Irene Vanbrugh

  • A Child Among You (Part 3)

    1 banner 3The site of the Australian Federal Parliament from 1901 to 1927

    Arriving in Melbourne in late October 1923, English comedian, Charles Heslop gave his impressions of the then temporary Federal capital of Australia, its competing theatrical attractions, and the success of the opening night of Tons of Money at the Palace Theatre, in the third instalment of his articles originally written for the London theatrical journal The Stage.

    MELBOURNE, December, 1923–24

    Melbourne is a contradiction of a town. Here are magnificent Commonwealth, State, and Municipal buildings, broadly planned streets, Americanesque soda-fountains, kinemas de luxe, stores, labour problems1—all the modern conveniences. And yet, just below the surface, there seems to be a mid-Victorianism, deep and abiding. In our property-room are some bound volumes of the Illustrated London Newsof 1860-something. Quaint wood-cuts of the building of Charing Cross Station and dramatic performances on H.M.S. —— in the China Station; studies of statuary at the Great International Exhibition; advertisements of some professor’s educated fish performing at a West-End theatre—somebody else’s eiderdown petticoats for ladies—a new patent crinoline attachment enabling its fair wearer to pass to her seat at the opera or omnibus with ease, grace, and elegance. There's the spirit of Melbourne in all this, somehow; although I cannot personally even begin to explain why, there it is—the Prince Consort jostling (he never did, I’m sure) with Charles B. Cochran. Perhaps it is not so incongruous after all; very possibly they had a Singing Duck at the Panopticon?

    2 PalaceThe remodelled façade of the “New” Palace Theatre in Bourke Street (pictured in 1944 after its acquisition by MGM for use as cinema as the St. James). Photo by Adrian Crother.

    It's a great time for Melbourne when I arrive, I mean, when I happen to arrive Melbourne is having a great time. In any case, as it were. There's the Vanbrugh-Boucicault company about to play Mrs. Tanqueray at the King’s2 ; Sally is going strong at the Royal3 ; Lorna and Toots and Charlie Austin are at the Princess’s4 ; The Beggar’s Opera at Her Majesty’s5 ; Shakespeare at the Playhouse6 ; and Long Tack Sam at the Tivoli7 —and the Melbourne Cup in the offing! But the star turn is the police strike, and “riots and looting” bottomed the bill, with disastrous results to the anticipated harvest.8 Well, you know all about that. Theatrically speaking, the best week of the year was, quite easily I imagine, the worst. It quite took me back to the old days . . . when we habitually arrived in a town for the most unfortunate week of the season. “Now, if you'd have been here lastweek.... or next week now.”  Well, at present you're having a general election at home, I see.

    3 caricaturesTom Glover caricatures for The Bulletin (1923)

    House packed [for Tons of Money]9—Governors and Governors-General complete with entourages—glittering orders across distinguished boiled shirts (no, perhaps not; I’ve read that bit somewhere)—seething excitement—roars of laughter—tornadoes of applause—speeches—floral tributes by the yard—"praise, praise, praise”—your name in electric lights—your bill-matter in extravagant superlatives—your opinion telephoned for by the leading papers, and coupled in print with the Premier's and the Archbishop’s— well, this is all heady stuff, you'll agree. Especially coming so soon after your twice-nightly stock season at the Gasworker’s Recreation Hut (Goole), where the flow of enthusiasm ran dry as soon as the exchequer (and that never started.) Heady stuff, but you won’t find any red carpets waiting for you at Mister Blackmore’s when you return. “Hello, been away?”

    Yes, thirteen thousand miles away from criticism. If you don’t like hotels and abominate boarding houses you can compromise in Melbourne with a service flat—excellent institutions and fairly plentiful. Not much more expensive than good rooms in England—and so much less trouble! No need to hasten forth with the catering purse and stagger back beneath half an ox and a hundredweight of cabbage, that’s all done for you. The cost of living seems contradictory, like the weather. Necessities seem cheaper (e.g., whisky); luxuries more expensive (videlicet, clothes). The weather is hot, cold, dry, and wet all in one day. You go out with a parasol and a fly-whisk, and come back blue with cold and soaked to the skin. For a stay of any length in Melbourne I should recommend you to bring a complete suit of reinforced furs, as worn in the Arctic, a bathing costume, several sheets of fly-paper, and a watertosh or two. You will also want some money; if you have any predilection for riding in taxis, you will want some more money.

    I remember them remarking—some days out from Australia we were then—on the joy of picking your own fruit from the trees and bushes. . . . What a picture it conjured up in my mind! Kicking together a few strawberries, I would reach carelessly for a bunch of bananas with one hand, an orange with the other, whilst a hot roll would drop into my mouth from the bread fruit tree. . . . They must have been talking about some other part of Australia. Anyway, in Melbourne you've got to put down good money first—and then the shopman has the joy of picking ’em for you.

    Moreover, whilst on the subject of cost of living, note, please, that you put down about the same quantity of good money for fruit in Melbourne as in England. 

    An actor pays his own dresser, and pays him 7s. 9d. per performance.10 A non-musical play runs for about eight weeks in any of the big cities. For a musical play one hundred performances in one town approaches the record. To accomplish this, it means that the same audience must be attracted several times. They tell me that one young woman visited The O'Brien Girl seventy-eight times in Melbourne. I believe nobody actually saw this phenomenon of Nature, which is a pity, as now we can have no knowledge of what such a thing can look like. When a play has run its course in, say, Melbourne there is Sydney waiting (600 miles away) to receive it; also, in a lesser degree, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, possibly Newcastle and certainly New Zealand. The Maid of the Mountains thus ran for two years in Australasia.11

    5 caricatures 2More Tom Glover caricatures for The Bulletin (1923)

    “First nights” here usually take place on Saturdays. This is an obvious disadvantage when the same company finishes a play’s run on the preceding night, as Charlie Austin pointed out to me (he had the experience with Rockets and Pretty Peggy). The same audience assembles on the two occasions, and the new production will almost certainly suffer by comparison with its long-played and smoothly running predecessor. By the way, Charlie tells the story of how, on his voyage out, he initiated the captain of the ship (no less) into the mysteries of taking the nap.12 This happened shortly after leaving Toulon, and so pleased was the gallant sailor with his new trick, and so assiduous in his practice and exploitation thereof—on all and sundry, lawful and unlawful occasions—that Charlie bitterly regretted his rashness long ere the trip was over! Rockets is going Sydneywards now, and the Princess is occupied by Allen Doone and his company for a few weeks, playing a repertory of Irish pieces—The Wearin' of the Green, The Rebel, Tom Moore, etc. including a strange piece, which embraces in its cast Raffles and Sherlock Holmes.13 Doone is an Irish-American with a big following, I gather; the front of the house is strange museum of presentations from various bodies, public and private. A rifle with which he won the pigeon killing championship of Europe three years in succession—the front wheel of the bicycle which he rode to victory in another championship—pennons and flags from Irish societies, tennis racquets—all sorts of strange objects. I want to do the same thing next door at the Palace—I could spare my trousers press and my mortar-board as a nucleus—but I am not encouraged, alas!

    Well, you might excuse me for a few minutes—I have to write a pantomime.

    For it is Christmas time. And the eyes of the kiddies—the dinkum little Aussies—grow bright as they light upon the posters of dear old Santa Claus climbing in his furs over the snowcapped roofs (the jolly little reindeer champing their antlers in the frost behind), and sticky little fingers grasp spades and pails and bathing costumes the tighter—for they are scorching in their seats in the open tram to St. KiIda’s sun-kissed beach, and the witching waves, so tempting to parched little skins—as they sense the dear, unseasonable joys in store.

    Oh, yes, there’s that pantomime, isn’t there? (Curse the flies.) Yes, now for two and a half hours of wholesome fun for the little ones.


    Compiled by Robert Morrison

    [1]The most immediate of Melbourne’s labour problems, which coincided with Charles Heslop’s arrival in the city, was the stage hands’ strike, as reported in the local press:

     Actors Shift Scenes
    By “G.K.M.”

    Following a dispute with the theatrical managements, stage hands at all the Melbourne theatres ceased work on Monday evening. Only one production—“Sally,” at the Theatre Royal—had to be abandoned. At the other theatres actors and other volunteers managed to shift the scenes and enable the performances to proceed. 

    Scenic effects being an important feature of the musical comedy “Sally,” it was found impossible to carry on without the regular stage hands. Consequently, the management was obliged to return the money paid for admission. At the King’s Theatre, Mr. Dion Boucicault gave patrons the option of having their money returned or seeing the play without the proper scenery. The unanimous response was “Carry on!” “Those are my sentiments,” declared Mr. Boucicault, who had previously said that, being an Irishman he was in no mood to take things lying down. He mentioned that while playing in London during the war he and his company had carried on their performance while an aerial bombardment was in progress. “Belinda,” the action of which opens in a Devonshire garden, had to be played in the library scene, that had been set for “The Will,” a one-act play, staged as a curtain-raiser to Milne’s comedy. The garden effect had to be obtained by placing a vase of flowers on the floor! Nevertheless, the artistry of Miss Irene Vanbrugh, Mr. Boucicault and other members of the company made the play a success, without the scenery.

    At the Princess’s, where “Pretty Peggy” is the attraction, the work of scene-shifting was performed by the governing director (Mr. Hugh J. Ward), general manager (Mr. Douglas), Mr. Walter Fuller, Mr. John Kirby, and several members of the company. The performance went off without a hitch, and at the final curtain the company cheered Mr. Ward and his assistants.

    The trouble is stated to have arisen through the refusal of the men to adhere to a new regulation, making them all work in together. This, it is alleged, would mean that scene-shifters would probably be called upon to work the spot-lights, a job which, they say, needs a skilled electrician. Representatives of the Theatrical Employees’ Union and the management met in conference on Monday afternoon, but the result did not satisfy the men.

    Men Resume Work

    An agreement was reached on Tuesday between the employees and the representatives of J.C. Williamson Ltd. and work was resumed in the evening at Her Majesty’s, the Royal and King’s Theatres. Volunteers, however, continued to perform the scene-shifting duties at the Princess.

    The Weekly Times (Melbourne), Saturday, 27 October 1923, p.8,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    All the Men Resume Work.

    To the satisfaction of all parties concerned, including the general public, the strike of stage hands at Melbourne theatres was settled completely yesterday afternoon, and the men resumed work behind the scenes at the Princess Theatre last night. As reported yesterday, the trouble at the J.C. Williamson theatres had been settled on the previous day, and the only theatres affected by the dispute on Tuesday night were those of the Hugh J. Ward circuit— the Princess, where Pretty Peggy is being staged, and the Palace, where preparations are being made for the comedy farce Tons of Money, which is to open on Saturday night. At a conference with the industrial disputes committee of the Trades Hall on Tuesday afternoon Mr. W.J. Douglas, general manager of Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty, Ltd., undertook to place before his directors a suggestion made by the committee for a settlement of the dispute, and to give the committee a reply on Wednesday morning. Subsequently members of the Theatrical Employees’ Association were discussing the possibility of calling on members of the Musicians’, Actors' and other unions employed at the Ward theatres to cease work in the event of the firm’s reply being unsatisfactory from their point of view. As it happened, there was no need for them to take this drastic course.

    Yesterday, morning the executive of the Theatrical Employees’ Federation met the industrial disputes committee at the Trades Hall, and discussed the general outlook. While the meeting was in progress, the reply from Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty. Ltd. arrived. It was as follows:—

    To the Disputes Committee, Trades Hall, Melbourne.

    Gentlemen,— Further to our conference of yesterday, this management, after considering the position carefully, have decided to agree to the suggestions put forward to us by Messrs Foster and Hannah on behalf of your committee, that is to say, that the men, whose jobs have always been open to them, resume the duties under the terms of the award upon which they were engaged prior to them walking out. As Mr. Hannah suggested, it is to be clearly understood that by so doing the rights of this management are not to be prejudiced in any manner. At the same time, we desire to emphasise the wrong done to our theatres because of the fact that the dispute, if any existed, was not caused in any manner by anything done by this management; but we feel that, in deference to the wishes of your committee and the manner in which your committee has approached us in the matter, we should fall in with your suggestions.—yours faithfully,


    (Sgd.) W.J. Douglas, General Manager.

    Taking this as an assurance that the men could resume work on the conditions which prevailed before the dispute, and that there should be no call for intermingling between the different sections of workmen in the work behind the scenes, the employees’ executive decided to recommend the men to return to work. Messrs. J. Hannah and H. Foster, of the disputes committee, attended a meeting of the employees in the afternoon, and explained the terms of the letter. It is understood that some of the men demanded that before they returned to their jobs some head men of certain departments, who had continued to work at the Princess Theatre, should be expelled from the association, but more moderate counsel prevailed, and after a brief address by the secretary of the association, Mr. A.E. Huckerby, the men unanimously agreed to resume work. Mr. Huckerby then notified Mr. Douglas that the scene shifters, light manipulators and other night hands would return to work in the evening, and that the day hands—carpenters, electricians and, property men—would resume on the following morning.

    So ended the first serious strike in the theatrical business in Melbourne.

    A New Log for Theatrical Employees.

    The present award under which the stage hands are working, and which contains the “intermingling” clause to which they object, will expire on the 29th of this month, but its provisions will automatically remain in force till a new award is made by the Arbitration Court. It is reported that the executive of the Theatrical Employees’ Association intends to prepare a new log of wages and conditions, and serve it on the theatre managers within the next few days.

