork screw. I was very pleased to have visited this theatre, because it gave me an insight into many old and discarded devices, which although now redundant, became invaluable, for my future.

Auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in 1992 - Courtesy Ted BottleOur next move was a thrill for me to Dublin - and at the Gaiety Theatre off St Stephen's Green. Now this theatre was a very lovely theatre, with a very elaborate electric installation, with its own engine and dynamo converters.

Right - Auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

The famous Sheridan Bros were in charge of the plant and a W Armstrong was the Stage Manager whilst a huge giant of a man named Michael Flood was boss over the stage crew. A word about the future of the Sheridan Bros will not be amiss. The elder Mr Sheridan became the head electrician at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, but was unfortunately killed by an electric batten falling from the flys and killing him instantly. The younger brother Sheridan is the founder and chairman of the "Strand Electric" Co which representative capital is £460,000 in five shilling shares quoted on the Stock Exchange.

Whilst I was in Dublin Queen Victoria visited the city, everybody went out to meet here, such loyalty never surpassed. Shouts of "Sure it's indeed the Queen". The town gave her their hearts, a big Irish welcome. It was as gay as Gay "Paree" could ever be. I ended my weeks engagement by walking from Dublin to Kingstown - the Irishman's seven miles and - a bit. I missed the train - the last from Westland Row station, however I caught the boat for Holyhead, en route to St. James Theatre, Manchester. Now my contract was for a special three week tour, at forty five shillings per week plus the railway fare from Manchester to London but Mr Somerset had booked the Richmond Theatre in Surrey. After a conference I was prevailed upon to put the show on at Richmond with a proviso that I should be allowed to work at Dalston Theatre during the day as I had a contract from C.F. Williams and Victor Stevens from Theatre Royal Plymouth to mount and stage a pantomime, Dick Whittington, booked at Dalston Theatre, London and so after "Sorrows of Satan" I rehearsed at the Dalston Theatre owned by Milton Bode. He also had a chain of theatres. We were here five weeks, we could easily have played fifteen, it was a tremendous success. Victor Stevens who played dame had previously produced the panto's at the Lyceurn, London for many years. He knew what the public wanted and he gave it. John Donald was our general manager. This was a big production having seven loads of scenery with four loads of wardrobe and baggage. My wages were forty five shillings per week. This was really top money for the job in those days.

Pantomime does not portray exactly the definition of the word "pantomime" - for really it is a folk lore tale with music and here I find a marked difference. Actors who play in drama, are rarely found in pantomime. The principals are generally engaged from the ranks of the music hall, perhaps it is that - such artists are more robust, whilst their delivery and approach is to invite the audience into a co-operative spirit and join the revelry. Our cast was as follows: Victor Stevens, "Dame", Alice Brooks - who played Dick Whittington (in private life - Mrs V Stevens, she was a music hall artist), Arthur Mannon, who played King Rat, Chas Watts, star from the "French Maid," Newham and Latimer, comedians, the Elliott family of acrobats, the Maruchi Bros - Japanese jugglers, they always gave a most brilliant display of juggling and top spinning. They were the court jugglers to the Mikado of Japan and were ordered, decreed to return, to Japan by the Mikado. One returned only, one stayed, he changed his name to Gintars, and he was ranked as one of the finest jugglers the world has seen - perhaps with the exception of Rastelli, the Italian and Cingavalli.

After Dalston Theatre we played at County Theatre, Bedford, where the business was not good- owing to the fact that Bedford Grammar School was not good - owing to the fact that Bedford Grammar School was out of term, Wednesdays performance was shortened and our sponsors - Lord - and a wealthy financier who were really "backers" ordered a party after the show. Those who cared to stay, could, whilst those who did not care to join, in such "goings on" went to their digs. I would label this episode "High Jinks". Our next towns in succession were, Royal Huddersfield, Empire Oldham, Metropole Manchester, Queens Leeds, Opera House Southport, where we finished the tour.

