Use our images
Download images for
personal or educational
use for £2.99/US$5 each
All of these articles and images are available for licensing: click on an image to see further details and licensing options; contact us about licensing textual content.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Anna Pavlova originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Anna Pavlova dancing in Swan Lake
Almost as one, the audience of the London Palace Theatre rose to its feet, clapping and cheering. On the stage in the spotlight stood a small, slight figure in ballet costume.
Again and again the curtain swept across the stage, only to be pulled back yet once more when the audience continued their wild applause. Each time, the ballet dancer bowed gracefully, her eyes sparkling with joy at the success of her debut.
Next morning, the reviews in the newspapers were full of praise for the dancer, Anna Pavlova.
Born in Russia on 31st January, 1885, as a young girl Anna studied dancing at a ballet school. Soon she gained success on the stages of the great Russian Theatres, and from there she travelled to the various capitals of Europe. She was considered a great exponent of the ‘Russian school’ of dancing. Later she was hailed as the greatest classical ballerina of all time.
In 1909 she came to London, where she established her reputation at the Palace Theatre. She liked England and made it her home in between the extensive tours she made to other parts of the world. She died on 22nd January, 1931. Her most famous role was that of a swan in the ballet Swan Lake.
Posted in Actors, Architecture, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Theatre on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
Miss Kelly's Theatre (Royalty Theatre), Dean Street, Soho, London
Miss Kelly’s Theatre and Drama School opened on 25 May 1840. Situated at 73 Dean Street it was designed by Samuel Beazley as a bijou for the fashionable audience found in Soho at that time. It was later redecorated and reopened as the Royal Theatre, and for a while was known as the English Opera House, staging burlesques and amateur productions by companies who hired it for short runs. Throughout its history the small theatre had a strong association with women managers, most notably Kate Santley. She produced several shows with Richard D’Oyly Carte, including operettas by Offenbach. In the Eighties and Nineties it was associated with the Parisian or French drama, and was redesigned and refitted several times over the next few decades, often avoiding closure for its poor safety arrangements. The young Ellen Terry acted there, and after the First World War it saw the premiere of ‘The Vortex’ by Noel Coward. It was finally closed in 1938, being considered a great fire risk by the Lord Chamberlain and London Fire Brigade.
Many more pictures of Soho can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare, Theatre on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about the English Theatre originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 259 published on 31 December 1966.
Sarah Kemble was born in 1755 into a family of travelling actors. Her father, John Kemble, was manager of the company, and from childhood Sarah was often on the stage.
As she grew older, it was obvious that she possessed unusual natural talents. She could sing as well as act, and her taste in literature was of the highest. Besides all this, she was beautiful. She had large, expressive eyes and dark hair; she was tall and altogether very striking in appearance.
When she was 18, Sarah married William Siddons, a member of her father’s company, and it is as Mrs. Siddons, the tragic actress, that she is remembered.
Sarah Siddons and her husband continued their round of the provincial theatres, at which Sarah’s ability made its mark. She created a sensation at Cheltenham in 1774, and the great actor David Garrick heard of her and sent an observer of his own to assess her merits.
Garrick was impressed by what he heard, but a year passed before his need of new blood at the Drury Lane Theatre revived his interest in Sarah, and he sent another observer to search her out. She was found acting the part of Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and again she made a great impression. Arrangements were made for her and her husband to be engaged at Drury Lane for the joint wage of £5 a week.
Sarah was to make her first appearance on the illustrious stage at Drury Lane as Portia in Shakepeare’s Merchant of Venice. On 29th December, 1775, she made her debut before an audience who, it was hoped, would be good-humoured from the Christmas festivities.
Poor Sarah Siddons! She was beset by nerves; she trembled on to the stage; her voice stuck in her throat so that it could scarcely be heard; and although she recovered a little before the end of the play, the critics, reviewing her efforts in the Press next day, poured scorn on her performance.
Sarah’s confidence was shaken, and she also fell prey to the jealousies of the three principal actresses at Drury Lane, for Garrick apparently singled her out for particular attention. In spite of her initial failure, she was still given important roles, which she continued to play in an undistinguished manner. She played opposite Garrick himself in The Suspicious Husband, and was Lady Anne to his Richard III, all without recognition.
When Garrick retired as leading actor and manager at Drury Lane he was succeeded by a management of three, the most famous of these being Richard Sheridan. Mrs. Siddons was not re-engaged by the new management.
Sarah returned to the provincial theatres and once more began to shine. At Cheltenham, Liverpool, York, Manchester, Birmingham, and finally at Bath, she came into her own.
In those days Bath was second only to London in its theatrical reputation. In 1778, Sarah Siddons was engaged to play for a season there. She attracted notice quickly and praise for her performances mounted.