    The Age (Melbourne), Thursday, 25 October 1923, p.10,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    [2] English actress, Irene Vanbrugh and her husband, Dion “Dot” Boucicault commenced their 1923–25 Australian tour for J.C. Williamson Ltd. with a 19 week season at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne, which opened on 4 August with Arthur Wing Pinero’s His House in Order (for 5 weeks), followed by a double bill of J.M. Barrie’s one-act The Twelve Pound Look and A.A. Milne’s Mr. Pim Passes By (3 weeks); Laurence Eyre’s Mis’ Nell o’ New Orleans (4 weeks); a second double bill of Barrie’s The Will and Milne’s Belinda (3 weeks) and concluded with Pinero’s The Second Mrs. Tanqueryfrom 17 November for 4 weeks.

    [3]The Broadway musical comedy Sally(with music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey, additional lyrics by B.G. DeSylva and P.G. Wodehouse, and a book by Guy Bolton) was given its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 6 January 1923, where it ran for 210 performances closing on 6 July. Following a season in Brisbane, where it played at His Majesty’s Theatre from 21 July to 3 August, the Melbourne season commenced at the Theatre Royal on 15 September for an eventual run of 26 weeks, closing on 7 March 1924 after 202 performances. The musical then toured New Zealand, followed by seasons in Adelaide and Perth, and subsequently enjoyed return seasons and revivals in the succeeding years due to its popularity. The show brought stardom to Adelaide-born dancer, Josie Melville playing the title role in her first major production. Josie became so identified with Sally that she briefly came out of retirement as a house-wife and mother in her hometown to recreate the lead for a radio version of the musical broadcast on the ABC National Network relayed from 5AN (Adelaide) on 4 July 1940, with a repeat broadcast on 10 August (minus the dancing!)

    [4]English comedian, Charlie Austin and the Melbourne-born comedienne sisters, Lorna and Toots Pounds had originally starred in the musical revue Rockets at the London Palladium, where it commenced on 25 February 1922 and played two performances daily for a total run of 491 performances. The revue, with music by J.A. Tunbridge and Herman Darewski, lyrics by Ernest Melvin and scenes and sketches by Charles Henry, Frank Leo and Gilbert Brown, was given its Australian premiere by Hugh J. Ward’s New London Revue Company at the “New” Palace Theatre on Saturday, 7 July 1923 for a 13 week season closing on Friday, 5 October.

    The company then transferred to the Princess Theatre for the Australian premiere of the musical comedy Pretty Peggy on Saturday, 6 October, which failed to repeat the success of the earlier show and closed on Friday, 26 October, followed by a short 2 week revival of Rockets, which played at the Princess from 27 October to 9 November. The company then proceeded to New South Wales to play a season at the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle, commencing with Rockets on 17 November followed by Pretty Peggy for the last 3 nights, closing on 30 November. Rockets subsequently opened at the Grand Opera House in Sydney on 22 December and played through to 16 February 1924, but given the disappointing reception in Melbourne to Pretty Peggy, it was not included in the company’s final season in the NSW capital.

    Pretty Peggy(with music by A. Emmett Adams and lyrics by Douglas Furber, plus additional numbers by Fred Malcolm and a libretto by Clarkson Rose and Charles Austin) had premiered in London at the Princes Theatre on 3 February 1920, with a cast that included Charlie Austin and Lorna and Toots Pounds, and had a moderately successful run of 168 performances.

    [5] Nigel Playfair’s long-running revival of John Gay’s 1728 opus The Beggar’s Opera, which opened in London at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith on 5 June 1920 for a run of 1,463 performances (closing on 17 December 1923), was the impetus for JCW Ltd’s Australian revival, which also utilised Frederic Austin’s revisions and arrangement of the score and Claud Lovat Fraser’s scenic and costume designs for the Hammersmith production. It commenced at the Palace Theatre, Sydney on 4 August 1923 for a run of 7 weeks closing on 21 September. An Adelaide season followed at the Theatre Royal from 29 September to 10 October, after which the production moved onto Melbourne. Victorian audiences, however, weren’t in tune with its 18th C. airs and it played for a mere three weeks at Her Majesty’s Theatre following its opening there on 20 October 1923. The ballad opera’s bawdy language also upset the sensibilities of at least two members of the city’s “wowser” element, as reported by The Argus on Wednesday, 24 October (p.8):

    “Nothing Objectionable” Heard.

    Complaints were made on Monday to the police department of the indelicacy of certain passages in the “Beggar's Opera,” which is being staked at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and the police were asked to take action. Two officers of the plain-clothes branch attended the performance on Monday night. In a report to the chief commissioner of police (Mr. A.N. Nicholson) yesterday Sergeant Campbell, head of the plain-clothes branch, said that there was nothing in the play to which the police could take objection.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    A Herald report on the same day elaborated:

    16 Beggars Opera programPOLICE DRAMATIC CRITIC
    The Sergeant and “The Beggar's Opera”

    Sergeant Mathew Campbell has become the dramatic critic of the police force. He was sent to see “The Beggar's Opera” at Her Majesty’s Theatre to see if complaints that had reached the Police Commissioner were justified.

    What does the sergeant say?

    “’The Beggar's Opera,’ you understand, was laid in a setting some hundred or two hundred years ago in London. Of course the language and dresses used then were not what they are now, you know.” The sergeant lowered his glasses. He was exacting. He was cautious,

    “No official action,” he continued, “can be taken against the language. There is nothing to justify this step. We hear the same words in Shakespeare. But some of the language is objectionable, and isn’t nice for girls just growing up. And even some well-to-do sort of people do not find the language good either. We know this from two letters we received.

    “Language like that is no help to a community, but there is no official objection. Some people just can’t understand, that's all.”

    The Sergeant, bowed his head over some work on his desk. Clothes? “No, the clothes were alright. Appropriate to those times, you see—appropriate to those times. Just the language, just the language. For Instance, such words as, well — and — —"

    The Sergeant named the words, right out and out—two of them. No good dramatic critic can afford to be timid.

    The Herald (Melbourne), Wednesday, 24 October 1923, p.10,

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Gay’s original libretto contains such choice 18th Century epithets as “slut” and “whore”. (Ref.: )

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    The lead role of the highwayman, Captain Macheath was played by the English baritone, Alexander Howett-Worster, who had commenced his career in Britain in the early 1900s as principal baritone in touring productions of the George Edwardes’ musical comedies, but had latterly been engaged as a singing teacher at Melbourne’s Albert Street Conservatorium, where he had also produced and performed in amateur operatic productions, until lured back to the professional stage by J.C. Williamson’s for its premiere of Merrie England in 1921 and subsequent musical productions. These included The Merry Widow in which he played ‘Prince Danilo’ opposite Gladys Moncrieff at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne in the week prior to The Beggar’s Operaopening there. (Howett-Worster returned to Britain in 1926 and starred as the male lead in the London premieres of Show Boat and The New Moonat the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1928 and 1929 respectively.)   

    17 Beggars OperaCaptain Macheath (A. Howett-Worster) and his doxies. SB&W Foundation, Sydney.

    [6]The Alan Wilkie Shakespearean Company (formed in Australia in 1920) commenced an 8 week repertory season of the bard’s plays at the Melbourne Playhouse (located over Princes’ Bridge on the South bank of the Yarra), with a production of King Lear on Saturday, 15 September 1923 followed by Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King John, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew, which concluded the season on 10 November.

    [7]The Chinese illusionist, Long Tack Sam and his troupe of Chinese acrobats, musicians and jugglers commenced a season at the Melbourne Tivoli theatre, as part of a variety bill, on 27 October 1923, with final performances given on 7 December, before opening at the Geelong Theatre the following week.

    [8]Of far greater consequence than the stage hands strike was that of the Melbourne police force, as, with dramatic suddenness, Melbourne was left completely without police protection for several days in November 1923. For some time previously there had been discontent in the police force over the activities of police “supervisors,” who had been moving from district to district in plain clothes to see that constables were doing their duties properly. The police maintained that these supervisors were nothing more than spies. The discontent came to a head almost without warning on the night of 31 October. Twenty-nine uniformed men, who were due to parade at, Russell Street for night duty, refused to fall in for the roll-call, and when the hastily summoned Chief Commissioner, Alexander Nicholson tried to reason with the men he was noisily received.

    At this time Melbourne was crowded with visitors to the Spring racing carnival, and the Commissioner knew that the sudden withdrawal of police would be an enormous temptation to trouble makers. Finding himself unable to placate the men, he promised to remove the special supervisors for the night and to consult with the Premier, Harry Lawson during the next day. This satisfied the men, and they returned to duty . . .but not for long! On the night of 1 November the men were told that the Premier had refused to consider their grievances while the threat of a strike was held over his head, and once again the night police refused to report for duty. Police from outlying stations were at once ordered to report to the barracks, but when they arrived in the city they immediately joined the strikers.

    For the next two nights the city was protected only by plain-clothes police and a few detectives. The first day passed quietly enough, with just a few isolated brawls and a lot of traffic problems; but the following day was Derby Day, and as the afternoon wore on great crowds began to congregate in town. The Australasian newspaper gave a detailed account of the anarchy that followed:  


    Scenes of unprecedented lawlessness, a sequel to the mutiny of police, were witnessed in Melbourne on November 3, the windows of 78 business premises being smashed and looted. Disgraceful brawls occurred before the looting commenced. These and subsequent charges by the loyal regular police and special constables were the cause of nearly 200 casualties. Following the looting, the police regained control of the city, and arrested 62 persons on various charges, mainly of being in unlawful possession of property. An excellent response was made to a call for the co-operation of the citizens to quell lawlessness; more than 2,000 were enrolled as special constables. An influential citizens’ committee was formed and plans were made for the inauguration of a volunteer force of men with military experience to be used if required. The Federal authorities decided to employ naval, military, and airforces for the protection of Commonwealth property. Light horse recruits were called for, and a number of Light Horse men patrolled the streets. All tram and train traffic was suspended on November 4 and following nights.

    Taking advantage of the unprotected state of the streets in the interregnum which elapsed between the withdrawal of a large number of the regular police owing to their mutiny, and the training of the volunteer special constables in their duties, the worst elements in the metropolis gained temporary control of the city, and for several hours anarchy reigned. The trouble began at the intersection of Swanston and Bourke streets. Loyal policemen yielded to the clamour of the crowd and ultimately there was not a policeman to be seen at the intersection. Then the mob gave itself over to unrestrained lawlessness. A few minutes after the police had left the corner was a surging mass of humanity. Innumerable fights took place. Men were seen to take full bottles of beer from their pockets and break them over the heads of whoever happened to be nearest to them. Bottles and jagged pieces of glass were thrown among the mob indiscriminately, and in a few moments scores of people were bleeding from cuts. Pools of blood bespattered the roadway. Men were felled and brutally kicked and trampled on while they were on the ground.


    All traffic was completely blocked. Rushing a stationary cable tram, the mob forced it off the rails on to the roadway, and, for a time, it appeared as if an effort was to be made to push it into the plate-glass windows of the Leviathan. This, however, was not attempted. By throwing burning rags and paper inside the trailer, several youths tried to set fire to the tram, but without success. Shortly afterwards it was replaced on the rails, and driven away. 

    The larrikins turned their attention from fighting among themselves to attacking shops. Standing in the centre of the roadway, a party of youths and men deliberately threw bottles at the windows of the Leviathan Clothing Company. Flying over the heads of the crowd, the bottles crashed against the windows, shattering them. Immediately there was a rush towards the footpath, the mob being intent on looting. Within a few minutes every window of the establishment had been shattered and the window exhibits removed. The footpath was littered with window fittings and broken glass. Discarding the hats which they had been wearing, many men and youths seized new ones and rushed away wearing them. Some of them hastily collected as much loot as possible, only to have it taken from them by others when they reached the roadway. This led to much fighting.

    Attention was diverted to the jewellery establishment of F.H. Kermode, 157 Swanston street, and the cry went up, “Smash it in!” A steel grating, which was protecting the window, was quickly pulled down. A semi-intoxicated man advanced from the kerbstone, and, taking a bottle of beer from his hip pocket, struck the window with it twice. Within a few seconds the entire stock of the window had disappeared. In some instances, the rioters wrapped their loot in newspapers, but others walked away with their pockets bulging with spoil, and carrying expensive mirrors and large nickel-plate articles in their hands or under their arms. One man ran away with six shaving mirrors. From the Leviathan, the crowd moved slowly towards the corner of Little Collins street, smashing the windows of practically every shop on the way, and stealing the contents. From the windows of Messrs. Charles Jeffries and Sons valuable footwear was stolen, and the footpath was strewn with boots and shoes.


    By half-past 6 o'clock the mob was in absolute control of the block surrounded by Bourke, Swanston, Elizabeth, and Collins streets. The situation was grave in the extreme. Above the yells of the crowd could be heard at frequent intervals the crash of breaking glass as window after window was shattered. Having been warned of the temper of the mob, several shopkeepers not in the immediate vicinity of the intersection of Bourke and Swanston streets cleared the stock from their windows, and it was noticeable that the crowd refrained from breaking windows behind which there were no exhibits.

