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told, played " Poor Jo" in many towns. Once
or twice her rival in the part at the opposi-
tion concert hall in the town was the present


popular cockney comedian and sportsman, Joe

Few people now can imagine Joe ever
having played this part His father, once
popular as Joe Keegan, was Bucket, and many
funny stories could be told of these two, father
and son, in their travels. Once Joe was play-
ing the part. He was only a boy, and they
had been at some small hall in the North.
They carried a small back cloth with a tissue
moon in the back, and when the time came for
" Jo " to die, a waiter had been told off during the
week to stand on a chair with a lighted candle
behind the moon, just for the few moments'
effect. On the Saturday night, business was
pretty brisk and the said waiter was busy, and
a little inebriated also. The time arrived,
and with several grunts and growls the waiter
assumed his position, much against his will,
and " wobbled" the moon very much indeed.
Meanwhile, Jo was laid out, saying, " I am
a-moving on/' etc., and repeating the Lord's
Prayer after old Keegan, who had a very deep
bass voice. Suddenly the moon wobbled more
than ever, and Keegan, in the tone of his part,
said, " Keep that blighted moon still ! " That


settled the waiter, who was in anything but a
good humour and just tired of his job. He
jerked the candle through the moon and burned
it, and in a fearful temper said aloud, as "Jo"
died, " Coom heer and light yer own damned
moon ! " You can imagine there were no tears
shed at the death of " Jo " that night, save those
of laughter.

Joe Elvin has often told me stories of his
early days. One is always funny to me. He
and his father and a ballad vocalist were to
appear at the Theatre Royal, Widnes. Young
Joe was as proud as a peacock. He was at
last to appear in a real theatre ! He described
their arrival, and how he at last saw this so-
called theatre. It was a huge old tent with
cinder floor, where they dug out a hole in front
of the stage for the orchestra to sit in. He
now calls it the Theatre Rag and Stick. At
night it poured with rain, and the wet came
trickling through a hole in the tent over the
stage. The ballad vocalist, a fairly stout lady,
walked on to sing, " Come back to Erin," and
old Joe Keegan calmly stood by her side, as
serious as possible, holding an old umbrella
over her, and as she moved, so did he, to


shrieks of laughter from the boys and girls
of the audience.

George Robey, with numbers of successes
to his name, is one of the most popular panto-
mime comedians in the country. He had his
first chance as a comic subject to Kennedy, the
famous mesmerist at the old Aquarium, London.
It is difficult to imagine him to-day as the
singer of " My hat's a brown 'un," with which
he first became popular at the Oxford.

Wilkie Bard, the most recent of our comic
stars to become famous, I remember as a quiet,
anxious ambitious youth at a big smoking con-
cert, waiting to go on and get a chance. He
was dressed as a coster, and sang a song about
"Our Amateur Dramatic Club," and " If it
wasn't for the likes of Beerbohm Tree." That
youth was the now popular Wilkie Bard a
droll comedian, and a good friend.

Little Tich, famous all the world over,
started as an attraction behind a bar, I
believe, ;in Greenwich. I first saw him play
the Pumpkin in Cinderella at the Pavilion,
Mile End. Tich is an artist, a fine whistler,
and a beautiful 'cello player.

Then there are favourites such as Chirgwin,


\vho has sung " The Blind Boy " for thirty
years, which song is still called for.

James Fawn, I think, is even to-day the
finest comic singer on the stage. He was an
actor of the old school before he became a
comic singer and pantomime comedian. Many
remember him doing a double turn with that
wonderful man, Arthur Roberts. London
once was singing one song everywhere
James Fawn's song, " If you want to know
the time, ask a Policeman."

It would take a book to tell of Arthur
Roberts alone. He has hovered between
theatres and music halls for years, and has
been successful in each for at least thirty
years. One of the most versatile and talented
men that ever walked the stage. What
stories one can tell of Arthur! Once at the
Strand Theatre he had been on the spree
and was very late indeed. He persuaded the
manager to go on and say he had had an
accident and had broken his arm, but would
do his best. Arthur came on as demure as
possible, with his arm in a sling, and had an
enormous reception. It was not long before
he forgot the sling, and the audience roared.


