Arthur Lloyd.co.uk
The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow

Index

CHAPTER FIVE

"GOOD-BYE"

But to resume. At last my father said, "Now, my boy, it is time you were off-God bless you!" My poor mother was sobbing for the loss of her foolish son; and- with the tears running down his own cheeks-my father said to her, "Bess, don't be ridiculous. One would think the boy was going away to Van Dieman's Land or the North Pole." I joined in, and cried as much as my mother did; and, as we embraced for the last time, felt much inclined to say, "I won't go at all!" But here, my father, assuming a rough tone of voice, said, "Come, now, away with you at once. A pretty fellow to call yourself a man: Besides-remember, if you're not happy, come back again at once. And if you want money, you've only got to write for it." They kissed me again; and, with a heavy heart, I at once left the room. I see them now, in my mind's eye, as I saw them then. If ever a family was blessed with loving and exemplary parents it was ours; and I'm proud to say that not one of their children ever gave them a moment's uneasiness-except myself. I was the black sheep, as I thought: for I was entering a profession which I knew they regretted I should adopt, but gave way simply to please me, their eldest (living) son, whom they loved not wisely but too well, and indulged in all his whims and fancies.

TO CALEDONIA BY ROAD

As the hackney-coach with my luggage outside and myself inside, drove away from the door, I took a last look up at the house, and there, at the wide open window, were my kind parents waving farewell with their handkerchiefs to their prodigal son.

I soon got to Fetter Lane and in a few minutes afterwards, started from the White Horse in the spanking four-horse coach which, in those days before railways, was the favourite means of locomotion between London and Scotland. At that time of the year, (November), it may be believed that the journey north was not an extra lively one and therefore, I need not extract from my diary any details connected with it. Suffice it to say that on, I think, the third evening, we arrived safely in Edinburgh.

I recollect our driving up Waterloo Place, and passing what I made sure was the Theatre Royal, from the number of lamps around it; I found out afterwards that I was correct in my conjecture. In a few minutes we drew up at the hotel where the coach stopped. It must have been the Black Bull in Leith Street, then kept by Piper. Here I put up for the night, and tired enough I was, soon went to bed, and very soon after to sleep.

Next forenoon found me betimes at the Caledonian Theatre, where I introduced myself to my future manager, Mr Bass. I found him a nice jolly-looking fellow, and he received me very kindly. He told me that the season here was just about closing; after which they went to Dundee for three months, and then came back to Edinburgh.

I played a few parts here which were neither noticed by the press nor recognised by the public. In reference to this time, all that I had in my diary, are one or two jottings such as, "appeared - got on well." - and I thought so then. In later years, I became not so confident of my own complete success. In point of fact, I may state that I never was thoroughly satisfied with my acting of any part in my life.

Although complimented on having my name in the press in a most flattering manner, and cheered by some audiences, I have gone home thinking in myself - "I'm certain I could have played that better."

DAVY WILKIE

Starting for the north, we journeyed first from Newhaven to Kirkcaldy by boat, thence through Fife by coach , and again by boat to Dundee. On the journey through Fife we stopped at a roadside inn to change horses. Whilst this was being done by the ostlers, the coachman came over to me, and pointing to the sign hanging over the inn-door- it was the picture of a Turk's head - he said "Do you see that?" "Yes" I replied, "but I don't see anything remarkable about it." "Well, sir." Said said coachey. "That sign was painted by Davy Wilkie, when he was a lad, and lived in this neighbourhood. He's a big man now, sir." I said I was surprised that no one had bought it as a relic of the great artist's youth, to which he replied that the landlord could have sold it over and over again, but could not think of parting with it.

THE PROCESS OF DISILLUSION

We arrived at Dundee in the afternoon and that same evening, I was asked to pass an hour with a number of the male professionals in a public-house. On getting there, I was informed that it was a custom that could not be departed from, that each novice in joining the company, should pay his footing. The result was that I had to stand a gill of whisky to each man present. It was the first time that I had ever met a company of actors in private, and I expected a treat. I got it, though it was not quite of the nature I had expected. I was not astonished at their seedy-looking appearance, because I knew that the salaries they received would not afford them better. But their language and behaviour was to me, wholly unexpected and wholly sickening. Much of their "chaff" was beyond my comprehension, but the oaths and vulgarity of their conversation generally disgusted and horrified me.