    At 7 o'clock—after the city had been at the mercy of the lawless element for more than an hour—a party of about 40 police, headed by three officers, marched down Bourke street with batons drawn. They charged the mob, which scattered in all directions. By a quarter past 7 o'clock the “storm centre” had been moved from the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets to other parts of the block, particularly to the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke streets. The policemen sought to make arrests, but, in many instances, they had not proceeded far with their captives before they were compelled to release them. Early in the evening an elderly man, who, flourishing a Bible, attempted to address the mob, was set upon and felled.

    With the coming of darkness there was a surging return and reinforcement of the raucous and stunted larrikin element. The enormously outnumbered posses of uniformed men and arm-banded special constabulary marched gamely back and forth from the corner of Swanston and Little Collins streets to the London Stores. In a flash, when the Bourke street block was left unguarded, there was heard again the splintering and crashing of plate glass. The south side of Bourke street, from Swanston street to Elizabeth street, was delivered into the almost unhindered hands of mob rule. At about 20 minutes past 8 o’clock there were two premises in the Bourke street area (south side) upon which the looters concentrated. They had kicked in the windowpanes sometime earlier, but had not swept away all the contents when they were interrupted. Moreover, at Salamy’s, there was a tempting row of clocks, high up, upon a shelf, still protected by jagged remains of plate glass. In a moment one or two rioters had leaped to the shoulders of team-mates, and in another moment Mr. Salamy’s remaining window property was openly carried off. At Edments’s store one or two windows had been kicked in, and a yelling gang had snatched everything within reach. Meanwhile, a few assistants—as at dozens of other places—were now feverishly removing everything to safely within the shop. Yet the blazing lights and the glittering display of ware lured the lawless element. Only for the timely return of a score of police and newly-sworn comrades, Edments’s windows must have been stripped clean, and the store itself, perhaps, raided.


    Next, with the passing of the protecting posse, came a diversion in front of Dumbrell’s jewellery establishment. Much of the display goods had gone—literally west—but much valuable booty remained. The glitter of diamond rings caught the greedy eyes of the crowd. With lowered heads, a mass of looters forged in from the roadway. Some got their hands on the spoil, but there was a snarling recoil. From the black recesses of the shop a tall man leaped into the battered window, gleaming revolver in hand. With agile feet and a flailing left arm he routed the scum. And, leaping after them, with pistol out-thrust this way and that—yet, with wonderfully fortunate restraint, never firing—he cleared and held the footpath clear. Twice he was rushed by groups armed with bottles, but he retreated to his window and, behind its jagged edges, held off his foes.

    Wertheim’s window and Holder’s had already gone. Hitherto the brightly illumined phalanx of plate glass from Buckley and Nunn’s to the Post-office had remained untouched. Willing hands from within the establishments had stripped the windows of the smaller and more glittering articles. Chiefly, dressed figures, in exquisite array of Cup frocking, remained. A volley of stones ruined one of Buckley’s full-size windows and one of Myer’s, and still others towards the post-office. At the London Stores, the array of brilliantly lit and laden windows had been already “sampled,” but there remained dozens of unbroken panes.

    Masses debouched from the Bourke street centre and dashed for the Mont de Piete. Racing to outstrip one another, men flung themselves upon the darkened windows. Rings, watches, brooches—jewellery of every description—were greedily seized by the rioters, who were able to continue their depredations without interruption. The siege was raised, barely soon enough to prevent the demolition of the doorway and the complete wrecking of the premises. The mob, as soon as the last item of value had been snatched from the window fronts, stormed the iron gateway which protected the entrance. They tore it from its hinges, and had battered the glass panels of the doors. But they could not withstand the vigorous batons of the constables, and hundreds were hunted up the Bourke street hill, and hundreds north and south along Elizabeth street. They wantonly kicked or burst in more windows as they fled. Running past the large sheets of glass fronting Thos. Evans and John Danks they left a destructive trail. In Elizabeth street north only one or two shops suffered. But between Bourke street and Flinders street, in Elizabeth street, the amount of damage was disgracefully large.


    With the arrival at last of the motor patrols of “specials” panic set in. Part of the crowd, after hurling glass and metal in showers, turned east along Little Collins street, where a score and more of windows had been smashed at earlier stages. Droves swerved along the same thoroughfare westward, and were driven helter-skelter by the charging motor parties. At the corner of Queen street they crashed through remnants of display materials hurled from the wrecked windows of a tailoring establishment which had been entered and “cleaned out.” By far the greater proportion, however, ran in the direction of the Flinders street railway station. On their fleeting way the mob battered a hat shop south of Collins street, and then made for a department of firearms, bats, and sticks in the windows of the Melbourne Sports Depot. Few things were looted, however, as the persons concerned were in a hurry. It was a remarkable fact that only one window in the Collins street heart of the city—that of the hat establishment of David Waring Ltd.—should have been destroyed. After half-past 10 o'clock comparative quiet developed.

    Crowds gathered in the city on November 4, largely out of curiosity. Special constables in front of Scots’ Church, in Collins street, were attacked in the afternoon, but they soon dispersed their assailants. The appearance of a couple of mounted troopers sent the youths flying in all directions. A shower of rain completed the work which the horsemen had begun, and thereafter there was order. 

    “Business as Usual” was the sign displayed on November 5 outside practically every shop which had been raided on November 3. Many windows had been totally covered by wooden planking, and only the doorways showed apertures.

    A large crowd which was watching a fire in Messrs. Keep Bros, and Wood’s timber-yards, in Spencer street, West Melbourne, on the evening of November 5, got out of hand, and for some minutes there was hand-to-hand fighting between special police and the mob. Large pieces of brick and wood were hurled at the “specials,” who were assailed as “scabs.” One “special” was, felled with a picket and struck on the chest and stomach while he lay unconscious. Another “special” fired his revolver in the air, and this induced the crowd to retire. A “special” who attempted to telephone for aid for his injured comrade, and a plain-clothes constable who went to his help, were surrounded and attacked. When the constable drew his revolver the crowd wavered. Reinforcements of specials ultimately scattered the crowd by baton sallies. Damage estimated at between £400 and £500 was done to Leeming’s footwear establishment at North Melbourne on the same night. The shattering of one of the plate-glass windows was the signal for a fusillade from a large crowd. An appeal by Messrs. Leeming Bros. to the mob to cease their attack, produced a further shower of metal, whereupon the two men drew their revolvers and fired in the air. One man was taken into custody as the crowd retreated. Special constables dispersed the mob by baton charges and the firing of blank cartridges.

    Eighty persons were charged with various offences at the City Court, Melbourne, on November 6, chiefly the possession of stolen property. Sentences of three and four months’ imprisonment were imposed on a large number of youths and men arrested in the crowds of looters on November 3. Mr. Knight, P.M., said that the sentences were not vindictive, but, in any event, they could be reviewed by the Attorney-General. A woman who had assaulted a constable, who said she “fought like a man,” was fined £5.

    More than 10.000 men had been enrolled as special constables up to November 7, and others were accepted in the country. More than 1,000 private motor-cars have been offered for the use of the police. All hotels within five miles of the General Post-office, Melbourne, were closed at 2 o'clock on Cup Day (November 6). Licensing police refused to continue duty on November 5. Of more than 100 plain-clothes constables only seven have refused duty. A fund opened by “The Argus” for the loyal police amounts to £2,777.

    The Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday, 10 November 1923, p.36 (extract),

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    The total damage to business premises in the city of Melbourne was estimated at £75,000 [= $6,400,893]. Melbourne newspapers of the period attributed the rioting and looting to Melbourne’s criminal element, but subsequent court records showed that most of the offenders who were apprehended were young men and boys without prior criminal records. After the strike, its origins and effects were investigated by a Royal Commission. The Victorian State Government subsequently improved pay and conditions for police, and legislated to establish a police pension scheme before the end of 1923. However none of the 636 striking police constables were allowed to return to duty. All were discharged and an entirely new force recruited.

    [9] Tons of Money by Will Evans and “Arthur Valentine” (pseud. of Archibald Thomas Pechey) premiered at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London on 13 April 1922, before transferring to the Aldwych Theatre on 10 October later that year for an overall run of 743 performances.  Its success helped to institute the popular series of Aldwych farces staged at the theatre between 1923 to 1933, scripted by Ben Travers and featuring a stock company of farceurs that included Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls, J. Robertson Hare, Mary Brough and Winifred Shotter.  In addition to Lynn, Walls, Hare and Brough, Tons of Money also starred the French actress, Yvonne Arnaud in the role of ‘Louise Allington’, which became the basis for actresses who succeeded to the role to play it as a French woman (even though it was not originally written as such.)

    The Australian premiere was staged at the Palace Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday, 27 October 1923 by Hugh J. Ward Theatres Pty. Ltd. starring Charles Heslop and Dorothy Brunton (who also adopted a French accent) and a cast that included Maidie Field (Mrs. Charles Heslop), one-time matinee idol, Andrew Higginson (Australia’s first ‘Prince Danilo’ in The Merry Widow for JCW in 1908), and the veteran Emma Temple, whose performances with JCW’s Royal Comic Opera Company dated back to the 1880s. Following a run of 7 weeks, the comedy closed on Saturday, 15 December to make way for preparations for the Christmas–New Year’s pantomime Mother Goose. (See first-night reviews below.)

    [10]7s. 9d. (7 shillings and 9 pence) per performance paid to a theatrical dresser in 1923 is equivalent to $33.07 in today’s currency, thus $264.56 per week for a standard 8 performances (6 evenings and 2 matinees.)

     [11] The Maid of the Mountains(with music by Harold Fraser-Simpson, lyrics by Harry Graham; Additional lyrics by F. Clifford Harris and “Valentine” (Archibald Thomas Pechey); additional music by James W. Tate and book by Frederick Lonsdale) received its London premiere at Daly’s Theatre on 10 February 1917 for a run of 1,352 performances; terminating only because its leading lady, José Collins, wished to move on to other shows. In Australia the musical brought stardom to Gladys Moncrieff in the title role of ‘Teresa’ following its premiere by JCW Ltd. at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 22 January 1921 for an initial run of 188 performances over 23 weeks closing on 1 July. The show then went on to achieve equal success around the rest of Australia and New Zealand touring for 2½ years, and its enduring popularity and that of its leading lady, made it the most revived musical in Australia in the 20th Century with ‘Our Glad’ having given over 2,300 performances as ‘Teresa’ before her retirement from the role following a final season in Perth in 1949.

    [12]Nap (short for Napoleon) was a once popular card game dating from the late 19th Century (the rules of which may be read here). Each players bids on the number of “tricks” that they intend to win (from 3 to 5) and the player who bids to undertake to win all 5 “tricks”, and then succeeds to do so, wins 10 chips (or pennies, etc.) from each player, and thus “takes the nap”. High stakes betting on the game was classified as an illegal activity and newspapers would carry reports of police raids on nap “schools”.

    [13]Allen Doone’s weekly-change repertory season of Irish plays commenced at the Princess Theatre on 10 November with The Wearing of the Green (until 16 November), followed by Sweet County Kerry (17 to 23 November), Tom Moore (24 to 30 November), The Burglar and the Lady (1 to 7 December) and concluded with The Rebel from 8 to 15 December 1923. 

    As noted by Charles Heslop, the play The Burglar and the Lady(by Landon McCormick) featured the eponymous character of ‘Raffles’ (E.W. Hornung’s gentleman thief), plus Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ as the detective who pursues the burglar (played by Allen Doone) but loses him in the end, as he makes good his escape with the lady of the title. (Although it is unclear how the playwright was able to perpetrate such an obvious breach of literary copyright without the permission of the respective authors.) Doone had first played the role in Australia in 1914, and the play was revived the following year as a star vehicle for ex-heavyweight champion, James J. Corbett (then visiting Australia) when the title character was re-christened ‘Gentleman Jim’ to trade on Corbett’s well-known sobriquet.

    A regular visitor to Australia (where he had first made a name for himself as an actor–manager in Melbourne in 1909 due to the generous sponsorship of well-known sporting and theatrical entrepreneur, John Wren to the tune of £2,000; or almost $288,000 in today’s currency) Doone made a point of singing in each of his plays (a fact mentioned in his daily press adverts) and The Age review of the play observed that:

    Mr. Allen Doone makes a very much better Irish lover than a burglar. Obviously, he was out of his element on Saturday night as Raffles, the “scientific crook,” in the melodrama The Burglar and the Lady, which was presented at the Princess Theatre. To be sure, Raffles, true to history, is a very kind hearted burglar, yet it is hard to imagine Mr. Doone as a common or garden type of bank robber. His happiest moments on Saturday night were when, in response to a plaintive cry from the gallery, “You have not sung to us to-night,” he discarded the jemmy and revolver and sang with gusto, “Here's a Toast to Erin.”

    The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 3 December 1923, p. 11 (extract),

    Clearly Doone was an actor who believed in keeping his loyal public satisfied!

    Tons of Money reviewed in the Melbourne Press 


    Heslop and Dot Make It


    As soon as Dorothy Brunton and Charles Heslop get the proper pitch of voice for the Palace Theatre, Tons of Money Is going to be one of the most popular comedies Melbourne has seen since [Fred] Niblo was here.

    Artists sometimes are accustomed to the smaller-sized London theatres, and for those there is always that little difficulty of remembering the greater size of our houses. Added to that, Miss Brunton's part entails the speaking of broken English, and Mr. Heslop's calls for whirlwind patter—always difficult things to get over clearly.

