The Irving Society Newsletter No 47


Lecture Theatre, National Portrait Gallery
Sunday, 1 February, 2009 at 15.00

At two-thirty or thereabouts, Richard Morley raised a wreath-laden broomstick to the Guvnor’s feet, an unorthodox but effective way of laying our annual Birthday tribute. The day was bright but very cold; nevertheless, three warm cheers were raised in Irving’s memory, momentarily drowning out the Chinese New Year celebrations resounding around us. The broom was returned with thanks to the local Art Shop, and we all repaired to the National Portrait Gallery for the AGM. The NPG is immediately behind the Irving statue (see photo), so it wasn’t an arduous walk.

In the comfort and panelled splendour of the Lecture Theatre, the Society’s chair, Frances Hughes, opened the meeting by declaring the past year to have been a very successful one. Last June there was an enjoyable tour of the Old Vic, followed in the afternoon by an extremely interesting talk by Gavin Clarke, archivist of the National Theatre, at The Studio, Waterloo. The guest speaker at the Annual Dinner was Andrew Sachs, who spoke amusingly and affectingly of his early years in pre-war Berlin and his experiences in Fawlty Towers. Hilary Phillips was th anked for yet again sup plying the birthday wreath, Sylvia Starshine for her devotion to duty—the office of Hon Treasurer being the least desirable of all—and Michael Kilgarriff for his hard work both as Hon Sec and as Editor of The Irvingite and First Knight.

In his report Michael Kilgarriff declared his work for the Society to be a labour of love, and that his fascination with and respect for Irving remain undimmed. It is his pleasure to sit, as it were, in the centre of a clearing house of information, answering queries and offering advice concerning Irving ephemera and avenues of research, and putting people in touch with like-minded enthusiasts. Michael Kilgarriff, Frances Hughes, Sylvia Starshine at the NPG’s Lecture Hall. There has been a slight increase in membership from 102 to 109, including Gavin Clarke who provides the Committee with a meeting room at The Studio without charge and has thus been made an Honorary Member. W e also have our first Group Member, the Bonnington Group.

The Hon Treasurer Sylvia Starshine reported a satisfactory financial state of affairs, reminding the meeting that the Society’s financial year runs from 1 October to 30 September, and not January to December. With yet another increase in postage it may be necessary to increase subscription rates next October. Again Richard Wadhams of Hogbens Dunphy was thanked for auditing the accounts gratis.

The following officers and committee members were re-elected unopposed: Frances Hughes (Chair), Alex Bisset (Vice-Chair), Michael Kilgarriff (Hon Sec ), Sylvia Starshine (Hon Treas), Brian Manvell, Mike Ostler, Hilary Phillips, Nicholas Smith, and Michael Sharvell-Martin.

In the absence of Barry Cryer who was laid low with ’flu, Prof Jeffrey Richards gamely took up some of the slack by outlining his long-term project on the history of Victorian pantomime 1837-190 1. His STR lecture John Ruskin and the British Pantomime will be given at the Art Workers Guild o n 19 February.

After expressing gratitude to Jeffrey for his impromptu but informative and entertaining address, Frances drew the raffle, for which there were two prizes. A small framed watercolour of HI as Dr Primrose donated by Frances was won by Tina Gray, and a profusely illustrated history of the Theatre Royal Glasgow, donated by Elizabeth Sutter, was won by Hal Sinden. £35.50 was raised.


Though Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale was never seen at the Lyceum under HI’s management, Ellen Terry played Mamillius for Charles Kean and Hermione for Tree, and in his years of provincial struggle Irving played Florizel, Cleomenes and Third Gentleman.

Join us at the Old Vic for a new production of the play on Wednesday, 8 July, at 2.30pm. Cast includes Simon Russell Beale and Sinead Cusack. Sam Mendes directs. Ticke ts: £18 . Send your cheque (payable to the Irving Society) and an SAE to the Hon Sec at the address below. Please indicate whether you require luncheon.


The Royal National Lifeboat Institution Boat-House in Eastbourne, East Sussex, was erected as a memorial to the murdered ‘Breezy Bill’, an actor (and exsailor) for whom HI had the greatest
affection. Photo s by Sylvia Starshine.


Mark Macdonald of the Daguerreian Society hopes we can identify this image which dates from around 1850. Charles Kean as King John h as been suggested; the actor illustrated is certainly about the right height (Kean was 5′ 7″) but is he too handsome? If you have any thoughts please contact the Editor or email the enquirer direct on


Dr Katharine Cockin, as Principal Investigator of the Ellen Terry and Edith Craig Database, is holding a conference on the project on Saturday 6 June, 2009. Should you wish to attend or to submit a paper on any related topic please contact her on


As part of a new exhibition opening on St  George’s Day, the Shakespeare Birthday Trust will display pictures of ‘a dozen Shakespearean heroes’. The all-time champions selected so far are: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Leonard DiCaprio , Charles Dickens, David Garrick, Ben Jonson, Akira Kurosawa, Laurence Olivier, Patrick Stewart, Paul Robeson, Ellen Terry, and Sam Wanamaker.

Since, according to the Trust’s Paul Edmondson, who rejoices (languishes?) in the title Head of Learning, the minimum number of actors required to mount a Shakespeare play is thirteen , one place in his cheesily-named ‘Hall of Fame’ has yet to be filled. Despite this dubious contention, voting for the final Bardic hero was from yet another pre-selected list:

Peggy Ashcroft, Sarah Bernhardt, Peter Brook, John Gielgud, Goethe, Boris Pasternak, George Bernard Shaw, Sarah Siddons, David Tennant, and Virginia Woolf.

At least Gielgud made the cut onto the B list, with Henry Irving screamingly conspicuous by his absence. Members can doubtless think of many other jawdropping omissions. Voting for the thirteenth honorand was confined to readers of The Guardian, whose choice was as follows: Ashcroft 1.1%, Bernhardt 1.3%, Brook 3.2%, Gielgud 12.3%, Goethe 0.9%, Pasternak 15%, Shaw 0.6%, Siddons 0.2%, Tennant 65%, Woolf 0.6%. So David Tennant joins the immortals in the SBT’s egregious Hall of Fame.


Halsetown, Nr St Ives, Cornwall

This is the house in which HI lived with his Penberthy cousins from 1852-58. Now modernised with all mod. cons. and available to let for self-catering holidays. Sleeps up to 10 + cot. For brochure giving full details contact Editor.


Here, a harbinger of spring enlivening my front garden, is an unimpeachably genuine Henry Irving Daffodil.

All communications to:

Michael Kilgarriff, Editor/Hon Sec
The Irving S ociety
10 Kings Avenue, London W5 2SH
tel: 020 8566 8301

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