The Irving Society Newsletter No 80

The Irvingite


This year’s Wreath laying and AGM coincided with a large scale celebration of the Chinese New Year of the Pig, so while Imogen Irving was able to lay the traditional wreath, any speeches were rather drowned out by a combination of fire-crackers and oriental pop-music from the portable stage in Charing Cross Road.

The intrepid group who had gathered then moved to the more sedate surroundings of the CAA in Bedford Street for a very important AGM to decide the future of the Irving Society.

The meeting began with a report from our Chair, Frances Hughes, who expressed her thanks to members of the committee, who have worked hard to ensure the continuation of the Society, especially since the sad passing of Irving Society stalwarts Helen Smith and Hilary Philips. Frances also reported on the very well attended Westminster Abbey event and the not so well attended visit to Abney Park Cemetery. Frances reminded the meeting of the plans of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) to re-position the statue of Sir Henry as they re-orientate their main entrance. It was agreed that this was a good opportunity for the Society to engage positively with the NPG and be part of their plans for the future.

There was then a report from Kristen, the treasurer on the membership and financial standing of the Society before the meeting moved to a discussion on its very future. Although membership numbers had dwindled, those present still felt that it was worthwhile to continue with the Society, especially as there was this opportunity to engage with the NPG, which may provide further ways to promote the work of the Society and thereby encourage interest, especially with younger people. A vote was taken which confirmed the intention of the membership to continue the Irving Society.

With this good news the meeting then moved to the election of officers and committee members. Thanks were extended to committee member Alex Bissett and the Hon. Secretary, Megan Hunter, who after many years’ service would be standing down. The Chair, Vice Chair and Treasurer were confirmed in their posts for a further year; Matthew Neil was elected Hon. Secretary, and Jennie Bissett, David Drummond and Kate Westgarth, all offered their services and were duly elected to the committee.

The meeting closed with a enjoyable and fascinating talk from David Drummond, who with the use of a wonderful collection of walking sticks shared entertaining anecdotes of their theatrical owners. The birthday cake was cut and Sir Henry was toasted as we look forward to the year ahead – so as the great man said “Here’s to our enterprise”


It gives me great pleasure to introduce your committee for 2019, with some biographical details of some of the newer members.

Chair: Frances Hughes – Frances has agreed to continue as Chair for 2019 and a fuller biography will follow in the next edition of The Irvingite

Vice-Chair: Paul Campion

Paul Campion has been a member of the Society for 15 years and is currently Vice-Chairman.
He does not claim to have had a great knowledge of Irving and 19th century theatre when he joined but he is an enthusiastic learner and has always admired the theatrical partnership of Irving and Ellen Terry and their impact on the times in which they lived.
Apart from theatre, one of Paul’s other great enthusiasms is music. He is a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians and a member of the Samuel Pepys Club. History, genealogy, travel and exploring London continue to fascinate him and take up a good deal of his time. What riches!   

Hon. Treasurer: Dr Kristen Tetens

Dr Kristan Tetens begins her second year as the Society’s treasurer and membership manager. She has worked in higher education marketing for more than 30 years and is currently the head of marketing and communications for the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Her fascination with nineteenth-century theatre began while she was an undergraduate studying history at Michigan State University.

She moved to the UK in 2013 to complete a PhD on Irving at the University of Leicester under the supervision of Professor Richard Foulkes. Kristan is chartered by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and recently joined the Worshipful Company of Marketors. She received the Freedom of the City of London earlier this month.

Hon. Secretary: Matthew Neil

Matthew Neil is newly elected to the post of Hon. Secretary.

In addition, Matthew is Chairman of the Cultural Heritage charity the Music Hall, Theatre and Film Guild of Great Britain and America, and has had a lifelong interest in the popular entertainments of the nineteenth century. He has performed in Music Hall and when younger was a member of a theatre workshop company.

Committee members

David Drummond

After training at the RADA David Drummond’s acting career started in 1950 with many regional tours and in repertory. Television appearances began in 1952. A somewhat chequered career included being in the West End’s shortest run of just the first night, Roger in the BBC’s situation comedy “Abigail and Roger”(1956), understudying (loathed), many commercials and further television including Lord Bertie Lissie in Granada’s series “Biggles” (1960).
A sideline as an antique dealer developed into a bookshop in the West End in 1967 with a specialty in theatre interspersed with occasional television. He retired from the bookshop after fifty years. A treasured possession being his visitor’s book.

A historian of pantomime history led to amassing a huge collection on the subject now at Special Collections of the University of Kent consigned after several exhibitions one of which in 1978 celebrated the 200th anniversary of Grimaldi’s birth. An exhibited clown costume worn at the annual Grimaldi service led to joining “Clowns International” later becoming its chairman.A board member of The Greenwich Theatre for ten years he also chaired its support group where in “Suppers With Speakers” over seventy theatrical practitioners spoke for their supper.
Sixteen years ago he founded The Max Wall Society whose latter career owed much to his Greenwich Theatre performances. David’s twilight years include completing anoft requested record of an eventful life.

Jennie Bissett

Born London, trained as a dancer then worked in shows, musicals and films under her maiden name Jennie Walton. On the Equity Council representing Chorus Dancers in the 1960’s. Quickly became interested in theatre history and began a collection of material relating to Sir John Martin Harvey. This led to an interest in Henry Irving, Ellen Terry & William Terriss, then many other Victorian actors and dancers, especially those not yet fully documented. Joined the Society for Theatre Research 1966, currently on the Committee. 1969 joined Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, founded by David Garrick in 1766, becoming the first female Director then Secretary (1984-2004) and currently Honorary Archivist. Founder member (2001) and Senior Research Officer to the Museum of Music History. Now researching theatrical graves in particular in Brookwood Cemetery and it’s Actors’ Acre.

Imogen Irving

Born into a military family, and with a direct connection to Sir Henry Irving (she is his great, great, great Granddaughter), Imogen grew up mostly around Hampshire and its army camps but always within touching distance of  Salisbury Playhouse where she was a member of their youth theatre.

Graduating this year from The Oxford School of Drama, she played Desdemona in Othello, Vera in A Month in the Country, Elan in a new-writing piece at Soho Theatre and was most recently selected for the finals in the Spotlight Prize.  Life was never the same for Imogen after putting on a red nose at drama school and she can be regularly seen Clowning and enjoying comedy in her spare time. This year she has been filming “Doctors” in Birmingham, but is passionate to return to classical plays and performing Shakespeare soon.

Kate Westgarth

Kate Westgarth is a former British diplomat and China specialist. She is currently CEO of Ensis Strategic Ltd and advises on East Asia at the House of Lords. She has a long standing interest in Irving, the c19th and the arts.


There is both a Twitter account and there will be a Facebook page – both are attempts to engage with a wider and perhaps younger audience as we seek to grow the membership. The committee will be posting regularly all things Irving and 19th Century Theatre, so if you are active on social media, please find us, follow, join and like.


The committee are keen to hear from you, the membership, your ideas for any events or activities you would like to see take place.

Do you prefer daytime events, weekday or weekends? Would you like more lecture, exhibitions or live performance?

We are really interested to hear your views – please let the Hon. Secretary know at


Just a reminder for those who have not yet paid the 2019 membership subscriptions to contact the Hon. Treasurer, Dr Kristan Tetens

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