The Life of an Actor
by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian
Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow
Those who have had the pleasure
of seeing the late Charles Kean play
the part of Mr Oakley in "The Jealous Wife" will remember
it as a delightful bit of comic acting. He certainly had a vein of drollery
in him which many who did not know him well would scarcely have given
him credit for. In the subjoined note it will be seen he neatly makes
humorous use of a quotation from "Hamlet" and another from
"Macbeth" in one short sentence. I had asked him to join us
at a dinner party on Good Friday, 1843,
at our house, "The Cottage," in Leith Walk. The following
was the reply which I received:-
I will be with you at five o'clock to-norrow with pleasure. Hang out
a banner on the outward wall, that I may know the house, or I may be
perambulating Leith Walk until the baked meats turn cold. -Yours truly
(signed), Charles Kean."
Above - Leith Walk, Edinburgh
The Marquis of Dalhousie having been for many years a good friend to me, I wrote to him asking him if he would do me the great honour of standing godfather to a little girl of mine. The following was his Lordship's reply:-
"London, 9th December, 1844.-Dear Sir,-I have had the pleasure of receiving your letter of 5th proposing to name your little girl after me, and requesting me to stand godfather. As being a member of the Church of Scotland, I have declined to undertake the office of godfather on other occasions, I fear that I cannot depart from my rule now. But if you will allow me to stand name-father instead I shall have great pleasure in accepting the compliment which you have paid me. It gratifies me very much to learn that I have been the means of serving you. I can trully assure you that if I have put £200 into your purse you have put many a time, by your talent, pleasure and merriment in my way worth all the money. -I remain, dear sir, faithfully yours, "DALHOUSIE. "To H. Lloyd, Esq., " &c.
In accordance with this arrangement, the child was called, after her Ladyship and himself, Ann Susan Ramsay.
Almost immediately after my visit to London in June, 1847, recorded in last chapter, Mr Edmund Glover also had occasion to go up to town. Like myself, he went to hear Jenny Lind; and, having heard her, he did a very clever thing. He managed to engage her services to sing in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth. In due time the "Nightingale" came down to Scotland to fulfil her engagement, which turned out such a success that Mr Glover cleared £3000 by the "spec." Indirectly this circumstance had a considerable effect on my own future fortunes, as will presently appear. Emboldened, and enabled by this slice of good luck which had fallen to his share, Mr Glover resolved to enter upon theatrical management on his own account. Accordingly, in the autumn of the following year (1848) he acquired possession of a large hall in West Nile Street, Glasgow, which had been used for some time for the exhibition of a diorama, and had it converted into a small theatre, which he called "The Prince's Theatre." His next step was to enter into negotiations with the reader's humble servant; and, as the remuneration he offered was larger than I had hitherto enjoyed, I accepted the offer, and immediately wrote to Mr Murray, stating the case, and asking him as a great favour to cancel the remainder of my engagement with him. Mr Murray replied as follows:-
"Theatre - Royal, Edinburgh, Thursday November 9, 1848. - My dear Lloyd, - I shall regret your loss extremely, and much wish I had known your intentions earlier, for, as you may easily imagine, it will not be an easy matter to supply the situation in the middle of a season, when all winter engagements are arranged; but be assured that, however inconvenienced I may be, you carry with you my honest wishes for your health, happiness, and success in all ways. - I am, very truly yours, "W.H. MURRAY.
"To H.F. Lloyd, Esq.,
About ten days after receipt of this friendly-worded note - it having been arranged that the Prince's Theatre, Glasgow, should be opened in January following - I wrote to Mr Murray asking him if I might be allowed to take a farewell benefit at the Theatre-Royal. To this application I received for answer the following:-
"23 Windsor Street, Tuesday Morning, November 21st, 1848. - My dear Lloyd, - Although benefits, especially those of such favourites as you justly are, are heavy blows against the week in which they take place, I would, had you dealt a little more frankly with me, done anything I could to have served you, as my conduct for many, many years must have proved; but in the present instance I must decline your request, as I am making every exertion to fill up the week you allude to. I own the peculiar wording of your application for the present winter engagement prepared me in some degree for what has taken place; but I did not think you would have suffered me to have gone to London with one word on the subject. - Yours very truly, "W.H. MURRAY."
To this I sent the following reply:-
"22nd Nov., 1848 - My dear Sir. - You accuse me in your note of want of frankness. You knew of my leaving a few days after I had settled to go to Glasgow, before I even told my own family. So little did I expect it that I was corresponding with Mr Alexander at that time to be with him during your pantomime, if you could let me off. With regard to your refusing a farewell benefit to an old servant of 36 seasons that is no business of mine. It was not the want of money; for I am proud to say I can leave Edinburgh as honourably as I came to it. My only wish was to have said farewell on the boards that I have trod so long, but must now do so elsewhere, and you shall find in my address I shall express nothing but the sincerest regard for and pain at leaving you; although after what has passed the sooner I leave you the better, as my presence cannot be agreeable. I should like to finish the 15th December, if possible. With my best wishes for your health and happiness, I remain, yours most truly, "H.F. LLOYD.
