Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part three)

Welcome to the third and final part of our mini series exploring all things musical in Special Collections & Archives – just in time for Kent’s Summer Music Week! Today we’re stepping into the modern age with pantomime and stand-up comedy; what more could you want on this glorious Thursday?

Pantomime: celebrity, pop culture and the power of music in storytelling

Just as melodrama and popular Victorian entertainments use music in conjunction with other theatrical effects, so pantomime develops the use of music with visual storytelling even further. At Kent, our pantomime material can be found in the incredible David Drummond Pantomime Collection alongside lots of material in our previously mentioned Melville and Pettingell archives.

Programme for Drury Lane Theatre's 1899/1900 Pantomime 'Jack and the Beanstalk' with photograph of star Miss Mabel Nelson

Programme for Drury Lane Theatre’s 1899/1900 Pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Pantomime’s links with music go all the way back to its origins in the 16th century ‘commedia dell’arte’ Italian entertainment with stock characters; when the stories initially began to appear on the British stage in the 18th century performances would have no speech at all – just music. (This was in part due to theatre licensing regulations restricting the use of speech in performances, overturned by the Theatres Act in 1843.) Fast forward to the 19th century and pantomime became an incredibly lavish affair for many theatres, particularly for London’s Drury Lane theatre which became known for its elaborate, expensive performances which lasted as long as five hours!

Cover for sheet music of 'Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera' with five illustrations

Cover for sheet music of ‘Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Sheet music from 'Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera'

Sheet music from ‘Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Music, of course, is one of the most consistently integral parts of the pantomime genre, from libretti (which you could often buy as a souvenir of the performance) to audience participation. Many songs used in pantomime are familiar to their audiences and often have lyrics rewritten for a particular show. Sometimes theatregoers are encouraged to sing along and participate, with the music helping to give pantomimes a very two-way performance between its stars and the audience.

Poster for the pantomime 'Sleeping Beauty' at the Manchester Palace theatre starring comedians Morecambe and Wise (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Manchester Palace theatre starring comedians Morecambe and Wise (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime 'Aladdin' at the London Palladium theatre, starring Danny La Rue (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime ‘Aladdin’ at the London Palladium theatre, starring Danny La Rue (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Today, we generally associate pantomime with famous stars – but did you know this, too, has musical links? In the 19th century music hall stars began to join pantomime performances – partly to bring in new, younger audiences and partly to add some celebrity glamour to the show! This trend has continued through the 20th century and up to today, with debates about whether this ‘ruins’ pantomime ever-present.

The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive: the next evolution of music hall and challenges for archivists

We couldn’t finish a tour of all things musical without stopping in at the 20th/21st century wonder that is our British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (known as BSUCA for short because we all love an acronym). Created in 2015 and funded through the University’s Beacon projects to celebrate Kent’s 50th birthday, six years later BSUCA contains over 30 different collections and it’s still growing.

What’s particularly brilliant about BSUCA is that for an archive about what initially appears to be a fairly niche subject, it packs one heck of a research punch. Topics it covers include the history of performance, artists and venues, Thatcher’s Britain and the miner’s strike, protest, counter-culture, publishing, audience interaction, celebrity and much more. So – are you surprised that it’s also a great source for all things musical? You shouldn’t be!

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective (Andy de la Tour Collection, BSUCA/AT/3)

Stand-up comedy as a genre has its roots in both popular performance and variety. Tony Allen’s stand-up comedy developed in part during his time with the Rough Theatre group, whose plays included rewritten gags from music hall shows. The Alternative Cabaret collective (which included Tony Allen, Alexei Sayle, Jim Barclay and Andy de la Tour) performed shows that lasted several hours and included musicians and comedians working together. The links between music hall and stand-up don’t end there: CAST New Variety, a left-wing theatre company founded by Roland and Claire Muldoon, was also responsible for helping to save the Hackney Empire music hall in late 1986 by using it for gigs.

