A Rare Glimpse!
Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool
Dick Whittington 1909/10
Regular readers of IBY will know how much we like a good mystery. We can be inspired by anything, and for this particular pantomime our interest was tweaked by the purchase of the following photo showing the cast backstage. It gave us a rare glimpse backstage in a provincial pantomime. The bare floorboards, the gas mantles above the mirrors, and a relaxed scene with several of the gentlemen of the company crammed into the dressing room for a photograph, which they have all signed.
It took us a while to work out the signatures, and we were delighted to discover that the gentleman on the left hand side, assisting the “Sultan of Morocco” to light his cigarette is HARRY RANDALL.
Harry Randall was regarded as one of the finest dames of his time. The natural successor to his friend, the great Dan Leno. It was Harry Randall who was given the unusual role of “second Dame” in the Drury Lane pantomime “Humpty Dumpty in 1903” starring Herbert Campbell and Dan Leno. It was thought his role would ease some of the pressure from the ailing Leno who, along with Campbell was to die four months after the season ended in 1904. Randall returned to Drury Lane the following year as “Fairy Asbestos” in “The White Cat” pantomime. Fairy Asbestos had spent 40 years in the back row of the chorus, and made her entrance on a flying wire to great acclaim.
From that time until his retirement in 1913- like Leno he suffered a nervous breakdown- Randall was the premier Dame at Drury Lane. This photograph shows him at a provincial theatre, the Shakespeare in Liverpool, regarded as one of the most important venues outside of London’s West End.
Harry Randall wrote about playing Liverpool and Drury lane in his book, and mentioned the eccentric comedian Wilkie Bard:
“Wilkie Bard had taken my place at the Lane whilst I was in Liverpool; but I gleaned there had been certain disagreements between the leading comedians, which naturally caused embarrassment to the management - I am afraid there are many comedians who want all the plums in the pudding without any thought of the other ingredients - I felt pleased to think I was returning to my beloved London again - Strange to say, Wilkie Bard and I crossed over, as it were, he going to the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, and I to the Lane."
Born in High Holborn, London in 1860,Randall began his career aged eleven, in a pantomime at the Princesses’ theatre, Oxford Street. His first professional engagement was at Deacon’s Music Hall, Islington in 1884. One of his topical comedy numbers was “Who Killed Cock Warren”, which he first sang in 1888. It expressed the dissatisfaction felt about the efforts of Sir Charles Warren (the Chief of the Metropolitan Police) in failing to catch Jack The Ripper. The Prince of Wales made a special visit to the Alhambra Theatre to hear him sing it, and shortly afterwards Warren was made to resign.
His first pantomime role was as Will Atkins in “Robinson Crusoe” at the Theatre Royal Birmingham in 1885. Vesta Tilley was Principal boy.
He rose to become the popular dame at the Grand Theatre Islington. His Dame debut there was as “Old Mother Hubbard”, and he played in “Dick Whittington” there which was distinguished by his co-star, Lottie Collins singing “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay” for the first time, and causing a national sensation. He played pantomime at Islington for ten years consecutively, from 1891 to 1901. He became as popular in North London as Leno was in the West End. Harry Randall died on 18th May, 1932.
The Shakespeare production of “Dick Whittington” in 1909 was a prestigious one- it starred TOM FOY, a leading comedian of his day. Randall himself was a huge star of Music Hall, and one of the first to be drafted in to pantomime in the 1880’s.
Tom Foy-“What he said when he “cum in” is really nothing compared with what he says now he has “cum out” as a star. He was once more of a tumbler and bar performer than a comedian: now he bars tumbling, and makes heaps more by looking silly than he could by working hard. But he is not as silly as he looks, as his part in the Liverpool Shakespeare Pantomime proves. He is sheer “Yorkshire Relish!”
(Pantomime annual 1909)
Although famed as “The Yorkshire Lad”, Foy was born in Manchester of Irish parents in 1879. He made his first Music Hall appearances as a clown, and performing “Lightning sketches” as a cartoonist. He returned to variety after being part of a Wild West show, and as an Irish comedian before becoming established in London’s West End as a Yorkshire comic who even brought his own (live) donkey! “Tom Foy and his donkey” and “A Yorkshire Lad In London” being two of his popular sketches.
