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Subject: ‘Actors’

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The Rose Theatre at Bankside in Southwark, London

Posted in Actors, Architecture, English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Shakespeare, Theatre on Friday, 14 March 2014

Rose Theatre,  picture, image, illustration
The Rose Theatre, Southwark by Peter Jackson

The Rose Theatre was one of four theatres on the south side of the Thames in Southwark, that district notorious for leisure and lascivious pleasures, whence the revenues went to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, and undoubtedly paid for the establishment of his New College at Oxford, as well as Winchester College itself. It was the first London theatre to stage any play by Shakespeare, and yet its success was short lived. It was built by Philip Henslowe, whose diary from the period remains the most important historical primary source for the study of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. It was the smallest of the London theatres, but despite later enlargement by Henslowe himself, seems to have been unpopular with many theatre-goers. An outbreak of the Plague closed all playhouses for two years, and when they re-opened the Rose failed to increase its popularity. The Privy Council’s decree in 1600 that there should only be two theatres in the district signalled its demise, along with the building of the Globe in 1599. The Rose was abandoned and closed in 1603 when its lease expired. It was probably demolished around 1606.

Many more pictures relating to Southwark can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

At Drury Lane Sir Henry Irving bids farewell to the London stage

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Theatre on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about the British theatre first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.

Sir Henry Irving at Drury Lane,  picture, image, illustration
Sir Henry Irving's farewell to the London stage was as Becket at the Teatre Royal, Drury lane

It was the last night of Tom Page’s holiday in London with his grandparents and still, after a fortnight, he could not get over his excitement when travelling through its streets. One day he had been all the way to Wimbledon and back by electric tram, the line having only reached that far out a few weeks before, for this was 1905.

He had been in a horse-drawn hansom and a “motor hansom,” a horse-drawn bus and a motor bus – apart from trips on the Underground – and he had got caught in some appalling traffic jams. These were inevitable with so many forms of transport, plus private carriages and cars, jockeying for position in the streets, especially as trams hogged the centre of the roads on their rails!

Tonight, a lovely summer evening, Tom was going with his grandparents to the theatre, a family tradition of the Pages. Then, tomorrow, he would be speeding back to Exeter in a 60 mph train. But tonight he was riding in an open carriage owned by his grandfather, who was a City businessman and could afford to run one.

Piccadilly was a fine sight that evening, with the sun still shining and the pavements thronged with people. It was certainly much livelier than the quiet square in Kensington where he was staying. But Tom knew that there was another London not far from all this wealth where a million or more lived in the slums in direst poverty, and where children of Tom’s age, 16, were several inches shorter than he was because of lack of good food and fresh air. He had an uncle who was a vicar in the slums who had once shown him something of the other London.

But tonight was no moment for unhappy thoughts, especially as they were nearing their destination, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He had been there once before to see “Humpty Dumpty,” with Dan Leno, greatest of all Pantomime Dames, starring in it.

Tonight was an even more exciting occasion for it was the last London performance of Sir Henry Irving, the first actor ever to be knighted. Irving had been very ill, and everyone knew that this short season must be his farewell one.

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Sarah Siddons was called the Queen of Tragedy

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Theatre on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about the English theatre first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.

Mrs Siddons,  picture, image, illustration
Mrs Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough

A cold dawn was breaking as young Tom Page erupted from his grandparents’ house in London’s Bloomsbury Square and nearly collided into two cows being driven down the cobbled street by a pretty milkmaid.

Apologising to the girl, who had driven her charges from the pastures around St. Pancras, the 16-year-old youth tore down into Holborn past other early risers. It was October 1782, too late in the year for the morning air to be rent by cheerful cries of “Cherry Ripe!” and “Fine Strawberries!”, but apples were being hawked up and down, and plenty of milkmaids, with or without cows, but all with pails, were calling out: “Any milk here?”

Tom lived in the country near Bath, but was staying with his grandparents, a retired Naval captain and his wife. Tom thought that even this fashionable part of London was an evil-smelling place, and kept leaping over piles of rubbish, but he loved its excitement and bustle.

Sweating a little, despite the morning chill, he reached Drury Lane Theatre only to find a huge queue outside. His heart sank at the size of it, but it was hardly surprising. Three nights ago, a young actress, Sarah Siddons, had taken the town by storm as Isabella in a play called The Fatal Marriage by Thomas Southerne and everyone wanted to see her. On the first night her acting had been so sensational that the orange sellers decided to carry smelling salts from then onwards, as well as fruit, because so many people had fainted!