    A section of Saturday night’s audience felt rather like the old lady at the picture-show who has not time to read what the villain said to Mary, before it is flicked off again. But with such really clever artists as the two in the lead at the Palace, a grievance of that kind is sure to be remedied before others suffer it.

    The play is one of the funniest imaginable.


    The first curtain brings a roar of laughter that you tremble for fear the authors (Will Evans and Arthur Valentine) will let you down over the second and the final curtain. But they don’t! The second curtain is a scream, and the play ends on a high note of laughter.

    Ridiculous situation follows ridiculous situation without bringing the comedy down to the necessity for slapstick methods. The talk is good, and the plot develops with a rush.

    Charles Heslop, as a young man who suggests to his bride that his coat-of-arms should really he "a couple of bailiffs rampant," fools with the delicious inconsequence of a Wodehouse hero. If the Indiscretions of Archie is ever staged, Heslop is the man for the star part! Comic business with hands and feet, his slick and assured handling of the part, and his irrepressible, natural sense of humor help him to make the portrayal of Allington, the bogus George Maitland, and Rev. Ebenezer Brown memorably funny character sketches.


    Dot Brunton, beloved of Australian audiences, has grown up during her absence from Australia. She is still the charming little comedienne, but she has added a finish and assurance to her work that gives it a distinction it lacked before.

    The part of Louise Allington she handled with vivacious charm and a joyous abandon that added to the fun of the farce, without the actress's betraying that she was aware of it.

    Emma Temple made a welcome return to the stage as Benita Mullett, Alllngton’s deaf aunt.

    Sylvia Shaw's study of the girl who accepted three different impostors as her absentee husband was well done.

    Charles Road Night appeared as the solicitor; Frank Hawthorne in the small but amusing part of Giles the gardener; Compton Coutts as the butler; Maidie Field as the parlormaid; Andrew Higginson as Henry; and Douglas Calderwood as the real George Maitland.

    At the close of the performance repeated demands for speeches led Dorothy Brunt on to speak from a wilderness of floral gifts. She thanked the audience for their splendid loyalty.

    Charles Heslop and Hugh Ward also made speeches, Mr. Ward's being conveyed to the audience through Miss Brunton, as he was suffering from a cold that had robbed him of his voice.

    Sun News-Pictorial(Melbourne), Monday 29 October 1923, p.8,

     * * * * * * * * * * *



    Tons of Money, played by Mr. Hugh J. Ward’s company at the Palace Theatre on Saturday evening, is a farce of a fashion popular from last century to this. Impersonation, as the basis of a plot, is as familiar as any basis in the particular class of entertainment. It is employed, for instance, in What Happened to Jones, and in Tom, Dick and Harry, popular here twenty years or so back. Tons of Money, written by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine from old material, is not equal to Broadhurst’s work; it does not move swiftly and easily; it is not really funny; indeed, at times it takes all the work of the new company to prevent it from being extremely wearisome. The farce has enjoyed success in England. On the whole, it was well received by the crowded house on Saturday evening. Miss Dorothy Brunton was welcomed warmly. 

    Miss Brunton plays Louise, wife of Aubrey, Henry Maitland Allington, young and impecunious inventor. Allington has given his smart young wife everything that credit can buy. His breakfast table is burdened with bills. The arrival of the solicitor, James Chesterman, with the news that Allington has been left a fortune, delights the young couple; but they realise speedily that every penny will be swallowed up by debts. And how to escape payment of these debts? Under the will the estate passes after Allington’s death to his cousin, George Maitland. Maitland has gone to Mexico, and is reported to have been killed. So that if Allington die, and reappear as Maitland, he will come in for the estate without encumbrance. He has invented an explosive; what if an explosion occurs, and he disappear? The explosion occurs, though a little too soon for Allington's comfort. Three weeks inter Allington reappears as Maitland. Unhappily he is not alone in the field; there is another impersonator of Maitland, and there is the real Maitland. On the familiar lines, the farces develops in a series of the wildest entanglements, chiefly in close imitation of Tom, Dick and Harry. A further complication is Maitland’s wife, as Louise’s charming cousin, Jean, proves to be. A little of this farce is no poorer than its predecessors. It is far poorer, when the first impostor starts telling of his adventures abroad; this is pitiful rubbish, and even the briskest of acting could do very little with it. The acting of the new company is brisk.

    The energy which Miss Brunton and Mr. Charles Heslop, as Allington, put into their playing is commendable. They are seldom off the stage, and in this sense the parts are exacting. Yet the two do not succeed in carrying off the farce. For some reason Louise is French; the accent does not make the character any more amusing. Why Louise is not allowed to talk in straight-out English is puzzling. Miss Brunton deserves praise for her brightness and her desire to give the audience the best of her comedy; much of the folly does not allow her a fair chance. A little of it does—notably the passage-at-arms with Louise's cousin, Jean, who, as Mrs. Maitland, claims Allington impersonating Maitland, as her husband. Here Miss Brunton's success is furthered by Miss Sylvia Shaw, who, as Jean, is the most pleasing of the players of minor characters. The bitter-sweetness of the girl cousins to one another is bright comedy, and is very well played. Mr. Heslop is a young actor playing for the first time in Melbourne. He certainly does his utmost with the part of Allington, but the absurd exaggerations must prove rather too much for any actor. Broadhurst succeeded in providing really funny characters for his successes, and the writers of Tons of Money have failed to do so. Miss Emma Temple, who also was warmly welcomed by Saturday evening's audience, does all that can be done with the part of Benita Mullet, Allington's aunt. Mr. Compton Coutts plays well us Sprules, the butler; Mr. Charles Road Night does useful work as Chesterman; Miss Maidie Field appears as the parlor maid Simpson; Mr. Andrew Higginson as Henry, another impersonator of Maitland, and Mr. Douglas Calderwood as the real Maitland. Tons of Money is not even a reasonably lively farce; several of its scenes are very foolish.

    The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 29 October 1923, p.6,

    34 T of M sceneEmma Temple, Dorothy Brunton & Charles Heslop in a scene from Tons of Money. Stageland, Number Three, December 1923.




    Miss Brunton and Mr. Heslop.

    “Poor dear Aubrey he was so generous to me. He gave me everything that credit could buy.” Who would not sympathise with the seeming widow of Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington when she is left with no one to create debts on her behalf? But mourning is very becoming to Louise Allington when she is Miss Dorothy Brunton and Aubrey’s absence is for only a few hours. Twice he “dies” and twice comes to life with neatness and despatch; but when Louise wishes him to die again he firmly refuses for he begins to think that the third time proves it. The reason for the deaths is the wish to claim a large inheritance without allowing Allington’s debts to absorb it. Stage law has a good deal to do with the plot. There are three characters each claiming to be one man, George Maitland.

    The season of carnival is here and with it the season of farce, when material for unrestrained laughter is the first demand of many theatregoers. “Tons of Money” at the Palace, meets the demand. On Saturday the first night audience found a great deal to laugh at in the first and second acts; and in the third the laughter scarcely ceased, except when it turned into shrieks of amusement. A pleasant feature of “Tons of Money” is that it is clean and healthy from first to last. There is nothing about it of the French or American bedroom farce. It is hearty English fun making and make-believe. There are suggestions of resemblance to earlier plots (such as that of “Tom Dick and Harry”), but this is inevitable, especially in farce, and there is enough that is different. Even the veteran playgoer cannot quite say, as Allington says on conveniently regaining his memory, “How it all comes back to me—like a returned cheque!”

    The farce, which is by Will Evans, the noted comedian, and Arthur Valentine, was well staged and cleverly acted. Miss Dorothy Brunton, who had a great welcome, showed that she could be as skilful and dainty in farce without music as in musical comedy. Louise speaks with a French accent, apparently because an accent went with the name of the actress who took the part in London, Yvonne Arnaud. There was no need for this peculiarity in the Australian production, but Miss Brunton used it neatly in the cause of a s piquancy which in its absence she could have obtained by other means. No comedy point was overlooked by Miss Brunton, whose untiring and deft work did a great deal to ensure the cordial reception of the play.

    Mr. Charles Heslop, from England, was most amusing when he was most distant from reality, as the comic curate of the third act. His mannerisms when he was Allington undisguised tended to become rather monotonous and his comedy as the man from Wild America could have been more substantial; but in all cases he provided the audience with much to laugh at. Miss Emma Temple’s experience made the old aunt—a comparatively small part—one of the best characters in the play. Miss Sylvia Shaw contributed to the fun as the deserted wife who identifies each of the three George Maitlands as her husband. Mr. Compton Coutts was an able comedy butler, and Mr. Frank Hawthorne was well made up as the eccentric gardener. As played by Mr. Charles Road Night, the solicitor did not differ much from the leader of the gang in “Bulldog Drummond.” Miss Maidie Field aided the comedy as a parlourmaid, and Mr. Andrew Higginson and Mr. Douglas Calderwood took two of the Maitland parts suitably.

    The first matinee will be given on Wednesday.

    Additional interest was given to the first night by the presence of their Excellencies the Governor-General and Lady Forster, who were accompanied by the Hon. Mrs. Pitt Rivers and Lady Patricia Blackwood, and His Excellency the Governor and the Countess of Stradbroke, whose party included the Lady Helena Rous and Miss Hester Phillimore. In the box next the Governor-General were Mr. and Mrs. Hugh J. Ward, and Mrs. Brunton occupied the fourth box with a party of friends.

    The Argus (Melbourne), Monday, 29 October 1923, p.15 (extracts),

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    N.B. Charles Road Night had played the criminal mastermind and leader of the underworld gang in the drama Bulldog Drummond staged at the newly renovated Palace Theatre in April and May of that year, hence the critic’s inference at his lack of versatility.


    Miss Brunton’s Return

    “TONS OF MONEY,” a farce in three acts by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine (Palace Theatre)

    “Tons of Money” is built so exactly on the plan one expected that I for one got quite a surprise. This impoverished young couple, the rich relative dying abroad, the rival impostors, the unexpected wife, the scheming butler, the eccentric gardener, and the comic curate, all re-appear, and never fail to behave precisely as stage tradition suggests. One can picture the men who wrote “Ton of Money” patiently searching every farce of the last hundred years for ingredients that could be mixed once more in a farcical brew, and with equal care setting down every line said to have “got a hand” since the spring of ’98.

    But this, I suppose, does not greatly matter after all. No one expects originality in a farce. All that one can hope for is laughs, and, judged by this test, “Ton of Money” is likely to prove quite a success. A large audience was kept continuously amused on Saturday night, and it was clear that Mr. Hugh J. Ward, with his well-known acumen, had picked the right sort of piece to please holiday audiences. Had the writing been less slovenly, and the action more uniformly fast, it would have gone down even better; but then, really first-rate farces can be numbered on the fingers of your hands. The pity of it is that Will Evans and Arthur Valentine, with their deftness in evolving situations and poor literary equipment, should have gone so near the real thing without quite getting there. 

    Even If “Tons of Money” had no other attractions, the return of Miss Dorothy Brunton would be sufficient to lift it from the commonplace. As vivacious and attractive as ever, Miss Brunton gave an excellent performance as the wife of the impecunious Inventor, and, without any very obvious effort, made the utmost of the broad comedy. Her only fault was a tendency—probably due to a little nervousness—to talk too fast in the early scene with her husband. For the first few minutes hardly a word spoken by either was audible. Thereafter, she was charming, though precisely why the character should be played with a French accent is a secret which lies between her and her producer.

    Very successful also was Mr. Charles Heslop, a London comedian making his first appearance in Australia. In a modest estimate of Mr. Heslop that appears on the program, it is stated that he has a real genius for doing the funniest things in the most matter-of-fact way, and avoids the most obvious devices for getting laughs. His work is notable for clever unexpectedness, originality, and a skilful use of reticence that has delighted London critics as well as theatregoers.

    Mr. Heslop may have been noted for all these qualities in London, but it would take a very penetrating critic to observe the slightest sign of them in the methods he adopts in Australia. After watching him bustle and gesticulate and fumble and race around on one leg after the manner of an attenuated Chaplin, one could only conclude that he was another victim to the idea that the comic artist, to get laughs in Australia, must lay on his paint with a trowel. Mr. Heslop is undoubtedly a comedian, and I should think that at his best, he would be a very talented one. Certainly he had some very bright moments on Saturday, especially when he returned from the grave as the red-haired curate, but a friend ought to tell him that even Australians get the idea of slight excitement when a man fumbles ten times for his pocket and still misses. Anything over ten times is superfluous, and anything over twenty a little boring. And the same rule applies to attempts to cross the legs.

    The other parts were well played by Mr. Compton Coutts, who made a successful first appearance in Australia as Sprules, the butler; Miss Emma Temple, whose brilliant gifts had little scope; Miss Sylvia Shaw, Mr. Anndrew Higginson, Mr. Douglas Calderwood, Mr. Frank Hawthorne, Mr. Charles Road Night, and Miss Maidie Field.

    G.C. DIXON

    The Herald (Melbourne), Monday, 29 October 1923, p.4,



    “I ’ave an idea!” suddenly says Louise, the young French wife of Aubrey Alllngton, In “Tons of Money,” when they receive news of a big inheritance which will, however, be “almost all swallowed up” if they pay their creditors. So she persuades her husband to her plan, which is that he shall die, and later reappear as a cousin who is to inherit in the event of his death. Her husband reluctantly consents. Then comes discussion of the manner of his death, none of which appeal to him. Being an inventor, he has a workshop, and it is finally decided that it shall be blown up with a high explosive, while he is presumedly working therein.

