Back at home once more in the old Vicarage, nothing seemed to have changed. My school days seemed far away, my adventures abroad no more than a dream. My Father arranged a thorough medical examination for me. The resulting verdict was that I had not got T.B., but that possibly my lungs had been affected by the desert sand; and for safety's sake a hut with opening shutters was installed in the garden for me to sleep in. I was to stay at home for some months to recuperate before returning to the office desk in Leadenhall Street.
The Army had given me a temporary allowance, and each Monday I would go to the Post Office to draw my 37/6d.; not bad for those days - things were cheaper then and I hadn't taken to drink! This gave me a certain amount of independence, and I settled down to the life of a country gentleman, with my disabled service badge to protect me from the white feathers which were still floating around. During the day I cycled around my old haunts, shot hares and rabbits over the farmers' fields, and tried to imagine I wasn't becoming excessively bored.
My Mother had the brilliant idea of starting a Concert Party, which we called "The Bluebirds". It consisted of Mr.Edgecombe the Postmaster, Mr.Tape the Grocer, myself, and my sister Edith with two other young ladies to supply the Three Graces. We gave concerts in the Market Hall, and in the surrounding towns and villages, raising money for War Charities. I was the Star Turn of course, and pinched all the best numbers, some of which I did as duets with Mr.Tape or my sister. The audiences were easily pleased, and we really thought we were rather good. So also did the local press, and I was particularly proud of what they said about me: "Mr.Bond gave much amusement with his renderings, his originality as a comedian being a surprise to most of the audience..." "...Mr.Walter Bond scored a great success and proved himself a comedian of unusual ability..." On some embarrassing evenings, when we had visiting clergy staying with us, my Father, to my horror, would say, "Now then Walter, give us one of your comic songs". And then there was nothing for it but to oblige, to the enjoyment of my adoring parents, and the astonishment of our ecclesiastical visitors.
But the time was approaching for me to return to the great Metropolis. Soon after my twenty-first birthday, I received a letter from the P&O saying that they were now willing to take me back. I returned to find that I had been moved up a few desks..but the Head Clerk was still there, waiting for the summons to move up higher, and the Head of the Department, I could not hope for any worth-while promotion till I was growing old and bald like the Head Clerk; and as for that desert island, the mirage had faded completely.
But once again deliverance was at hand. I heard from a relative that Sir Walter Nevill of Nevill, Horley and Son, Stockbrokers, had a vacancy. Would I be interested? Would I? I immediately saw myself in a top hat, lunching with clients, drinking vast quantities of port, buying and selling Mex.Eagles, and returning to the office, puffing importantly at an expensive Havana cigar. I lost no time, took the great chance.. and found myself once more sitting at an office desk. Only this time the work was even humbler: licking stamps, putting the wrong letters in the wrong envelopes, and missing the country post. The Partners disliked me, which was only natural since their pet clients were outraged at receiving the wrog contracts. One important Bank which dealt with Nevill Horley in large sums involving thousands of pounds complained that they had received a commission note meant for a Miss Brown who had sold her fifty Kuala Lumpur rubber shares at 2/3d. per share. "It's not good enough" said Sir Walter through his snorts. It certainly was not, and I was miserable; but I remembered what Mr.Micawber had said, and refrained from taking my life.
How wise I was, for shortly afterwards "something turned up" which was to change my whole future.
At that time I was living at Shepperton-on-Thames, and I had come to know a charming family by the name of Lovett Cameron. Gladys Lovett Cameron was one of the Stars of the "Genesta", the old-established and highly reputable Surbiton and Kingston Amateur Dramatic Club, which could number among its past members such professional actors as Frank Cellier, Eric Cowley, Cecil Trouncer, Geoffrey Wincott and others. One day, she asked me to play opposite her the leading part of Fergus, in THE MAN FROM TORONTO. It was the first time I had acted seriously, and in a three-act play. I was hailed as a new Genesta Star; a Press man actually called on me for an interview and put my picture in the "Surrey Comet" together with a short biography. This was "It". The bug had taken up residence inside me and was making himself comfortable - but me very uncomfortable. I heard again my Mother's oft-expressed wish, "Walter should go on the Stage", and I was seized with a consuming flame of ambition. "There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood...". This was the flood, and I knew that Imust "act" at once. But how? I had no money, and I knew no actors who could advise me.