The leading man, a Mr Rae, dubbed me 'Mr Copperbottom', because he was sure, he said, that I was "A1 at Lloyd's." This Rae, was the remains of a very handsome young man who had been well educated, and through all his degradation, traces of the manners and bearing of a gentleman, would now and then peep out. He was, in truth, a son of the celebrated Rae, who was stage manager of Drury Lane in Edmund Kean's palmy days, and of whom an old memoir says that he was "a polished actor, with the good fortune of having had a classical education. An advantage which comes to the share of but few of his brethren.

This person was handsome, a kind-hearted man, a fond father, an excellent husband and a true gentleman. At his death, he left two daughters and one son." That one was the aforementioned.

He had been in most of the leading provincial theatres, gradually through dissipation, lowering his position and getting lower and lower. The last I heard of him was about the year 1834, when he was strolling about the country with Seymour, in great distress. I believe he died many years ago in some work-house in the South, unpitied and unknown. Poor fellow!

The public-house orgies being so repulsive to me, I quietly drew my hat from under the seat and made to withdraw. I was in the act of putting it on when about a pint of beer rolled down my face and on to my coat and front, causing me to quicken my exit, which I made amid the loud guffaws of the perpetrator and enjoyers of such an elegant joke. Fairly away from them, I made a vow never to become the associate of professionals again; I expected I should find all alike. I never met these gentlemen any more out of "the shop."

This night's experience proved to be an exceedingly useful lesson to me. It sent me home to my lodgings always the moment I had finished at the theatre. Inside the theatre, however, I was still at the mercy of these practical jokers, and for some time they caused me a good deal of annoyance. I may explain that in this Dundee theatre there was only one dressing room for the men - apart from a little room appropriated by the manager himself. Fancy eight of us, compelled to dress in one small room, redolent of the odours of whisky, beer, strong tobacco, dried fish and dirty linen. It may be guessed how such a combination would gratify an ordinarily sensitive olfactory organ.

THE GREEN ROOM - IDEA OF WIT

I frequently observed the absence of stockings when some of my fellow-performers were taking off their boots; and what was worse, I occasionally had to lament the absence of my own, which had disappeared mysteriously. My boots I often found nailed to floor, and sometimes filled with water. They rubbed cow - itch into my stage hairs which constantly kept me scratching my head before the audience; my coat-sleeves got tied up in a mystic manner, and that always when I had to make a quick change, so that I had frequently to put on my own private coat, however out of place it might appear in the piece. I was in some such predicament one evening when Mr. Rae came up and seeing the state of matters, said "What's up, Copperbottom? Have the mummers been playing you a trick Them actors are funny but you'll get used to 'em in time." A few nights later, he gave me a piece of practical advice, the value of which I discovered by acting upon it.

" Copperbottom" he said-"Stand 'em a bottle of whiskey now and then in the dressing-room, and they'll let you alone." I did so, and they did let me alone. The great vocalist, John Braham, who travelled in his own carriage with his wife, starred here at the time for a few nights, and with the termination of his engagement came to close our season in Dundee.

EARLY DAYS IN SCOTLAND

AN OFFER FROM GLASGOW

One evening in October, 1830, the last night but one of the season and of my engagement at the Caledonian Theatre, Edinburgh, I had a message left for me at the stage-door requesting me to call next morning on Mrs. Alexander, wife of the Glasgow manager, who was then in the town, and wanted to speak with me. I accordingly went, and was told by that lady the she had come to Edinburgh at Mr. Alexander's request for the purpose of my abilities, to ask if I would like to join his company for the ensuing winter's season, and, if so, what was the line of business I professed, and what salary I should expect. She begged that I would communicate with her husband at once, addressed to the Theatre at Dumfries, which he had then opened. I complied with her request, and wrote to him that evening. I mentioned that I wished to play the low comedy characters and country boys, and that I wanted 30s per week as my salary. I asked him to direct his reply to me, to the Post Office, Glasgow, to be left till called for. The Caledonian Theatre having closed on the night of my interview with Mrs. Alexander left me idle, and this it was that had made me think of taking a run over to Glasgow. At the Post Office there, I duly received Mr. Alexander's reply to my communication; and, as the epistle is a thoroughly characteristic one, I give it here, verbatim et literatim, from the original before me:-

"Theatre, Dumfries, 26th October, 1830."