"P.S. - May I add that I wish to do all I can to prove how anxious I am to continue a friendship of 18years' standing - H .F. L."
That Mr Murray, although the pink of politeness in all he said and did, deeply resented my leaving, his next communication, I think, will show:-
"Theatre-Royal, Edinburgh, 25th Nov., 1848. - My dear Lloyd, - I have delayed answering yours of 22nd instant until now, by a wish to comply with your request of quitting the Edinburgh Theatre before the expiry of the notice you first gave, to which I must now request your adhering, as I have not been able yet to prepare for your loss. Why I felt that you ought, considering the terms we had been so long upon, to have told me of your views before my visit to London, was that I was informed of them by a very intimate acquaintance of yours, but would not act upon what I had heard, until I heard it from yourself. This information preceded my leaving Edinburgh for London. You are offended at my not appointing you a benefit before your leaving. I have not the power of doing so, being in treaty with a person, who, if the terms are concluded on, fills up every night till Christmas. No man wishes you success more honestly than I do; but I still feel that I ought to have received earlier intimation of your intentions to leave, especially as others did. Excuse scratches, and believe me very truly yours, "W.H. MURRAY."
In default of the Theatre Royal, I arranged for taking a farewell of my kind Edinburgh patrons in the Music Hall, where , on 26th December, 1848, I gave a concert, at which several of the first local professionals together with others from London, both vocal and instrumental, discoursed a long and varied programme. The occasion was under the patronage, among others, of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh, the Earl and Countess of Dalhousie, Sir Norman Macdonald Lockhart, Bart. of Lee, and Lady Lockhart, and was a complete success. The following is from a lengthened notice of it which appeared in the Edinburgh Courant:-
"Mr Lloyd gave a farewell concert on Thursday evening in the Music Hall, on the occasion of his leaving the Edinburgh stage, where he has held a prominent place for 18 years, to assume, along with Mr Edmund Glover, the management of the Prince's Theatre, or Opera House, in Glasgow. The audience was such as might be expected from Mr Lloyd's great popularity, crowded and enthusiastic .. At the conclusion he came forward and delivered a brief farewell address. It was, he said, for the first time in his life his duty to perform a very melancholy part, and that was bidding them farewell. For eighteen years he had been before them, and if not a very talented actor, he had at least won their approbation, and been always steady at his post, having never once been absent from his proffesional duties. (Loud cheers.) During that long period he had never had an angry word with the manager (Mr Murray), and he was happy to say they parted on terms of friendship. He must confess that the motive that had induced him to leave Edinburgh was a selfish one, but with a good prospect of bettering his condition, he thought it his duty to try, whether he might be sucessful in doing so or not; and he was now about to open, in conjuction with his friend, Mr Edmund Glover, the Prince's Theatre, in Glasgow. He dare not say much lest he should unman himself, but would thank them from the bottom of his heart for the patronage and encouragement he had all along received, and trusting to receive the same hearty welcome, if ever he should have occasion to appear again before them, he would bid them respectfully farewell. Mr. Lloyd withdrew amongst the most heart cheering."
On the following morning I started for Glasgow to superintend the completion of the Prince's Theatre, of which I was to be acting manager. Amongst the company engaged for the opening season were the two well-known names of Sam Cowell and Tom Powrie; we had the afterwards famous artist Sam Bough as our chief scene-painter, and Mr Howard Glover as musical director, and we opened on 15th January, 1849, with an opera, and the farce of "The Imperial Guard" - the latter thus cast: - Ronslaus (a soldier), Mr Edmund Glover; Carlitz (the village post), Mr Lloyd; Christine (an inn-keeper) Miss Fielding.
Right - Bill for 'The Imperial Guard' at The Prince's Theatre Glasgow with some of the same cast as mentioned above. The date on this Bill is is hand written as June 1853 and mentions that the Theatre had been open for five years - Click to see it enlarged on the Prince's Theatre, Glasgow page.
On 2nd October of the following year (1850), Mr Alfred Bunn, the well-known Drury Lane lessee and manager, made his first bow to a Glasgow audience, having entered into an engagement with Mr Glover to give his entertainment entitled "Bunn's Reminiscences of the Stage", for four nights at the Prince's Theatre, and, for twelve nights thereafter, in Scotland.
The engagement, by the way, was nearly being concluded before it had been entered upon. On the day named, he came to the theatre about noon in a towering passion, and vowed he would not appear at all, because the box-office had never been opened for booking places, and his name and entertainment not posted so extensively, as it ought to have been.
Having to reply to several of his questions, "I don't know, sir,"- he called me, Mr Non ni recordo; whilst the lessee, he politely designated " a d....d shoe-black of a manager, without a grain of courtesy about him."