It so happened, that I was in the next Genesta Production of THE BOY, in which Geoffrey Wincott was taking part, and I learned that he was studying at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. That was good enough for me. I had about fifty pounds in hand, and I borrowed fifty more from the Camerons. Then I went to a dear kind soul, the Reverend Salt, Vicar of Shepperton at that time, and asked for a similar loan. Without hesitation he wrote a cheque and handed it to me, saying with a friendly grin, "I hope it is not leading you to damnation". With this money in hand I reckoned I could pay three terms' fees, which at that time were only £15 per term, and keep myself for a year...and then?...I need not fear. Not a management that would not be glad to have me; not a part that I could not play.
Next day, I bearded Sir Walter Nevill in his den and told him he was about to lose my valuable services. "I have decided to go on the Stage, Sir Walter." He snorted, and replied "Bit of a gamble isn't it?" This remark, coming from him with his daily buyings and sellings, I thought rather rich.
I passed my entrance test without difficulty. It must have been very easy. I believe it is much harder today and would probably floor at least half the members of Equity. I should not need a full year at the Academy, I told myself, but it would introduce me to people connected with the stage, and I knew not one. I was lucky with my teachers; among them, Norman Page ("Think twice before you turn down a part, I played a cat for years", which he did indeed in Maeterlinck's BLUE BIRD); Calude Rains, with his ceaseless energy and driving spirit, the idol of the girls, who had started with as Herbert Tree's call boy at "His Majesty's", ("Watch your speech; I had to cure myself of a cockney accent"); Louis D'Egville with his fiddle, teaching us to dance; Monsieur Bertrand with his fencing foils; Mrs.Mackern, who was always depressing our diaphragms, teaching us how to breathe; (Wilfred Hyde White and I used to get the giggles over this, and were requested to leave the class more than once.) Then there was Hugh Moss, who impressed me by saying that he had played in every theatre in London; Allan Jeayes, who endeared himself to me by saying that my performance in THE CAT AND THE CHERUB had a West End touch about it; and Fewlass Llewellyn, a genial Welshman with bushy eyebrows and whiskers coming out of his ears and a voice like an organ, who taught us elocution. And all this for £15 a term.
Sir Kenneth Barnes, the Principal, presided over all with royal demeanour and kept a watchful eye on our behaviour. One day he upbraided us for drinking beer at lunchtime - one of the girls complained that our breath smelt of it. He warned us against drinking while at work; he had seen too many fall by the wayside. How right he was. He was on good terms with many famous people and would persuade them to pay visits. Sir Arthur Pinero came to take a rehearsal of one of his own plays. I can see him now conducting us from the stalls, complete with immaculate yellow gloves, in which I suspected he even went to bed. Any wrong wordwas instantly pounced upon, even be it an "an" or a "the" - "That is not the word I wrote". Other visitors included Bernard Shaw, with his irrascible red face and witty tongue; Forbes Robertson, an old man, sitting with a rug over his knees, listening to us murdering some of his famous Shakespearean soliloquies; Sybil Thorndike, lecturing us on the Theatre, what it meant to her and what it must mean to us; and Charles La Trobe on Stage Management and the Haymarket tradition. The Vanburgh sisters, Irene and Violet, who were not only sisters of Sir Kenneth, but held unassailable positions as leading ladies of the Theatre at that time, took a great interest in the activities of the Academy, and were constant visitors along with such outstanding figures as Dion Boucicault, Squire Bancroft and a host of others.
Then there was the Guitry Matinee, a great occasion honoured with the presence of Sacha Guitry himself, with Yvonne Printemps, his wife at that time, and Lucien Guitry. At this Matinee, I was playing the part of Lorenzo in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, and while declaiming with extended arm, "How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank", I discovered with horror that I was still wearing my wrist watch. I kept very quiet about this, and no one seemed to have noticed it.
