AUGUST Bank Holiday found us once again on tour with Amāsis, commencing at Bristol, but our old golfing quartette was reduced by the loss of Norman Salmond and Mitton, who were not with us this time, and the piece also suffered by the loss of Reggie White as Ptolemy.
We managed, however, to put in an excellent morning on the links at Failand, where I had Chute as my partner against Glanfield and de Frece.
The surroundings at Failand are very beautiful, and once more awakened my desire to be able to sketch at the same time as I golfed, a feeling I have had on very many provincial courses.
I made a frantic endeavour to “count the house,” being financially interested in the result, owing to my percentage, but although I tried it many times on this tour I never got very near the correct figures, my estimate usually being too high, possibly owing to the wish being father to the thought.
I found to my dismay that I had not entirely shaken off my throat affection, and towards the end of the week developed tonsilitis and more doctor’s fees, which were not covered by my profit on the week.
We had a terribly early start on the Sunday, 7.30, being due in Dublin by dinner time, the only consolations being the beautiful scenery we travelled through in very leisurely fashion, and a magnificently breezy passage from Holyhead to Dublin, which did me a world of good, but left me very tired.
Almost the first greeting I received in Dublin was a wish from the mouth of the porter who assisted my servant to put the luggage on a cab, to the effect that he hoped that Dublin “would not see us again for a long time”! This struck me as so unlike the proverbial Irish hospitality that I inquired of my servant the amount of his fee, which he told me had been the usual shilling, sternly rejected by the porter, who, however, eventually ran after the cab and accepted it; he was evidently an Irish Pooh Bah, and thought his “insult” a “light one.”
The Exhibition was being held during the week, and the most popular feature was the band of the Coldstream Guards, a fact which appeared to puzzle my companion, de Frece, considerably, until I pointed out that they are a band of Englishmen originally raised in a village on the border of Scotland, which none of them have ever seen; and if that is not Irish, what is?
I was on the sick-list in Dublin from the time of arrival until the Thursday night, a period that might well have been extended but for the skill of Dr. Lennon and the excellent nursing of Mrs. Roland Cunningham; and Thursday was memorable on account of the first solid food for a week, and that was an Irish solid, so to speak, consisting of one egg, on which I played that night (of course, I played on the stage, not on the egg), but I managed to get through.
There was a great influx of stout clerics in the hotel during two days of the week, and the one or two ascetic-looking, thin Churchmen among them impressed me for some reason with the feeling that, in the event of a “consultation,” I should select the attenuate in preference to the rotund. I wonder if they experience more trouble with the obese heathen, and if so, why? I intended to have asked one of them to enlighten me on the point, but on the morning I wished to do so they had all disappeared.
We were all much interested in reading about the great strike in Belfast, then in full swing, where we were due on the following Monday, and it was with no little pleasure that towards the end of the week we read that it was over, and we therefore started on the Sunday with light hearts.
Our lightsomeness suffered a certain depression on the journey, however, as the railway company sneered at our desire for a special train, and the one we travelled in was specially awful. I also noticed that here, as in England, passengers are almost invariably regarded as undesired interlopers, to be dealt with severely and harried and hustled at the sweet will of the railway underlings.
We had two very good days’ golf at Portmarnock, and the passage across the arm of the sea in cabs was quite an exciting experience; one does not often have the chance of driving in a cab with one’s feet in the sea!
I had one slice of luck in Dublin, the week’s business bringing me a nice little sum on my percentage arrangement, my joy at the news being mitigated to some extent by the fact that the surplus all went to balance the nights on which I was unable to play.
Belfast was quite quiet we found, but the whole town was patrolled by stern-faced warriors of the Sussex Regiment, some of them very youthful-looking, but no worse soldiers for that, and they had been through some rougher times than had been made public, as I gathered from a chat I had with two or three of them; it must be a difficult thing to refrain from retaliation when bombarded with stones and huge slabs of pavement, as they were.
Roland Cunningham and I had a delightful day at Newcastle, Co. Down, only marred by the fact of the strike having changed its locale and attacked the waiters at the Slieve Donard Hotel, making the getting of lunch a matter of some uncertainty; but what mattered lunch with such fine golf at hand, and the best day in point of weather since we left town!
A perfectly charming little incident occurred as we were leaving the club-house. I saw at some little distance, coming over the sandhills, a little boy and girl dressed in Red Indian costume, all complete up to the train of feathers on the head and down to the moccasins, and both carried bows and arrows.
