ELEVENTH ANNUAL DINNER
New Cavendish Club
44 Great Cumberland Place, London W1 7BS
Friday, 23 October, 2009
On an unseasonably mild late-October evening we assembled in the bar of this elegant late-Georgian building, undaunted by problems on the Circle Line – Patron Sir Donald Sinden had been obliged to walk up the lengthy non-functioning escalator at Marble Arch. Another of our Patrons, Ellen Terry Craig, was escorted by her son, Ashley, representing yet another generation of ET descendants. Our third Patron, John H B Irving, sent best wishes for a happy evening.
And so it turned out. The food was of superior standard as was the service and the cosiness of the ambience. In her welcoming speech our Chair, Frances Hughes, wittily managed to find a connection between the Club’s address, Great Cumberland Place, and Henry Irving, for in 1866 did not the actor take rooms in Old Quebec Street, just around the corner?
At coffee it was my pleasant office to introduce our Guest of Honour, Peter Baldwin, whom I had first met in pantomime at Colchester in 1957. Peter’s entertaining and humorous reminiscences concentrated on his early stage work, only giving a glancing mention of his decades in Coronation Street as Derek Wilton. Instead we learnt of his early years in provincial rep and in particular of his incident-packed tours with Franco Zefirelli which included appearances at the legendary Teatro La Fenice in Venice. He also mentioned his deep interest in Victorian toy theatre and his association with Pollock’s Toy Shop in Covent Garden, of which he is co-owner. On sitting down, Peter was vigorously and warmly applauded.
It was another congenial and buzzy event for the Society, and I shouldn’t be at all surprised if we find ourselves dining at the New Cavendish again in a year’s time. Editor.
Mr Stephen Wells wishes to sell this framed letter drafted by Bram Stoker and signed by Irving. The le tterhead gives the itinerary of the Lyceum tour of North America 1895-6 and is dated 5 December 1896. The text is as follows:
‘My Dear Sir,
I regret that it will not be in my power to meet the wishes of the Contemporary Club as to an appearance as in January I will be in the South. Indeed my plans are complete for the remainder of the tour.
Believe me, Faithfully Yours, Henry Irving
T. Cookwordin (?)’
The Contemporary Club of Philadelphia had been addressed by Irving on 20 December, 1887, the title of his address being ‘The Lives and Genius of Burbage, Betterton, Garrick and Kean’, a talk first given at the University of Oxford on 26 June, 1886. The tour list is particularly interesting as it show the immense distances travelled; in the smaller towns visited only one or two performances would be given. (See First Knight December 2003 for details of the 1899-1900 tour.)
The photograph of HI was taken c1890. Size of the glazed frame 12″ high x 13″ wide. Guide price £60 + P&P (Mr Wells lives in Croxley Green, Hertfordshire). If you wish to make a bid email the vendor on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Editor.
THE WINTER’S TALE
Old Vic, Wednesday 8 July, 2009
This was the Society’s first theatre outing, and Sam Mendes’ production for the Bridge Theatre project was in all respects a treat for the eye, the ear, and the intellect. Far more knowledgeable pens than mine reviewed the play when it opened here last May, but for the record I will stress how much we enjoyed the excellence of the trans-Atlantic troupe, including Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack, Ethan Hawke, and Rebecca Hall. On behalf of those of us who met before the matinee for luncheon at the Union Jack Club I’d like to thank Keith Hutton for arranging a most convivial preliminary to a most stimulating afternoon. Editor
A RELIC TO BE SNEEZED AT
In his 1943 autobiography, Seeking Bubbles, Esmond Knight recounts this story of appearing with Tom Heslewood in The Acts of Rahere in 1930.