It is now spring of 1899. I am engaged by Fred Karno, the king of burlesque, to make a wall piece etc of "Jail Birds" at the rear of his residence Vaughan Road, Loughborough Junction. We disagreed and I immediately found a job with "Mary Pennington Spinster" as Asst. Stage Manager, with less pay.

The Prince's Theatre and Victoria Square, Bradford from a Postcard.We opened at the now defunct theatre, Prince of Wales at Liverpool, followed by Opera House, Harrogate, Grand T. Leeds, Princes Bradford etc.

Left - The Prince's Theatre and Victoria Square, Bradford from a Postcard.

Eventually we arrive at the New Theatre Cambridge, at this time the South African war was at its height - Mafeking was to be relieved and the students of the colleges were involved in political scenes. An effigy of Kruger, the Boers President was made. This large model was perched on an old and discarded bus, inside was placed a barrel of tar, with paraffin. This bus was set alight, flames belched from the interior, then with ropes they dragged it through the town, to a small common where a large bonfire was to be lit by the Mayor of Cambridge - on receiving the news of Mafeking's relief. This was guarded by a possee of policemen, the students were shouting their cry, Varsity, Varsity, Varsity, Mafeking is relieved. A second mob of students found a tree which they used as a battering ram, to open the gates of each college, to release those inside, and to augment themselves. The Bus was pulled here, there and everywhere, still burning, and finally they charged it through the policemen who were protecting the huge bonfire. To their satisfaction they set it alight, without the distinctive Mayor's pleasure. Everything portable was thrown on this fire; railings, doors, gates, and we had to close the theatre. I made arrangements with Tom Thorne who had an interest in the coy that I could leave at once, as I had accepted a Stage Manager job at the Grand Theatre Gravesend, and to that town I hurried. It was at this theatre that I learnt quite a lot of stage craft even though, I was here only four months. The stage was only eighteen feet deep - that is from the proscenium opening to the back wall. The Act drop was the old fashioned roller principle, having two lines, wound round the huge cylindrical wooden roller, which is called "a tumbler" at the bottom of the Act drop.

Here are some of the artists who appeared during my brief stay at Gravesend as Stage Manager: Harry Champion, Tom Eno, Gus Garrick, Chas Paver, T.L. Dryden, The Lorch family, a team of wiley acrobats, John Lawson, in "Humanity" a sketch from The Tragedy The Northumberland Street Affair: this sensation was a big success everywhere: much depended on effects I.E. a huge staircase falling: with a room of furniture smashed to pieces and a chandelier as a climax. It was this show which determined my departure from the Grand, Gravesend and in years after - the same artist bought me ill luck. On the Monday's performance I was to have extra scene shifters, these were attendants from the front of the theatre i.e. ticket collectors. The staircase was built on the P. S. "prompt side" of the stage which is from the audience looking at the stage - the right hand side. Strong wires to the grid held it in position which was through pulley blocks and back to the stage, a large crutch was placed under it but this was taken away at a warning "cue" to ensure a real collapse of the staircase. At the newel post at the bottom of the stairs was a papier mache figure of a lady holding a cluster of lights, somehow there was confusion in the cues: my job was to ring the curtain bell at the word "go" - this was from the Stage Manager of the Company "Chas Boon", I also had to work the P. S. limelight and the gas plate dimmer.

The men that were in charge of the wires of the stairs was given a similar cue, but when the cue was given and the stairs should have fallen - nothing happened, these men that were detailed, were more interested in watching the show, through the scenery, seeing their mistake they dropped the stairs before the exact cue. The large model with lamps disappeared into the orchestra pit and smashed the bass vial of a musician, the curtain fell too a little previous as the chandelier fell with it on John Lawson. This terminated my first stage manager job.