Tom’s grandparents had been invited to see Siddons from a box, but had had to tell him that there would be no room in the box for him. He told them not to worry: he would queue to watch the play from the Pit.

This was where today’s stalls are and consisted of row upon row of wooden benches. The keenest and liveliest playgoers sat there, and the Management had finally been forced to install a line of iron spikes between the Pit and the orchestra and another between orchestra and stage because there had been invasions of the stage from time to time, and not always friendly ones. Otherwise, it was roughly the same Drury Lane designed by Wren and smaller than today’s. Now all the inhabitants of the Pit – and the Galleries – could do was throw things, occasionally tearing up the seats if prices were raised.

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The rise of comedy in Restoration theatre was a sign of the times

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty, Theatre on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

This edited article about Restoration theatre first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 577 published on 3 February 1973.

Charles II and Nell Gynne,  picture, image, illustration
King Charles II visiting Nell Gwynne in her dressing room by Peter Jackson

The traffic was terrible! Mr Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Admiralty, decided to use his barge instead of his coach for most of his journey from Derby House near Westminster Hall to Drury Lane Theatre. The previous week he had arrived late for a performance at the Duke’s Theatre, Dorset Gardens, after getting caught in a traffic jam, consisting of noblemen’s coaches, carts and hackney carriages, with every cursing driver claiming right-of-way in the narrow cobbled lanes off Fleet Street.

It was most important not to be late tonight, May 26, 1674, for a new Theatre Royal was to open, to replace the old one, which had been burnt after only nine years of exciting life.

The new building had been built by Sir Christopher Wren, a friend of Pepys, who was already working on plans for the new St Paul’s Cathedral to replace the old one, burnt in the Great Fire of 1666. How Mrs Pepys would have enjoyed tonight, Pepys thought, but she had been dead five years, and that evening he was taking a junior clerk of his, Thomas Page, and his pretty wife Mary. Tom Page was the grandson of Master Page the tailor, had actually been present at the Globe Theatre to watch Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Tom loved the theatre as much as his grandfather had done. Born in 1650, he could remember a time when there were no theatres, for during Cromwell’s “reign,” with the pleasure-hating Puritans in control, there had been no plays to see, except for a few that were given in secret. It was not until Charles II returned in 1660 that the theatre returned as well. Deprived of entertainment for eleven years, theatre audiences were delighted with the new plays which were gay, spicy comedies.

These plays, which we now call Restoration Comedies, were performed in indoor theatres, very unlike the outdoor Elizabethan playhouses, and had painted scenery on shutters which were moved along grooves in the stage itself. The Elizabethans had not bothered much with scenery, which was an Italian innovation that Charles had seen during his exile in France.

Far more sensational than the scenery had been the appearance of women in plays, for formerly boys had played the female roles. As the three playgoers were rowed down the river, Pepys told his young guests that tonight’s play, a 50-year-old comedy called The Beggar’s Bush by Beaumont and Fletcher, had been the very one in which he had first seen an actress back in 1661. He had confided as much to his secret diary that long-ago night. He had had to give up the diary, though, in 1669 because of the strain on his eyes.

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The golden age of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Literature, London, Shakespeare, Theatre on Monday, 3 March 2014

This edited article about the English theatre first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 576 published on 27 January 1973.

Shakespeare at the Globe,  picture, image, illustration
Shakespeare performing at the Globe Theatre by Peter Jackson

Telling the boy apprentices to look after the shop, Master and Mistress Page, a prosperous tailor and his wife, went out into the street and headed south.

This was a street with a difference, for it was London Bridge with its high houses and marvellous array of shops. It was a wonder of the Elizabethan world.

The Pages walked hurriedly, waving at friends and not stopping to talk to them, for it was already nearly 1.30 and the play at the newly built Globe Theatre on Bankside on the south bank of the Thames began at 2.