"Sir,-'Tis said that brevity is the soul of wit. In business I am sure it is. In the present instance, however, I must swerve from my general rule, and inform you that for nine years in the Theatre- Royal, Edinburgh, along with a vast multiplicity of business in tragedy, comedy, and melodrama, I combined with it the countrymen with a degree of success which produced me £100 a year by my benefits, and at the death of the late Mr. Emery I had a most advantageous offer presented me by the managers of the T.R. Covent Garden, which my managerial pursuits obliged me to decline. Under these circumstances and in my own establishment (wherein every town it visits I may without being too Egotistical safely assert that I am a universal favourite), it is not likely I would resign my entire line of business to one whose talents I am a stranger to. Still, the public interest is my study, and where I find talent I am just the person who delights to see it alongside of me.

"I therefore again repeat that I have no doubt you will find business to your heart's content, only you must take a portion of the countrymen, old men, or Eccentrics as I can spare them. This is the principle I go upon myself, and this you'll say is no bad example to those around me. For instance, I was the original Hempseed in XYZ in the T.R. Edinburgh, which had a run of 24 nights. Since that (as matters suit) I have played Neddy Bray, and can therefore give you that and Sam Sharpset, &c. These I know, are exactly what you want. But, then, it must be understood that when nothing of this description is vacant you must take an old man or Eccentric, as may be consistent with the rules of the theatre.

"You say you understand I am severe in business. No more than my own and the public interest demand. Without this I should be unfit for the situation I hold. Those who speak otherwise of me are idle and disaffected (the censure of whom is always praise to me). Beyond the hours of business I have no further communication with those in my service, and whoever has done well for me has generally done so for himself .For instance, Mr. Bayne, after eight years faithful servitude, quits me for a London engagement, no bad proof that he has not lost his time in this establishment.

"I agree to the salary; but always fix the benefits myself. Of course to those who attend to my interests I generally (if there is any difference) appropriate a good night. In conclusion, sir, I have no doubt but an establishment crowned with so many years success will fully meet your views. At all events you can but try, and, if it does not, I will with great pleasure either give or take your notice. I am your most obedient servant,

"J.H.Alexander"

"P.S.-I likewise play the Irishman, sailors, and old men, from which you will perceive there is no danger of not getting a great portion of the countrymen, as John Lump,Shn in Wild Oats, &c, The gravedigger you shall have."

"P.S.-No.2-I have not yet fixed my opening farce, it will be something for the various persons who are joining me from London. If there is a country man in it that I don't play myself you shall have it. The comic song shall be inserted as you mention."

MY FIRST BENEFIT

The result of this correspondence was my first engagement for Glasgow; but, as the season there was not to commence for nearly three weeks after the date of the above letter, I managed to fill in a week of that time in Ayrshire - not very profitably, as it turned out. Before explaining how this was so,Imay be allowed to hark back so far as to note that, about a month previously, I had managed to secure for the occasion the patronage of Colonel Ross and the officers of the 4th Dragoon Guards , by whose permission the band of the regiment was also present. To my surprise the house was full; but, not so much to my surprise, I only got £14 as my share of the receipts, whilst there must have been £20 at least in the house. It has been within my experience and observation that managers are- or should I say were- not entirely free from liability to error in the process of division.

THEATRICAL SHARP PRACTICE

My Ayrshire experiences was this. Hearing that Mr Horncastle, an excellent tenor vocalist, whom I had met at the Caledonian, was engaged by Mr Seymour - the too well-known ex-manager of the Queen Street Theatre, Glasgow for a week's concert tour, I requested him (Horncastle) to see if he could get me engaged on the party to sing comic songs. He spoke to Seymour on the matter, accordingly, who told him that he might engage me - if he liked. Thereupon Horncastle offered me £5 for the week's engagement, which I accepted. We performed in Kilmarnock and in Ayr; and on Saturday, as Seymour wasn't there, Horncastle paid me the £5 himself. On his asking Seymour at night to be refunded this advance, Frank, according to his custom, at once repudiated any responsibility in the matter.

"I didn't engage him," he said to Horncastle. "You asked me to have him, and I told you to engage him, if you liked. It was not a bargain of mine."

Of course I had to return the 'fiver' to Horncastle, besides being laughed at for having a week's work taken out of me for 'nix' by the slippery manager.