Once a year there was the Public Show for Final Year Students, at a West End Theatre, which was attended by the cream of the theatrical world; actors, critics and Managements spotting for talent. Apart from the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, various other prizes were competedfor, including the J.E.Vedrenne Prize, which consisted of a year's contract under Mr.Vedrenne, then in his heyday as an impressario, at three pounds a week. I remember thinking at the time that this seemed a nice cheap way of getting hold of a promising pupil. But perhaps the honour and glory made up for the meagre salary.
It did not necessarily follow that the Medallists were immediately snapped up for the West End. I remember Mervyn Johns, who won a Gold Medal, telling me that it was years later before he got a smell of a West End Theatre. But he was always a good actor and came into his own eventually. I have a theory that real talent cannot remain hidden forever. It is too rare a quality, and once discovered it will blossom forth, and remain permanently in the minds of those who are responsible for the casting of plays for the stage or other media which today help to make up the actors' livelihood. But those long years of unrecognised drudgery are a hard testing time, and may well break the spirit of those who lack the necessary powers of perseverance. It can be a cruel profession and can lead to despair, to drink and such depravities. It is certain that the struggle for existence is common to all the Arts, and we are as familiar with the street artist or musician as we are with the busker extracting coppers from the theatre queue.
But no such mundane worries oppressed me as I neared the end of my carefree Academy days. I left in high spirits one week before the end of my third term, to take up my first engagement as a professional actor.
The lucky man to make a nibble for my professional services was Mr.Ackerman May, a theatrical agent, who fixed me up with a tour of THE WHEEL, playing two parts, one white, one coloured. I was also to be Understudy and Assistant Stage Manager, at a salary of £4 per week, which was increased to £5 after one week by Actor-Manager Charles Kenyon, "I like my Company to live well"; and "well" you could live on that money at that time with a bed-sitting room for fifteen shillings or a pound, and doing your own catering. Thus, in the month of July 1922 I burst upon an astonished public at the Theatre Royal, Great Yarmouth.
It was an easy life, except for packing the props and seeing the scenery out on Saturday nights after the show; and I was happy as the day and night were long. But I was soon to experience my first great sadness. I knew when the Stage Doorkeeper handed the telegram to me that my Father had died, for I had dreamed of this the night before, and the telegram confirmed my fears. Broken-hearted I went to ask Charles Kenyon if I could go home for the funeral, to be told kindly but firmly that the Show must come first. Fred O'Donovan, that fine Irish actor, who was playing one of the leading parts but who was not on in the First Act, offered to go on for me, and, as the Stage Manager would play my tiny part in the Second Act, I was allowed to go. This served to teach me two things, the strict discipline of the theatre, and the wonderful kindness of my fellow artists. When I got home I saw my Father "lying in state" in his study with lighted candles round the coffin, just as I had seen it in my dream.
What halcyon days those were: good digs, bad golf, back to late lunch before a log fire. I remember thinking how one day I would be able to afford to stay in the big hotels; today I would prefer the digs, but, alas, the good ones are now hard to find. Of course, there were bad lodgings too, dirty landladies, and dirty rooms encouraging bugs and fleas. I recall staying at quite a nice address in Glasgow. The landlady was quite an agreeable, clean looking woman, and the conversation when she brought in my morning tea was as follows: "Good morning, I hope you slept well?" "Not very. If you will look in the bathroom basin you will find sixteen fleas. I carried them in one by one as I caught them during the night." "Very sorry, Mr.Bond, but I'm afraid I must ask you to leave. You must have brought them in with you." All I could do was agree with her. The nuisance of having to turn out was better than trying to argue a hopeless case, so I left the fleas waiting for their next victim.
One address in Blackpool still sticks in my memory. It was in Elizabeth Street. After two miserable days, I plucked up the courage to summon the landlady and complain that the crumbs on the floor had been there since I arrived on the Sunday, and the squashed bug on the wall hadn't been removed. She was an enormous Amaxon of a woman, and with arms akimbo, she started quite quietly, "Your Mother was no lady, and you were born on a muck heap", the tirade increasing in volume and tempo until it resembled the enraged, incoherent ravings of a harridan of the French Revolution. The dialogue was not very original, but its effect in the middle of that squalid third-floor-back, with no-one within call, was quite terrifying. The whole was given added colour by the fact that during the peroration she had seized the bread knife from the table and was pointing it menacingly at me. Meanwhile I was feverishly putting my odd bits and pieces into my Gladstone bag, and with shaking knees making my way to the street door, as the background of invective reached gale force. As I went down the little path to the street, a pot of Dundee marmalade came hurtling through the air, followed by a final Banshee shriek which must have torn her throat, "And this is yours too!" I deftly caught it on my tennis racket!