A Bill for the Royal Victoria Coffee Hall in 1884 with Arthur Lloyd appearing - Courtesy the British Library.I travelled to London and got an engagement with Cyril Harcourt on the Tuesday. My contract reads To be in charge of scenery and keep in repair and to play two parts - one a process server - the other a flunkey's part, announcing of guests etc. This was a comedy by A-W. Piners - "Lord and Lady Algy" we rehearsed at the Victoria Hall or Theatre in Waterloo Road: now modernly known as the "Old Vic", also, a part of the rehearsals, at the Avenue Theatre, under Charing Cross Station.

Left - A Bill for the Royal Victoria Coffee Hall in 1884 with Arthur Lloyd appearing - Courtesy the British Library.

We opened at the St George's Theatre, Burton-on-Trent, a town full of railway lines but all leading to breweries of importance, Bass, Ind Coope, Allsops, etc. in fact nothing else. This was again a new adventure for me and although the tour was in the small theatres I was very happy. Towns were Hull, Scarborough, York, Newcastle, Sunderland etc. We eventually closed the tour at Leamington just before Xmas 1899. I had a small pantomime, Red Riding Hood, which was not of material importance. Then I got a contract to make a show in its entirety for Wallace Erskine and Chas Macdona, "A Lucky Girl". I made the scenery in a barn at Surbiton in Surrey but I had a contract to go out with a musical comedy Gentleman Joe for Milton Bode. I took a spring tour we opened at the Theatre Royal Brighton, a nice theatre, well kept with a good staff. The company comprised, Frank Darby as Gentleman Joe, Arthur Godfrey, later became a music hall act "Duncan and Godfrey", Billy Harman and Fred Melton played a butler, Walter Hast, American Peggy Lennie etc. with a company of forty. The tour finished at the Duchess Theatre, Balham, SW. in June. We had four weeks vacation, the rehearse at the County Theatre, Reading for the autumn tour.

Milton Bode owned many theatres, these are the most important: County Theatre, Reading, Dalston Theatre NE, Royal Llandudno, Wales, Royalty Theatre, Chester, Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, His Majesty Theatre, Carlisle, Royal, Aberystwyth, etc. Many touring companies were, as follows: The French Maid, Gentleman Joe, Woman and Wine, One of the Best etc. but not forgetting Orlando Dando, a big musical comedy with Dan Leno, Herbert Campbell and fifty others on the stage.

So again I toured with Gentleman Joe into the autumn of 1899. It was a big success everywhere. By now I had given up the idea of becoming an actor and taken up stage management. This led me into the good books of Milton Bode. I have felt that I hold the confidence of my employer, I was well established with Milton Bode and at intervals I had letter of enquiry "When will I be free" to take up a new contract.

The Crown Theatre, High Street, Peckham - From a Postcard.Whilst we were at the Crown Theatre, Peckham Mr Clarence Sounes, invited me over to Woolwich with a view to engaging me as local stage manager and carpenter.

Right - The Crown Theatre, High Street, Peckham - From a Postcard.

In due course I arrived at the theatre, it was half built and after a conference I was turned down on account of my youth. However I was not dismayed. I toured most of the best theatres in the country whilst my theatrical education was full of experiences in many different ways. The tour was extended to the north of England, now at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Grimsby. The Stage Manager was Peter Bridges, he was a martinet directing his staff just how he liked.

Previous to our visit a Drury Lane drama was staged "The White Heather" one of the big feature scenes depicted a fight between the hero and the villain at the bottom of the sea. To describe this scene - a little imagination must co-operate, - at the back of the stage is a single white focus light - shining through a glass tank of water. The tank is only three inches between the back and front and three feet long, eighteen inches in height. Some very small fish are placed in the tank "tiddlers", the distance from the light to the tank would be about three feet and from the front of the tank is hung a linen cloth, painted blue with here and there showing a submerged wreck. A man with a cane tickles the fish from one end of the tank. The fish immediately dart across the tank to the opposite side. The effect is a silhouette of a large fish or fishes swimming at the sea bottom. The actors are dressed in rubber suits with large sea boots and Siebe Gorman helmets with rubber pipes attached from the flys, as air takes. These actors gradually lowered in sight from the flys down to the sea bottom, to find and gather the treasure of the wreck. At the last performance, Saturday night, previous to our arrival Mr Bridges told two of his lime light men to paste up the posters of Gentleman Joe on the boarding at the front of the theatre, Without more ado, they went to the "bill room", fetched a bucket of paste and the bills then walked across the stage, in front of the actor divers, in full view of the audience. Noticing their mistake they hurriedly grasped a ladder, a bucket of paste and ran. A fight between the hero and the villain was cut short and the audience yelled their disapproval to the lowering of the Act drop.