Poster for CAST New Variety night entitled 'Reds under the bed', 1985 (

Poster for CAST New Variety night entitled ‘Reds under the bed’, 1985 (Linda Smith Collection, BSUCA/LS/3/1/1)

When the 1980s Comic Strip group began performing, academic Olly Double notes that several publications compared their gigs as doing to comedy what punk did for the music world (2020, pp.32 – 33). This comparison is further strengthened by the fact that they released an LP:

The Comic Strip poster, 1980

Poster, 1980. Originally a venue, The Comic Strip collective quickly embarked on a national tour, released an LP and produced TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…” (Arnold Brown Collection, BSUCA/AB/2/1)

All of this music inevitably leads us to questions about how we look after such material. Caring for music archives is a lot of fun but it can be tricky! Fortunately preserving most paper-based material such as song sheets and play scripts is a relatively straightforward process (acid free boxes + stable temperature and humidity = happy collections). However, audiovisual material (LPs, videos, CDs, cassette tapes) is generally incredibly sensitive to environmental changes not to mention the rapid development of technology that renders media obsolete relatively quickly. So for us, managing audiovisual material is one of our key priorities at the moment; it involves knowing what material we have and in which formats and then working to prioritise items most at risk. You can read more about how we transfer collections from audiovisual to digital here.

One thing is certain though: these days music is just a big a part of our culture as it’s ever been, whether we listen to the radio, stream music online, or enjoy it as part of live performance. And as long as it continues to be such a large influence on our lives, we’ll continue to collect material on how it’s used in popular culture!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

Pantomime:

Anderson, Gillian B. “Synchronized Music: The Influence of Pantomime on Moving Pictures.” Music and the Moving Image, vol. 8, no. 3, 2015, pp. 3–39. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/musimoviimag.8.3.0003. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Mitchell, G. (2017). ‘Mod Movement in Quality Street Clothes’: British Popular Music and Pantomime, 1955–75. New Theatre Quarterly, 33(3), 254-276. doi:10.1017/S0266464X17000306

‘The Story of Pantomime’ at the V&A Museum: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-story-of-pantomime

BSUCA:

Double, Oliver. Alternative Comedy : 1979 and the Reinvention of British Stand-Up, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/kentuk/detail.action?docID=6120964.

Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part two)

Welcome to part two of our mini series exploring all things musical in Special Collections & Archives – just in time for Kent’s Summer Music Week! Today we’re delving into all things Boucicault and Melville and having a look at some of the amazing art held in the British Cartoon Archive…

Theatre collections part two: Boucicault’s brilliant box-office hits

Ah, Boucicault. The great thing about theatre people is that their history is just as interesting as their works, and the Victorian playwright’s life really is no exception. Bankruptcy? Tick! Extravagant legal battles over copyright of his works? Tick! Affairs and scandal? Tick!

Title page of a Penny Pictorial edition of Dion Boucicault's play The Colleen Bawn, showing the famous drowning scene

Title page of a Penny Pictorial copy of the play “The Colleen Bawn” by Dion Boucicault, undated (PETT BND 126.33)

Front cover of a Penny Pictorial Play Book of 'The Colleen Bawn' by Dion Boucicault, featuring a colour illustration of a scene from the play.

Front cover of a Penny Pictorial Play Book of ‘The Colleen Bawn’ by Dion Boucicault, featuring a colour illustration of a scene from the play (BOUC/PHO/0648577)

Drama aside (if that’s possible), Boucicault was arguably one of the most popular writers in the nineteenth century. His plays were immensely popular, in part because they nearly always contained a visual spectacle designed to draw audiences to the box office. In an age before movies and TV, it was a pretty thrilling thing to see – for example – someone nearly drowning in a cave, almost being run over by a train, or a burning house – on stage literally in front of your eyes. But what is possibly less well known about Boucicault is how he was one of the first playwrights to incorporate music specifically written for his works in the theatre; in The Colleen Bawn, not only does the music play alongside dialogue but it actually changes with each line. The music itself was so popular that it was still being loaned out over twenty years after the play was first staged in 1860.

Cover for sheet music accompanying the play "The Colleen Bawn" by Dion Boucicault, c.1861, featuring the famous drowning scene

Cover for sheet music accompanying the play “The Colleen Bawn” by Dion Boucicault, c.1861          (CALB/COL/MUS/LDN ADL/F190364)

Boucicault’s use of music in his melodramas also massively helped ease critics into greater support for orchestras on the ‘proper’ theatre stage, showing that drama could extend beyond well-written words into a more complete theatre experience.

