The Irving Society Newsletter No 54

The Irvingite


The actor Jeremy Burnham, who lives in Frome, Somerset, a few miles from HI’s birthplace in Keinton Mandeville, has organised the placing of a new plaque on the front wall of Irving House in Castle Street. It will be formally unveiled by Richard Briers at 12.30pm on Sunday, 6 February (HI’s birthday). For London members wishing to attend a coach will be leaving The Old Vic Theatre at 9.00am. The cost, depending on numbers, will be around £24 return. To reserve a seat contact me a.s.a.p.

We shall be joined by members of Equity, who contributed half of the cost of the plaque; this Society contributed the other 50%.



Guy HenryTry and catch Guy Henry (left) in BBCTV ’s Holby City as Henrik Hanssen, the new director of surgery. The actor, very tall and thin, exudes such icy menace that the screen positively crackles. Remind
you of anyone …?

A book of 304 pages devoted entirely to a one-actor might seem to be over-egging the pudding, but Henry Irving’s WATERLOO by W. D. King (University of California Press 1993 ) is a great read. The entire text may be downloaded or a hard copy purchased from Amazon.

The University of Bristol’s acquisition of the Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection has secured its future. Excellent news.



‘Our panel of experts,’ declared The Stage, ‘selected from all corners of the theatre industry, created a shortlist of ten actors.’ Neither the ‘experts’ nor their particular ‘corners of the theatre industry’ is named, but their choices were placed by readers in the following order of precedence:

1st Judi Dench – 21.5% of the vote
2nd Maggie Smith – 18.2%
3rd Mark Rylance – 15.1%
4th Ian McKellen – 13.5%
5th Laurence Olivier – 11.5%
6th Paul Scofield – 7.7%
7th John Gielgud – 4.1%
8th Michael Gambon – 3.5%
9th Vanessa Redgrave – 3.2%
10th Ralph Richardson – 1.6%

Such lists are always invidious, but it is truly saddening not to see any mention of the likes of Burbage, Garrick, Siddons, Kean, Macready, Terry, or of this society’s eponymous hero


February 1938



The actual hoops of sleigh bells, the far-off ringing of which was heard with great effect at dramatic moments in “The Bells” are among the objects on view in the exhibition of relics of Henry Irving at the London Museum, Lancaster House, St James’s Court, S.W.

The exhibition, which has been arranged in the entrance hall of the Museum to commemorate the centenary of Sir Henry’s birth, was opened yesterday by Sir John Martin-Harvey. Viscount Esher presided. Costumes which recall Irving’s most famous rôles are shown. Sir John Martin-Harvey has lent the coat, collar and hat which Irving wore as Dubosc in “The Lyons Mail”, with knife and picklocks
protruding from the pockets. The hat is Irving’s own manufacture.*

Becket, Macbeth, Mephistopheles and Richard III are among the costumes. The “Legion of Honour” which Irving wore as Napoleon, his doublet as Shylock – all are there.


Among the l61 exhibits, the majority of which have been lent by famous actors and actresses, are: Irving’s playbooks, annotated in his own hand, paintings and drawings of the actor, a death-mask by Sir George Frampton, busts and medals, a malacca cane which belonged in turn to Garrick, Kean and Irving, and is now the property of Mr. John Gielgud, and a cigar which Irving gave away on the first night of “Becket” in 1893.

Sir John Martin-Harvey said yesterday that a certain mystery surrounded the time when Irving was lying in his coffin. “The strange order was given that no member of his company should be allowed to view the remains,” he said.†

“The garment that he wore when he repeated his last words has never been discovered, and the moving suggestions has been made that Irving chose to be enshrouded in this very garment, and perhaps shrank from any comment that might have been made by those who should view him.”

*HI was not known for any handiwork skills, so this assertion seems unlikely.

†This ‘strange order’ is contradicted by Bram Stoker who in volume two of his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (p369) wrote: ‘That afternoon all the Company, including the workmen, came to see him. It was a very touching and harrowing time for all, for he was much beloved by everyone.

Henry Irving as Dubosc
Henry Irving as Dubosc

Henry Irving - Bronze Bust

Bronze bust of Henry Irving at The Garrick Club
Bronze bust of Henry Irving at The Garrick Club

This magnificent bronze bust (c.1905) of HI is by Courtenay Pollock (1877-1943). It stands on a green marble plinth at the foot of the main staircase at the Garrick Club (see left), and was presented to the Club by Seymour Hicks in 190 7. Copies may be seen at the Oxford Playhouse and in the Bristol City Museum; the original is in the Irving Room of the Russ ell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth. Photographs by courtesy of the Garrick Club.



Henry Irving's buckles

According to Sabine family lore, this brooch was made from the dress shoe buckle (or buckles) of Sir Henry Irving, and had been given to the family by Mrs Balfour (née White) who had worked for the Guv’nor, though in what capacity seems uncertain. The object measures 3.5cm x 1.5cms. For any sightings or information email Tricia Sabine on:



Your editor’s latest book, Back Stages, is now available from the usual sources. CallioViva £12.99. 305pp. 41 ills. ISBN: 978-0-85778-047-8 For details see publisher’s website



Purfleet Opera 7,9,10,11 December 2010

Ludd and Isis

Report by Sy lvia Star shine This community event in Thurrock celebrated the opening of High House Production Park, the Essex workshops of the Royal Opera House. The fully staged opera – score by Richard Taylor and libretto by Stephen Plaice – tells of the endeavours of King Ludd (Tech nology) assisted by the spirits of Bram Stoker and the Lyceum Company, to woo back his queen, Isis (Art) through a series of allegorical scenes reflecting the history of Purfleet.

Part Three, indeed, saw the Lyceum Company itself enjoying a day out at the Royal Hotel. The company rehearse an invented scene from Faust without the Guv’nor, though he is mentioned in absentia .

The massive production involving ROH professionals as well as over 2000 local enthusiasts of all ages presented an outstanding and memorable evening. Our very own Mike Ostler – an Irving Society committee member of many years’ standing – must be lauded not only for his part in bringing the show into being but also for his operatic debut in the chorus, and in the presentation of a thrilling demonstration of limelight!

Note: The online version of this edition of TI also features two photographs of the Purfleet Opera production

Andrew Slater as Bram Stoker. Photo by courtesy of Paul Starr for Royal Opera House, Thurrock.
Andrew Slater as Bram Stoker.
Photo by courtesy of Paul Starr for
Royal Opera House, Thurrock.

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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