When they were within some sixty yards I pretended great fear, and crouched down; Roland took up his cue promptly and did the same; and to our delight the little Indians “stalked” us! After running a little distance I fell exhausted and the little girl walked round me, arrow fitted to bow, with intent to shoot me dead; the arrow was fortunately blunt, as she eventually shot me well below the belt, when I shuddered and died, whereupon she ran away shrieking with delight. Roland had meanwhile escaped with his scalp and we waved a farewell to our foes and parted without a word spoken on either side.
We experienced a very striking contrast to the hospitality of our reception at Dublin station when we went on the Saturday of this week to Carnalea to play a golf match of five aside between Amāsis and the Carnalea Club as represented by Messrs. Agnew, Black, Phillips, Rogers, and Kamche. It was a close contest, four of the matches being halved, while we lost the odd one.
The festivities which followed this exciting result were of a somewhat potent nature, and so prolonged as to threaten some danger to the evening’s performance of the opera. Stanhope (our manager) and I held a council of war and decided to invite all our opponents to occupy a box that night; and the proposition being received with acclamation, there only remained just enough time for a stirrup-cup and a rush for the train, so that all danger was averted.
We took ship that night, after work, for Heysham, and it was most interesting to watch the gradual filling up of the steamer with ourselves, certain other passengers, many cows, and last but not least the gallant Sussex Regiment returning home with the same high courage with which it had left, strongly manifested by performances on mouth-organs, concertinas, and the human voice.
The “last load” was our Amāsis scenery, and when later on I went for a stroll round the deck I found portions of my royal palace, temple, and sphinxes occupied by the slumbering warriors, one of whom was extremely snug in the depths of Pharaoh’s royal chair; the majority of them slept hand in hand with some favoured comrade, and in more than one instance the boots of one man reposed on the face of another without causing any apparent inconvenience.
The Leeds audiences, where we played next, have established a reputation for being somewhat difficult to please, in spite of, or perhaps because of, being possessed of a keen sense of humour; in fact, I have heard one of the theatres in the town described as “The Comedian’s Grave”; but it is only fair to state that they showed no lack of appreciation during our visit.
One of our principal artists, who was under notice to leave on the Saturday, elected to vanish mysteriously two days in advance, a somewhat unwarrantable proceeding, and one which might have seriously inconvenienced us had not the understudy been ready and efficient.
We again finished the week with a golf match against six of the Headingely Club, in which we were badly defeated, the only winner on our side being an importation in the shape of Frank Curzon, who was staying at Harrogate, where he had evolved quite a strong game by avoiding the waters.
The following week, while at Bradford, we played over what in my humble opinion is the best inland course I have ever seen, Hawksworth to wit, the greens being nothing short of perfection. We had a very narrow margin to catch our return train, and the cab not arriving, we were reduced to stealing a private motor-car, instigated thereto by the captain of the club, Dr. Honeybone, who seemed sure the owner would not mind. I hope he did not, and am glad of the chance of thanking him.
I was agreeably surprised to find an invitation from the Mayor to lunch with him at the town hall on the Wednesday. It appears that it was a weekly function established by him, the courtesy of an invitation to which he extends to any well-known visitor whom he may wish to meet; a very happy thought, which I found, on signing the visitors’ book, had been appreciated by several of my fellow actors, including Sir Henry Irving.
The Mayor (Mr. J. L. Godwin) was in hourly expectation of being created Lord Mayor of Bradford, and I promised that if the news arrived during our visit, and he would be present at the theatre the night it arrived, I would evolve and sing a special verse to fit the occasion.
I thought no more of this, and on the Friday, after a long day’s golf, I was informed on arriving at the theatre that the news had arrived and the Lord Mayor was in the box! I managed, however, to carry out my part of the bargain, wrote the verse during the interval, and sang it with great success. I found, on reaching the hotel, that a note from him had miscarried, and I ought to have had due notice.
A little brass tablet on one of the dressing-room doors brought me some sad thoughts when I saw that it recorded the fact of its being the room that Sir Henry Irving used during his last appearances on the stage, and a picture rose in my mind of the last impressive scene of all in Westminster Abbey, and the (to me) appalling character of part of the music.
From Bradford to Southport was a pleasant move, and the weather being glorious, we had a great week’s pleasure, if somewhat unsatisfactory from a business point of view.