The British Cartoon Archive: more than just politics

Our British Cartoon Archive is best known for its vast collection of social and political cartoons across the 19th and 20th centuries, so it’s hardly a surprise to discover that music pops up fairly regularly as well. A quick search on our catalogue for ‘music’ returns 146 results! Sometimes music and entertainment is a beautiful hark back to previous times, like in this David Low cartoon from 1954 where the current political situation is reimagined as a music hall variety night:

Cartoon by David Low comparing the current political situation to a night of music hall entertainment

“Music-hall situation” by David Low in The Manchester Guardian (28 May 1954, LSE4654)

 

Occasionally nursery rhymes become mischievously reimagined for contemporary comment, such as in Leslie Illingworth’s retelling of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’:

Cartoon by Leslie Illingworth showing Harold Macmillan as a shepherd in a field of sheep, with one black sheep leaping off to the side

“He’s a poor little lamb who has lost his way, Baa! Baa! Baa!
The little black sheep who has gone astray, Baa! Baa! Baa!
Gentleman Tory off on a spree, D—-d from here to eternity,
Lord have mercy on such as he, Baa! Baa! Baa!
With acknowledgments and apologies to the Whiffenpoof song, published by the Magna Music Co. Ltd.” (Leslie Illingworth, 21 March 1962 for the Daily Mail, ILW3486)

The most regular culprits are – of course – the early 20th century cartoonist W.K. Haselden and the wonderful Carl Giles. For Haselden, whose work in the Daily Mirror tended to look at societal changes as well as political events and wars, the inclusion of music is hardly a leap. Famous for his sketches of actors in Punch and repeated forays into women’s fashion and roles in society, music is another way in which Haselden pokes fun at everyday people and trends:

Cartoon by W.K. Haselden showing the different types of music that would entertain railway commuters

“Music for the Railway travellers” by W.K. Haselden, published in the Daily Mirror on 04 October 1907 and 20 September 1911 (WH0614)

Cartoon by W.K. Haselden showing the excesses of combining musical performance with food

“Music at meals: Meals at music – a parallel” by W.K. Haselden, published in the Daily Mirror on 17 March 1914 and 19 February 1918 (WH0895)

In Carl Giles’ world music is somewhat of a nuisance, especially when it comes to small children attempting to avoid piano lessons:

Cartoon by Carl Giles showing the many different places toffees can be hidden to distract from piano lessons

“IN THE GILES FAMILY there is a theory among the children that the more toffee they get on the piano the quicker they get their music lessons over – you press one note and they all go down together. I offer this simple sweets-are-now-off-the-ration guide to parents who, during the more or less sweet-free years, may have forgotten the trouble spots.” (Carl Giles, 7 February 1953 for the Daily Express, GA0825)

Music is also a huge source of mischief in Carl Giles’ land, as seen by this 1959 cartoon:

Cartoon by Carl Giles showing a group of soldiers being told off for inserting a mischievous page of music into the official performance

“It is reported that during band practice for the forthcoming visit by Chancellor Adenauer you did wilfully insert one page of ‘Colonel Bogey’ into the band’s music for ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’.” – Carl Giles for the Sunday Express, 15 November 1959 (GA1601)

As you are probably aware, our British Cartoon Archive is such a vast, wide-ranging collection that it’s definitely worth an hour of your time exploring all things musical via the online catalogue. Have fun!

Theatre collections part three: enter the Melvilles stage right

One of the many SC&A hills I am prepared to die on is this: the Melville family, whose complete archives we hold, is criminally underrated in the theatre history world and more people should know about them and love their work. A dynasty of thespians (you can find a brief Twitter-friendly summary of them here), the Melvilles managed several important theatres (including the Theatre Royal Brighton, the Lyceum and the Prince’s / Shaftesbury in London) at the turn of the 19th /  early 20th century. But their love of all things drama extended far beyond managing as they wrote and acted in plays as well.