Our next move was to the Opera House, Northampton, then Oxford at the New Theatre. It was called the New Theatre, this has been succeeded by still another new theatre and we finished the tour at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth 5th Dec 1900. I immediately had to travel to the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton to put on a pantomime "Sinbad the Sailor" to rehearse then go and stage it, at the Comedy Manchester.

The Grand Theatre and Town Hall, Woolwich - From a Postcard posted in 1913 The Company had been fully rehearsed before my arrival. We opened on Dec 7 for a fortnight then back again to Wolverhampton to open on Boxing Day. During my first week at Wolverhampton I received a wire from Clarence Sounes asking me if it was possible - could I open at the Grand Theatre, Woolwich within a fortnight. I begged release from Milton Bode and he graciously let me off at the end of the fortnight and I arrived at Woolwich middle of Jan 1901.

Left - The Grand Theatre and Town Hall, Woolwich - From a Postcard posted in 1913

The pantomime showing at Woolwich was "Cinderella". The company's Stage Manager was Stanley White, the Business Manager Bannister Howard and it was under Ben Greet management. We had only played a few days when Queen Victoria died and every theatre in the country closed down. Whilst the theatre was closed I altered the stage. The front of the stage had a big apron piece which jutted over the orchestra which had eighteen musicians. The stage was not straight across from the proscenium arch - but bow like. This had to be cut straight with new footlights. The orchestra was raised two feet six inches with steps to approach. This allowed the members of the orchestra to be heard more distinctly. Also they were within view from the circle and upper circle. I had two other carpenters to help me and we finished the job in ample time for the opening of the next show viz. "Drink" a drama from a French author. The star performer was that great artist Charles Warner who played "Copean".

The scaffold scene was a thriller, whilst the attic scene at the close of the performance, with his <??> personality showing an attack of "delirium tremens" was recognised as a masterpiece. He smashes a window and as he fell against the window, his dresser who is hidden outside the window dabs Warner's face with a "Blood Sponge". Warner then faces the audience saying Goodbye I die and reels across the couch - Curtain.

Ben Greet's "Belle of New York" followed "Drink". Empsie Bowman played the Belle, Mac Olive was the whistler with a good chorus. Another Ben Greet's Coy followed "The Great Ruby" from Drury Lane. Walter Sealby's Trip to Chicago, Mrs Lewis Waller in "Zaza", Milton Bode's "One of the Best", Dottridge and Longden, "Two Little Vagabonds", W.H. Hallet's "The Princess and the Beggar Man", Henry Dundas's East Lynne with Ellen Snow and Eric Mayer, Walter Melville's "The Worst Woman in London", George Dancis Chinese Honeymoon with Louie Freer and The Lady Slavery starring Witty Wallie Walton. A summer vacation of five weeks, no pay, opening with "The New Barmaid" on August Bank Holiday. H. Dundas's Sporting Life to follow with White Heather from Drury Lane then the American musical "In Dahorney" with coloured stars Williams and Walker. This sort of programme was until a week before Xmas. Then the second pantomime at the Great Woolwich was "Puss in Boots" sponsored by J.F. Elliston of the Grand Theatre, Bolton. It was a grand show. Lily Morris was principal boy and it was her first time playing principal boy. She was young, graceful and really delightful. Her song "Good Bye Dolly Gray" captured the youth of the town. The South African war at it height. troops were leaving, others were arriving at Woolwich everyday and the soldiers sang their marching song "Good bye Dolly Gray". Officers and men acclaimed her and was the idol of the garrison.