Then there is the star of the present day,
Harry Lauder, the famous Scotch comedian.
He made his first West End appearance at
the Tivoli, deputizing for some one, I forget
whom. I know that I followed his turn with
my " Barnaby Rudge " characters, and that
his song " Tobermory " (a word so recently
figuring in the newspapers) caught on at once.
No man has ever leaped into public favour
and such a position and such a salary so
quickly ; and yet Harry Lauder had toured
the country for years, and had not been even

All the billing and starring and puffing
in the world by managers does not make a
star. It may make a " stir " for a time, but
unless the artiste has ability, and, above all,
personality, it does not continue. The music-
hall profession to-day has thousands of names
of artistes, say the managers, but how few
can be called stars, or regular attractions!
With the growth of halls, managers have
had to rely upon sketches, and many stars
that " come and go," and leave not a trace
behind. Names ! Names ! cry the managers ;
and so to-day we find "star" actors and


actresses on the music-hall stage who a few
years ago would have thought it a terrible
act. What a change, when you think of
it ! Now we have Lewis Waller, who has
appeared on the halls the most virile of
leading men to-day, with all the romantic
charm, presence, and voice requisite to the
leading man. Lionel Brough dear old Uncle
Lai Mrs. Beerbohm Tree, Mr. and Mrs.
Arthur Bourchier, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour
Hicks, Madame Albani, Mr. and Mrs. Law-
rence Irving, Herbert Sleath and his wife,
Ellis Jeffreys, and numerous others. Just think
of the change ! And managers are always
looking for attractions, although some say,
" Oh, stars ! We don't want stars only a
good all-round bill ! " Ye gods ; look what
their audiences would be without the stars !
Take an example. When Maud Allan had
become the star at the Palace, what happened
when she was indisposed ? A pitiful array
of half-empty seats. And yet there was a
fine programme to be seen without her.

In my opinion, an artiste has not the
chance of becoming so popular now as in
the old days. " Stars " were made and became


household words, when they remained a
month or six or eight weeks at a hall. But
now a new man or a woman comes along
for six nights, and is gone before the public
knows or knew they were there, or were worth
seeing. So the changes have worked from
the semi-drinking saloon to fine palaces with
every comfort, and at a third the price of the
old shows. All honour to the pioneers of
Palaces and People's Popular and Pure
Amusement. Undoubtedly the names of
Mr. Oswald Stoll and Sir Edward Moss
must stand out and be acknowledged and
honoured for their work, which has not only
bettered the public, but the profession too ;
and if at the same time their pockets are the
better for it, they deserve all they get.

Before I close this chapter, let me tell a
story of "one of the old Brigade." During
one of my earliest engagements at the Tivoli
Theatre, Manchester, I met a rare old "cha-
racter," Jim Pymer. He had been almost
anything in fact, I think he had done every-
thing. I remember his pompous old-fashioned
manner. He seemed to me to have a supreme


contempt for the new generation of music-hall
performers, actors, and circus artistes. He
was a great friend of the late W. F. Wallet,
called the Queen's Jester, and was always
telling stories about him. I was " starring "
in a northern city, and he was told about
me, and when I came in at night he used
to give me a most penetrating glance. I got
into conversation with him on one occasion,
and found him a very interesting old chap.
He had seen and heard Dickens give his
readings in several towns. He had been
actor in Shakespeare and clown in the circus
the same night. He used to boast that he
never went in from the box office to see a
turn. I cannot quite remember what influence
was brought to bear on him, but rather think
it was my youth and enthusiasm that decided
him, but he came in, and the manager, in his
surprise, put him in a private box and there
he sat.

I worked to him with all my might. He
commenced to applaud, and I thought " What
a victory!" Then I came to my finishing
character, the " Old Grandfather " from " The
Old Curiosity Shop." I felt my show that


night, and gradually the old man gave way
and concluded by crying. When I took my
final call, the old chap was wiping his eyes with
an old red handkerchief ; he then came round
to the back, and so affected was he that he
could scarcely speak. He took my hand and
murmured, " God bless you, my boy ! " and
disappeared. It was the topic of conversation
old Jim Pymer had seen a performance !
I became very intimate with the old man,
sympathizing with him in his loneliness and
laughing at him in his grim, bombastic, but,
after all, innocent, conceit.

