Arthur William À Beckett.

The à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons online

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the Militia, and I, too, have followed in the steps
of the saint by being a constant contributor to
Punch'' M. Zola received my suggestion with
profound respect.

Well, I had the fixed idea of some day contri-
buting to Punch. I passed my school life in touch
with my father's work. I remember at Honiton
I carried off a prize for history, thanks to a close
study of my father's England. Dr. Mackarness



(subsequently Bishop of Oxford) was kind enough
to conipHment me on my hterary style and my
sense of the ridiculous. At Felstead, when I
was a boy of fifteen, I first became a journalist.
I wrote for the Braintree Times short articles
about the school, and constituted myself the
local representative of the district. At length I
reached man's estate, and found myself a tempor-
ary clerk in the War Office. My eldest brother
Gilbert and myself were sharing rooms in Hanover
Square in the house which was the first home
of the members of the Arts Club. We were
thirsting to rush into print, and we started upon
A Comic Guide to the Royal Academy. The
idea had been given us by our father's criticism
of the pictures of the Royal Academy in the
Almanack of the Month, of which he was the
editor. We worked at it with enthusiasm night
and day for a week. When it was finished we
carried it to the Messrs. Routledge, who consented
to publish it. This we considered a great con-
cession. We were to pay all the expenses, and
give a commission of so much per cent, on the
sales. The brochure duly came out, and was
noticed by the Press. In those days there were
no press agencies to send more or less laudatory
paragraphs to authors and others whose names
got into the newspapers ; so we used to frequent
a reading room near Leicester Square, where we
could see what was being said about us. As men
unknown to Fleet Street, we "caught it." We had
apparently been guilty of two faults — the first



of rushing into print, the second of being sons
of our father. ** There was once an a Beckett
honourably connected with comic literature/'
said the Sunday Times, to which my father had
contributed, and which I subsequently edited,
** but neither of these is the man." We were
slated right and left. On one of our visits to the
reading room to which I have referred, my brother
came to me beaming, with a paper in his hand.
" A good notice at last," he exclaimed. " They
say we are * superficially smart.' Come, that's
better than nothing ! " Thinking over the matter
after these many years, I can see that we had
not much chance with the Press of the period.
As completely unknown men with the name of a
distinguished author for an introduction, we were
very unlikely to be popular. In those days the
struggle for existence amongst journalists was
acute. The papers were few, and the pressmen
regarded outsiders with aversion. '' What right
had two fellows, of whom no one had hitherto
heard, to take the bread out of the mouths of the
regular members of the profession ? " In our
preface there was a suggestion of the earlier style
of our father. After attacking the critics — by the
way, a pleasant plan for obtaining the goodwill
of the Press ! — we came to the exhibitors. We
said : " Your true critic's task is often a painful
one ! and as we have wielded the quill, not
altogether without independence, it is to be
feared that a wound may have been inflicted
here and there among our more sensitive subjects.



To these we offer a balm. We have prepared a
neatly printed and ample apology, which will be
for\varded to any part of the United Kingdom
on the receipt of name, address and seven postage
stamps. — ^The Authors." This little witticism was
freely quoted to prove that we were "flippant,"
" humourless," and " lacking in critical acumen."
Besides the " superficially smart " notice, there
was a really favourable review in a paper called
the Press, which half a century ago ranked with
the Athenaeum. For this we were immensely
grateful. Then I appealed to my friend. Sir
(then Mr.) Norman Lockyier, who was at the time
a colleague of mine in the War Office. He pro-
mised to notice our " Guide " in the Reader, to
which he was a constant contributor. He wrote :
" We hear that the Comic Guide to tlie Royal
Academy is going into a second edition, a proof,
if one were needed, of the humour that can be
found in parts of the book." But perhaps the
most mortifying of all the notices was one in
which our brochure was called a "catchpenny
production," for as a matter of fact we were out
of pocket to the extent of something between
fifty and a hundred pounds. So, take it all
round, " The Comic Guide to the Royal Academy for
1863, by Gilbert A. and Arthur W. a Beckett,
price sixpence ; London : Routledge, Warne and
Routledge, Farringdon Street," might have been
accepted by us as a " Warning by the Way "
to have nothing further to do with literature,
humorous or otherwise. Not at all. In 1864