Arthur Lupino played Cat. He gave a most brilliant feline performance but was unlucky on the very last night to break a blood vessel. He toured to Southampton where the pantomime was due at The Grand. Again he had a seizure and died there. Another artist was Mons Troba, a Frenchman. He was a wonderful juggler and emulated Cinquevalli even to the cannon ball tricks. Jesse Barlee was Principal Girl. During the pantomime John Donald, a manager, with whom I toured in a former pantomime wrote to me, enquiring if I was disengaged as he was to open, "for Oswald Stoll", the newly built Coliseum, W.1 being inquisitive arranged an appointment and Oswald Stoll with his mother interviewed me regarding the post of Stage Manager to that house.

Below the revolving stage at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.I was twenty one years of age. Mr Stoll just rocked with laughter saying I was too young and I had an offer from Mrs Doyly Carte but this I turned down as I was firmly established at the Grand Theatre, Woolwich. The new Coliseum was to have a revelation in stage construction, a revolving stage. Well it certainly revolve but it cannot function with the innumerable twists and evolutions which was the old time revolve with its different positions, facility and ease.

Right - Below the revolving stage at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.

We will take as illustration, Milton Bode's Woman and Wine. The "Ball Room" scene, this is a full stage set, with rostrums, flight of stairs etc. each placed on special boat trucks, four archways at the back of the stage bolted to rostrums which extend about twenty eight feet across stage, a balustrade tops the rostrum, stairs at each end of the rostrum, all these have castors at their base and painted on back as well as front. The castors give ease to spinning the scene round to the opposite side which is painted a full market with stalls and shops. The scene is changed by parting it from the centre. The two arches on P. S. is wheeled down stage, likewise on the O.P. side, then turned completely round which reveals the very large market at the back and the arches are turned into shops at each side of the stage. The stalls are all yoked together at the back of the ball room scene and are discovered as the lights are again restored.

"One of the best" the old Adelphi drama - the scene the barracks square is changed by the whole of one side being pushed bodily across stage with its sentry box to show an officers board room which is painted on the reverse side. Floradora, too, has a similar change of scenery from the exterior of a Welsh castle to a beautiful "Baronial Hall". The vast amount of money spent on installing revolving stages are today obsolete because the travelling show cannot comply with the measurements or adapt its use owing to the limited time in setting up at arrival in each town. This lost craftsmanship is to be deplored for those that are left have emigrated to the film studios.

At the Grand Theatre, Woolwich was a stage comparable with the largest in England. The stage was 42 feet deep, 41 feet between fly sails, height to grid fifty feet. This enabled a production with "cloths" of a depth of 27ft to fly away out of sight from any point in the theatre. Proscenium opening 32ft whilst the width of the stage including dock room was 75ft. Large sliding doors at the back of the stage opened in to a large store room, 40 feet square, a very useful asset. This was used as a dance school.

2nd September 1902 was a date of importance for I was married on that date to Miss Susan McCormack. Charles Lawson, best man and Carter Livesey gave me support by his presence. He was manager to Clifton Alderson's "Solider and a Man" during the week. It will be recalled I was a member of the "Honour Bright" Co, which Mr Livesey stage managed some years previous. My wife came from a vaudeville family Foreman and Fannan, comedians Fred Hallam, comedian Frank Seeley comedian.

Amongst the many companies here are a few that I can remember, Edward Compton Comedy Co, J.H. Clynes in "Royal Divorce". Incidentally this company played here five times each with a different Napoleon in six years as W. Macqueen Pope cites in his wonderful volume of "Shirt fronts and Sables". Miss Edith Cole had her usual benefit on Friday night of each visit - ah -hem "The Still Alarm" with its two white horses which harnessed themselves to the engine and drove off the stage with fire bells clanging. Lottie Collins "Ta ra ra Boom de ay" fame - in the "Dressmaker", Minnie Palmer in "My Sweetheart," "A Dark Secret" staging Henley regatta with a 40ft square tank sponsored by L. Scudamore. He also had a drama "Is Life Worth Living" introducing a steam roller, Mrs Lily Langtry in the "Degenerates", Wilson Barrett in "The Sign of the Cross" and "Pete the Manxman", J W Turners Opera Coy, Doyly carte Opera Coy, Seymour Hicks in the "Gay Gordons", "The Earl and the Girl", The Drury Lane Dramas", "The Flood Tide", The "Prodigal Son" with Norman Partridge plays the lead. The "Price of Piece", "Best of Friends" the above show was identically as staged with the same scenery as at Drury Lane. The "Best of Friends" had fourteen loads of scenery.