    The plan is carried out, but not just exactly as planned. Subsequently, no fewer than three George Maitlands from Mexico appear, for someone else has a brain wave and a plan to secure the money. Naturally things become a bit mixed, and the plotters are kept on tenterhooks.

    This bright farce by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine caused the roof of the Palace Theatre to re-echo to shouts of laughter on Saturday night when it was staged for the first time. The authors have managed to contrive some rather novel situations out of materials that are not exactly new, while the business works up to a splendid “curtain” at the close of each act.

    There are a number of old favorites in the cast, who were warmly welcomed on their first entrance, chief of these being Dorothy Brunton as Louise, the young wife. She is bright and animated, and makes Louise an attractive, vivacious individual, whom one is compelled to like even though her principles appear sadly lax.

    Charles Heslop, as the inventor husband, proves himself decidedly versatile. He has a quick, volatile method, and a dashing manner. First as the husband, then as the cousin, with a rather crude idea of the manner in which a man from Mexico should dress, and less about life and manners of that far country. Later as an urbane curate in utter contrast, he contrives to give three clever character sketches.

    Compton Coutts makes a good impression as Sprules the butler, who plots a little on his own account. Maldie Field is excellent as Simpson, the parlormaid, and his accomplice. 

    Emma Temple contrives to introduce some effective comedy as Allington’s Aunt Benita, who Is deaf, but will not own to it. Andrew Higginson and Douglas Calderwood both appear with success in the guise of George Maltland, the first masquerading, the second being the genuine cousin.

    Sylvia Shaw does good work as Jean, who accepts each of the pretenders as her husband, declaring she would know him anywhere by his kiss. 

    Frank Hawthorne, as a deaf and eccentric old gardener, and Charles Road Night, as James Chesterman, solicitor, complete a first-rate cast.

    The staging is excellent and the mounting most carefully and artistically carried out to the smallest detail.

    “I ’ave an idea!” Louise says once more, but her husband flees from it, and the curtain falls upon her struggling with this new brain wave.

    Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 November 1923, p.13,

    39 Tons castCompton Coutts (as Sprules)—Frank Hawthorne (Giles)—Douglas Calderwood (George Maitland)


    Farce Comedy Pleases

    By "G. K. M."

    In staging “Tons of Money” at the Palace Theatre on the eve of the Cup carnival, Mr. Hugh J. Ward has shown sound judgment. This English farce comedy, which was successful when produced at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, is the sort of entertainment race visitors will enjoy. Full of ludicrous situations, it is as clean, as it is funny. Miss Dorothy Brunton’s return to the Australian stage is, in itself, an event of no little interest. Usually she has been associated with musical comedy, but in “Tons of Money” she shows a distinct flair for straight comedy. Miss Brunton is a much more finished actress than she was when she last appeared in Melbourne. Her representation of the French wife of Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington, who, to use her husband's words, “has been given everything that credit will buy,” is completely successful. With Mr. Charles Heslop, who plays the part of the debt-ridden Aubrey, she is on the stage practically all the time, and the fact that the audience is kept in roars of laughter proves the effectiveness of their work. Mr. Heslop is a comedian well suited to the requirements of a quick-moving farce. He should soon become a favorite with Melbourne playgoers.

    To tell the story of the play would be to deprive the many surprising developments of much of their humor. The plot, however, is the old one of deception and mistaken identity, the object of the deception being to prevent Aubrey's creditors from getting the money he has unexpectedly inherited. Of course all the carefully laid plans of Louise and her spouse go astray, but the play ends with reconciliations and kisses all round.

    The various minor roles are well sustained by Miss Emma Temple (Ailington’s Aunt Benita), Miss Sylvia Shaw (Louise's cousin), Mr. Charles Road Night (a solicitor), Mr. Compton Coutts (butler), Miss Maidie Field (parlor-maid), Mr. Frank Hawthorne (gardener), Mr. Andrew Higginson (an impostor), and Mr. Douglas Calderwood (Aubrey’s missing cousin).

    Weekly Times (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 November 1923, p.16


    Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington’s House at Marlow—scenery by Reg Robbins. (photo by CJ Frazer)
    Courtesy Marriner Theatre Archive, Melbourne.

    Meanwhile The Bulletin’s veteran Melbourne-based critic, Edmund Fisher also penned his impressions of the proceedings, while an anonymous contributor to the periodical’s weekly theatrical gossip column noted the debt owed by practitioners of the histrionic art to their predecessors, with a few pertinent examples; and The Sporting Globe published an interview with the farce’s pseudonymous co-writer.

    * * * * * * * * * * *


    “Tons of Money,” a fast and furious farce-comedy, imported from the London Shaftesbury, was paid out at the new Palace in Melbourne on Saturday night, under a running fire of chuckles from an overflowing audience. The three-decker, which was built up by Will Evans and Arthur Valentine, tears along at express speed, without once skidding off the rails of the neatly-constructed plot. The chief laughter-makers are a young inventor, Aubrey Allington, and his even more inventive little French wife. The pair are discovered facing the awful blue-writted consequences of a Rolls Royce life on a Ford income. But things proceed to ginger up with a fat legacy for Aubrey, which in the event of his demise passes to Cousin George in Mexico. The latter being conveniently listed as shot dead, the French daughter of Eve tempts her weaker half to diddle his creditors by bequeathing the wealth to her before vanishing in the smoke of an explosion in his laboratory, the idea being that he shall resurrect himself later in the likeness of the defunct George. The plot matures, but, the butler having readjusted the clock hands, Mrs. Aubrey fires the fuse before hubby has time to get away. A fine first curtain discloses the wretched inventor in a dreadful condition of wreckage after the blow-up. Disguised with a goatee and an American burr, he returns home—to be confounded by a second Yankee-tongued and goatee-chinned George. And so the complications proceed, until the story unwinds itself in a final curtain.

    “Tons of Money” brings Dorothy Brunton back to us; and the uproarious greetings on Saturday held the show up for some minutes. As Aubrey's giddy French wife, Dot showed her old form. Her endearing spontaneity has in no wise diminished: she still throws herself into her part in the old hoydenish way. Her Louise, who tearfully boasts that her husband gives her everything credit will buy, is a typical English girl, fresh, pleasing and natural, despite a superabundance of foreign accent and gesture. The lengthy farceur, Charles Heslop, who comes here with a big London reputation, is apt to be a shade too tireless. Slick of eye and tongue and limb, he is temperamentally and technically equipped for his job. But one tires a little of his incessant juggling—with words and limbs and everything else he has to use. As the real George’s devoted widow, who recognised her hubby in all three holders of the name by the way they kissed, Sylvia Shaw is always in the picture, although her work is rather academic. Andrew Higginson is the pretender, and Douglas Calderwood gave an excellent account of himself as the real cousin from Mexico. Charles Road Knight, Emma Temple and a newcomer, Maidie Field, completed the fine cast.

    The Bulletin (Sydney), 1 November 1923, p.34

    41 caricatures 3Further Tom Glover caricatures for The Bulletin (1923)


    It seems to be a rule in theatrical business that the first successful way of doing any particular thing on the dramatic stage is the way it should be always done. A tradition is established. When Hugh Ward brought Charles Heslop and Dorothy Brunton to play in “Tons of Money,” the young man affected a restless, jerky manner which came uneasily to him, and was plainly adapted from a London original, whilst Dorothy had to pretend to be French because a Frenchwoman—Yvonne Arnaud—had “created” the part, and some lines had been put into the farce on her account. Whilst retaining her breezy Australian personality Dorothy Brunton lapsed into a mock-French accent whenever she thought of it, instead of getting the interpolated lines cut out, and talking like her natural self.

    The Bulletin (Sydney), 13 December 1923, p.36 (extract)

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Managers Would Not Look at “Tons of Money” Script

    The responsibility for “Tons of Money,” the successful English farce, at the New Palace, rests with Will Evans and Arthur Valentine. The former, who is a well-known London comedian, is now In Sydney, appearing at the Tivoli, and the latter is a writer who up till 10 years ago was a member of the Corn Exchange. The curious part about the success of the play is that the authors hawked the script from manager to manager for some years before it was finally accepted.

    In a recent interview Valentine was asked what it felt like to strike a sudden tremendous success with a first play written seven years ago, and turned down by every manager until last year. “Every day, and in every way more and more pleasant,” he said, “I am beginning to feel as I have Imagined so many of the heroes of my stories would feel. What a lot of them have come into some sort of surprisingly good fortune at my pen's command! Now it has actually happened to me. Strange—but truth is strange sometimes, isn't it?”

    “I suppose,” he went on, “that because I did the writing part of this ‘Tons of Money’ play people think I'm no end of a funny fellow. I assure you I am nothing of the sort.” He seemed to be anxious that there should be mistake on the subject. “I believe, that I have keen sense of humor,” he said, almost apologetically, “but I am not the sort of man who sets all his friends and acquaintances into constant roars of laughter. Nothing like that about me. I have never even tried to write a funny short story—and I wrote a quarter of a million words of fiction last year.”

    Fully six feet in height, forty-six years old, and with the wind-tanned skin of one who spends half his time on the Kentish sea coast, Arthur Valentine (his real name is Archibald Thomas Pechey), began to write only ten years ago. He likes writing above all else; even the mechanical part of it, the physical exercise of putting words on paper, which many find so tiring irksome, delights him.

    The Sporting Globe (Melbourne), Wednesday, 14 November 1923, p.13,



    The Tons of Money cast take their curtain call. (photo by CJ Frazer)
    Courtesy Marriner Theatre Archive, Melbourne.


  • Haddon Chambers and the Long Arm of Neglect (Revisited) (Part 2)

    ROGER NEILL concludes his two-part article on the life and works of Australian-born Charles Haddon Chambers, commemorating 100 years since the death of a playwright who deserves better recognition in the country of his birth.

    High point: The Tyranny of Tears

    Although Haddon Chambers’ next full-length play,The Tyranny of Tears of 1899, was substantially his most successful and critically applauded play, re-staged over several decades, it presents us today with some real difficulty. At the heart of it is the relentless patronising of his wife by the leading man. As Elizabeth Schafer puts it:

    The Tyranny of Tears featured a married couple renegotiating their marriage as the wife is pressured into behaving more acceptably. Initially she exerts ‘tyranny’ by crying prettily and using emotional blackmail to alienate her husband from his friends and keep his focus relentlessly on her, to the detriment of his writing … I would want to ask, more stringently than the play allows, what precisely would make a woman employ such ‘tyranny’ in the first place?

    My own assumption is that the Hampstead writer-husband, Clement Parbury, is substantially based on Chambers himself. Indeed, it may be that this tightly composed domestic comedy is based on his own marriage, the wife Mabel on his own wife. While her manipulative tears might indeed drive a man to distraction, it never seems to occur to Parbury that he might be part of the problem. Being constantly positioned by him as an inferior being, a ‘dear little woman’, might well promote in a wife feelings of anger, even revenge. His self-perception (always being, by right, in the right) would be irksome, to say the least. Any modern staging would be bound to re-balance the roles—as happens so often with contemporary productions of, for example, The Taming of the Shrew.

    One wonders whether Chambers’ relationship with such a powerful woman as Melba—so much more direct and self-confident than the Mabel character—might not have sharpened his sense of the problems in his own marriage. Another side of Chambers is embodied in a second male character, George Dunning, the unmarried outsider who disturbs the ‘harmony’ of the marriage. Mabel Parbury says to him that she thinks his alarming influence over her husband is ‘the ridicule of the untamed for the tamed.’ ‘Say of the disreputable for the respectable,’ responds Gunning.

    The Tyranny of Tears opened at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus on 6 April 1899, presented by Charles Wyndham’s company, with Wyndham as the husband and his wife, the ‘adored’ Mary Moore, as Mrs Parbury. ‘I did not expect that he would ever take this keen interest in ordinary human character,’ wrote Max Beerbohm in The Saturday Review, ‘nor that he would ever write dialogues so pointed and witty.’ It ran for 115 performances and Chambers drew a ten per cent royalty from the play, which gave him £160 a week, equivalent to around $A30,000 a week in current money, supplemented by the royalties he was earning from the revival under Beerbohm Tree of Captain Swift, running at the same time at Her Majesty’s in London. Tyranny was revived in January 1902 at Wyndham’s and in February 1914 at the Comedy (52 performances).

    Chambers’ friend Charles Frohman presented The Tyranny of Tears in New York in September at the Empire. It became a star vehicle for John Drew as Parbury. Drew was to become a ‘close pal’ of Chambers. In Australia it was toured by Robert Brough’s company in 1900 (and later 1902) with Mr and Mrs Brough in leading roles, first opening at the Theatre Royal in Sydney on 12 May. After Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, the company went on to Calcutta.

    Tyrannywas followed in 1901 by The Awakening, which did well and aroused much comment. A guru of turn-of-the-century theatre (and first translator of Ibsen), William Archer, paraphrased it as follows in Play-Making: A Manual of Craftsmanship of 1912:

    [It] turned on a sudden conversion—the ‘awakening’, in fact, referred to in the title. A professional lady-killer [Jim Trower], a noted Don Juan, has been idly making love to a country maiden, whose heart is full of innocent idealisms. She discovers his true character, or, at any rate, his reputation and is horror-stricken, while practically at the same moment, he ‘awakens’ to the error of his ways, and is seized with a passion for her as single minded and idealistic as hers for him. But how are the audience to be assured of the fact?