On returning to Glasgow from the profitless engagement, I took lodgings in Balmano Street - commonly called "Balmano Brae" - a stiffish ascent rising northwards from George Street, and there I remained during the whole of may stay in the city. A couple of days after my arrival, I saw in the Glasgow Herald this advertisement:-

The nobility, gentry, and the inhabitants of Glasgow and its vicinity, are respectfully informed that the Theatre Royal will open for the winter season on Monday the 15th November, 1830, with Shakespeare's Tragedy of 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,' and the laughable farce of 'Too Late for Dinner.' The following is a list of the Company engaged - Mr Mude, from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and Haymarket Theatre; Mr Hooper, from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; Mr Williamson from the Theatre Royal, and Haymarket Theatre; Mr Lloyd, from the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and Caledonian Theatre, Edinburgh then followed the names of the rest of the company. On Monday, 22nd November, the popular tragedian Mr Kean will make his appearance in RICHARD III,"

With regard to my designation in the above, I have only to say that I never was in the Newcastle Theatre in my life until the month of May, 1848, when the late Mr Edmund Glover and myself rented it for four weeks from Mr Davies, sen., for the sum of £100. We took with us the whole of the Edinburgh Company and Orchestra, among the former being the celebrated Mr Mackay, to whom we paid £50 for a week's performance of his famous part of 'Bailie Nicol Jarvie.'

MR ALEXANDER AND HIS THEATRE

On perusing this announcement in the Herald, I thought I might as well call at once on my future manager, which I accordingly did. I found him on the stage and, on introducing myself, he took off his hat to me, and gave me quite a ceremonious reception. In the course of nearly a couple of hours that I remained with him here, he went over, I should say, his whole theatrical history; the people he had seen, the difficulties he had overcome, and the position to which he had now attained.

"We shall rehearse 'Hamlet' at ten o'clock on Monday," he said in conclusion, "and the farce after it and you can try your song with the band after that is over."

It was a pretty little theatre, and the third, I believe, that Mr Alexander had erected on the same site. His dwelling-house adjoined, and had a private door communicating with it. In front was a small court-yard, with iron gates at each end as an entrance and exit for the carriages of visitors to the boxes.

MY FIRST APPEARANCE IN GLASGOW

Duly in accordance with announcement, the theatre was opened for the winter season on Monday, 15th November, 1830, the date of my first appearance on the boards of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, my part being that of first gravedigger in "Hamlet." After the tragedy I sang a comic song. "The Humours of a Country Fair." And thereafter appeared in the farce of "Too Late for Dinner." I was well received by the audience, but the newspapers took no notice of me, or any of us. In fact the local press seem to have almost ignored public amusements in those days. Even Edmund Kean was only once or twice noticed during his engagement here at this time. It was on the following Monday following our opening that he was to appear; and, as I had never seen the great tragedian off the stage, I resolved to have a look at him so now, if possible.

EDMUND KEAN

Kean never came to rehearsals, his secretary (Lee) attending in his stead, therefor I could not have my desire gratified until the evening. Then I was in waiting outside to watch his arrival. The carriage drove up, and he was helped out of it by Lee and an old friend of his own, Mr Robert Maxwell. He was wrapped in a dark overcoat, lined throughout with fur, and had a fur cap on his head. As he took the arms of the two gentlemen mentioned and hobbled to the door of the manager's private house, he looked infirm indeed, stooping very much and mumbling to himself as he went up the steps, his favorite Jewess following behind. I looked on him with feelings of pity for his condition, mingled with the most unaffected veneration for his transcendent gifts. It grieved me beyond expression to see a comparatively young man- a man who ought to have been just then in the very prime of his life-he was only about forty at the time-got into premature old age through his own folly. Is this, I said to myself, the man who has created such a never to be forgotten sensation, far and near, by his wondrous genius? He looked a little, shriveled old man, and my only conjecture was whether he would be able to get through his arduous work at all. Any fear I might have had on this score however, was soon dispelled. Animated, no doubt, as he must have been by the warmth of the reception they gave him, all traces of feebleness seemed to leave him for the time being, and his performance was beyond my powers of criticism.

THE LORD MAYOR HAS A MISHAP

It may be guessed that I retain a vivid impression of this particular evening, for, had I not the honour of appearing for the first time on the boards with the great tragedian of whom I speak? As the reader is aware, the play was "Richard III," and it fell to me to play therein the part of the Lord Mayor. I suppose it was the importance (to me) of the occasion that somewhat disturbed my presence of mind, and thus gave rise to a little contretemps. On my entrance, with the aldermen, to congratulate Richard on his accession to the Throne, I had of course to kneel to His Majesty, and in doing so I leant mor heavily than was necessary on the white wand I carried. The result was that it snapped in two and I fell forward, nearly bringing my nose in contact with the stage. Naturally, the audience laughed at the predicament, and even Kean himself smiled, somewhat grimly. At the end of the act I went up to him and apologised for the accident, but from the nature of his reply - not to speak of his tone in which it was delivered - an accident he did not believe it to have been.