As I was married, my next vacation, was with some foreboding. However, I got a contract to put up a small stage at the Plumstead Radical Club which employed me, about five weeks. Another vacation I filled in at The Lord Raglan, Plumstead, which the Brewers, paid me handsomely but my last vacation was to build a stalactite cave and grotto for S. H. Cuff and Co. Drapers at Powis Street, Woolwich which showed a good profit and a three weeks holiday at Bournemouth. This cave was made in sections and was used as a bazaar at Xmas. Mr Cuff told me afterwards that he was more than satisfied, the profit from admittance was tremendous, the cost was repaid in four days.

Other companies included Fred Harris's "His Majesty's Guests". The star lead was Fred Kitchen of C & F Renad, in "The Swiss Express". This company had more truck scenery than any pantomime. The train in motion, with everything working where two flunkeys fall through the bottom of a railway carriage and are whisked out of sight by a small concealed "bogie truck". On to this they would drop to be instantly whisked off to the wings. At the next moment they are to be seen on top of the railway carriage and eventually the train is blown up in full view of the audience, each carriage standing up on end whilst the two footmen are to be seen without trousers on a railway signal post. The last scene, in Andermatt, Switzerland, finishes with them coming through the ceiling and dropping on a table surrounded by bride and bridegroom with his guests.

A visit from John Lawson in a triple bill, each night one of the three sketched would be "Humanity". The other two would be two of the following "The Kings Minister" which featured a large clock tower scene similar to the clock at Berne in the Kramgasse, the "Monkeys Paw", a thriller "Sally in our Alley" and on Saturday the old time London thriller "Sweeney Todd" the demon barber. The Barber's shop in Fleet Street with a trap fitted into stage (centre) and to complete the tension was an explosion. Our property master, George Jewett, was instructed to load a battery - and discharge it under stage, whilst the famous trap scene was in progress. Mr Jewett failed at first, but on second trial a terrible explosion happened - the force ripped up the boards of the stage, and the show was curtailed, rostrum tops were improvised and placed over the openings of the stage. George Jewett's hair and eyebrows were gone and it took some weeks before he was restored to his usual self

At Easter 1908 the Grand Theatre Woolwich ended it with "The Beauty of bath". On the Tuesday the chorus refused to go on stating that the previous week was cancelled without the necessary fortnight notice. Mr Sounes was called to straighten this anomaly and he guaranteed them full payment for that particular week which he fulfilled. An action in the law courts followed.

Variety Programme at the Theatre Royal, Aldershot - Courtesy Alan Chudley.Following the Beauty of Bath was the transfer of the theatre to Colonel Gibbons, Chairman of the London Theatres Variety Ltd. I was offered my job as Stage Manager but could not agree terms and I stayed with Mr Sounes and was transferred to the old Theatre Royal, Aldershot.

Right - Variety Programme for the Theatre Royal, Aldershot - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

A brief allusion to Aldershot town itself will not be amiss - arriving at the station in the year 1908 you gaze upon the only piece of architecture in the town, viz. Messrs Gale and Polden's military photographer's establishment. The streets are all alike, having no pretension. The inhabitants live in cottages that are incongruous and I beheld a sorry jumble which included the Theatre Royal, for that important edifice looked more like an auction rooms or an antiquated furniture depository than a Temple of Thespis, Aldershot too seminal you of the army, where the gymnasium instructors tells his protege more of the embryo recruits family history than he ever dreamed possible, yet here the authorities show records of gallantry and prowess in athletics and many have military honours including the VC.