we repeated the experiment. We brought out a
Comic Guide to the Royal Academy for 1864, but
this time wrote under the nomme de guerre of
" The Gemini." Our pubhshers fought shy of us,
so we got our printer of our initial number to
" print and pubUsh for us/' which he kindly did
at the Milton Steam Printing Offices, Chandos
Street, Strand. " What does it matter about
the publishers ? " said my brother Gilbert ; "no
one will buy it ! " And so far as I can recollect
no one did. On this occasion the Press were more
kindly than they had been the year before — they
good-naturedly ignored us ! And this assertion
reminds me of a letter that was once addressed
by a persistent would-be contributor to a brother
editor. The scribe had written again and again
to the editor, but had never received an answer.
On each occasion he had made a genial excuse for
the neglectful recipient of his correspondence.
" No doubt you have been absent from town."
" Presuming that once more the postal authorities
have been to blame," and so on. My brother
editor received the letter with the well-known
superscription, and was about to cast it aside
intact when by accident he opened it. " En-
couraged by your courteous silence, I address you
once again." This was too much for the editor,
who was au fond a good fellow, and he gave the
would-be contributor a chance. But I am not
sure that was the best thing for our book — it is
more useful to have a bad notice than to have no
notice at all.



It was about this time that I had the pleasure
of meeting the present editor of Punch, with
whom I worked for many years on the London
Charivari and other papers. I had seen him for
the first time at a fete given in the building of the
Exhibition of 1862, in aid of the Royal Hospital
for Incurables. The festival was under the immedi-
ate patronage of the Prince and Princess of Wales,
who honoured it with their presence. There were
the usual booths for barter and two distractions
of a theatrical character. We had a Richardson's
show with a " parade " in front of it, under the
management of Lady Anne Sherson, the aunt of
Lord Raynham, subsequently the Marquis Town-
send, brother-in-law of the Duke of Fife. We
gave two entertainments; one was called "The
Port Admiral," written by Mr. Thomas Gibson
Bowles, and the other a burlesque, **The Brigand
of Braganza," by F. A. Marshall, a younger son
of the then Member for Sunderland. Both these
gentlemen later on joined me on the staff of a
paper of which I was elected editor. We had
a parade according to the custom of the time
round the building to assist the collection of an
audience. I was only nineteen, so I was not
entrusted with a part in the pieces — although
subsequently promoted to play the heroine with
Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles as the hero befoie the
Princess Louise at another charitable fete, and
Mario and Grizi in the grounds of Campden House
— but was allowed to dress as Richard III, and
make myself generally useful. An elder brother



of mine, who was more retiring than myself,
appeared as the King of Hearts, and was told off
to pair with me in the procession. He was highly
indignant at what he was pleased to call my
" confounded tomfoolery," because disguised and
costumed as Richard HI I attempted to keep up
the character. The present editor of Punch was
the life and soul of a companion booth, in which
was being played at frequent intervals a military
drama he had written for the occasion, called
''The Siege of Seringapatam." The companion
booth had its parade in rivalry of ours, and its
procession crossed our procession. I need scarcely
say that I knew every line that the author of " The
Siege of Seringapatam" had written, and had
a sincere admiration for his work. I was there-
fore very anxious to see him in the flesh. I was
much impressed. He was dressed in a burlesque
military uniform, no doubt used in "The Siege,"
and was at the head of a company that later on
blossomed into many celebrities. Amongst his
set I remember the late Sir (then Mr.) Charles
Hall, the Recorder of London, and a man I was
subsequently to know very well indeed, Mr. Matt
Morgan. The latter was attired as a toreador.
As I never had time to assist at ''The Siege of
Seringapatam" (much to my regret), I am unable
to say whether Mr. Matt Morgan was in the play
or not. As we passed I brandished my sword
before the present editor of Punch to attract his
favourable attention to my praiseworthy attempt
to represent Richard HI in all his wickedness.



