The Irving Society Newsletter No 53

The Irvingite

Twelfth Annual Dinner

New Cavendish Club, 44 Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7BS
Friday, 22 October, 2010
Report: Michael Kilgarriff Photo: Sylvia Starshine

It is said that disappointment will always attend the revisiting of a joyful experience, but our second successive Annual Dinner at the New Cavendish Club trashed that old saw. Thirty members and guests – a higher attendance than last year – gathered in the front lounge for a drink and a catch -up before ascending volubly to the first floor either by stairs or by a lift whose diminutive proportions would have made a Chilean miner feel claustrophobic.

Jeffrey Richards & Frances Hughes
Jeffrey Richards & Frances Hughes

In the Sample room – precisely the right size for Team Irving – our Chair, Frances Hughes, welcomed us in her customary apt and witty manner, and Alex Bisset spoke the famous Selkirk Grace by his compatriot Robert Burns,complete with authentic brogue. Alex had taken the trouble to print out illustrated cards for each diner, making it easier for us Sassenachs to comprehend the sentiments so pawkily expressed.

Sylvia Starshine, our Hon Treas, outdid herself this year with the dinner programmes, featuring on the front page a most charming coloured cartoon of HI being tugged on either side by John Bull and and Uncle Sam. Items on the menu were as usual embellished with references to the Guvnor’s life and career, e.g. Penberthy Prawn Cocktail and Grilled Black Becket Bream, these sly jocosities being, it must be confessed, the work of your reporter.

Committee member Nicholas Smith had us on our feet for the Loyal Toast, after which Frances introduced the guest speaker, Jeffrey Richards, Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University. As might have been expected, we were treated to an intriguing, informative, touching and humorous run-down of the Lyceum’s lesser luminaries. It was often said that HI only engaged second-rate talent in order to enhance his own glory, but Jeffrey showed this to be both unfair and untrue. He has graciously agreed for the talk to be reproduced in a future First Knight, so that all the membership may enjoy his conclusions. Excellent food, wine, service, and mutual socialising rendered us all in the mellowest of moods, with the stragglers notably reluctant to leave. We’ll be back.


The Pictoral World

5 January, 1888

More praise of Henry Irving & Co from across the water. They have now carried Chicago by storm with Faust. The Tribune says the performance will live in tradition as the highest tribute which the histrionic art of the century has paid to literature. Maybe; but I don’t think real students of Goethe’s Faust quite share that view.

Could anything be more ridiculous than that story about Mr. Henry Irving’s Christmas pudding? and it is “so Yankee, you know, quite Yankee.” Our great actor preserved under foreign skies his mind for
a bit of English plum-pudding for Christmas, so he imported a twentyseven-pound pudding for the enjoyment of his company. The great soul of the New York Custom-house was equal to the emergency. It was a serious matter; there was the pudding, but there was also the protective tariff. They demanded payment of five dollars duty. It was paid. Was the pudding free? Not at all. Mr. Henry Irving must execute a bond, witnessed by responsible persons, for the protection of the United States against all risk of any articles upon which a higher duty should be paid being smuggled inside the pudding. The dinner was kept waiting for four hours for the pudding, but it is satisfactory to know that it proved to be a first-class one when, finally, the company got their forks into it. Now what, I wonder, did those intelligent Yankee officials think there as in the pudding? A suit of clothes? Or a steam engine? Had the pudding been sent from there here, the Liverpool authorities might have probed it for dynamite with more chance of discovery.

Spotted by Prof Denis Salter

The Penny Illustrated

26 August, 1893

Mr. Henry Irving and Miss Ellen Terry started in advance on their American tour, and have had a pleasant trip in Canada. On Saturday last the members of the Lyceum Company left Waterloo Station by the boat express for Southampton. Miss Jessie Millward, Miss Kate Phillips, Miss Maud Milton, Miss Ailsa Craig, Mr. William Terriss, the veteran M r. Henry Howe, Mr. and Mrs. F. Cooper, Mr. and M rs. Tyars, Mr. A. Bishop, and other well-known performers were included, with Mr. Meredith Ball, the orchestral conductor. A number of professional friends went to see them off; and at Southampton, whence the New York steamer  departed, hearty cheers were given to the chief members of the company, so well led by the genial Bram Stoker. Early next week they will start from New York on their three-thousand-mile railway ride to San

There will be another long railway journey, twelve hundred miles, to Minneapolis. The company will stay five weeks in C hicago, eigh t weeks in New York, and the whole of January next will be spent in Boston. Washington will only occupy them for five nights, Philadelphia for three weeks, and a second visit will be paid to Boston for a week, the tour concluding at Abbey’s Theatre, New York, the last performance being fixed for March 17, 1894.

