The Irving Society Newsletter No 62

The Irvingite


Sunday, 17 February, 2013
Concert Artistes’ Association, 20 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HP
Report: Michael Kilgarriff Photos: Bunty Taylor

Imogen Irving
Imogen Irving

This year Mother Nature smiled upon our annual ceremony of homage, the mild temperature and lack of snow enouraging a record turn-out to watch Imogen Irving lithely scale the ladder and place the Birthday Wreath at her great-great-great-grandfather’s feet.

Imogen is in her first year at RADA, so we can look forward to seeing a performer with the Theatrical Blood Royal in her veins upon our stage once again.

In the pannelled Concert Room of the CAA, a few minutes’ walk from the Irving statue, members and their guests signed the register, bought raffle tickets, and settled into three wide semi-circles facing the fireplace – could the Guv’nor have warmed himself at that self-same ornate grate? The history of the building tells us that it’s entirely possible.

Our Chair, Frances Hughes, opened the meeting by reminding us that 2013 was the 175th anniversary of HI’s birth. We were also told that Elizabeth Sutter, who has been so very generous to the Society, has modestly declined the offer to become one of our Patrons.

Imogen Irving placing the wreath; at the foot of the ladder Frances Hughes and Michael Kilgarriff
Imogen Irving placing the wreath; at the foot of the ladder Frances Hughes and Michael Kilgarriff

The past year’s three activities were recalled: the launch of Their Exits by Henry Vivian-Neal ( with input from our Vice-Chair, Alex Bisset), the coach trip to Rye and Winchelsea, and the dinner at the Garrick Club, with Dr Arthur W Bloom Richard Briers unveiling plaque at Irving House, Keinton Mandeville 6 February 2011 Sir Donald Sinden as Guest of Honour to mark his ninth decade. The dinner, though somewhat
crowded, was a huge success, and with no hidden charges the cost to the Society was nil.

Dr Arthur W Bloom
Dr Arthur W Bloom

Michael Kilgarriff’s long-delayed resignation as Hon Secretary was marked by making him an Honorary Member of the Society; Nicholas Smith having resigned through ill-health the only nomination to the committee was Helen R Smith who has agreed to field queries; all the other members were re-elected unopposed, i.e. Alex Bisset (Vice -Chair and Membership Secretary), Michael Gaunt, Frances Hughes (Chair), Mike Ostler, Hilary Phillips (Minutes Sec), Hal Sinden, Sylvia Starshine (Hon Treas). Michael Kilgarriff will continue to edit First Knight and The Irvingite, and to maintain the website.

Future events under consideration include a group booking to see Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear in Othello at the National Theatre, and a trip, possibly with an overnight stay, to Bristol to visit the many places in the city with Irving and Terry connections. A play-reading is also on the cards, though the meeting displayed no enthusiasm a t the suggestion of a luncheon rather than a dinner this year. Sylvia Starshine, Hon Treasurer, reported that the Society’s finances were healthy, despite sabotage attempts by Lloyd’s who had deducted a number of phantom direct debits. This year’s Heritage Lecture, Edwin Booth and Henry Irving : A Delicate Relationship, was delivered by Dr Arthur W Bloom, who had honoured us by flying over from the United States especially for the occasion and whose reputation brought in a number of members of the STR. The talk was a triumph. Dr Bloom was clear, audible, precise, witty, authoritative, painlessly instructive and hugely entertaining. Altogether a total treat.

Richard Briers unveiling plaque at Irving House, Keinton Mandeville 6 February 2011
Richard Briers unveiling plaque at Irving House, Keinton Mandeville 6 February 2011


Alas, the ‘demented typewriter’ has fallen silent. We have lost not just a much-loved actor and friend but an ultra-keen Irvingite. Until recently Dickie and Annie were to be seen regularly at our events, and his depth of knowledge of his idol Henry Irving was shown when he took the chair at the Cottesloe for a discussion with the author of Sir Michael Holroyd’s A Strange Eventful History. Dickie was also a Trustee of the Henry Irving Foundation and had the rare – probably unique – distinction of having played four roles associated with the Guv’nor: Hamlet , Richard III, Lear and Mathias in The Bells.



On 14 February, 18 80, HI celebrated the 100th performance of The Merchant of Venice with a grand supper on stage a t the Lyceum Theatre. Some three hundred guests representing the cream of society and the arts were invited; the magnificent event is described in detail in Laurence Irving’s Henry Irving: The Actor and His World pp353 -6. Each guest was presented with a commemorative copy of Irving’s arrangement of the play, one of which is now offered for sale by Bryan Boeckelmann of St Louis, Missouri.

The Merchant of VeniceThe book is 8 ” x 5¼ ”, hardbound in white leather, with gold edging. It is in good condition though there is some damage to the spine The seventy-four pages of text are preceded by a bound-in eight page programme showing the cast and usual Lyceum credits. Pasted on the inside front cover is an account from the 22 February issue of The Era of the supper and the speeches; below it is affixed a printed label showing the name W. L. Telbin, one of the production’s scenic designers. The handwriting around this label appears to be that of Telbin so it would seem that he was the original owner. Telbin was, of course, one of HI’s regular designers and set painters.

OIRO £150 + p& p £10 approx. If you are interested email Mr Boeckelmann at or contact the Editor, from whom more illustrations are available.



Sir John Major’s recent history of the Music Halls, My Old Man, repeats, alas, the old canard that in his early days Irving had been assistant to the Davenport Brothers. This story seems to have been first aired by H Chance Newton in his Idols of the Halls, and treated as gospel ever since. We Irvingites know better, of course, the truth being that in February, 1864, HI and two fellow-actors from the Theatre Royal, Manchester, staged at a local hall a burlesque of the Davenports’ deplorable display of bogus spiritualism. So successful was the spoof that they repeated it the following Sunday, whereupon their employer, John Knowles, scenting substantial box-office interest, ordered them to perform it at the Theatre Royal. But Irving, ever mindful of the dignity of the drama, refused. Such integrity was not to be countenanced and, after four years of exemplary service, he was sacked.



Watercolour on ivoryThis charming miniature of Irving is offered privately for sale by Michael J Salts of Cumbria. OIRO £380 + £5 P&P.

The portrait appears to be hand-painted in watercolour on ivory. It is mounted in a superb one-piece ivory frame, 5.5 inches high and 4.5 inches wide. Included in the price is a small stand (visible in the photo). There is no evident signature and the date is estimated at c1890. Irving’s cravat is dark blue in colour and his coat and waistcoat are brown. On the reverse is a small hole at the top for hanging on a picture nail.

There are also two wax seals, one impress ed with a cockerel and the other with what appear to be the figures of Adam and Eve. Offers to



sket ches by Albert Henry WarrenA small group of original sketches by Albert Henry Warren (designs for menus, etc) relating to dinners held at the Savage Club in the late 19th century in honour of Sir Henry Irving. Price £150. Further details
from Nigel Jackson on:



Although I am no longer Ho n Sec of the Society I remain, with the consent of the Committee, Editor of The Irvingite and First Knight. Any queries or suggestions concerning these publications should therefore be sent to me, Michael Kilgarriff, at:
10 Kings Avenue, London W5 2SH
tel: 020 8566 8301

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