The Irving Society Newsletter No 63


OTHELLO at the Olivier Theatre
Wednesday, 24 July, 2013 at 1.30pm. Price: £26

Circle tickets for the acclaimed NT production starring Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear are available from our Chair , Frances Hughes. Contact her by email or telephone 0208 992 0772.



trunk1Mrs Lorna Whitlock wishes to sell the following unusual item: It is a slim metal trunk approx. 12″ wide and 4½” deep and 40½” long. It bears two brass plates, one ‘Henry Irving Esq’ and the second an escutcheon of Henry Poole & Co (of Savile Row) who made the high-class court dress uniform and sword which were originally inside it. The initials HBI ( Henry Brodribb Irving) are embossed on the lid. Apparently the trunk came from the effects of someone who worked at Elstree Film Studios. I discovered and bought it approx. twenty years ago in an antique shop in Birmingham.

A letter to Mrs Whitlock dated 1 March, 2013, from Henry Poole & Co confirms the provenance of the trunk, which is made of japanned steel and dark green in colour. There is no lining though straps may be seen in the photograph on the left.

trunk-2Anyone interested in acquiring this unique piece of Irvingiana should contact Mrs Whitlock at 36, Whittell Gardens, Sydenham, London SE26 4LN (near the Crystal Palace). Telephone 0 208 69 9 5033 . Viewers welcome. Price negotiable.



by Michael Kilgarriff

While idly surfing the internet last March I came across a fragmentary recording made by Robert Browning in 1889, in which he attempts to recite How They Brought the Good News fro m Ghent to Aix. After three or four lines he stops, pauses, and then says, “I can’t remember me own verses!”

This reminded me Irving’s 1898 recording of the opening speech of Richard III in which he also pronounces ‘my’ as ‘me’, as in  Unform’d, unfinished, sent before me time…’, a usage which can be heard a dozen or so times in Edwin Booth’s 1890 recording of Othello’s speech to the Senate (1.iii), e.g.: ‘Rude am I in me speech…’ (Visit

But both actors also pronounce ‘my’ diphthongally, so was this shortening of the possessive pronoun merely a stage affectation, or was it a traditional method for differentiating textual and poetical subtleties? On p274 of The Story of My Life Ellen Terry attempts an explanation when she says:

The use of “m’” or “me” for “my” has often been hurled in my face as a reproach,  but I never contracted “my” without good reason. I had a line in Olivia which I began by delivering as – “My sorrows and my shame are my own.” Then I saw that the “mys” sounded ridiculous , and abbreviated the first two ones into “me’s.”

Quite why the “mys” sounded ridiculou s ET does not say. In October, 1976, a paper on the practice was given by Jack Windsor Lewis to the British Institute of Recorded Sound, and which I hope to reproduce in next Autumn’s First Knight.

Also in Crookback’s opening speech Irving says ‘looking-glass’ with a short ‘a’, which we would today regard as a Midland/North Country inflection. But was it so in the nineteenth-century? In her recording of Every Little Movement has a Meaning of Its Own Marie Lloyd , the quinte sence of Cockneydom, clearly pronounces ‘passing’ with a short ‘a’, and George Robey, a South Londoner, in Bang Went the Chance of a Lifetime consistently pronounces ‘chance’ to rhyme with ‘Penzance’. And why, in It’s a Great Big Shame, does Gus Elen, born and bred in Pimlico, sing ‘put’ to rhyme wih ‘glut’? Pronunciation, it seems, like language itself, is ever evolving.

Let us not, therefore, critcise HM King George V for saying ‘larnch’ rather than ‘launch’, and let us accept that ‘tryst’ should properly rhyme with ‘heist’. ‘Bicycle’ was sometimes ‘by-cye-cle’; margerine originally had a hard ‘g’. And surely noone would have accused Sir John Gielgud of being slipshod when he said ‘humour’ without the ‘h’. I always thought it sounded terribly grand.

PS: Irving’s recording of Wolsey’s final speech from King Henry VIII is generally thought to be bogus. His 1903 recording of Shylock’s courtroom speech is lost; the only other authentic Irving recording, a few lines of ‘Monk’ Lewis’ The Maniac, was made in 1888 and is, alas, virtually incomprehensible as is an extract from Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Feast of Belshazzar recorde d on the sam e occasion . Thanks to B ennett Maxwell for this information.

Ellaline Terriss in The Beauty of the Bells
Ellaline Terriss in The Beauty of the Bells


by Ellaline Terriss

Ellaline Terriss (1871-1971) was the daughter of William Terriss and wife of (Sir) Seymour Hicks. This extract is from her autobiography. 

‘So it was m y great luck, as a litt le girl, to have many opportunities of seeing and getting to know both Ellen Terry and Irving. Will there ever be two people like them again? You could not be with them more than a few moments without their greatness being borne upon you, without realizing that you were in the company of two exceptional human beings.

Ellen Terry always seemed to me to be a creature of light and air. She bubbled with gaiety, youth and with optimism. Yet she was so intensely human, so understanding, never concerned with herself but always ready to give cheer and material help to all who needed it.

With Henry Irving it was different. He was more reserved, more distant, his face was that of a great prelate of olden times, his air had th at cloistral touch as well, there was something of the timelessness of a
cathedral about him. His eyes, behind their pince-nez, seemed to gaze right into your heart, to read your inmost thoughts, yet his smile would have graced a beautiful woman.’



At this year ’s Great London Plant Fair, held at the Royal Horticultural Society Halls in Westminster, the gold medal for Early Daffodils was won by Ron Scamp, the UK’s only commercial grower of Henry Irving daffodils. See The Irvingite No 45 . To order bulbs email:

Henry Irving Silhouette
Created by W Bly at the Garrick Club 1899


If you change any of your personal details – address, phone number, email, etc – remember to inform Alex Bissett, Membership Sec., The Irving Society, 50 Stockwell Road, London, SW9 0DA. Email:

For queries about HI’s life and times or if you have any items for sale contact Helen R Smith, 7 Bristol House, 80A Southampton Row, London WC1B 4BA Email: Helen also reminds us that the Henry Irving Correspondence archive, on which she and Frances Hughes have been working for a number of years, now lists some 8,600 letters. Please contact Helen if you know of any correspondence not yet included. Visit

See the Society’s website for up-to-date information about outings and events:

Editor: Michael Kilgarriff
tel 020 8566 8301
10 Kings Avenue, London W5 2SH

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