    The Awakening seems to me to be the most autobiographical of all Chambers’ work, and the ambivalence that Archer senses in the ‘lady-killer’ may well reflect ambivalence in the playwright himself. In a letter to a friend Chambers admits that he was ‘weak enough to be persuaded into making [an] alteration’, going on to say that ‘when the play is done in America it will be exactly as written, as the balance was disturbed by a regretted attempt to whitewash Jim Trower.’

    Initially postponed following the death of Queen Victoria, it opened at the St James’s Theatre in London on 6 February 1901 (running for 59 performances) with George Alexander as the philanderer James St John Trower, A.E. Matthews as Cecil Bird, H.B. Irving as Lord Reginald Dugdale and Fay Davis as the ‘country maiden’ Olive Lawrence. ‘He uses his innate sense of the theatre, not for striking out unscrupulously theatrical effects, but for creating effects of real life across footlights,’ wrote Max Beerbohm in The Saturday Review. The following month Chambers directed H.V. Esmond’s The Wilderness at the same theatre. Although Frohman purchased the American rights for The Awakening, I have yet to discover any performance there. It was given a decade later by an amateur company at the Palace Theatre in Sydney (December 1912).

    In the early years of the new century, Haddon Chambers followed up the success of The Tyranny of Tears and The Awakening (1901) with a series of adaptations from European originals—A Modern Magdalen (1902), The Younger Mrs Parling (1904), The Thief (1907), Suzanne (1910) and Tante (1913). Did he turn to adaptation because he felt his own creative powers waning?

    Chambers’ next three productions all had their premières in New York. A Modern Magdalen was refashioned by Chambers from a Danish play, Familie Jensen by Edgar Hoyen. Here Chambers returns to an earlier theme—the woman with a past and her subsequent rejection by society. It opened in New York in March 1902 at the Bijou Theatre with Amelia Bingham in the lead role, playing for 73 performances.

    An apparently different play, specifically written (it was claimed by George Musgrove) by Haddon Chambers for the Australian musical comedy star Nellie Stewart, called Dolores, made its première at the Theatre Royal in Sydney in July 1903. Not lasting long there, it was toured throughout Australia. In reality, Dolores was A Modern Magdalen.Clearly, Nellie Stewart was not enamoured of Mr Chambers, complaining in her memoirs that an agreement was made with the playwright for a series of new plays for Nellie, none of which was forthcoming. She described him as a ‘casual Australian’. Perhaps Haddon was not amused. Around the same time, there were reports that A Modern Magdalenhad been translated into French for the great actress Sarah Bernhardt, but this does not seem to have come to anything. A Modern Magdalenwas made into a movie in Hollywood in 1915 starring Lionel Barrymore and Cathrine Countiss.

    His next adaptation, The Younger Mrs Parling opened at the Park Theater in Boston in November 1903 with Annie Russell in the lead role, and then ran for 36 performances at the Garrick in New York. It was from Le Détour by Henri Bernstein, and again took up the cause of the ‘fallen woman’—‘a mixture of Ibsen and Dumas fils,’ said the New York Times. Mauled by the American critics, it never reached the stage in London.

    The Thief was adapted by Chambers, again from the French of Henri Bernstein, and opened in September 1907 again at the Lyceum in New York (a major hit, running for 281 performances), with the English actor, Kyrle Bellew, as Richard Voysin and Margaret Illington as his wife. Bellew had toured Australia twice with the radiant Mrs Brown Potter in the 1890s and had prospected (and acted) on the goldfields of Victoria twenty years earlier.

    The version of The Thief which ran at the St James’s Theatre in London (opening 12 November 1907 with George Alexander and Irene Vanbrugh) was by Cosmo Gordon Lennox. Haddon Chambers’ adaptation was not performed in England until June 1927, when it was given by the repertory company at the Playhouse in Broadstairs, Kent.

    Chambers adapted Suzanne from a Belgian comedy, Le Mariage de Mademoiselle Beulemans, by Frantz Fonson and Ferdinand Wicheler. It was produced at the Lyceum in New York by Charles Frohman, opening in December 1910, with Billie Burke (Suzanne), Julian L’Estrange and George W. Anson in leading roles. It ran for 64 performances.

    The last of these adaptations, Tante, was from a best-selling novel by Anne Douglas Sedgwick. Another Frohman production, it was tried out at the Apollo in Atlantic City in October 1913 before opening at the Empire in New York, where it ran for 79 performances with Ethel Barrymore in the lead role of the artist, Madame Okraska. The New York Times described it as a work of ‘exceptional adroitness’ with ‘splendid characterisation’. It opened at the Haymarket in London as The Impossible Womanin September 1914 with Lillah McCarthy (running for 89 performances) and under that title was made into a British film with Constance Collier in 1919.

    Breaking with Melba

    It seems that Haddon Chambers’ relationship with Nellie Melba came to a halt at some time during the period around 1906-08. Some saw it as an abrupt break. In his memoirs, Henry Russell says: ‘For reasons that I never understood and which he never explained, he suddenly ceased to be persona grata to her.’ He goes on to speculate that Haddon ‘found her a trifle too exigent from time to time’, seeming to imply that he dropped her, which I doubt. Exigent had been a word he had used in The Tyranny of Tears to describe the manipulative wife. ‘His infatuation lasted longer than hers, and she had a lot of trouble in getting rid of him,’ wrote Melba’s early biographer, Percy Colson.

    One possibility is that the breach stemmed from difficulties surrounding the royalties committed to Chambers by Melba from her early recordings (one shilling per record sold in America). Melba’s first recordings, made at her home in Great Cumberland Place in March and April of 1904, came after long periods of separation from Haddon and this may be a second issue. He was at the carriage door at Euston Station as she left in July 1902 for her first tour of Australia after sixteen years in Europe and she toured frequently in the succeeding years.

    A third possible contributing factor is that Haddon’s estranged wife, Marie, died in November 1904, so ironically he was at last legally free. And, of course, his reputed philandering ways may have had something to do with the breakdown. Ann Blainey suggests that Melba’s affections switched to the Australian flautist, John Lemmoné. In March 1904 Haddon copied out in his own hand a triolet (eight-line verse) that rehearses whimsically the heroic absences of men and the inconstancy of women:

    ‘Glory calls me – I must go!’

       Said the lover to his lady:

    Noble words were those, I trow.

       ‘Glory calls me – I must go.’

    Back he came: another beau

       Toying with her tresses shady:

    ‘Glory calls me – I must go!’

       Said the lover to his lady.

    In fact, the verse was not by Chambers, but had been first published in the 24 November 1883 issue of The Bulletin in Sydney as the work of VJD (Irish-Australian poet, Victor Daley). Clearly, it had some enduring meaning for Haddon.

    Sadly, Haddon Chambers is not mentioned either in the first biography of the diva (Melba: A Biographyof 1909 by Agnes G Murphy), which was virtually dictated to the writer by Melba, or in her ‘official’ autobiography, Melodies and Memoriesof 1925, which was ghost-written by Beverley Nichols.

    Between 1903 and 1906 Haddon wrote two original new plays, The Golden Silence and Sir Anthony, neither of them enjoying any great success. A third, The Head of the Family, seemingly not produced, perhaps unfinished, was written in partnership with the American, Paul Kester, who had a major hit on his hands at that time in England, America and Australia, Sweet Nell of Old Drury.

    The Golden Silence opened at the Garrick Theatre in London on 22 September 1903, running for 78 performances. The lead roles were taken by Violet Vanbrugh (Countess of Arlington) and Arthur Bourchier (Augustus Mapes), who also directed. At the première, Bourchier had a cool reception from the audience and at the close Haddon Chambers came forward, bowed, and was received with a chorus of groans.

    Sir Anthony, opened at the Savoy Theatre in New York on 19 November 1906, produced this time not by Frohman, but by Liebler & Co. It ran for only 16 performances, transferring to the Park Theatre in Boston. It opened successfully in London at Wyndham’s Theatre two years later (28 November 1908, 48 performances), and Max Beerbohm commented on ‘the extreme fidelity with which Mr Chambers has painted the class of people who are his theme … the lower-middle and middle-middle classes’. Perhaps Chambers’ satirising of British snobbery found a more ready response in London than it had in New York. Among the London cast were Weedon Grossmith and Nina Boucicault, and the Wyndham’s staging was co-produced by Frank Curzon and Chambers’ long-time associate in New York, Charles Frohman.

    Another Chambers project from 1905-06 that seems not to have reached the stage was a musical comedy, Mr Flame, created with the composer Bernard Rolt. Young and handsome, Rolt was primarily a composer of drawing-room ballads. He had become a close friend of Nellie and Haddon Chambers. The three of them had vacationed together with others in Italy in July 1904—first at a house party at Henry Russell’s villa at Stresa on Lake Maggiore, moving on to Venice, where Melba studied Madama Butterfly with Puccini, a role she never sang. In 1906, Haddon was living in ‘my new little house in Waverton Street’ in Mayfair.

    On 19 September 1908 Haddon Chambers participated in a ‘copyright’ performance of a new American operetta by Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom, The Prima Donna.Haddon read the lead male role. This happened at the Knickerbocker Theater in New York on 30 November with Fritzi Scheff as the prima donna.

    In 1910 Chambers was reportedly writing another musical comedy, The Best Girl, with music by John L. Golden, but this too does not seem to have come to anything.

    Late works

    Two of his last three plays, written immediately before and during the First World War, were admired and also successful at the box office.

    The basic idea for Passers-By of 1911 came to Chambers when he and a friend, the Gaiety actor, Paul Arthur, were walking home on a foggy night from the theatre in London. Chambers collided with a tramp, who apologised gracefully, so Chambers invited him home for supper. Dedicated to his own daughter, Margery, the play opened, well received, at Wyndham’s Theatre on 29 March with Irene Vanbrugh and Gerald du Maurier in the lead roles. It was to be one of the most successful new plays of the season with 163 performances.

    When a young gentleman of leisure, Peter Waverton, invites a tramp, Samuel Burns, out of the fog into his Piccadilly apartment for supper, his butler, Pine, complains at the upsetting of social hierarchy. Also out of the fog comes a distressed young mother, Margaret, the father of whose child, unbeknown to him, is Waverton.  Haddon Chambers’ proto-feminist attitudes can be gauged from the unmarried mother, Margaret: ‘You needn’t be embarrassed for me, Peter. I’m not ashamed and I’ve no remorse. He’s my child. I’ve won him and he’s mine only.’

    Irene Vanbrugh wrote in her memoirs: ‘I was to be Gerald du Maurier’s leading lady, an experience I had always wanted. This was in Passers-By by Haddon Chambers, a play with true sentiment, and Gerald’s special, very flexible, sensitive approach to his art delighted me … and kept the scenes between us alive.’ The theatre critic of The Times had a different view on the proceedings: ‘Mr Peter Waverton is not a real person, but the “sympathetic” personage in a sentimental play.’

    Passers-By opened on 14 September 1911 at the Criterion in New York, produced by Frohman, running for 124 performances. ‘Richard Bennett need not fear comparison with Gerald du Maurier,’ wrote the New York Times critic, ‘he has the variety, charm, naturalness, ease.’ It was twice made into silent movies in Hollywood (in 1916 and 1920), the earlier version with Chambers’ close friend, Charles Cherry. Cherry was also in the American stage productions of Tanteand The Great Pursuit.

    The rights for Australasia having been signed by J.C. Williamson, Passers-Bytoured extensively there from January to September 1912. The production opened at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne with Hilda Spong as Margaret. Spong had previously appeared in Haddon Chambers’ The Fatal Cardin Sydney seventeen years earlier in 1895. This was her first return to the Antipodes since that time, having established her reputation as a fine actor in Britain and America.

    After Melbourne, the Passers-Bycompany went to New Zealand (Auckland, Wanganui, New Plymouth, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington), returning to His Majesty’s in Brisbane, the Theatre Royal in Adelaide, the Town Hall in Kalgoorlie, His Majesty’s in Perth, the Princess in Bendigo, Her Majesty’s in Ballarat and finally the Theatre Royal in Sydney. In Melbourne and Sydney, Waverton was played by Harcourt Beatty, but on tour the part was taken by the American William Desmond.

    Less successful, The Great Pursuit of 1916 was put on at the Shubert Theatre in New York as a vehicle for the English actor, W. Graham Browne, with his starrier wife Marie Tempest taking a small role. It ran for 29 performances.

    Haddon Chambers’ last finished play, The Saving Grace of 1917, was a hit in London, running for 200 performances at the Garrick Theatre with Sir Charles Hawtrey in the lead role and the young Noel Coward as the juvenile lead (his first ‘grown-up part’). Haddon was at this time living (with valet Hogg) at 4 Aldford Street, off Park Lane, Mayfair—‘tiny but charmingly furnished … every room differently and delightfully decorated,’ according to John D. Williams. In New York (at the Empire again), The Saving Gracewas played to ecstatic reviews (‘amazing subtlety and distinction’) by the English actor, Cyril Maude. Chambers himself directed and the play ran on Broadway for 96 performances.

    It was brought to Sydney by Robert Courtneidge’s company, opening at the Tivoli in October 1920. Brisbane followed, where on 21 November, according to the Northern Herald: ‘A serious panic at His Majesty’s Theatre was narrowly averted … when about 150 university students raided the building and startled the audience … Many people thought there was a fire.’