I paid a return visit, and found the old
chap very broken and very ill. He was to
be given a benefit, and many were going to
assist him for old times' sake, and out of
respect for him. I promised I would come
up from London to do him a turn, returning
to town for my night work. This offer
affected him very deeply, and so it was ar-
ranged. Alas ! it was not to be the poor
old man died quietly, and the curtain had
been rung down on his last scene in life.

The subject of getting into a theatre on
one's professional card came up one day, and


I said I had left my cards behind. I was
asked my name, and told them " B. W.,
etc.," working so-and-so, etc. Old Pymer
said, " My boy, I never waste words I give
them my card, and if they don't want to let
me in, I bow myself out with as much dignity
as my status will allow." With this, the old
man handed me the following card, which I
reproduce here to show, as I have said, that
there was little he had not done. I think the
final line re the admission is really funny.


Comedian, Glee Singer, Comic Singer, Patter
Vocalist, Shakespearean Jester, Clown and Comic
Singer, Author, Agent in Advance, Ring Master,
Stage Master, Ballet Master, Chairman, Lecturer,
Foreman of Bill Posters, Bill Inspector, Licensee and
Manager, Licensed Victualler, Treasurer, Petty Cash
Manipulator, and now at the Tivoli Theatre of
Varieties, Peter Street, Manchester. Will you kindly
pass me to see the Entertainment ?

Yours respectfully,


He was one of the "Old Brigade."



HAVING played many parts during my
career, from "Nigger Minstrel" upwards, it
is only natural that pantomimes should be
included in my repertoire. The first panto-
mime I appeared in was a small affair, a
burlesque, one of H. J. Byron's famous pieces,
too, viz. Aladdin. In this I appeared as
the Grand Vizier and played it as a dwarf.
I was brought on each time by the Emperor,
and was supposed to be suspended by an
elastic. Those were the days of hard work
and ambition, and I did work then that was
quite unnecessary, but it pleased me, never-

After having been a serious actor for so
many years, it came as a surprise to many
professional friends and to my public friends
too when it was announced I would "star"

257 S


as the Bold Bad Baron in a pantomime. I
was rather keen on the idea ; and when at
last Herbert Blackmore, the famous dramatic
agent, came along with an offer, everything
was soon settled for me to appear at the
Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, in the Babes
in the Wood. As the time grew near I
became nervous and cognizant of the fact
that it would not be so easy as it had at
first appeared. Yet, despite all this, and the
many anxieties I confess in a way I made
them for myself all went well.

When the rehearsals commenced I found
the old experienced hands not worrying in
the least. I had much to learn, and soon saw
how easy it was for many a clever comedian
to go in pantomime and fail, and yet another
man be almost a failure as a single turn, but a
big success in pantomime. Take James Welch,
for instance, one of the finest comedians and
character actors, and look at his short life at
Drury Lane, which lasted, I believe, only a
few nights. The pantomime I was to play in
was written by that famous pantomime writer,
J. Hickory Wood. I found that one had
not to look for a part from the author so much


as the skeleton or hooks on which to hang
one's own specialities.

It was then I found that the comedians
thought of all the funny jokes or " gags " they
had seen or heard, and then introduced them
into their parts, provided they had not been
used there too recently. Not having a " gag "
book I had to think how to adapt a scene
suitable for my particular line of business,
and at last hit upon the idea of an old man
pursuing the girl to make love to her, and
in order to do so taking lessons " under
the Beerbohm Tree." Then I changed from
George Alexander to Beerbohm Tree and
Sir Charles Wyndham and Martin Harvey.
This scene was my salvation in pantomime
the first year, and has been used successfully
by me each year since, by merely bringing it
up to date.