Audiences flocked to see her play in tragedy, and many were moved to tears. She played an astonishing range of characters with equal success, both tragic and comic.
She studied each character she had to play in great detail, shutting herself away for long hours until she had created an original interpretation. Her ability to act was entirely natural, and her sensitive and moving characterisations, combined with her beauty and poise, were continually effective.
She stayed at Bath for four seasons in which her confidence and reputation were re-established. Secure at Bath, she was not easily lured to London again, and it was not until October, 1782, that she appeared there again, in The Fatal Marriage.
This time she survived the panic of rehearsals, fears that she would repeat her previous failure in London, and a near loss of voice, and took Drury Lane by storm. Tears and hysterics accompanied her performance, along with wild acclamation. Notices in the Press the next day completed her triumph and established her for the next 30 years as the queen of tragedy.
Posted in America, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, Music, Theatre on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about New York originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
Scenes and behind scenes at the Metropolitan opera by Henry Mayer
The Metropolitan Opera House, New York, has established itself as one of the world’s principal centres for the production of opera.
Sponsored by a group of millionaires, the first theatre was completed in 1883 and opened on 22nd October, with a production of Gounod’s ‘Faust’. The public was at this time beginning to take opera more seriously, partly because of Wagner and the Bayreuth festival of opera, which he founded. The introduction of new lighting techniques also had a surprising effect, for when electric lighting was installed at the Metropolitan in 1893, the theatre lights could, for the first time, be turned off completely. The immediate effect was to stop idle gossiping during performances, a practice which had always caused complaint from serious students of opera.
The Metropolitan Opera House was responsible for the launching of such stars as Caruso, Melba and Toscanini.
Posted in Castles, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare, Theatre on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Shakespeare originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.
An early performance of ‘Hamlet’
The Danish seaport of Elsinore looks across just three miles of water to the Swedish town of Helsinborg. The solid red brick and sandstone fortress of Kronborg at Elsinore is often called ‘Hamlet’s castle’ because Shakespeare made it the setting for his great tragedy. But the fact is that the real Hamlet probably never knew Elsinore at all, and certainly not the castle, which was not built until 1580, five hundred years and more after his death.
The narrow waterway separating Denmark from Sweden made Elsinore a key port for trading countries for four centuries. Between 1429 and 1857, every ship sailing through the Sound had to stop at Elsinore to pay dues. The traffic was so great that this source of revenue accounted for two-thirds of Denmark’s annual income and made Elsinore famous whereever sailors put into port and found time to spin a tale of the places they had been.
England had close associations with Denmark during the years when Shakespeare was writing his plays, and he may have been attracted to an old folk story about a 10th century prince of Jutland named Amleth. Shakespeare’s tragedy is one among several influenced by the ancient saga.
Amleth (or Hamlet as we now call him) was an impressive figure in the Icelandic Sagas of the Danish kings. In the days when Rorik was King of Denmark, Horvendill, a prince of the northern province of Jutland, married his daughter, Gerutha, and they had a son – Amleth. But Horvendill had a jealous brother, Feng, who murdered him and married Gerutha. Amleth realised the danger he was in, and tried to avert a fate similar to his father’s by pretending to be demented. Feng’s suspicion was roused and when Amleth killed a spy, he was sent to England with two attendants who carried a letter asking the King of England to put him to death. Amleth cunningly altered the message to a request that he be given the King’s daughter in marriage – and that the attendants be executed!
After his marriage with the princess, Amleth went back to Denmark in time to attend the festivities being held to celebrate his death. During the feast, he took advantage of the drunkeness of the courtiers to set fire to the palace. Feng was slain, and Amleth made for England only to find that previously his father-in-law had made a pact with Feng, that each should avenge the other’s death. Amleth outwitted him and, after defeating him in battle, returned to Jutland to be slain in battle himself by King Rorik’s successor.
Around this ancient tale, Shakespeare wove a tragedy hailed by many as the greatest of all his plays. It was first performed at The Globe Theatre in 1602.
Posted in Actors, America, Bravery, Cinema, Historical articles, History, Magic, Theatre on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about Houdini originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
It was a typical mid-winter scene in the industrial city of Detroit. Snow lay thickly on the ground, more was falling, and the Detroit River was completely frozen over. It made a wonderful skating rink for grown-ups and children, and in that freezing temperature only a lunatic would think of breaking a hole in the ice and taking a pre-Christmas dip in the fast-flowing water.
Yet such a lunatic existed. What was even more incredible, he proposed jumping into the river, handcuffed, chained, and wearing heavy leg-irons.
The ‘lunatic’s’ name was Harry Houdini, a 32-year-old stage illusionist and escapologist, who was determined to become the most talked-about man in American show business. He had previously performed many controversial feats, but when he announced that he would leap manacled through an ice-hole, an unprecedented storm of protest broke out.