I arrived on a Sunday afternoon in April 1908, The bills displayed that Albert Chevalier would appear in, "My Old Dutch" coupled with a curtain raiser "The Clown" at the Theatre Royal. During the night a terrific thunderstorm poured over the town. Aldershot is surrounded by hills which veritably the town is in a saucer and the drains quickly choke owing to its inability to discharge and function adequately.

On my arrival at the theatre on Monday I found that the dressing rooms below the stage were impossible of access and not fit to be used. The musicians of the orchestra had to enter from the stalls to enable them to reach the orchestral pit. I found that the drains to the toilet was the cause so I determined to seal these off, also to make provision in a yard near the stage door as the alternative. This was done by myself with assistance of George Jewett. We added new dressing rooms with toilets and drains, a bricklayer helped in the success of this venture, and of course this took some weeks to finish - but we did it - no local body interfered - and as this was a common occurrence it was hailed as a success.

The theatrical fare staged at this theatre was not up to the standard, as of the Grand Theatre Woolwich but we had some very well known artist's perform here during me stay: including George Robey, Seymour Hicks, Ellen Terries etc. I stayed at the Theatre Royal Aldershot until September of 1910, whilst I was there I built a scene store, sixty feet long and fourteen in width: other improvements were a new grid and relaying of the stage.

I made many friends including Capt Arthur Woods, Scottish Rifles, who was a son of Sir Evelyn Wood, he afterwards became a very popular music hall artist - with another military friend - were known as the Two Captains and topped bills including Victoria Palace, London. Fred Karno gave us a visit, "Hilarity", "Saturday till Monday" and "Humming Birds" were staged, and among the lesser artists was Charlie Chaplin. It was summer time and a few of the hardy male members made their home at the theatre using dressing rooms and the scene store as bedrooms whilst quite close the Y.M.C.A. had a branch, which offered facilities such as breakfast, or dinners or teas. Those were the days.

One special occasion, a performance given by London's star artists, in aid of funds to the military creche. The patron was H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King George V. The inspiring genius was Capt Arthur Wood, amongst the audience were Sir Henry and Lady Smith Dorrien, and other military celebrities.

The theatre was tastefully decorated for the occasion and the auditorium was packed with spectators. Everybody was in their seats some time before the rising of the "curtain" and to await the arrival of H.R.H The Prince of Wales, The orchestra was conducted by Mr Harrison and to keep the audience amused patriotic airs and popular songs were played but it was agreed that directly His Royal Highness arrived the air God Bless the Prince of Wales was to be struck up. After a wait of some twenty minutes - a cue came through that he was in sight and the band did its best. The audience sang and sang lustily - everybody standing - when it was apparent that a mistake was made, so everybody sat down and after further pause an assurance that H.R.H. had arrived but the orchestra made a mistake and played "God Save the King".

My wife, during the three years stay at Aldershot, opened a confectioners shop with a tea room and on my appointment at Kingston the property was sold at a profit and we moved to Kingston-on-Thames. September 1910 I laid the stage and put the grid in. This stage is only thirty feet deep, sixty feet in width, forty one feet between fly sails. The grid has fifty two working sets of lines capable of hanging scenery of any production.

Kingston Empire Auditorium before the 1930s alteration.The theatre labelled "Empire" opened early, October 1910 with the top of the Bill, The Great Raymond American illusionist. He used a metre square trap about sixteen feet from the footlights, this trap was cut on the Monday morning. It was used in all the disappearances of any of Raymond's staff. The show opened with "full house" at every performance.

Left - The Kingston Empire Auditorium before its 1930s alteration.