Boats were taking other theatre-goers across the river, which in Spring 1600 was London’s main highway, but it was more sensible for the Pages to walk. They passed under the south gateway, glancing up at the shrunken traitors’ heads stuck on poles to deter others, then they turned right into a world of churches, slums, bear-gardens and theatres all alongside each other. Many patrons of the bear-baiting and cockfighting dens were just as much at home in the Globe listening to Master Shakespeare’s thrilling poetry, or to singers accompanied by lutes. Such was the sharp contrast of Elizabethan London – beauty and pain, music and sudden death, and always in the background the fear of the plague, which, when it came, closed all the theatres on Bankside for fear of mass infection.

The flag was flying over the Globe to show that a play would definitely be given that afternoon, and streams of people, some 2,000 or so, were heading for the cylindrical building with the thatched roof that the great actor Burbage, Shakespeare and several of their friends had built when their old one in north London had been threatened by the landlords. The Pages knew the story of how Burbage and the others had literally pulled the old theatre down and carried the wood across the river to help build the new one. They had once met Shakespeare himself, a most likable man, as everyone agreed, and they knew one of the boy actors at the Globe, who played women’s parts.

They waved at friends going to the Swan Theatre. Still more were heading for the Rose, where a play by Christopher Marlowe, who had been killed in a tavern brawl, was being given by the Lord Admiral’s Men, rivals of Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men.

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The Roman Gladiatorial Games at the Italian Exhibition, 1888

Posted in Actors, Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Theatre on Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Italian Exhibition 1888,  picture, image, illustration
The Roman Gladiatorial Games at the Italian Exhibition, Earl's Court; illustration for The Graphic, 14 July 1888.

The Italian Exhibition at Earl’s Court in 1888 was a triumphant success, its most spectacular achievement being what today is called an historical re-enactment. The Souvenir Guidebook describes it thus:

“A reproduction of the Coliseum with its Roman sports, gladiatorial combats, wrestling bouts, chariot and foot races, triumphal processions, and all the other stirring spectacles that went to make up a Roman holiday. In the proceeding year the huge space at Earl’s Court, now transformed into the Flavian Amphitheatre, had formed the scene of ‘Buffalo Bill’s’ performance; but the revolver, the scalping-knife, the lasso, and the Winchester repeating-rifle of ‘Wild West’ warfare were now exchanged for the gladiatorial short sword, the net, and the trident of the Roman arena; and it was hard to say which species of personal combats exercised the greatest spell on the spectators.

As a mere show this reproduction of ‘Rome under the Caesars’ was admitted to be one of the finest and most interesting things of the kind that had ever been essayed in England, and a perfect triumph of scenic art. By continuing the semicircle of seats right round, the ‘Wild West’ Arena had been converted into a wonderful resemblance of the Flavian Amphitheatre, its dimensions, for one thing, being exactly the same as those of the Coliseum.”

Many more pictures relating to games can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

C. H. Simpson Esqr., Master of Ceremonies at Vauxhall

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Music, Theatre on Tuesday, 18 February 2014

C H Simpson Esq,  picture, image, illustration
C H Simpson Esquire, Master of Ceremonies at the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, with a distant view of his Celestial Likeness in Variegated Lamps

C H Simpson was the Master of Ceremonies at Vauxhall Gardens “for upwards of 56 years”, and held several retirement benefits, as was often the case with artistes reluctant to leave their profession and their adoring public. He claimed to have served in the West Indies with Admiral Rodney in 1782 as a teenage Midshipman, and was famous for his elaborate courtesy, which involved an unusually exaggerated extension of his right leg on tip-toe, whilst simultaneously raising his magnificent top hat. This posture became his trademark, his modus operandi, his widely acknowledged claim to theatrical fame, and on the bill he issued for another of his retirement benefits in 1833, he was depicted performing the florid welcome routine for the Duke of Wellington, while in the background his likeness was “exhibited in variegated lamps”. It is unknown when this ageing dandy finally retired from his ceremonial role for the very last time.

Many more pictures relating to London entertainments can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Some Olympic sportsmen won Hollywood stardom

Posted in Actors, America, Cinema, Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Monday, 10 February 2014

This edited article about the Olympic Games first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 548 published on 15 July 1972.

Olympic stars,  picture, image, illustration
Johnny Weissmuller (top) was later famous for his film role as Tarzan; Don Bragg (centre) also played Tarzan in the movies; (bottom) Mohammed Ali was another Olympic winner, by Ron Embleton

Fame must be the dream of many Olympic athletes. Some have found it through skill and showmanship. Others worked hard for the stardom they wanted so badly but which was to elude them for ever.