Again my elder brother was indignant. He had
recognized friends in the crowd, and was anxious
to be accepted by them as a gentlemanly and
retiring King of Hearts, and how could he be
gentlemanly and retiring " with a silly ass of a
Richard HI playing the fool like a confounded
young idiot ? " or words to that effect. The
present editor of Punch paused for a moment
and saluted with the drum major's baton, which
was an adjunct to his military uniform. Then
the two processions continued their progress —
one to take part in the ^'The Siege of Seringapa-
tam," and the other to do their best in ''The Port
Admiral" and " The Brigand of Braganza."

My performance in the building of the Exhibi-
tion of 1862 led to a long friendship with Francis
Albert Marshall, one of the best of fellows. He
was quick tempered, and at times his enthusiasm
carried him away to do things that in his wiser
moments he would have certainly avoided. But
for all that — eccentric as he undoubtedly was —
he was the best of good fellows. In his father's
(the Member's) house in St. George Road, within
a hundred yards of my present residence, he
entertained me to dinner. I had the pleasure of
meeting at his hospitable board Mr. Alfred Wigan,
the actor, Mr. Robins, nephew of the great auc-
tioneer, my second brother (the retiring exponent
of the King of Hearts), and last, and certainly
first in my estimation at that time, the present
editor of Punch. Our talk was about the ap-
proaching production of " Ixion," a burlesque that



was due at the Royalty, a little theatre for ama-
teurs that had been transformed into a regular
West End playhouse. Stories were told about
those who had strutted their hour upon its stage
in the days of Miss Kelly, the once proprietress.
It now belonged to Mrs. Selby, the widow of
Selby, the dramatic author and comedian. Mr.
Robins had the history of the playhouse at his
finger ends. Mr. Alfred Wigan, who was at the
time the fashionable actor of the hour, was
inclined to ignore burlesque, or at least — in
consideration of the present company — to allow
it, so to speak, to live. Of course, as quite the
youngest of the company, I was expected to be
seen more than heard, but I could not tolerate
this implied aspersion upon my father's favourite
work, burlesque. So I ventured to ask Mr. Alfred
Wigan if he remembered ''The Forty Thieves,''
written by Gilbert Abbott a Beckett in — and I
mentioned the date ? Mr. Alfred Wigan did not
remember it. Did I ? " No," I admitted, " I
had never seen it. It was before my time. But
I have the book, and in the cast the part of
Hassarack is put down to Mr. Alfred Wigan.
There can only be one Alfred Wigan — now do you
remember it ? " Mr. Alfred Wigan suddenly
recollected the play, owned up to the character,
and was civil to me for the rest of the evening.

Thanks to my friendship with Frank Marshall
I ran across a gentleman of great enterprise who,
then a civil servant of the Crown, was anxious to
start an evening paper. Thus it came about that



I made the acquaintance of Mr. Last, printer
of the Squib and first printer of Punch. He
was appointed their manager by the Directors of
the Strand Printing and Pubhshing Com-
pany, Limited. I was appointed their secretary.
Our first object was to secure an appropriate
name for the paper. A number were suggested.
As it was to have a decided dramatic character,
why not The Harlequin ? Then the promoter
suggested The Glowworm. ** Why ? " was the
demand. " Because the Glowworm gives hght
hke the Evening Star, which is a title taken by
another paper." " Yes, that may be," insisted
the objectors, " but then evening gives a proper
distinction to the paper, it shows the pubhc when
it is expected to appear." " Quite so," answered
the promoter triumphantly, " and so does the
Glowworm. The glowworm can only be seen in
the evening. Our Glowworm will only be seen in
the evening." This argument was convincing,
and we fixed upon the Glowworm as the title for
our new evening paper. As a matter of fact the
Glowworm was seen much earlier than the evening,
for we brought out its second edition (we ignored
a first edition) early in the afternoon.