The following week the "top of the Bill" was Lockharts elephants presented by Captain Joe Taylor. These elephants are the same animals with the exception of one which killed Mr Lockhart at Hoe Street, Walthamstow some year or so previous. These elephants had to have a rehearsal, as each animal weighed over two tons, and it is very necessary for the elephants to assure themselves, that it was a safe stage construction. Their keeper, whose nickname was "thumbs" paraded them round the stage but when the very large elephant had to balance himself on one leg on the centre of the stage it gave a trumpet and with its foot - pushed the trap through the stage - that trick had to be cut out.

Kingston was a town, though near London, kept it medieval character. The environs of the market place and the old boat yards on the Thames date back many years.

The Kingston Empire in 1939 - From a programme - Courtesy Alan ChudleyIt was at the old Row Barge Inn just tucked away under Kingston Bridge that the elephants were stabled in a huge place where mostly men of the market place - salesmen even organ grinders slept overhead. Their piano organs were housed in this huge stable below with the elephants. Then the big elephant too exception to the noise of high words in the middle of the night among the Italians, when it wound its trunk around the big pillar which supported the upper storey and pulled it down - trumpeting and dropping everybody in to the stable below. It was never rebuilt.

Right - The Kingston Empire in 1939 - From a Kingston Empire programme - Courtesy Alan Chudley

In the early spring a fire in the upper gallery took place early in the year 1914. My military service is recorded on pages 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75. (Not included in this transcription. M.L.) I stage managed Kingston Empire just over thirty years with the exception of three years, in France with the A. S. C. now the R.A.S.C., my total of years under Clarence Sounes, was just over forty years.

Marie Lloyd - From 'Music Hall at The Palace' a production at the Brighton Palace Pier Theatre.Here are some of the star artists who I had the privilege and pleasure with their presentation. Marie Lloyd: at least a score of visits, loved by all, Jose Collins: a great artist, Florrie Forde, very popular, Daisy Dormer, Lottie Collins at the Grand Woolwich, Lizzie Collins, Alice Lloyd, Rosie Lloyd, Winifred Ward, Gertie Gitana, Nellie Wallace. This lady I knew from her young days when she was Mrs Liddy. Mr and Mrs Liddy were players in William Bourne's "Man to Man". The joint salary was £3 per week. Her salary in the "Whirl of the World" at the London Palladium was at least £300 per week. This show ran nearly four years. When I retired in 1948 my last job was Manager and Stage Manager to the biggest hit that variety has ever had "Thanks for the Memory", sponsored by Don Ross whilst Nellie Wallace was one of the seven stars. She will never be forgotten.

Left - Marie Lloyd - From 'Music Hall at The Palace' a production at the Brighton Palace Pier Theatre.

Her first success was at the Old Artillery Theatre, Woolwich in a number called "Down by the River Side". Philip Yorke booking manager from the Tivoli, London and Charles Morton, from the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W. C. saw her at Woolwich in a pantomime where she was drawing crowds. They immediately booked her for sixteen consecutive weeks at each London theatre.

Kingston Empire Auditorium after the 1930s alteration - From a programme - Courtesy Alan ChudleyAnother artist who I have a liking for is Ella Shields. This lady has been a constant visitor and the Kingston audience always showed their appreciation by their applause and she too was a feature in "Thanks for the Memory".

Right - The Kingston Empire Auditorium after the 1930s alteration - From a Kingston Empire programme - Courtesy Alan Chudley

I made only a brief allusion to Gertie Gitana, This lady is a front line star whether in London, Cardiff, Birmingham or Glasgow. She never failed to attract large crowds and each town would shout for Nellie Dean in the great show of her husband's Don Ross's "Thanks for the Memory".

Other ladies I here recall are as follows: Louie Freer in the "Chinese Honeymoon", Sisters Sprightly, Three Sisters Tree, Beattie and Babs, Elsie Carlisle, Sisters Levy, Lil Hawthorne, Jenny Howard, Lily Burnand, Olga, Helga, and Eli Hudson, Kate Carney, Lily Morris, Nora Bancroft, Wish Wynne, Queenie Lighton and many others but never to forget a few years later - Gracie Fields.

Continue to Chapter Two, Part Two...

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