Image containing sepia-toned photographs of the Melville family

Image containing sepia-toned photographs of the Melville family

The Melvilles are probably best known for their Bad Woman plays, popular in the early 20th century. The Bad Woman plays are interesting in several ways: they became well known during a time when melodrama as a genre was beginning to wane in theatres, but they also spoke to concerns in early Edwardian society – particularly the role of women during the suffrage movement, when demands for equal rights and pay were becoming ever louder.

Black and white postcard photograph publicising 'The Bad Girl of the Family' by Frederick Melville, and showing a scene from the play

Black and white postcard photograph publicising ‘The Bad Girl of the Family’ by Frederick Melville, and showing a scene from the play, c.1909 (MEL/PUBMA/123: 0699937e)

The Melvilles tapped into these concerns and used the melodrama genre to address middle and lower-working class fears about ‘New Women’ disrupting society. As a genre, melodramas always play out social issues on stage before resolving them neatly and the Bad Woman plays did just this, creating unruly female leads who eventually gave up their misbehaving antics to settle down. Music played a huge role in the melodramatic genre; it became integral to the performance, making speech and gestures more extravagant and heightening emotion and meaning throughout.

Music from the Dion Boucicault play 'The Octoroon', adapted by the Melville family

Music from the Dion Boucicault play ‘The Octoroon’, adapted by the Melville family (MEL 70)

Alongside the Bad Woman plays the Melvilles worked extensively on a huge range of popular stories, rewriting them for their audiences. We have over 240 play texts from the Melvilles in our archives (view a list of titles here) and many of them contain the original scores for the performances. These plays ranged from pantomimes to contemporary stories, such as First World War dramas (‘The Female Hun’ notably includes sheet music for the German ‘Hymn of Hate’). The amount of music in the Melville archive is also documented through an entire section of the archive catalogue.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

Boucicault collections:

Fuhrmann, C. Between Opera and Musical: Theatre Music in Early Nineteenth-Century London. In Gordon, R. and Jubin, O. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988747.013.2

Pisani, M. (2004). Music for the theatre: Style and function in incidental music. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 70-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.005

Melvilles:

Mayer, D. (2004). Encountering melodrama. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 145-163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.009

Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part one)

June is finally here! The sun is out (well, mostly), lockdown restrictions are starting to lift a bit here in the UK and – most importantly – it’s time for one of our favourite University events of the year: Summer Music Week. Kent’s brilliant Music department annually hosts a series of concerts to celebrate the end of the academic year, and in these strangest of times we need music more than ever.

We’ve collaborated with Kent’s music programme many times before and our links are incredibly strong – there are so many forms of music in our collections! So to celebrate this year’s concerts, we thought we’d put together a brief chronology of some of the musical highlights in our stores…

Pre-1700s collection: Psalms, prayers and printed hymns

Our Pre-1700s collection is a real treasure trove of items, ranging from some of the most important printed books in the literary canon (looking at you, Johnson’s First Folio) to travel narratives, histories and much more. A big part of the Pre-1700s collection is comprised of religious texts and sermons; fantastic for anyone interested in the many debates around the role of the Church and the development of Protestantism in England.

Photograph of hymn music in a 16th century bible.

Photograph of hymn music in a 16th century bible (C 549 BIB, Pre-1700s collection)

What’s particularly great about our Pre-1700s texts though is the insight they give into how everyday people practiced religion and interacted with the Bible, particularly after it was translated into English. Our 1580s Bible is such a great example of this; not only does it have marginalia dating from 200 years after its publication, but if you look in the back of the book there are musical scores to hymns sung in Church at the time!

John Crow’s Ballad and Song collection: oral history in print

Much of our Pre-1700s collection is comprised of books collected by the academic John Crow (read more about him here). Crow was a scholar particularly interested in a) the Renaissance world, b) Shakespeare’s legacy and c) ballad and song books, which for the purposes of this blog we’re going to refer to as an early form of sea-shanty TikTok.

A colourful row of books from the John Crow Ballad and Song collection.