The present editor of Punch was the original
editor of the Glowworm, and amongst the earliest
contributors were Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles,
Sir (then Mr.) Arthur Sullivan, Mr. Frederick
Clay, and some of the editor's Cambridge friends —
I fancy amongst the number Mr. Clarke, who had
so much to do with the famous A.D.C. The



promoter, who had become the managing direc-
tor, was very energetic. We left the stock-
ing of the newspaper office — the composing,
the foundry and the machinery rooms — to our
manager and printer, Mr. Last, who went to
work on a grand scale. The site obtained was
the land secured at the moment by a Judge and
Jury Society. The ground is now occupied by
the Vaudeville Theatre. We had some difficulty
in getting rid of the Judge and Jury Society, an
entertainment of a questionable character. The
programme was a mock trial, usually connected
with divorce, and the audience acted as the jury.
The forms of the Law Courts were carefully
reproduced, but some of the questions put in
examination and cross-examination if permitted in
Westminster, would have been directed to be heard
in camera. We ultimately got rid of the Judge
and Jury Society by taking down the premises
before commencing rebuilding. When the site of
the Glowworm was at length clear, Mr. Last
entered into possession on behalf of the Strand
Printing and Publishing Company, Limited, I
have already referred to the Shops and Com-
panies of, Great Britain as one of his ventures.
Besides this publication he had in his mind's eye
the creation of a theatrical poster business. We
found that he had purchased on behalf of the
company an immense amount of wooden type that
would scarcely be valuable to the Glowworm.
Moreover he had large ideas about production.
We had everything in duplicate — double engines,



double boilers, and, unless we had interposed,
double factory chimneys. We had several
pleasant meetings of the staff, at which the
present editor of Punch presided. We got a very
effective poster of an old-time watchman in
mediaeval costume, looking at what was intended
to represent a Glowworm, with the legend, " What
is this ? " However, the effect was somewhat
marred by someone writing, " An oyster " as an
answer. Then we hurriedly got out " The Glow-
worm, an evening paper, price id." We decided
to print the paper in two colours. Moreover, we
had an idea that we might obtain a sale in the
music halls by having an edition for each hall,
giving on the front page a programme of the
evening's entertainments. We proposed that this
idea should be adopted by the theatres, but met
with a rebuff, as the programmes were in the
hands of the holders of the saloons, and they
objected to substituting for their programmes,
sold at sixpence, newspapers avowedly worth
only a penny. Our managing director hit upon
the idea of selling special editions at the doors of
the theatres, but this was objected to on the
score that the play bills were copyright. To
avoid the contention, we then made each pro-
gramme into a little story, in which the facts
of the evening's entertainments were worked
incidentally. But there was no sale for the
Glowworm in this direction, and even the editions
of the music halls went slowly. So our managing
director gave a banquet to the proprietors of these



places of entertainment, the menu of which was
one of the most luxurious character, and the
oratory to consist of the greatest eloquence. He
had prepared a speech commencing, " Gentle-
men," in which he pointed out to the assembled
throng expected to be present the enormous
benefit that would accrue by the success of the
Glowworm. He had learned this oration by
heart and duly delivered it. But the effect was
spoiled by the fact that instead of an assembled
throng only one guest turned up, Mr. Charles
Morton, who then represented the Oxford and
Canterbury Music Halls. But still our managing
director would insist upon addressing the
" assembled throng " in spite of there being only
a solitary representative of that expected multi-
tude. I as secretary of the company was
requested in an undertone " not to make an
idiot of myself," because I giggled. But this
took place some time after the GlowKvorm had
made its first appearance.

The present editor of Punch had got together,
as I have explained, a very brilliant staff. All
that was wanted was a good publisher and
manager. The sub-editor was Mr. Thomas
Archer, who thoroughl}^ understood his work,
but was still, I think, better as a contributor
than a sub-editor. On the day before the appear-
ance of our initial number, our two engines both
broke down and I, as secretary of the company,
spent the night in trying to obtain auxiliary
assistance. In the early hours of our opening