In Pantomime he specialised in playing “Idle Jack” – the role he played in this 1909 production, but also established himself as Dame. He played his last “Idle Jack” at the London Opera House in the 1916-17 season, and after collapsing on stage at the Argyle, Birkenhead in the April of 1917, he died at the age of 38.
The pantomime also starred CARRIE MOORE as principal boy, along with Drew & Alders, popular comedians and Ethel Negretti, Violet Hollom (Manning) and, with quite small billing, LUPINO LANE serving his apprenticeship in pantomime before becoming the huge star of “Me and My Girl” in the 1940’s. For further information about Violet Hollom, see below.
Featured in this photograph are other members of the cast ERIC CAMPBELL, in his costume as “The Sultan of Morocco”, next to him,- ST. JOHN HAMUND (third from left) possibly dressed as Alderman Fitzwarren. The programme notes in the Pantomime Annual of that year show that he was also the Stage Manager for the pantomime, and dressed in his cat costume, FRED WHITTAKER. This is a rare photograph showing his face, made up before he put the mask on, when the transformation was complete- as this accompanying photograph from the production shows.
The SHAKESPEARE THEATRE was a mere twenty-one years old at the time this photograph was taken. It opened in 1888 in Fraser Street, Liverpool, built by J.H. Havelock-Sutton, and had a seating capacity at that time of over 3,000. At the time it was built Liverpool already had twenty six theatres, and numerous Music Halls. In 1976, eighty-eight years after it’s doors opened, the theatre burnt to the ground and was demolished.
As with many articles we publish here, we then find more pictures and more detail - and in the case of Violet Hollow, family members!
The main picture shows the scene in Fitzwarren's stores where Dick (Centre) has been accused by the Alderman- played by St. John Hamund (Right) of stealing his money. Fred Whittaker as the cat can be seen, along with Alice Fitzwarren.
The ladies of the chorus-(Those dressed as ladies) many of them from the Marigny Theatre Paris, have all turned their back on our hero, while the rest of the chorus are casting him out of London. A head count in this photograph shows that the chorus numbers over sixty five, without the rest of the company (a further fourteen) bringing the total cast to over eighty.
It is possible that many of these photographs and postcards came from the collection of St. John Hamund- certainly the picture of Dick and his cat is dedicated to "Mr & Mrs St.John Hamund- from Fred and Ada". This is puzzling- could these be St. John Hamund and wife, or his parents, visiting the pantomime? Dick Whittington is probably Ada, possibly Fred Whittaker's wife. With the cast list published early on in the year by the Pantomime Annual, sometimes changes in cast occur before the production opens.. another mystery, or just a stock picture?
The photograph of the double act John Drew and Tom Alders shows them as Captain and mate. It is interesting to notice the Captain has two cannons attached to his epaulletes!
Eric Campbell as the Sultan of Morocco. Eric left the UK and went over to the USA in 1914 with Fred Karno. He eventually joined Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood as his famous heavy/villain in his early silent shorts. Unfortunately Campbell died in a car crash in 1917. More information about Eric Campbell can be found in his IMDB Entry.
We are very grateful to Graham Hoadly for the information about Eric Campbell.
We have been sent further pictures from this production, Miss Violet Manning - who we think could be the Violet Hollom mentioned on the cast list in Pantomime Annual. The costumes seem to indicate her playing Dick Whittington, who we believed to be Carrie Moore! So more mystery with regards to this production. We are very grateful to Kirsten Spanjer (Violet's great granddaughter) for sending us these photos. Andrew Cutmore contacted us and corrected the surname - we previously had her down as HolloW and in fact, checking back with the Pantomime Annual, it is HolloM. Still no answers as to who played Dick Whittington!
For more information on old theatres in Liverpool, you can find more information on the following websites
We hope that we continue to solve the mystery surrounding this production, either with more photos or more information! Email us with anything you have on this.
This page was last updated 6th April 2014