A colourful row of books from the John Crow Ballad and Song collection

The ballad and song books contain many publications of the Percy Society (active 1840 – 1852), which published and reprinted rare poems and songs, and the Ballad Society (founded 1868) which had similar aims but focused on publishing folklore. Ballads were a big part of English popular storytelling for generations; they were often printed on cheap paper, sold on street corners and passed around in pubs – but few of them survive due to their ephemeral nature. The Percy Society and Ballad Society aimed to change this by printing them in more formal book editions (made of better quality materials so likely to survive longer). The ballad and song books we look after are a fantastic resource for anyone interested in folk music, exploring how histories were passed around between oral and written formats, and much more.

Theatre collections part one: the Pettingell playscripts

Spoiler alert: a great deal of the music we hold can be found in our extensive theatre collections – so much so that they appear three different times in this blog alone, and that’s only because we’d run out of space otherwise! It’s pretty much impossible to separate music from theatre, particularly during live performance’s rise to fame during the nineteenth century – orchestras could be found in nearly every venue. Music was used to create atmosphere, to heighten emotion, to change scenes and – of course – during songs and dances on stage. Amongst critics there were continual questions asked about music’s role in the theatres, it being seen by some to cheapen ‘proper’ drama.

Title page for a ballet version of Macbeth, complete with am illustration of Macbeth holding two daggers. from the Pettingell collection.

Title page for a ballet version of Macbeth from the Pettingell collection (PETT S.124)

Photograph of the play text for Boucicault's play 'The Octoroon', from the Pettingell collection. The printed text is crossed out and handwritten revisions are included on the next page.

Photograph of the play text for Boucicault’s play ‘The Octoroon’, from the Pettingell collection (PETT PAR 21)

One of the main gems of our theatre collections is without a doubt the Pettingell collection, which comprises of over 4000 plays collected by comedian Arthur Williams and later bought by actor Frank Pettingell. Williams attended many of the plays he collected and as a result a great number of the scripts, which you could generally buy cheaply as a kind of souvenir, are uniquely annotated by their owner with information such as cast lists and additional pages added in. The Pettingell collection also contains more than 300 pantomime libretti, which we’ll talk about more below. It’s a great collection if you’re new to the world of Victorian theatre as you can really get a sense of the range of plays produced during this era – from histories to popular folk stories to adaptations of famous literary works, not to mention unique genres such as melodrama.

Music hall: early celebrities, the world before Spotify and popular music in action

Selection of tickets from music hall events pasted on to a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Selection of tickets from music hall events pasted on to a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

My colleague Clair has written brilliantly before about music hall, but it’s pretty difficult to talk all things musical in the collections without mentioning some of our wonderful material that belonged to the British Music Hall Society’s resident archivist and historian Max Tyler. For the uninitiated, music hall (not musical(s) – pronunciation is key here) was a form of entertainment especially popular in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era in Britain – around 1890 – 1910. It was where many forms of Victorian popular culture developed, and is largely responsible for the variety shows of the mid-late 20th century. Music hall’s popularity was due in part to the industrial revolution – people moved to newly urban centres looking for work, which in turn created a demand for popular entertainment venues.

Selection of photographs of music hall stars pasted onto a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Selection of photographs of music hall stars pasted onto a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Whilst the specifics of each music hall performance would vary, a few things would look similar at each venue: every event would have a chairman, to oversee and host the evening, and often a pianist to accompany performers. Admission was generally cheap (sometimes free, if you bought drinks) and caused licensers endless headaches about what constituted a proper venue! All kinds of performance would occur during a music hall night, from songs and ‘specialty’ acts such as dance, clowns and other physical entertainers, to condensed versions of plays (just don’t tell Boucicault about that…; see next post). Sometimes a single act would cross all different types of performance.

Cover for sheet music to 'All Thro' Sticking to a Soldier' sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Cover for sheet music to ‘All Thro’ Sticking to a Soldier’ sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Musical score for 'All Thro' Sticking to a Soldier' sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Musical score for ‘All Thro’ Sticking to a Soldier’ sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

As our extensive collection of music in the Max Tyler Archive demonstrates, it was possible to purchase illustrated song sheets of many popular music hall hits for home performance – albeit these tended to be the sanitised versions, for more genteel audiences, rather than the more popular bawdy songs! According to theatre historian Jacky Bratton, the abundance of song sheets that survive today gives us a slightly skewed view of what was actually performed in music halls, as it just wasn’t possible to record specialty acts or perhaps even adapted plays in the same manner.