The first year I made up as Beerbohm Tree
in " Last of the Dandies/' the second year
as " Svengali," and this last year at Bristol as
" Mephistopheles." Now again, in accordance
with desire of the public and management,
I have gone back to " Svengali." In my
first year, as I have stated, I played the Bad


Baron, the Wicked Uncle of Babes in the
Wood. This pantomime had a fine all-round
company. The Robbers were played by the
Brothers Egbert, a clever couple of a clever
family. They were children in the business,
then in circuses, and under Lord George
Sanger. They are known now as the
" Happy Dustmen," and their catch-phrase is
" Hurry up, Walter." They are fine funny
boys to work with, and have a big fund of
"gags." In fact, who in the circus business
has not ? I think some of the best " gags "
and bits of business to-day in pantomimes
were first done in circuses or as stump
speeches by the old Nigger Minstrel. Then
there was George Baston, famous for his old
countrymen studies, and the popular " Gallop-
ing Major." There was Harry Lupino,
of the famous Lupino family, and his boy
then a little chap called " Nipper Lupino"
who played the Boy Babe, and very fine he
was. The Girl Babe was played by Miss
Maidie Andrews. Maid Marion was the
daughter of the famous Maude Branscombe,
Miss Gertie Branscombe. Robin Hood was
played by that fine dashing artiste and sweet-


voiced vocalist, Miss Winifred Hare. The
whole pantomime was an enormous success
and ran over thirteen weeks.

I learned a lot in my first panto, and made
many friends, and considerably more in the
second. I was engaged to play " Fitz warren"
in Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal,
Glasgow, and I had profited by my experi-
ence and arranged set pieces of humour or
gag to introduce into my part. The other
members of the company were very clever
in their particular lines, which unfortunately
did not blend with my style, with the result
that I was alone that is to say, I had no
one working with or to me. In pantomime
a great artiste is assisted and scores from
another who works with him or her the whole
time ; as an instance, Dan Leno was always
scoring off Herbert Campbell. Campbell was
what we call a good " feeder." A more recent
instance is Dan Rolyat and John Humphreys.
These two always work together, and the
result is remarkable.

The winter just past I was playing
Abanazar in Aladdin at Prince's Theatre,
Bristol, under the management of James


Macready Chute, a very famous manager,
and son of a famous father. Well known and
respected throughout the entire profession,
he is one of the kindest and most tactful
managers I have ever met. This was most
noticeable during the heavy rehearsals, when
never once did he " drive " any of us, but
"led" us just where he wanted, with the
result that he had managed to get the best
out of his entire company. He always has
an excellent staff, the members of which seem
to live and die in the "Chute" service, and
when they are really too old to work are
pensioned. It is a great family party, and I
am proud to have been associated with it
and the town of Bristol. It was quite a different
kind of pantomime from what Londoners are
in the habit of seeing. It had a story, and
at times was very dramatic the cave scene,
for instance. When Aladdin was shut in he was
offered Fame, Pleasure, Gold, etc., and refused
each, choosing Love. This was played in an
intensely dramatic manner by the Aladdin, who
was the youngest principal boy in the country,
Miss Ouida Macdermott, the daughter of the
famous G. H. Macdermott, who has all the


heredity cleverness. She is dramatic and good
in her comedy ; she is equally at home in a
ballad of the Clara Butt style, or in singing a
coon song and executing a fine characteristic
dance. She has the makings of a really fine
actress, and, in my opinion, would make an
ideal " Peter Pan." Time alone will tell.

Personally, I had eighteen changes of
make-up as Abanazar, during his search for
the lamp.

I wonder if the public realize how much
work is necessary in placing a good first-class
pantomime before them ? A rough idea may
be gathered from the following :

The manager who is about to produce
he may be going to do one pantomime only,
as in the case of Mr. Chute, of Bristol
first selects his subject, and thinks of the
most likely people suitable to the parts and
his audience. The artistes are generally
selected during his run round the country
seeing the pantomimes in each town. Some-
times an agent does this part. As an instance,
Herbert Blackmore, the agent, sees sometimes
one hundred pantomimes in one season, and
makes notes re artistes, scenery, authors, etc.,


etc., and then, of course, he is useful to both
the proprietors and the artistes, his clients.
The manager has now settled his subject and
his artistes, and gets his author to write to
suit the company suggested. Then he next
selects his scenic artistes, and starts the work
of the year, getting his two big scenes as
elaborate as possible. Dresses are designed
by, say, Comelli or Alias, who are the two
most prominent men to-day. There are, of
course, hundreds of other little details, such as
the make-ups, wigs, etc. We hurry on now.
He selects his ballet mistress, and she arrives
some weeks before the production and starts
training what are called the " local girls," who
will be in the marches and groups. The time
now arrives when scenery, dresses, and stage
lighting are all ready, Next the principals,
playing parts, assemble about ten days before
the production.