He said that he, (Bunn), had written seven letters to him before he could get any reply. I should explain that Mr Glover was on a tour with Macready at the time, visiting Greenock, Paisley, &c., and had requested me to see to the arrangements for Mr Bunn in his absence. I managed, at last, to get him (Bunn) cooled down considerably and, having promised in Mr Glover's name, that everything would be properly seen to for the other nights, he consented to be forthcoming in the evening. Moreover, he begged my pardon if he had said anything offensive, shook me by the hand, and wished me a good afternoon.
The entertainment came off all right at night. It was most interesting and got much applauded, but I fancied it was too conversational to please the million, who believe in action and sensation.
It having been settled that I should accompany him on the tour round, I, at his request, met him at his lodgings daily to make the necessary arrangements prior to starting. I found him a most agreeable and amusing travelling companion; his fund of anecdote, appearing to be inexhaustible.
The evening Bunn appeared in the George Assembly Room, Kilmarnock, there was a ludicrous interruption to the entertainment, the particulars of which I may briefly mention.
Whilst Bunn was in the middle of his monologue, a man seated at the
far end of the hall rose and coolly walked up to the platform, where
he held out his hand to the lecturer, saying;
The poor fellow resumed his seat, but a quarter of an hour had barely
elapsed when he again rose and repeated the disagreeable intrusion,
with the addition this time of getting up on the platform, slapping
Bunn on the back, and declaring enthusiastically;
Then, by way of emphasising his pride at the connection, he gave poor Bunn another whack on the shoulders, which nearly sent the little man spinning off the platform. The assertion of the man, who was at once removed from the hall, turned out to be perfectly true. He was John Templeton's elder brother and was not at all times, unfortunately, quite compos-mentis.
Bunn on Stage Managers
Amongst other subjects that we talked about on this tour with Bunn, - or rather, that he talked about, for I willingly allowed him to make most of the running, - was Stage-management. He said that he never had so much difficulty in getting hold of a good Stage-manager as the last time he had Drury Lane Theatre. The man he wanted, but couldn't get, was James Wallack. He considered that gentleman the beau ideal of a stage-manager. He was good-tempered, and well-educated; gentlemanly to all who were under him, and the actors were always ready to obey his instructions with pleasure. You could leave him at the rehearsal for a whole day, said Bunn, with the greatest confidence that he would never be absent from the stage until the close.
His greatest delight in business seemed to be in surmounting difficulties;
which having done, he would rub his hands together, and, with a hearty
A very handsome man and of polished manners, his time out of business, was chiefly devoted to the society of ladies. As a last resource, Bunn told me he had to pitch upon John Cooper, alias, "Cautious John." He was a good, though old-fashioned, actor; very steady and attentive, but knew nothing about Stage-management. All the same, he willingly undertook the post when offered it, because it brought an addition to his salary. He was a very saving man, and amassed money. Bunn was not long in finding out that Cooper would never do!
His method of conducting rehearsals was decidedly a singular one. He was hardly ever there until they had commenced, and when he did arrive, he would sit down at the prompt table and begin to read the news-paper. Then, shortly afterwards, he would suddenly rise up, and saying to the prompter, "I don't see what you want with me here. You're getting on all right," - put the news-paper in his pocket and walk away.
The climax came in this way. The company were assembled on the stage
one morning to rehearse an old drama, but no Mr Cooper came at the time
appointed. After waiting a long time for him, the prompter
sent for Mr Bunn, who came from his private room, and when the case
was explained to him, it put him into a pretty passion.
It has here to be explained that when Bunn was giving any order about the stage, Cooper, if near at hand, would echo him in all he said. Well, the rehearsal was nearly over when Cooper entered, and putting his eye-glass in position, and having taken a survey all round, coolly seated himself at the prompt table, took the morning paper out of his pocket, and commenced to read it.
At this moment, Bunn called for the master carpenter, and Cooper - not taking his eyes off the paper - echoed, as usual, by shouting, "Master carpenter!"
A few minutes after, Bunn called for the property man, and again the
faithful echo repeated the words 'property man'. Bunn, who up till this
had paid no attention to him, now walked straight up to the table, and,
in a loud voice, said, "Where is that d....d fool, Cooper?"
The late Tom Taylor had a high opinion of the merits as a stage-manager of Mr Phelps. "I never," he said, "saw rehearsals more thorough, more careful, or more business-like. Phelps was as able as he was indefatigable in stage-management. To one who remembers Macready at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the Keans at the Princess's, and Phelps at Sadler's Wells, it seems to be a lost art.
It would be well if both English managers and actors could be put through a course of rehearsals in a good French theatre, that they might see how our neighbours understand and practise this, as other parts of their theatrical business. But I never saw French rehearsals more careful and thorough than those of my play 'The Fool's Revenge', at Sadler's Wells, under Phelps.