Work on the amazing Max Tyler Music Hall collection is still ongoing, but you can browse our listings of Max’s incredible research files on our archive catalogue here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

John Crow Ballad and Song collection: the University of Oxford have an amazing resource via the Bodelian Library – Broadside Ballads online.

Pettingell playscripts:

Fuhrmann, C. Between Opera and Musical: Theatre Music in Early Nineteenth-Century London. In Gordon, R. and Jubin, O. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988747.013.2

Pisani, M. (2004). Music for the theatre: Style and function in incidental music. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 70-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.005

Music hall:

Bratton, J. (2004). The music hall. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 164-182). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.010

Putting Faces to Names : Haselden’s Theatrical Cartoons

Recently I’ve been working on a collection of Punch cartoons by W.K. Haselden. The British Cartoon Archive has hundreds of cartoons by Haselden, and he is one of the most recognizable cartoonists of the early 20th century. His theatrical cartoons appeared in the ‘At the Play’ (or occasionally ‘At the Movies’ and ‘At the Revue’) section of Punch, and span a good twenty five years from the early 1910s. They feature many recognizable names and here I bring you a selection of my favourites.

Some hefty tomes

Some hefty tomes

This work has required a lot of research on my part, as I try to identify and create records for the people portrayed in the cartoons. I have met hundreds of actors and actresses along the way, often with the help of the books you can see on the right. Some of my favourite names include Beppie de Vries, Norman V. Norman and Beatrice Appleyard. Here I present to you some more familiar names I came across as I catalogued the collection.

Dame Sybil Thorndike

Sybil Thorndike was born in the late 19th century, and she’s a local girl. Whilst she was born in Lincolnshire, her brother (also an actor, although perhaps more well known as an author) Russell was born down the road in Rochester, where their father was a canon at the cathedral. Sybil attended Rochester Grammar School for Girls, and is probably their most well-known pupil. She was most famous as a theatre actress, and was so well known in her day that she was in the ‘Black Book’ of people to be arrested if the Nazis ever invaded Britain!

Sybil Thorndike in "St. Joan" - a role created for her by George Bernard Shaw

Sybil Thorndike in “St. Joan” – a role created for her by George Bernard Shaw

 

The Medea

The Medea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Laurie

John Laurie is perhaps most remembered for his part in Dad’s Army, as my favourite character Frazer, but this was by no means his most significant role. He was also a part of hit Sixties shows The Avengers and The Ken Dodd Show, and appeared often on stage, particularly in Shakespeare, including Hamlet, Richard III and Macbeth. According to IMDB, he appeared in 161 acting roles on film and TV in his long career. He even appeared in a Disney movie, their 1950 rendition of Treasure Island.

Old King Cole

Old King Cole

Dion Boucicault

It was particularly pleasing to come across cartoons of Dion Boucicault as I catalogued, as we hold a Boucicault Collection here at Kent. These are two different Dion Boucicaults, our collection being about the father of the man in the cartoons. This is quite confusing, and completely unnecessary, as in reality the two of them had completely different names! Whilst he was known as an actor, he was also a theatre manager, and had particular success with the premiere of a little known play, one Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. It was Dion’s sister, Nina Boucicault, who was the first actress to ever play Peter Pan.

Nina Boucicault (Sister of Dion Jr.)

Nina Boucicault (Sister of Dion Jr.)

Dion Boucicault Jr. (centre)

Dion Boucicault Jr. (centre)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donald Calthrop

Number two of three I’ve found related to collections we hold. It was the first Dion Boucicault’s great-grandson, another Calthrop, who donated some of our Boucicault material. Donald Calthrop was Boucicault’s nephew, and a significant actor in his own right. He appeared in no less than five early films directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. Sadly, he died of a heart attack before he finished filming Major Barbara in 1941.

Donald Calthrop

Donald Calthrop

Frank Pettingell

And here’s the third. Frank Pettingell was the owner of our largest collection of playscript, both printed and manuscript, and he in his turn acquired them from the son of well-known comedy Arthur Williams, whose stamp can be seen on most of the items in the collection. Frank was a Lancashire man who served in the First World War. His film credits include the original version of Gaslight, and played the Bishop of York in the film Becket, which featured Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud.