To the more sober-minded citizens of Detroit, it seemed sheer suicide. Some people asked the police to stop such wilful self-destruction. But the officers at the Police Department merely said that Mr. Houdini had borrowed two sets of their latest model handcuffs for his stunt, and they would be interested to see whether the self-styled ‘Handcuff King’ could slip them from his wrists.
Apart from appreciating the publicity, Houdini paid no attention to the arguments. To ready himself for the event, he trained in a bath filled with large pieces of ice and practised holding his breath until he almost fainted. Then, at Sunday lunchtime on 2nd December, 1906, he made his way to the Belle Isle Bridge in the heart of the city. He waved nonchalantly to the thousands of shivering spectators who lined the river banks, peered into the yawning hole, which had been specially cut into the ice, and jumped down through it.
As his head disappeared from sight, the crowd gasped – and waited for Houdini to reappear. Minutes passed, but there was no sign of him. After five minutes even the most optimistic of his supporters thought that he must surely be dead. When eight minutes had elapsed, the police were preparing to cut fresh holes in the surface, in the hope of recovering his body. It seemed that the Handcuff King had failed for the first time in a long and celebrated career.
Suddenly an arm was thrust through the hole, followed by Houdini’s head and shoulders. He was white-faced and struggling for breath. His aides rushed forward, hauled him from the water, and wrapped him in warm blankets. Then Houdini, miraculously free of all manacles, held his hands over his head like a champion boxer. A newspaper reporter hurried up to him, and asked how he had managed to keep alive. The escapologist grinned and said:
“It wasn’t so difficult. The current took me downstream and, when I had slipped from the handcuffs and leg-irons, I simply breathed in the air bubbles which lay between the ice and the water. Then I swam back up to the hole. It was a good trick, and I shall certainly do it again.”
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, London, Theatre on Monday, 22 April 2013
This edited article about Sir Nigel Playfair originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 230 published on 11 June 1966.
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the actor-manager who encouraged Nigel Playfair
One of London’s newest blue plaques can be seen at 26 Pelham Crescent in Kensington, former home of Sir Nigel Playfair, the actor and theatre manager who was also at one time a barrister.
Son of a former Indian army surgeon with a taste for the company of theatrical people. Nigel Playfair breathed the atmosphere of the theatre from an early age. As a small boy he must have taken part in many drawing-room charades, and when he was ten he played the part of a wicked robber in The Babes In The Wood, produced as a family entertainment by Sir W. S. Gilbert, of the famous Gilbert and Sullivan partnership. This was the unconscious beginning of a career that was to lead him to theatrical fame and a knighthood.
It was a long time before he even thought seriously of becoming an actor. At Harrow School, where he met the young Winston Churchill, he contented himself with playing a drum in the cadet band. At Oxford, he was more often to be found learning lines of a play for the Oxford University Dramatic Society, than studying.
After Oxford, Playfair studied Law at the Inner Temple, and continued amateur acting. He found the legal life exciting but he later confessed: “I don’t think I ever really understood a single word of what it was all about.” He dabbled briefly in politics at this time and became theatre correspondent to the Pall Mall Gazette. This reviewing was not a difficult task and he made it lighter by the simple process of reading the views of more distinguished critics and adapting them for his own paper.
Finally he plunged, untrained, into the theatre, aided by the eccentric Beerbohm Tree. His parents were shocked; to have friends among theatrical people was one thing – to have a son on the stage was quite another!
Playfair soon established a name for himself as a talented comedy actor, but he tired of playing small parts in other people’s productions and decided to buy his own theatre. In 1918, he acquired the derelict Lyric Theatre at Hammersmith – and his friends thought him mad, for the Lyric was in a slum district, far from the cosy and fashionable West End.
But it rapidly became clear that a new force had entered the theatrical world. Playfair took a fresh look at old plays and revived them with young unknown actors, breaking with the traditional style of performance, drawing the leading newspaper critics and, after them, the fashionable audiences. His most famous revival was probably The Beggar’s Opera, which he carried out in collaboration with Sir Thomas Beecham. The production ran for four years and is still talked about in theatrical circles.
In 1928, Playfair’s success was acknowledged with a knighthood but, although he was quite proud of this honour, he never acquired the actual Order. It would have cost him £20 and he felt he could not afford such a sum (then worth much more than it is today) for such a purpose. His son estimated that he received more than a thousand letters of congratulation when knighted, every one of which he insisted on answering himself in his own handwriting.
He died suddenly in 1934, after an illness, when he was still at the height of his career.
Posted in America, Communications, English Literature, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Space, Theatre on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about H G Wells originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 223 published on 23 April 1966.