    The central figure is Blinn Corbett, a penniless English army officer, who has run off with his commanding officer’s wife. Written past the mid-point of the war, millions of casualties having been sustained, but set at its outbreak, it seems astonishing that the enthusiasm to join up was still uppermost in men’s thinking. Nevertheless, The Saving Grace is tautly plotted with crackling, witty dialogue. ‘Haddon Chambers’ best,’ said the New York Times of its American première. Reviewing his long career, the piece continued:

    He has to his credit one of the small number of perfect comedies of manners in the language. The Tyranny of Tears, and a character romance of distinguished charm, Passers-By. The present play blends the acute actuality of the one with the kindly feeling of the other.

    And assessing the whole Haddon Chambers oevre, Michael R. Booth (in his English Plays of the Nineteenth Century) wrote:

    From the French they [English dramatists] absorbed the planned management of plot structure, the elimination of irrelevant material, and the careful subordination of means to ends. In Pinero and Jones French skills are generally applied to plays with many characters, a substantial plot, and an elaborate social setting. The Tyranny of Tears [and The Saving Grace] goes further: the characters are remarkably few in number; the plot is slight; and the setting is many miles, both literally and figuratively, from Mayfair.

    In his memoirs-article of 13 October 1918, ‘Thirty Years of Playwriting’, the fifty-six-year-old playwright described his sadness at losing over recent times so many of his closest friends, naming particularly Charles Frohman (who had drowned in the sinking of the Lusitaniaby a German submarine in May 1915), Herbert Beerbohm Tree (in 1917) and George Alexander (in 1918). He also mentioned in passing ‘certain war activities that I had been engaged upon.’ What these were remains unclear.

    If Nellie Melba had been Haddon Chambers’ closest woman friend, his closest male intimate in New York and London over a quarter of a century had been Charles Frohman. Around 1900 Chambers introduced Frohman to Marlow, which the producer fell in love with, regularly staying at the Compleat Angler inn by the river. Following the sinking of the Lusitaniain May 1915 in which Frohman was one of the 1,198 who died, Haddon said to the New York Times:

    Up and down [the High Street] Mr Frohman used to love to walk, dodging in and out of the stores, where he would purchase unconsidered trifles as an excuse for chatting with the shopkeepers.

    Chambers made the journey to the port of Queenstown (now Cobh) in County Cork, Ireland, in order to identify and retrieve the body, writing to his sister Agnes in Sydney:

    I went over to Queenstown with Lestocq, his London manager, to get Frohman’s body. We crossed the Irish Channel at night with all lights out on account of the German submarines … It was the saddest quest I was ever upon … We bore him to Liverpool and sent him to New York … Just before the ship went down he said to a girl friend of mine, who was fortunately saved, that ‘after all, death was only a beautiful adventure.’


    The Saving Grace is dedicated to his new love, Pepita. On 29 October 1920 he married the musical comedy star, Pepita Bobadilla. Haddon was 59, she 28. Although she was advertised as having been born in Ecuador, her real name was Nelly Louise Burton, born in Hamburg, the illegitimate daughter of an English mother and a German officer father.

    Haddon’s health declined and she took care of him until his death, apparently from stroke and heart disease, at 61 in London on 28 March 1921. There was a funeral service at St George’s Hanover Square in London—among the congregation Sir Arthur Pinero, Charles Hawtrey, Lady Wyndham and Lady Tree. He was buried at Marlow, where he had had some of his happiest times with another Nellie and with Charles Frohman.

    There is no evidence that he ever embraced the ministry of his Baptist parents or of the ‘Prince of Preachers’, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, after whom he had been named. The British playwright-actor Seymour Hicks (performing in Melbourne in 1924) discussed the death of Haddon Chambers with Melba at her house, Coombe Cottage at Coldstream:

    For a fellow countryman of hers, Haddon Chambers, she had the greatest admiration as an author, and was very fond of him as a man … Long after I had finished telling her all I could about her mutual friend, she sat silent, looking through the rose-covered pergolas of her lovely garden out into the bluest of blue Australian skies.

    Pepita had his final play, unfinished at his death, completed in 1922, acting in it herself at the Savoy Theatre in London. He had written The Card Players for her, but it was not a success. It opened on 26 April, running for 29 performances with Pepita (as Eileen Ashfield), produced by Dot Boucicault. The following year, she was to marry Sidney Reilly, the celebrated ‘Ace of Spies’—on his part bigamously (or even trigamously).

    Haddon had died intestate, effectively leaving everything to Pepita, although how much remained is unclear. In his biography of Reilly, Richard B Spence asserts that she inherited ‘an income of at least £2,000 a year’. This may have been true initially, but if it was based on ticket and book royalties, that amount would have declined rather precipitously as the years went by. Without any substantial supporting evidence, Spence also speculates that Pepita may have met Reilly earlier than she disclosed and that there may have been foul play involved in the sudden death of Haddon Chambers.

    Haddon’s friend, the American theatre director John D. Williams, in an appreciation of Chambers’ life in Century Magazine (December 1921), wrote that Haddon

    … publicly entertained two generations and privately fascinated hundreds of men and women of two worlds. He was irresistible as a companion, the chairman of the committee on fun, wherever he was, a fascinating magician in epigrams … a citizen of the world, at home wherever he found himself, but especially at his best as the play-boy of England and America.

    The younger writer Somerset Maugham wrote a less glamorous, somewhat bitchy remembrance in his A Writer’s Notebook following Haddon Chambers’ death:

    At the first glance he looked a youngish man, but presently you saw that in reality he was old, old … He had the reputation of a Don Juan, and this he valued much more than any that his plays had brought him … The only art in which he seemed at all interested was music … It exasperated him to have his best play, The Tyranny of Tears, ascribed to Oscar Wilde … I see him lounging at a bar, a dapper little man, chatting good-humouredly with a casual acquaintance of women, horses and Covent Garden opera, but with an air as though he were looking for someone who might at any moment come in at that door.

    Why have Haddon Chambers’ plays not (thus far) survived in performance, particularly in his home country? I think there are a number of reasons. Even in his own lifetime, his work was more successful in Britain and America than in Australia. Australian audiences have in modern times found it hard to take English high-society plays—though it must be said that Robert Brough ‘the greatest actor-manager Australia had known’, had made a career of just this in the late nineteenth century, introducing Australian audiences to Pinero, Oscar Wilde, J.M. Barrie, Jerome K. Jerome … and Haddon Chambers. Although he often talked about it, he never returned to Australia. This is a poor long-term career move if an artist wishes to be remembered there.

    It is clear that, with the exception of Wilde and Shaw, late Victorian and Edwardian plays were finally swept from British stages with the arrival of ‘kitchen sink’ in the 1950s. It took several decades before managements would risk them again. Gradually there has been a return, with actors and directors finding ways to make these plays speak to us now, prominent amongst them Pinero’s Trelawny of the ‘Wells’and The Second Mrs Tanqueray, and Harley Granville Barker’s The Voysey Inheritance and The Madras House.

    It remains ironic that, while eight of Haddon Chambers’ plays are now in print (2021),1 his work remains unexplored and unperformed. What of the remainder of the scripts? Most, if not all, reside in typescript form in the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship archive at the British Library.


    1. C. Haddon Chambers plays in print (2021): The Open Gate, Captain Swift, The Idler, The Tyranny of Tears, The Awakening, Sir Anthony, Passers-By, The Saving Grace


    Appendix: Plays by C. Haddon Chambers

    One of Them 1886 (one act); The Open Gate 1887 (one act); Captain Swift 1888; Devil Caresfoot1889 (adapted from Rider Haggard’s Dawn); The Idler 1890; Love and War 1891 (adapted from the French); The Honourable Herbert 1891; The Collaborators1892; The Queen of Manoa 1892 (with WO Tristram); The Old Lady 1892; The Pipe of Peace 1892; The Fatal Card (with RC Stephenson) 1894; John-a-Dreams 1894; Boys Together (with J Comyns Carr) 1896; In the Days of the Duke (with J Comyns Carr) 1897; The Tyranny of Tears 1899; Blue Roses 1901 (staged privately); The Awakening 1902 (adapted from the French); The Golden Silence 1903; The Head of the Family (with Paul Kester) 1903 (incomplete? not staged); A Modern Magdalen (adaptation) / Dolores 1902; The Younger Mrs Parling 1903; Sir Anthony 1906; The Thief 1907 (adapted from the French of Henri Bernstein); Suzanne 1910; The Best Girl 1910 (musical comedy with music by John L Golden) (incomplete? not staged); Passers-By 1911; Tante1913 (adapted from novel by Anne Douglas Sedgwick) / The Impossible Woman; The Great Pursuit 1916 (revision of The Idler?); The Saving Grace 1917; The Card Players 1922



    Stephen Alomes, When London Calls: The Expatriation of Australian Creative Artists to Britain, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999

    Ann Blainey, I am Melba: A biography, Black Inc., Melbourne, 2008

    Elleke Boehmer (ed), Empire Writing: An Anthology of Colonial Literature 1870-1918, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998

    Michael R. Booth (ed), English Plays of the Nineteenth Century: III Comedies, Oxford University Press, London, 1973

    Katharine Brisbane (ed), Entertaining Australia: The Performing Arts as Cultural History,Currency Press, Sydney, 1991

    Robin Bruce Lockhart, Reilly: Ace of Spies,Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1967

    Kate Carew, ‘Charles Frohman opens his heart at Kate Carew’s private confessional’, New York Tribune, 25 August 1912

    C. Haddon Chambers, ‘The American Producer who Lived at Marlow’, New York Times, 17 October 1915

    C. Haddon Chambers, ‘Thirty Years of Playwriting’, New York Times, 13 October 1918

    Percy Colson, Melba: An Unconventional Biography, Grayson & Grayson, London, 1932

    Noel Coward, Present Indicative, William Heinemann, London & Toronto, 1937

    Maisie Dubosarsky, ‘”Interesting, and unlike other people”: 19th-century popular Australian writers Haddon Chambers and Rosa Praed abroad’, BA honours thesis, University of Sydney, 2009

    Sarah Engledow, ‘Suave’, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, 2010

    John Hetherington, Melba: A Biography,Faber and Faber, London, 1967

    Seymour Hicks, Night Lights: Two Men Talk of Love and Ladies, Cassell, London, 1938

    Eric Irwin, Dictionary of Australian Theatre 1788-1914, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1985

    Isaac F. Marcosson and Daniel Frohman, Charles Frohman: Manager and Man,John Lane / The Bodley Head, 1915

    W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook,Heinemann, London, 1949

    Nellie Melba, Melodies and Memories,Thornton Butterworth, London, 1925

    Moran, William R (ed), Nellie Melba: A Contemporary Review, Greenwood, Westport CT, 1985

    Agnes G. Murphy, Melba: A Biography,Doubleday Page, New York, 1909

    Roger Neill, Legends: The Art of Walter Barnett, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, 2000

    Roger Neill, ‘Bertram Mackennal, patronage and the performing arts’, Bertram Mackennal, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007

    Roger Neill, ‘Melba: Melba’s First Recordings’, Historic Masters, London, 2008  

    Hesketh Pearson, Beerbohm Tree: His Life and Laughter, Methuen, London, 1956

    Margot Peters, Mrs Pat: The Life of Mrs Patrick Campbell,Hamish Hamilton, London, 1984

    Leslie Rees, The Making of Australian Drama: A Historical and Critical Survey from the 1830s to the 1970s,Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973

    George Rowell, The Victorian Theatre: A Survey, Oxford University Press, London, 1956

    Russell, Henry, The Passing Show,Thornton Butterworth, London, 1926

    Elizabeth Schafer, ‘A tale of two Australians: Haddon Chambers, Gilbert Murray and the imperial London stage’ in Playing Australia: Australian theatre and the international stage (Vol 9 Australian playwights),Rodopi, Amsterdam-New York, 2003

    Richard B. Spence, Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly,Feral House, Los Angeles, 2002

    Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, John Sands, Sydney, 1923

    J.C. Trewin, The Edwardian Theatre,Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1976

    Irene Vanbrugh, To Tell My Story, Hutchinson, London, 1948

    Pamela Vestey, Melba: A Family Memoir, Phoebe, Melbourne, 1996

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890-1899, 1900-1909, 1910-1919, Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland, 2014

    Peter Whitebrook, William Archer: A Biography, Methuen, London, 1993

    John D. Williams, ‘A Play-Boy of Two Worlds’, Century Magazine, New York, December 1921

    A.E. Wilson, Edwardian Theatre, Arthur Barker, London, 1951 



    With grateful thanks for help of all kinds:

    Elisabeth Kumm of Theatre Heritage Australia; Pamela Botha, Melbourne; Christine Chambers, great-niece of Haddon Chambers, Little River, California; Maisie Dubosarsky Fieschi, Paris; Christine Egan, Fort Street School Archives, Petersham; Kathryn Johnson, the British Library; Tony Locantro, Barking; John Wilson, Cheltenham; Sophie Wilson, King’s Sutton; Keith Windschuttle, Quadrant, Sydney; Theatre Museum, University of Bristol

    © Roger Neill 2021


    This is an expanded, revised text, now with illustrations, of an essay originally published in Quadrant magazine, July-August 2008 (with kind permission),

  • The Comedy Theatre: Melbourne's most intimate playhouse (Part 3)

    IMG 1757 sunscreen again

    From 1928, when it first opened its doors, the Comedy Theatre established itself as Melbourne's premier playhouse, perfectly suited to the staging of drawing room comedies and intense dramas. In Part 3 of the Comedy Theatre story, RALPH MARSDON focusses on the years 1928 to 1960.