Frank Pettingell, taking a trip

Frank Pettingell, taking a trip

Princess Lilian, Duchess of Halland

Grace Kelly may be well known for marrying European Royalty, but she was not only one! Lilian Davies, an actress more known for her modelling, from Swansea, married into the Swedish royal family in 1976 at the age of 61. They’d been living together for almost 30 years after she and her first husband divorced, but did not marry as it was thought Prince Bertil may have to become Regent after the heir to throne died, leaving a son only a few months old. However, Carl XVI came of age before he came to the throne, and he approved Prince Bertil’s marriage to Lilian. She lived to be 97, and continued to attend official engagements well into her 90s.

A most impressive hat

A most impressive hat

Rachel.

Women on Stage and in Society : 1850 – 1915

part of the British Theatre History exhibition

part of the British Theatre History exhibition

On Wednesday 6th April the yearly exhibition by second year students of the British Theatre History module launched. Whilst this has been an annual event for several years, this time the students faced a bigger challenge than ever: the size of the Templeman exhibition space. This is only the second exhibition to be held in the new space, and asking first time exhibition makers to fill it was initially concerning, but the students rose to the challenge admirably.

Playbill for Society at the Prince of Wales

Playbill for Society at the Prince of Wales, currently on display

This module offers students the opportunity to learn about a hugely varied period of theatre history in Britain, ranging from Victorian pantomime through to suffragette plays. What’s unique about this module in particular, is that the student use Special Collections and Archives material to really come to terms with the time period, utilising Kent’s extensive Victorian and Edwardian theatre collections. The students look at a range of original material, such as playbills, play-scripts and theatre documentation, to learn about this exciting time.

The British Theatre History student exhibition

A section about living as an actress

This year was different than previously in other ways too. Firstly, the students usually work in groups to produce sections of a general exhibition on British theatre history. This time,

The exhibition launch

The exhibition launch

however, the students were challenged to work individually, and they did not disappoint! The other difference is that this time the students worked on a very specific theme: women. Within this theme the students looked at gender roles in pantomime, the representation of women in melodrama, influential female playwrights, theatre managers and actresses, and theatrical women as a political force. The result is a very well rounded, coherent exhibition, which catches the eye and the interest of passers-by.

Dick Whittington from the Melville Collection

Dick Whittington from the Melville Collection

 

The module draws heavily from theatre collections housed here at Kent. Firstly, the Melville Collection, which tells the story of a theatrical dynasty of actors and theatre managers. The Melville’s owned many theatres around the country, but particularly the Lyceum in London, from which we hold music, takings books, and administrative documentation concerning productions put on there, as well as publicity material and scripts.

A lithograph showing a scene from the Octoroon

A lithograph showing a scene from the Octoroon

 

 

Secondly, the students use the Boucicault Collections. Dion Boucicault was a playwright and actor who worked both here and in America in the 19th century. He was particularly well known for his melodramas, most famously the Octoroon, a controversial play concerning race and slavery. One student has produced a detailed section concerning this play.

Photograph of Nellie Farren, from the Milbourne scrapbook

Photograph of Nellie Farren, from the Milbourne scrapbook

 

 

Many of the students use sections from the Milbourne scrapbook. This scrapbook contains photographs (and some signatures) of famous actors and actresses of the time period, and also accurate depictions of costumes worn in theatrical productions. The costume images were originally black and white, but the scrapbook’s owner attended the productions featured in it, and faithfully coloured in the images to represent what was being worn on the stage.

 

Pettingell scrapbook, currently on display

Pettingell scrapbook, currently on display

Finally the students used our Pettingell Collection. Frank Pettingell was an English actor in the 20th century. He obtained the collection from Arthur Williams, who was an actor and playwright in the 19th century. The collection is made up of a huge selection of printed and handwritten play scripts, many of which were used as performance prompt copies. There are also a handful of theatrical scrapbooks in the collection, one of which is on display.

 

The exhibition is up until the 25th April.