Hysteria swept American cities during the Welles broadcast of the H G Wells classic, by Andrew Howat
The evening of October 30, 1938, was just like any other quiet Sunday night to most of the people of America. Many families were at home reading the papers or contentedly listening to the radio.
There were two programmes that night which attracted large audiences. One was a long-running comedy series, and the other a play produced by the actor-writer Orson Welles, whose talent was already winning him wide fame. He was presenting a dramatization of H. G. Wells’s classic science-fiction novel, The War of the Worlds.*
The listeners prepared themselves for an hour of cosy thrills but, after the opening announcement, the play did not start. Instead there was dance music.
Then, just as people were beginning to wonder if something had gone wrong, an announcer broke in with a dramatic “news-flash.” In an excited voice, he said that a professor in an observatory had just noted “a series of gas explosions on the planet Mars.”
This sensational news was followed by a stream of rapid on-the-spot broadcasts. These told the now uneasy listeners that a meteor had landed near Princeton, New Jersey, “killing some 1,500 persons.” Next came the announcement that it wasn’t a meteor after all, but “a metal cylinder containing Martians armed with death-rays,” who had come to wage war on the world!
The sheer brilliance and realism of the reporting convinced nearly everyone that the “invasion” really was taking place. And by nine o’clock that evening panic raged throughout the entire length and breadth of the United States.
In New York City hundreds of families fled in terror from their apartments and sought sanctuary in the parks. In San Francisco, on the West Coast, citizens ran into the streets and searched the sky for the invaders. Some people, thinking they were under gas attack by the Germans, even wrapped wet towels and handkerchiefs around their heads.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Music, Royalty, Theatre on Tuesday, 9 April 2013
This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 220 published on 2 April 1966.
The Royal Albert Hall
After the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, the question of a memorial arose. It was decided that in addition to the great canopied statue of the prince, now in Kensington Gardens, there should also be a Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Science.
In May, 1867, the foundation-stone of the building was laid on a site opposite the Albert Memorial, and on March 29, 1871, the Royal Albert Hall was officially opened by Queen Victoria. The laying of the foundation stone is seen in the illustration on the left.
The hall was designed and built by Captain Fowke of the Royal Engineers at a cost of £200,000. The building is not, as many people think, circular, but a nearly true ellipse. The interior is 219 ft. long by 185 ft. wide, while the centre floor space, or arena, which is reached by six staircases, is 102 ft. long and 68 ft. wide. The roof is 136 ft. above floor level.
Fowke based his plan for the hall on the Roman Amphitheatre at Nimes, in the south of France. Unlike Roman amphitheatres, the Albert Hall was completely roofed over with glass.
But the great roof of which the designer had been so proud was just a huge sounding board which echoed down into the hall every musical note that was played on the stage. It was not until someone thought of building a canopy over the orchestra that the acoustics were improved. In 1949, in a further attempt to improve them, the original glass roof was replaced by an aluminium one. Even so, the echo has not been got rid of completely, and you can still hear it in certain parts of the hall.
Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Music, Shakespeare, Theatre on Tuesday, 26 March 2013
This edited article about the English theatre originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 210 published on 22 January 1966.
Lilian Baylis ejecting a drunk from the gallery of her beloved Old Vic
She was not good-looking, not very tidily dressed, and she had a will of iron. Loved – even worshipped – by some, she was disliked and laughed at by others.
She was not well educated, though she had taught music and dancing in South Africa in the 1890s, when that part of the world was very like America’s Wild West.
Her name was Lilian Baylis and, though she was not an actress, she was the most important woman in the whole history of the English Theatre, because it is to her we owe the Old Vic Company (now the National Theatre) the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, and the Royal Ballet.
The Old Vic, then called the Royal Coburg Theatre, was built in the Waterloo Road in 1818: by the middle of the same century it was one of the roughest, most disreputable theatres in London, playing the most lurid “blood and thunder” melodramas to very rowdy audiences.
Then a charitable reformer called Emma Cons took the theatre over – by this time it was called the Royal Victoria Hall – and converted it into a place where respectable working people and reformed drunkards could come for wholesome entertainment. There were lectures, concerts, readings – and coffee and buns.
For a time the building was called the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall, but it soon became popularly known as the “Old Vic.”
Miss Cons was a worthy woman, but she never made theatre history. It was her niece, Lilian Baylis, who did this. Miss Baylis joined her aunt in 1898, when she was twenty-four, and became the Old Vic’s manager.
When the first World War broke out in 1914, two years after Emma Cons had died, the Old Vic was flourishing, but desperately short of money. There was already an opera company there, run on very simple lines, with the operas sung in English; there were film shows – and the very beginnings of a Shakespeare company.
Read the rest of this article »