‘Tom Heslewood, a wonderful character, who in his early days had been a designer for Irving, played Henry I. Tom was unmistakably one of the old school, and as we waited in the cold stone passages for our cue he would keep us all entranced with superb stories about the ‘Old Man’. It is strange how all actors of that period seemed to have evolved such a very definite type: the thin, lanky figure with long nose and lantern jaw. Tom looked magnificent in his Henry I robes, which, he told us, Irving had worn in such-and-such a production. One damp evening he sneezed, having a severe and running cold. “Damn, I’ve left my handkerchief in the dressing-room ,” he said, and automatically thrust his hand deep into one of the pockets concealed in the robes. “By Jove, here is one!” and he produced it, flattened out like a biscuit after many years in the shop which Tom once kept in Maiden Lane. He shook it out and peered at a name, faintly marked in the corner. “Good lord, one of the Old Man’s” he remarked casually, and with a loud blast, which echoed through the vaults, proceeded to blow his nose.’
NB: Heslewood did not in fact design for HI, though he may have designed for H B Irving. Editor.
ACCIDENT TO MR. HENRY IRVING
Illustrated Police News, 21 May, 1887
‘Mr. Irving, the most popular actor of our time, was riding in a hansom cab one day last week when the vehicle collided with a brewer’s dray while turning the corner of Garrick street, and was immediately overturned . Mr. Irving had to crawl out on his hands and knees. He was bruised, but not seriously so, and w as able to perform on the same night. How the driver escaped is a mystery. He may think himself very fortunate.’ Submitted by Colin Hague
Review in The Penny Illustrated
Saturday, 26 April, 1873
‘On Saturday Charles I gave place at the Lyceum to the morbid theme which Hood and Lord Lytton had, we thought, exhausted. Eugene Aram stalked the stage again at the bidding of Mr. W. G. W ills. Partly dropping Lord Lytton’s fictitious ad ditions, M r. Wills weaves with the traditional facts of Aram’s later life a thread of love story of the slenderest descriptions. In fact no mere dramatic idyll could well be simpler than the substance of his plot as it stands. [Then follows the customary detailed description of the action .] Mr. Henry Irving acting as Eugene Aram is, of course, very powerful, abounding with that intellectual play of features and weird characterisation which all London playgoers are now familiar with, and, equally of course, the Ruth of Miss Isabel Bateman is an extremely graceful assumption; but the gloomy nature of the subject will, we are afraid, sadly counterbalance the great merits of the acting.’
MORE FOR SALE
- 3 pcs of HI (2 as Becket and 1 as Wolsey) valued at £2 each, and a Souvenir of Becket, published for the original 1893 Lyceum production, but purchased at TR Drury Lane. 23.5cm x 16.5. Twelve ills. by Partridge, Telbin, Harker and Craven. Cast list and breakdown of scenes for May 1904 production are pasted in the front. Also some loose press cuttings of Irving’s death. Condition poor with the inner pages separated fro m the hard covers. Guide price £6 incl. p&p. If you are interested contact the Editor.
- An exceptionally interesting item which recently came to light is a pocket-sized handwritten account book in which Bram Stoker kept details of income and expenditure for the 1887-8 Lyceum Company tour of the United States, preceded by a three week tour of the UK. The book is to be auctioned at the Mackworth Hotel, Derby, on 19 November. The event will be viewable online: for details contact www.hansonsauctioneers.co.uk
Troubador Publishing (Matador)
ISBN 98 184876 3 445 pb £ 7.99 4 ills.
Reviewed by Frances Hughes
Final Performance: A True Story of Love, Jealousy, Murder and Hypocrisy is a fictionalised account, based very carefully on fact, of William Terriss and his mistress, Jessie Millward, in whose arms he died after being stabbed nine days before Christmas 1897. This is a book for readers who delight in backstage and onstage re-creation s of the late 19th century British theatre and, therefore, may be of especial interest to Irving Society members. It says much for HI’s reputation that he escorted Jessie to Brompton Cemetery so that she was able to attend the funeral of the man she loved. Women we re not usually participants at Victorian funerals but, as she went under Irving’s protection, gossip was kept at bay. HI had brought Terriss and Jessie together in Much Ado as Hero and Don Pedro, and he supported her to the end. The four photos of the protagonists inside the book look a little faded, but Breezy Bill and Fessie come to life far more clearly through the telling of a story which is truly ‘theatrical’.