Introductions all round follow, for some
may be perfect strangers. We begin ; each
one has his or her part, and starts in a
room somewhere off the theatre. Each reads
his part through ; this goes on for a day or
two, and any one listening would think it most


"unfunny" and an awful muddle. In a few
days " slices " are cut out of it and new ideas,
more suitable, put in. A comedian may spring
a " gag " at rehearsal, which may be very old
and what we call " whiskery" to us, but new
to him. We all look askance and smack our
hands, suggesting he is a naughty boy, or
pull imaginary chin-whiskers, insinuating that
it has whiskers.

After a few days we are taken on the stage,
and begin to see the difference in everything
after only rehearsing " words." Those having
songs to sing are called, and they are set to
work to learn the melodies. In a corner two
comedians are comparing notes as to their
respective bits of business. Perhaps the ladies
will find their part small, while the comedians
have it all to themselves. But the stage
manager or producer, if he is tactful, adjusts
all that. The days when women alone were
able to carry pantomimes through are certainly
gone. For there is a dearth of principal boys
and girls who can act, sing, dance, and
"gag," with the result that the pantomime
has become the comedian's. Now we are
doing only one scene, and that many times,


again and again. The rehearsals begin in
the morning, with an hour's release during
the day, and continue till the early hours of
the next morning. It is this part of the real
hard work and drudgery, and, above all,
anxiety, the public do not realize. The artiste
is anxious to succeed in his part, and the
proprietor anxious to reap a profit from his
tremendous outlay. Consequently the best
result is aimed at by all concerned, and no
effort is thought too much for the realization of
such a consummation. Now for the first time
we meet the chorus ladies and gentlemen, and
afterwards the extras and supers. Then come
the scenery and the dress rehearsal. Some-
times this latter begins about six o'clock in
the evening and finishes at four or five next
morning, and the public never dream that
first night of the weariness, the headaches,
and worn-out people who are fighting to win
their approbation. It is the applause and
cheers that spur them on to the last curtain.
It's wonderful what the public can do. If
it only encourages them it can make the
artistes work wonders, and can as easily break
their hearts. In the production at Bristol


last Christmas, as I have before stated, Mr
Chute was all patience, and worked very hard
indeed, as did his company. Then, when the
dress rehearsal was finished, instead of a grumpy
" That'll do," he stepped forward, and in a
few kind words thanked everybody for their
efforts, and was sure the result must be good
if we all worked together. His few words
worked wonders. They touched every one's
heart and spurred all on to work for a man
who acknowledged them. Fred Wyndham,
under whom I worked for two years, was
another kindly and tactful man. He knew
just what he wanted, and got it done without
"cursing." There are, of course, some pro-
ducers who lose themselves and frighten the
company into what they want ; but I doubt if
in the end they get as good a result.

The first night of the pantomime shows
all the weak spots and unnecessary gags ; and,
as a rule, in the morning there is a call for
" cuts," and from that moment it is a case of
putting in only things that will go with a bang,
whilst the slow " business " is gradually cut out.
It is then only a question of the comedians
playing with and to each other, but if they


are not friendly, it means failure for the panto-
mime. No two men have ever worked to-
gether so harmoniously and successfully as
did Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell. Those
who only see the pantomime from the front
can have no idea of it as a business. It is
a business of its own. Some men are most
successful in pantomime, whilst others are lost
in it. There is a well-known comedian, Mark
Sheridan, who has played for some ten or
twelve years with Fred Wyndham, and has
never been in a failure. I believe he is
engaged by the same firm for several years
ahead, and is known as Wyndham's mascot.

The great wonder to me in pantomime is
that in ten days artistes meet and rehearse and
build up a four hours' entertainment. Yet in
the production of a musical comedy they will
be almost as many weeks.

Sometimes quite an accident or a slip
will be the cause of a really funny "gag
or piece of business that will always be done
in the pantomime afterwards. There are, of
course, sometimes, accidents that cause a
roar of laughter that are not meant to be
at all funny. A big laugh, for instance, was

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Online LibraryBransby WilliamsAn actor's story → online text (page 12 of 13)