One of the successful seekers after prominence was Johnny Weissmuller. He first came to public notice in 1927 when he swam 100 yards in 51 seconds, a world record. Soon, he was claiming the best times for all distances up to 500 yards, as well as those for 100 and 400 metres in the Olympic Games, for which he won gold medals in 1924 and 1928.

Hollywood grabbed Weissmuller in 1932 and starred him as Tarzan the jungle man in a long series of films based upon the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

With the powerful muscles and supple limbs which had made him unbeatable in the water, he swung on jungle vines or fought the current in rapidly flowing rivers to help his friends the animals in their fight against Africa’s white hunters or marauding tribesmen.

However, the fame of the character lingered long after Weissmuller had passed into middle-aged contentment, and a succession of lithe young men took his place in his Hollywood jungle kingdom.

One man who hoped to put on his crown was Don Bragg of the U.S.A., who won the pole vault in Rome in 1960. He had imitated Tarzan by swinging through the trees as a boy and hoped that his skill at the Olympics would bring him to the notice of the movie makers.

Higher and higher he leapt at the end of his pole until the only other competitor left was another American, named Ron Morris.

At 15 feet 5 inches, Bragg slithered like an eel over the bar and watched like a jittery man in a dentist’s waiting room as Morris took his turn.

As Morris sailed aloft, the bar tumbled to the grass, and Bragg knew that he had won his medal.

News photographers crowded around the hopeful Tarzan. At their request, he cupped his hands to his mouth and gave a blood curdling Tarzan yell that echoed around the stadium and must have convinced any film producers within hearing that here was a star in the making.

Perhaps the most famous of all the Olympic wonders was Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) who fought his way to fame and fortune in the boxing world.

At Rome in 1960 he became the light-heavyweight champion and was so proud of his victory that, when he got back to New York, he paraded around Times Square wearing his Olympic uniform with the gold medal around his neck.

‘There They Are – The Two of ‘Em On Their Own’ song-sheet

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Music, Theatre on Friday, 24 January 2014

There they are song-sheet,  picture, image, illustration
‘There They Are – The Two of 'Em On Their Own’ written by Murray and Leigh, sung by Marie Lloyd

‘There They Are – The Two of ‘Em On Their Own’ was a tremendous hit for Marie Lloyd, perhaps the most famous and popular of all music hall artistes. It was a brilliant mix of comic monologue and rousing chorus, with the verses sung in a sort of Music Hall Sprechstimme, or spoken song. The saucy lyrics are typical of the era often called the Naughty Nineties:

Ever since sister Mary Ann took on with Mr Green
I have no complaints to make, I’ll tell you what I mean
Every time he makes a call, that’s nearly every day
Both of ‘em seem to look on me as being in the way
If I go in the parlour when the pair of them are there
Oh, it’s a lark to see the way they both begin to glare
Mary she looks at Mr Green, and then he winks his eye
Look at me now! They’ve sent me out, I’m sure I don’t know why

Chorus: There they are, The two of them on their own
In the parlour, alone, alone, alone
They’ve given me half a crown
To run away and play
Li-ti-id-dle-dy Hi-ti-id-dle-dy

Many more pictures relating to music sheets can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

‘If You Were The Only Girl in the World’ was a hit song of WW1

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Music, Theatre, World War 1 on Friday, 24 January 2014

Only Girl in the world,  picture, image, illustration
Music sheet for If You Were The Only Girl in the World from The Bing Boys Are Here by George Grossmith and Fred Thompson; music by Nat D Ayer.

‘If you were the only Girl in the World’ was the most popular hit song from the revue “The Bing Boys Are Here”. It was sung by the Music Hall and musical theatre star, George Robey, and Violet Loraine who inspired a character in a short story by Rudyard Kipling. The first of several revues at the Alhambra Theatre in London, “The Bing Boys” opened in April 1916 and enjoyed a successful run throughout the remaining war years. Its story was typical of the time, an escapist yarn which centred on two very different brothers who venture to London from the provinces and experience quite an education. The song became a signature tune for George Robey and, even now, the opening line alone evokes the era of World War One with an unforgettable melodic charm which taps into the undiluted power of nostalgia.

Many more pictures relating to music sheets can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.