The representations will be very complete, scenery and machinery being taken. Meantime, faithful Mr. Joseph Hurst remains at the Lyceum to represent Mr. Irving during the pantomime.

Spotted by the Editor

 Put provenance in thy purse

The linen purse shown below was discovered a few weeks ago in a job-lot at an auction in Cape Town. Lined with very fine kid leather it measures 16mm along the base, and 18mm along the sides. The crafts manship is exquisite, with glass rubies decorating the outside and what look to be two serpents embroidered on either side of the clasp. Written under the flap, as can be seen in the second photo, are the words
‘Belonged to Henry Irving’. Inside the purse, in the same writing, is a piece of paper with the same inscription. The auctioneers would not identify the seller, though they did disclose that the previous owner had been an actress, now deceased. If any member can identify this article the purchaser would be very pleased to hear from you. Contact the Editor or email Judy Herbert on

Henry Irving's purse

Famous Last Words

HI’s last words on stage – “Into thy hands, O Lord/Into thy hands” – recall the following similar instances of theatrical serendipity: ‘Peterson, a contemporary of Garrick, while appearing in Measure for Measure,’ expired in the arms of a fellow actor, his last words being, “Reason thus with life. If I do lose thee, I lose a thing that none but fools would keep.”’ Harley, who was playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, passed away after uttering the drowsy speech, ‘I have an ex position of sleep come up on me.’ Kean was playing Othello to the Iago of his son at Covent Garden. After uttering the words, “Othello’s  occupation’s gone” he broke down. “Get me off, Charles,” he gasped, “I’m dying!” and soon afterwards he breathed his last. Phelps ’ last words before the footlights were, “ Farewell, a long farewell to all my
greatness ”. At this point in the speech of Cardinal Wolsey [from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII] he collapsed and never acted again.’

Spotted by E Gerald Hill in The Salt Lake Herald, 26 November, 1905.

Odds and Ends

‘The direction, by Tony Richardson, is simple and hieratic, and no finer Luther could be imagined than the clod, the lump, the infinitely vulnerable Everyman presented by Albert Finney, who looks, in his moments of pallor and lip-gnawing doubt, like a reincarnation of the young Irving fattened up for some cannibal feast.’ From Kenneth Tynan’s review of John Osborne’s Luther (1961). A postcard in my collection shows a
lavishly wigged and costumed Martin Harvey as Reresby the Rat in The Breed of the Treshams. On the reverse is written in pencil: ‘I saw Martin Harvey at the Garrick in Southport c1931-2 in the part of the Innkeeper in Chekov’s The Bells. A benefit performance when he was quite an old man. J. P. S.’ Chekov!?! — Editor. ‘Henry Irving w ill be the guest of the Lotos Club at a supper to be given in the club-house, 5 58 Fifth Avenue, next Saturday evening. The guests will include Mr. William Terriss and other members of Mr. Irving’s company. Among those invited to meet Mr. Irving are Parke Godwin, William Winter, Alexandre  Salvini, Henry E. Abbey, Andrew Carnegie, Edouard de Reszke, Jean de Reszke, Augustus Thomas, Abram S. Hewitt, Gen. Horace Porter, E. S. Willard, and Isaac H. Bromley. This is the first supper given in the Lotos Club for a number of years, and the demand for seats is far in excess of the seating capacity of the new house. The occasion promises to be a brilliant one.’

New York Times 13 December, 1893 

Midland Hotel, Bradford

As every good Irvingite knows, HI died at the Midland Hotel, Bradford, on Friday, 13 October, 19 05. The hotel’s current manager, Gary Peacock, has installed a permanent display in honour of their most illustrious guest, and the hotel’s website also has a remarkably comprehensive account of HI’s life and career. Other distinguished guests similarly profiled include Bram Stoker. Both the exhibition and the website (given below) are well worth a visit.



Robert Tanitch’s new London Stage in the Twentieth Century, an otherwise useful gazeteer, declares on p79 that Bram Stoker ‘worked for Henry Irving in the box office of the Lyceum


Events for 2011

Sunday, 13 February
Wreath-laying at HI’s statue: 2.30pm
AGM at Concert Artistes’ Assn: 3.00pm
Heritage Lecture: 4.00pm
Dr Michael Read -The First Irvingite
Cutting of Birthday Cake: 5.00pm
Admittance for Non-Members £3

All Communications to:

Michael Kilgarriff , Editor & Hon Sec
The Irving Society,
10 Kings Avenue,
London W5 2SH,
Tel & Fax: 020 8566 8301

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