Mixed bathing was indulged in by most of our company, though it is difficult to really “bathe” when the depth of water for a mile or so out does not exceed two feet. We played sea-football one afternoon, and most uproarious fun it was, ending in a “scrum” in which every player flopped down in the water; one imaginative person declared that when I fell there was a tidal wave, in spite of which a part of me still emerged like an island, but I fancy the statement was prompted by jealousy of my figure.
John Doran, our tenor, had only been able to secure an extremely large costume intended for a lady, and as he went down the hundred yards of sand between him and the sea, the wind inflated his dress in a most ludicrous manner, causing de Frece to ask politely, “What time do you go up?”
It was perhaps as well that we fixed on the luncheon hour for the match, when very few strangers were about, though the manager regretted that he had not had time to get out some handbills advertising the attraction!
As a proof of the (occasional) efficacy of “gagging,” I may instance a night at Southport when, owing to some misunderstanding, the eight girls wanted for my song, “Lovely Woman,” were on the stage in other costumes, when they should have been changing. I noticed it, sent them off, and then de Frece and myself lengthened out the scene until they were ready. The introduced lines went very well, but best with the company on the stage, who were, of course, in the secret and glad to welcome a deviation from the routine.
From Southport to Edinburgh was rather a far cry, taking us from 10.30 till 5 to accomplish, but, owing to the forethought of Mrs. Roland Cunningham, an experienced traveller, was rendered thoroughly comfortable by means of a lunch and tea worthy of the best hotel cuisine; in addition to which there was awaiting us a delightful dinner party at the house of my old friend and golf opponent Mr. Law, of The Scotsman, to which Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham, Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope, Madge Vincent, Winifred O’Connor, Winnie Macey, de Frece, and myself were bidden.
The little concert which followed was a pleasant holiday for us, though we were the makers of the melody, assisted by our host himself.
On the Monday I drove up to the Braids with Cunningham, just to prospect, rehearsal having occupied most of the day. What a course to be able to play over for twopence! It seems a pity we have nothing like it near London.
While walking from the hotel to my work that night a very pretty little girl passed me, and in doing so dropped a glove. I picked it up and handed it to her, when she promptly dropped the other one. I handed her that also, and being under the impression that it might be a new game, or some Scotch custom, I said quite simply, “What will you drop next?” Upon which she ran away like a rabbit. Being uncertain whether I ought to run also, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt and walked away in the opposite direction.
Edinburgh, as all know, is a grand centre for golf, and I was anxious to show one or two of my companions the beauties of the links at Archerfield, where at the time Mr. Herbert Gladstone and the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton were enjoying a holiday. Being an old opponent of the former, a note asking for permission to play brought me not only acquiescence but in addition an invitation to lunch for myself and my three friends; and a great day we had, though it took me eight strokes to do a certain hole which I had once captured in one.
A prolonged lunch left no time for another round of golf, so the interval between that and train-catching was occupied with the usual concert, varied on this occasion with some glees from Gilbert-and-Sullivan operas, in which Mrs. Gladstone was our leading soprano.
This pleasant golf picnic was followed by a serious day at New Luffness (as far as golf went, of course), which nearly ended in our being minus a tenor for that night. I got back in my host’s (George Law’s) car in good time, but the second car had a bad puncture soon after starting, on a lonely road, which was mended by stuffing the tyre with grass, necessitating a stop at every “house of call” on the road to “see if it was standing the strain.” It appeared to have done so, very much to the added merriment of its load of passengers, my friend Doran, the tenor in question, being quite light-hearted over his love troubles in Amāsis.
In one particular scene in the second act I was in the habit of using for a gag that which I fondly hoped was a fairly good Scotch accent; anyhow it invariably produced a good laugh, but some evil genius in the shape of a good friend recommended me to preface the gag with “Hoots!” by way of strengthening the imitation. I tried it once, lost my breath entirely with the effort to say “Hoots!” and with it the accustomed laugh.
We fixed up an early journey to Glasgow, intending to take a train out into the suburbs after lunch, but after getting every one out of bed at an unprecedented hour we found, on arriving at Glasgow, that there were no trains going anywhere, so Edinburgh would have been preferable.
There is a peculiarity about the hotel I always go to in Glasgow which I have never noticed elsewhere, which is, that an abnormal number of wedding parties assemble there for breakfasts, dinners, balls, and occasionally for the ceremony itself.
There are more often than not two such affairs daily, and I have several times seen three in full swing, all of which gives a startling variety of dishes, dangerous to dyspeptics, in a profusion which is only excelled by the confetti which covers the whole of the entrance floor and stairs, and is never entirely got rid of.