129 I


day I rode into the Strand seated on what was
known as a donkey engine, which I had been
able to secure in the Blackfriars Road. Mr. Last
was good enough to say that he thought it would
do, and to a certain extent it did. As I write I
have the initial number of the Glowworm before
me. The two colours — red and black — are cer-
tainly rather blurred, and there is a not un-
pleasant eccentricity in the type. Mr. Last
seemed to be working off some of his theatrical
poster letters in various parts of the paper with
startling effect. The letters were so large in
some of the headings that even the most short-
sighted must have seen them. One of the staff
who looked in to see how we were getting on,
suggested that we should advertise the Worm —
the title of the paper was immediately thus
affectionately abbreviated — " as a journal for
the aged : one that could be read without glasses."
The present editor of Punch was the most capable
of conductors. If I may be permitted to be
hypercritical, however, I fancy he was just a
trifle too enthusiastic about reporting the fete day
of his old school, Eton. If my memory does not
play me false, he sent Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles
to Windsor to report the function. The now hon.
Member for King's Lynn was a most charming
writer, and he gave full vent to his poetical fancy.
We were told, I think, of " the birds singing in the
trees " and ** the sun shining brightly on the water."
But — and here I only speak to the best of my recol-
lection — he had not made himself acquainted with



the arrangements made for transmitting messages
at a specially cheap rate for the Press, and paid at
so much a word the sum demanded from the
general public. This ignorance, too, of privileges
conferred on the Press rather delayed the trans-
mission of his copy and — again I speak under
correction — I am under the impression that the
final description of the scene on the Thames,
** the birds singing and the sun shining," etc.,
reached the Glowworm somewhere about ten in
the evening. Again the lack of organization in
the managerial department, typified by a donkey
engine acting as a substitute for two machines of
enormous power, invaded the sub-editorial.

Mr. Thomas Archer, who was a most capable
journalist from every point of view, was, I imagine,
a little too trustful to the casual reporter, and
consequently I fancy we published some copy
that would have been better, from an aesthetic
point of view, had it been subjected to stricter
revision. But, as I am talking of what happened
about forty years ago, I cannot speak by the card,
but only give my impressions. I know that the
present editor of Punch and I smiled very fre-
quently during the day, being both blessed with
a keen sense of humour. To the best of my
recollection the present editor of Punch conducted
the Glowworm for a few weeks, and then, finding
the work uncongenial and too much a strain with
his other engagements, tendered his resignation.
It was accepted by the Board with regret, and
then, having no one on the spot but myself, the



directors ordered me to take up the duties. I
have made it my rule of Ufe to accept the situation
whatever it may be, so when I was told to edit
the Glowworm, I did as I was bid. I was fairly
successful. After all, when a paper is in full
swing it is not so very difficult to keep it
going. The present editor of Punch had left the
Glowworm as a going concern, and I continued
the movement. I had just reached my majority,
and I celebrated the occasion by getting the paper
into an action for libel. Like my father, I was
always very fond of the theatre, and when I was
appointed editor of the Glowworm, and " was lord
of all I surveyed with no one my right to dispute "
(save perhaps the directors, who objected to all
my actions), I constituted myself dramatic critic.
In this capacity I visited the Lyceum and assisted
at the production of the Watch Cry, an adapta-
tion from the French, by J. Palgrave Simpson.

The play was a failure. Mr. Fetcher, the hero,
appeared as a deaf and dumb personage, who was
accepted into the confidence of the rest of the cast
on account of his distressing infirmities. At the
end of the second act he gave ■' the watch cry,"
which furnished the drama with its title. He
threw open the windows of the Palace, and should
have exclaimed, " Archers of the Guard watch ! "
but in his excitement he mispronounced the last
word, and " the cry " seemed to be a peremptory
invitation to the swimming bath. The play had
been hurriedly rehearsed, and, truth to tell, most
of the performers were very imperfect in their



words. The father of one of the most charming
of our actresses had an important part. But I
still think that he would have done better had he
been a little more attentive to his book. Unfortu-
nately, in criticising him I wrote, "Mr. So-and-So
was capital as Captain Thingamy, Mr. Such-a-
One conscientious as the Count of Chose, and the
part of Mr. Plaintiff subsequently in an action for
libel was efficiently spoken by the prompter."
A row followed. Within a day or two I got a
letter from Mr. Plaintiff's solicitor asking for an
immediate and ample apology, under pain of an
action for libel. I published the letter with an
editorial note, explaining what we considered to
be the duties we owed to our subscribers to nail
our flag to the mast and cry, " No surrender."
Those were not the exact words, but that was the
purport of our editorial. Of course, had the
incident happened nowadays, supposing I were in

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 8 of 21)