    The biggest successof the theatre’s first years was a four-month season by British husband and wife stars Dion Boucicault Jr and Irene Vanbrugh, beginning on 21 July. Their repertoire, which occasionally echoed that of the old Brough–Boucicault company, included plays by Pinero, A.A. Milne and Frederick Lonsdale—notably a first Australian production of Lonsdale’s On Approval on 20 October.

    The arrival of sound films and the imminent Great Depression made 1929 the first of several patchy years. But the attractions included seasons by the reigning imported dramatic favourite Leon Gordon, English actor Lewis Shaw starring in John Van Druten’s then sensational Young Woodley, and a short revival of Sweet Nell of Old Drury with the beloved Nellie Stewart.

    Spanish-American comic actor Leo Carrillo interrupted the beginning of a busy Hollywood career to star in Lombardi Limited from 29 February 1930. This ran until mid April when Nellie Stewart, together with her daughter Nancye and son-in-law Mayne Lynton, starred in Edward Sheldon’s Romance. 1930 also saw seasons by English actor William Faversham and American actress Edith Taliaferro. The Firm was not too proud to refuse a six-night lease for the Victorian Amateur Boxing and Wrestling Championships early in September either. But the longest running single attraction of the period was St. John Irvine’s play, The First Mrs Fraser, which notched up 67 performances from 26 December—a very good run for the times.

    Gregan McMahon and his repertory players first came to the Comedy on 17 March 1931. McMahon, who also directed more commercial fare for The Firm, had entered into an arrangement for the use of their theatres when they fell vacant and his group were frequent occupants of the Comedy throughout the 1930s. Their first offering was a comedy called Yellow Sands which featured McMahon and rising local actress Coral Brown(e). This was followed by Galsworthy’s The Roof. Each play ran for five nights.

    British actor Frank Harvey in a couple of Edgar Wallace thrillers interspersed with Galsworthy’s Loyalties held the stage for two months from 4 April 1931 and returned for another month in September. Prior to this came a short run of the comedy A Warm Corner, whose cast included Ethel Morrison, Cecil Kellaway, Campbell Copelin and Coral Brown(e), who also supported Harvey in his later season.

    Nellie Bramley and her company, with their policy of weekly change popular drama, came to the Comedy on 26 March 1932 but transferred to the Palace after three weeks, leaving the theatre dark—apart from short runs by McMahon’s Players—for the rest of that year. 1933 was equally bleak, beginning with a couple of transfers from the King’s, including a fortnight of the Athene Seyler–Nicholas Hannen season from 15 April. A short-lived Ben Travers farce, A Bit of a Test, followed this but for the rest of the year the theatre was used only by amateurs.

    1934 brought some improvement, with the Melbourne premiere of Ivor Novello’s Fresh Fields on 18 May. Then came a popular thriller, Ten Minute Alibi, followed by a light comedy, The Wind and the Rain. Both of these starred Englishman George Thirlwell and Australia’s Jocelyn Howarth in a run totalling fourteen weeks from 25 August. The Russian Ballet, transferring from the King’s, ended the year with a week-long run from Christmas Eve.

    A trio of modern comedies got 1935 off to a moderate start but other offerings petered out by early April and returned only fitfully towards the end of the year. From 11 January 1936 The Firm bowed to the inevitable and reopened the Comedy as a cinema screening first releases and revivals, beginning with a British double bill comprising The Constant Nymph and Man of Aran.

    This policy continued over the next three years with only occasional interruptions for live attractions. Notable plays and players in this period were a month long run of Emlyn Williams’ thriller, Night Must Fall, from 15 February 1936; famous American impressionist Ruth Draper in a series of character sketches for a month from 16 May 1938; British silent film star Betty Balfour in a comedy called Personal Appearance for a fortnight from 20 August 1938; another month-long run for a thriller called Black Limelight from 8 April 1939; and American stage and screen actor Ian Keith in Libel during August 1939. It was also in this year that the bronze plaque honouring George Coppin was installed in the Comedy’s foyer. Unveiled by his daughter Lucy on 26 March, it was dedicated to ‘The Hon. George Selth Coppin, Philanthropist and Father of the Theatre in Victoria’.

    The Comedy switched to foreign film revivals in March 1940 but from 14 September British actress Marie Ney was starred in the thriller Ladies in Retirement for six weeks; she returned from the King’s for the last three weeks of Private Lives on 23 December. Also notable in 1940 was a two-night debut season by the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company on 9 and 10 December—the very first presentation of ballet in Australia by a locally nurtured company.

    March–April 1941 saw the last seasons by the Gregan McMahon Players. McMahon himself died only a few months later in August—but immediately following came a fresh lease of life for the Comedy when JCW entered into an arrangement with David N. Martin to present a series of plays from his Minerva Theatre in Sydney. These began with Room for Two, a comedy starring Marjorie Gordon and Hal Thompson, which ran for a month from 12 April 1941. This was followed by another comedy, Susan and God, which also starred Gordon, and ran for a then record 228 performances from 17 May.

    Polished British actor Edwin Styles was the resident star for almost a year from 4 April 1942, beginning in the comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner, which ran for 161 performances. This was followed by Robert’s Wife, a comedy drama by St. John Irvine, Daphne Du Maurier’s romantic drama Rebecca, and Robert Sherwood’s romantic comedy, Reunion in Vienna. These and other Minerva attractions employed such rising or established local talents as Dick Bentley, Aileen Britten, Letty Craydon, Keith Eden, Claude Flemming, Sheila Helpman(n), Lloyd Lamble, Hal Lashwood, John McCallum, Muriel Steinbeck and Bettina Welch.

    The classic black farce Arsenic and Old Lace was the first fresh attraction of 1943, and was followed by the comedy My Sister Eileen and Lillian Hellman’s drama, Watch on the Rhine. On 12 November came a second, month long season by the Borovansky Ballet and, from 11 December, Kiss and Tell. This very successful F. Hugh Herbert comedy had run close to 200 performances when it was ‘suspended until further notice’ by an Actors Equity strike on 26 March 1944. This was the first major industrial action taken by actors in Australia and was resolved after three weeks with victory for the strikers and the adoption of compulsory union membership for the profession. Kiss and Tell resumed on 10 June 1944 and went on to establish an all-time record for a straight play at the Comedy, with a run of 414 performances.

    Edwin Styles returned for another long stay on 23 December 1944 in The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse, which ran until 11 April 1945 and was followed by Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit which played even more successfully, until 7 September. A short break from the middlebrow, mostly lightweight fare now familiar at the Comedy came on 5 April 1946 when The Firm presented Doris Fitton and her Independent Theatre company from Sydney in Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. All thirteen acts of this American adaptation of classic Greek tragedy were played out for twelve nights between 6.30 pm. and 11 pm, with a twenty-minute interval at 8 pm.

    Australian-based international stage stars Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott opened at the Comedy on 17 August 1946 in three Noël Coward one-acters, Ways and Means, Family Albumand Shadow Play and played profitably until 14 December. Following them came the Kiwis, an all-male New Zealand wartime concert party company formed in Egypt in 1941. Now sponsored by The Firm, the Kiwis opened on 20 December 1946 in Alamein, the first of three fast moving revues. On 16 August 1947 this was replaced by a second revue called Tripoli and on 10 January 1948 came Benghazi. On the following 20 November came a ‘farewell’—a compendium of all three shows—which ran until 6 January 1949. In total the Kiwis played for a phenomenal 867 consecutive performances—an all-time record for an individual attraction at the Comedy.

    Plays returned on 8 January 1949 with Garson Kanin’s comedy, Born Yesterday, followed by a London success, Fly Away Peter, then an American farce called Separate Rooms. All these did well but the stellar highlight of the year was British comic actor Robert Morley opposite Sophie Stewart in his own play, Edward, My Son, from 2 December—the first of Morley’s many successful Australian visits.

    After this came the Australian premiere of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire on 18 February 1950—appropriately enough a summer night of overpowering heat in the as yet un-airconditioned Comedy. American actor Arthur Franz starred as Stanley Kowalski in this rare venture by JCW into serious modern American drama which paid off with a run of more than three months.

    Not quite as successful was Harvey, the American comedy that followed, despite the presence of famed wide-mouthed American film comedian Joe E. Brown. From 12 August The Firm took another gamble with a Doris Fitton production—an American musical fantasy called Dark of the Moon. Some six weeks later this made way for the hit of the year, the R.F. Delderfield wartime farce, Worm’s Eye View, which ran exactly six months from 30 September with British immigrants William Hodge and Gordon Chater in the casts.

    British husband and wife stars Evelyn Laye and Frank Lawton began a four month season on 12 May 1951 in Daphne Du Maurier’s September Tide and John Van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle, F. Hugh Herbert’s comedy, The Moon is Blue, which followed, had a reputation for raciness at the time but was only moderately well received during its ten weeks from 14 September.

    From 5 December 1951 the Comedy housed its first ever Shakespearian season when John Alden’s Australian company arrived with a repertoire beginning and ending with King Lear, which ran until 29 March 1952. The hit show of that year was Seagulls Over Sorrento, a farce by Australian author Hugh Hastings, which brought back William Hodge as star and chalked up 221 performances from 5 April, The Kiwis also returned after this and their two new revues again did excellent business, with a combined run of over six months to 24 April 1953.

    Frederick Knott’s Dial M For Murder, gripped Comedy audiences for four months from 30 April and although Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, which came next, closed after five weeks, a third William Hodge hit followed this: Reluctant Heroes, another services farce, running seven months to 5 May 1954. The rest of that year saw Dear Charles, a comedy with Sophie Stewart and Clement McCallin, doing well with a run of over five months. But a revival of White Cargo and a new Australian play, Pommy (again with Bill Hodge) did poorly and the end of the year saw Hodge in the perennial Charley’s Aunt.

    On 12 February 1955 Googie Withers and John McCallum made their first duo appearance in Australia in a comedy called Simon and Laura. They followed this on 14 May with Terence Rattigan’s drama, The Deep Blue Sea, ending this first of their many successful Comedy seasons on 9 July. A couple of American comedies that failed to draw preceded what many considered the artistic highlight of the year—Judith Anderson in her American success, Medea, on 20 December—the first presentation at the Comedy by the recently formed Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT).

    Sailor Beware, another services farce, held the Comedy stage between 18 January and 5 May 1956 and on 12 June came a second AETT drama season lasting nine weeks, the highlight of which was a revival of the original production of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll with Lawler himself in the cast. British husband and wife Roger Livesey and Ursula Jeans starred in William Douglas Home’s comedy The Reluctant Debutante for over five months from 25 August 1956 while 4 February 1957 brought another successful expatriate, Leo McKern in The Rainmaker—although the play itself failed to please.

    Nor did Janus the comedy which followed, despite the presence of British star Jessie Matthews, nor the next, Double Image, a thriller with British actor Emrys Jones. Although only introduced late in 1956, the popularity of television was already taking effect and the days of four or five month runs for often routine plays were coming to an end.

    Another AETT presentation arrived on 23 July 1957: British actor Paul Rogers in Vanburgh’s The Relapse, and Hamlet, with a local cast including Zoe Caldwell as Ophelia, which played alternate weeks until 28 August. Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden, with the distinguished Dame Sybil Thorndike and Sir Lewis Casson, ran for over three months from 31 August. Not so fortunate for The Firm was a prize-winning local play, The Multi Coloured Umbrella, which had been a success when first produced at the Little Theatre but closed here after three weeks.

    An undisputed money-spinner was Luisillo and his Spanish Dance Theatre, beginning the first of several Comedy seasons on 11 March 1958. On 22 April another Australian play sponsored by the AETT, Richard Benyon’s The Shifting Heart was well received prior to a London production, with an eight week run to 18 June. Eight-week runs were also scored by expatriate star Robert Helpmann in Noël Coward’s Nude with Violin and Edwin Styles and Sophie Stewart in Not In the Book. The end of the year brought For Amusement Only, an English revue starring rising locals Toni Lamond, Tikki Taylor, John Newman and Frank Sheldon.

    Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was revived for five weeks from 31 January 1959 and was followed by Googie Withers and John McCallum (now also The Firm’s assistant managing director) in Roar Like a Dove for nine weeks. John Alden’s Shakespeare company also returned on 12 June, with Scottish actor John Laurie as King Lear the highlight of the season, and on 12 September came the premiere of Ray Lawler’s new play, The Piccadilly Bushman. This failed to repeat the success of The Doll during its eight week run and the end of year attractions were British husband and wife Muriel Pavlow and Derek Farr in The Gazebo and Odd Man In for a total of three months to 23 February 1960.

    In his autobiography, Life with Googie, John McCallum recalls working at the Comedy about this time in a ‘near-perfect set-up…for running a theatre circuit. Head office was on the second floor...with the Accounts department above it and Publicity below. Across the road was the flagship of the circuit, Her Majesty’s Theatre, behind which were the workshops and paint-frames, rehearsal rooms, wardrobe, laundry and dry cleaning, scene dock and stores... And so it was possible, in the course of a few minutes’ walk, to check on the exact state of any production in preparation.’



    To be continued