One particular party attracted my attention strongly on account of the terrible air of dejection displayed by all except a small boy and girl, who were flirting outrageously in happy disregard of the gloom surrounding their seniors.
The Glaswegian youth is evidently inclined to be precocious, at least I gather so from the story told me by two of our youngest and prettiest ladies of the chorus, who on their way home after work one night were followed by two youths who were persistent in their efforts to start a conversation. On being firmly told that their society was so little desired that they were an absolute nuisance, one of them remarked, “Well, if you won’t talk to us you will lose our patronage!”
We had a very delightful supper party one night at the Palette Club, our hosts being David Kemp and Doctor Maclure, followed by a capital impromptu “smoker” for which I acted as chairman, prompted as to the “local talent” by Maclure, who unearthed for our pleasure a really delightful artist of the name of Rankin.
There was a somewhat extraordinary mixture travelling by our train (and others) on the Sunday, consisting of two “musical” companies, one drama, a sketch, some dozen music-hall artists, and eight or nine Chinese stokers going somewhere to stoke, I presume.
On our return visit to Hull we had a great golf match at Brough against four of Yorkshire's well-known lady players, and as they honoured us by occupying a box at the theatre the same night we were, of course, compelled to introduce some “golf-gags,” which must have sounded odd coming from Egyptians; however, they amused those in the secret, and no harm was done to the play.
This town furnished me with a proof of my argument, that in bringing a piece round a second time it is dangerous to make many alterations in the company, unless, of course, you bring stars in the place of ordinary artists. There were other things as well to account for the reduction in our receipts, notably the death of Lord Nunburnholme and the municipal elections, but, all the same, I think his townspeople missed Norman Salmond, and I am sure we did.
I mean no reflection on the performance of the part by Mr. Fox, an old Carl Rosa artist and good actor, but it is an undoubted fact that most people consider the first exponent of any part to be the best, however well it may be played by the successor.
Being in Liverpool shortly after this, during a race week, I was anxious to see the course for the first time, but the weather was against it until the Saturday, when we had, of course, a matinée; however, I just managed to see two races, got back to my hotel to lunch, and arrived at the theatre at two o’clock, not bad going. I backed the winner of the first race, and venture to hope that I shall some day back the same horse to win the Grand National, it being that smart young chaser, Cackler.
They have an odd custom at this hotel of putting one’s letters on the top of the boots that have been left out overnight for cleaning, which is all very well if you have only one pair of boots, but the custom played me a bad trick, as thus: I was expecting important letters from town on Friday morning (it would be on a Friday such a thing would happen), and up to Sunday morning there was no sign of them. I pointed out to my servant which boots I would wear, and when he picked them up out fell the expected letters! One of them contained a request that I would go to town that day, and fortunately I had just time to alter my arrangements and travel to London instead of Middlesbrough, but it was a near thing, and I look into my boots now every morning when away from home.
We had a great day on the sands at Redcar, about twenty of the company joining in a picnic, and the only conveyance to hold us all from the station to the hotel was a lorry, which we sat round with dangling feet, much to the amazement of the natives and the joy of the dogs of the place, which pursued us all the time and saw us off at the end of the day. I ventured to join in a game of rounders, having memories of my old sprinting days conjured up, and felt rather proud of scoring two rounders, but my pride was dashed when someone remarked that when running I looked rather like the hind part of an elephant. How are the mighty fallen!
From Middlesbrough to Nottingham was a somewhat circuitous route, and de Frece and Stanhope thought they would prefer to do it in a motor-car. They started some three hours before us, and were on the platform at York at one o’clock to welcome us as the train steamed in. When leaving again we agreed to wait dinner for them at Nottingham, and we accordingly did so, but we did not wait until they arrived, which was at 5.30 on the Monday afternoon! We had a better night than they.
This journey was eclipsed by our very next one, right up to Sunderland, and they appeared to be mending the line everywhere, which made us only two and a half hours late. This did not matter so much to us in the train, but it was hard on the station-master at Durham, where I had arranged to stop the special to pick up my sister; it appeared that the station had to be opened exclusively for her benefit by the station-master himself, who attended in tall hat, frock-coat, and white gloves as befitting the ceremony. At the end of the long wait (over two hours) the “suite” of nephews and one niece were exhausted, but my sister and the station-master preserved their gallant bearing and betrayed no impatience.