"Not at all, sir," he said, deprecating my apology. "I am pleased to think that your new 'business' was so successful and it also shows that a Glasgow audience can appreciate talent like yours. But I should advise you, by the way of variety, to introduce next time, the original 'business' of shaking your head well when you say 'Ah! My Lord' by which you will bring down a shower of powder from your wig, and, at the same time, a shower of applause from a discriminating public.

I innocently replied, "Thank you, sir, I will." - and as he turned away from me, I heard him exclaim to himself - "Idiots!"

KEAN AND THE RHEUMATIC IAGO

Another unrehearsed incident, at once more painful and more laughable, occurred on this same engagement, when Kean was playing Othello. The Iago of the evening was an old stager, well known in Scotland as "Long Willie Johnstone." Willie was a martyr to rheumatism and at this time he walked the stage as if on stilts, so rigid with the complaint were his legs, from the hip downwards. It will be remembered that in the scene in the 3rd Act of the lay where Othello kneels and commences the vow -

"I hear engage my words," Iago kneels also, and says to the other - "Do not rise yet."

On this occasion, Kean himself was unusually weak and, when Willie had spoken the words, 'Do not rise yet,' the great man, as if in much pain, said in an undertone;

"D-d if I think I shall ever rise again."

Then, when Johnstone had finished his speech, it turned out that neither of them could rise or help the other. They remained in this position, choking the while with suppressed laughter at the situation, until Kean, putting forth all his strength, managed to drag himself up by clinging to poor Willie - nearly falling over him.

Keen then tried to get his comrade on the perpendicular, but it was no use, and I cannot describe the ludicrously miserable struggles that both made to get righted. All this, of course, was the best of good fun to the gallery boys, who amused themselves at poor Johnstone's expense, by such cries as;

"Try again Willie! Try the ither leg! Get a lever! Now for't haun's and knees," &c.

At least Mr Alexander, who was playing Roderigo, taking pity on poor Willie, came on to the stage and placed him safely on his feet, amid a cry from the gods of "hoop-lah," and a round of applause for his humanity.

GLASGOW SOCIETY HALF A CENTURY AGO

By way of rounding off this chapter, I propose to give a couple of reminiscences bearing rather on the social than the theatrical aspects of Glasgow, between fifty and sixty years ago. Mr Alexander had a few private friends who had the entree to the Green Room at the Theatre Royal. Amongst these were James Lumsden, afterwards Lord Provost of the City, whose statue occupies a conspicuous position in the Royal Infirmary Square; the late, kind Sir Wyndham Anstruther, Bart., of Westra, who became a warm friend of mine in later life; Mr Robert Maxwell, a great admirer of the Arts in general, with a few others whose names I forget.

There were also on the list at this time, the officers of the 4th Dragoon Guards, a company of which was stationed in the old Cavalry Barracks, (afterwards converted into the Govan Parish Poorhouse), in Eglinton Street - the Headquarters of the Regiment being at Hamilton, under command of Colonel Ross. With reference to these latter gentlemen, I find the following in my diary of the date, Monday, 29th November, 1830 - a fortnight only, after I had made my first appearance in Glasgow:-

"Dined yesterday at Cavalry Barracks on the invitation of Ensign Hodge, 4th Dragoon Guards. Hooper and Mude also at dinner. Met Mr Alexander Lockhart there, a cousin of Colonel Ross and brother of Sir Lockhart of Lee. Spent a delightful evening and it was long into the Monday morning before Lockhart and myself saw every officer in the room slip out very quietly ....... they all appearing to have had as much as was good for them. I then decided to go but Lockhart requested me to remain for a short time and explained to me that it was a rule in the Mess Room, that the last at the table always had a sort of

stirrup-cup which was charged to the account of the Mess along with the names of those who partook of the dinner and thereby showing who had sat all the others out.

After finishing my brandy and water, I bade my friends good-night, and walked home to reflect on - my first visit to a Mess Table.

...Chapter Four - Chapter Six...

Other Pages that may be of Interest