The Bolton Wanderers were playing Sunderland on the Saturday, and as they stayed in the hotel at Roker, where some of our party were, I had an opportunity of making their acquaintance. I found them a pleasant, unassuming lot of men, very musical (we had a two hours’ sing-song before the match), and capital footer players, as I discovered at the match in the afternoon, their “outside right” being fast enough to have given him a show even in the Stadium.
The mention of the Stadium reminds me that I saw the great “disqualification” race for the four hundred yards, and I shall never forget the shout which rose from the spectators at the celebrated bend, and came along with the runners right up to where the winning tape had been broken by the judges on the signal from the umpire down the course. It was a thousand pities that the whole race was not run in strings, though perhaps to have ordered such a proceeding might have argued a suspicion, that could not possibly have been harboured, that something untoward was likely to happen. Whether accident or design I should not like to say; but the fortunate presence of the ubiquitous photographer clearly proved to all that the tracks of one runner went right across those of the man just behind him. I have never seen such excitement over a foot race before, and never wish to see it again, if attributable to the same cause.
After playing Amāsis for a week in Oldham, the first time I ever had the pleasure of being in the town, we forgathered for our final Sunday journey to town by the Great Central. Living in Manchester, and only going over to Oldham in time for work, I naturally saw very little of the place, and my one recollection is of an enormous arc-lamp fixed in the centre of the dress-circle so as to throw its light on to the stage; it was at first intensely disconcerting, being of so powerful a nature that it seemed to hit one with light, and absolutely prevented one’s seeing anything of the house while on the stage.
Mingled feelings of joy at returning to London, and regret at finishing a pleasant tour, occupied my mind during our last journey, untainted by any presentiment of such a disaster as nearly befell us just outside town. We were running at about fifteen miles an hour, I should imagine, when we felt a series of severe jerks, followed by one worse than the rest, and then a sudden stoppage; it was evident something had happened, and all heads were out of windows at once. There was a certain amount of tension observable in most of us, and one or two girls threatened to become hysterical, but at the sight of a gang of platelayers standing on the line, who replied to a general question “if there had been an accident?” – yes! – the atmosphere was cleared by a roar of laughter on Winifred O’Connor (Princess Amāsis) inquiring, “Can I be of any help?”
Roland Cunningham and I, with a feeling on us of grave responsibility, got out on the line to make inquiries, the result of which was to establish the fact that some forty feet or more of the rails were “up,” and the men were carrying across the last rail to be put down when to their horror our train came round the bend.
Their schedule showed no train due at all for some hours (ours had been forgotten in some mysterious way), and though they had sent a man down the line as look-out, he had only a flag, which was not of much use in the dark.
But for the courage, resource, and watchfulness of our driver, Ogden, of Gorton, Manchester, who saw the flag and immediately reversed his engine, it is terrible to think what might have happened to us all; as it was the engine had run through the sleepers like matchwood, was on its side, and the baggage wagon immediately behind the tender had mounted right on top of it.
When I remember that as a rule the saloon which held all the principal artists came next to the engine, it seems providential that on this one occasion an exception was made.
I had quite a long chat with Driver Ogden, who naturally seemed much upset about it, but it was evidently no fault of his, and when assured that no one was more than badly shaken up his equanimity was restored.
Many of us climbed up the bank and made the best of our way to our destinations, the remainder waiting till another train came alongside and transported them bag and baggage to Marylebone; but it was a great disappointment to the crowd of friends and relations assembled to greet our return, to say nothing of the brass band engaged.
There is always a feeling of regret on parting with a piece in which one has played a “grateful” part for so long a time as I had that of Pharaoh, and it was deepened on this occasion by the idea that was in my mind that in the hands of any well-known and capable London manager Amāsis would still be running in town.
Theatrical business is a great lottery, and how often we hear of the winning ticket having been sold or even given away, in the shape of constant refusals to see “any good” in plays submitted, which afterwards found the fortune of some plucky if haphazard producer.
I myself have at the present time certain plays, the titles and subjects of which wild horses shall not persuade me to divulge, which have been “submitted” in various quarters, received (in some cases) hearty encomiums, but yet seem fated not to see production until the aforesaid haphazard explorer comes along. I can only hope for his sake that he will hasten his appearance, as it is my firm intention to burn a considerable amount of type-covered sheets next week, and though the cheap cynic would naturally say that is all they are fit for, I know of one person at least who holds a contrary opinion.
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