My first tour ended after twenty weeks in the provinces, and I went to visit Mr.Ackerman May, the Agent. I told him that I had decided to continue my career as "Walter Fitzgerald", my first two names, discarding the "Bond" under which I had been appearing. He was very angry about this and kicked me out of his office, saying he would have nothing more to do with me. His reason for doing so was, as he explained, that there were several Fitzgerald's in the profession, but only one Bond, namely Acton Bond. However, I was adamant. There followed my first taste of unemployment, which lasted for eight long months, during which I mounted innumerable steps and visited innumerable Agents, always with the same result: "Nothing at the moment. Keep in touch". Perhaps it wasn't going to be so easy after all. My meagre savings from the tour soon became exhausted, and my brother Arthur and his wife took pity on me and welcomed me into their home in Hammersmith. They encouraged me not to despair, and I am eternally grateful to them.
Then relief came with another tour, THE LAUGHING LADY, again under the management of Charles Kenyon. I was to be Stage Manager, and play a very nice small but showy part at a salary of £8 per week - a decided advance on the last engagement. The tour went well and I began to collect some quite good "write-ups" in the local papers.
One evening after the show, I had occasion, in my official capacity as Stage Manager, to knock on the dressing room door of the leading lady. I was bidden to enter, and to my acute embarrassment foud the lady stark naked. I made to withdraw, but she appeared quite unconcerned, so I tactfully delivered my message and left in a daze. I pondered on this and decided that the whole incident was completely unconscious, and that I was still very green and had a lot to learn. Such a thing could certainly never have happened in the Purser's Office!
This tour, like the first, ended after twenty weeks and I returned home to London to face a possible further period of unemployment.
But soon there was to follow an outstanding event in my life. I was sent for to join Mrs.Patrick Campbell and her London Company. It seemed only natural of course that a great artist like Mrs.Campbell should wish to engage the services of such an up-and-coming young actor as myself. I did not then realise that she had been on tour for some time, and that with constant changes of cast (weekly, as I was to learn), she was scraping the bottom of the barrel for anyone who could be found to put up with her, or she with them!
I was to meet her, or rather to be brought before her to be inspected, at the Railway Hotel, Southampton,at 10 a.m. one Monday. "Do take your glasses off, you look like a schoolmaster", was her opening gambit. Bernard Merefield, who was at that time high in her favour as Manager and Leading Man, told me that I was to rehearse on approval and, if I survived, to double the parts of Misquith and Sir George Orreyd in THE SECOND MRS.TANQUERAY the next night.
I stayed with her the beest part of two tempestuous years, during which scarcely a week passed without one or two changes of cast. "Get rid of that man, he looks like a half wit".."I can't appear on the stage with that girl, she doen't wash". Hardly a day went by without a rehearsal, for she was only happy when inthe theatre, bullying the men, making the girls cry. She adored it. And I adored her; what bliss to be in the presence of so great a personality, to listen to her talk theatre, theatre, theatre; to hear her reminisce: "Once I was young and beautiful, not I'm getting old and fat. Soon I shall die and go to heaven, and God will say to me, 'Come on, Stella, you and Sarah (the Divine) are going to play Peleas and Melisande for me'". She would talk of her acting with the Divine Sarah, and of how, on one occasion she greeted Bernhardt on stage with a newly laid egg concealed in her hand,which, of course, broke on contact, and smothered the heavenly bosom.
So many stories have been told about Mrs.Pat by famous people who were with her in her hey-day that I will confine myself to my own personal experiences. Her "London Company" consisted mainly of actors who had never acted in London, apart perhaps from her two leading men, Herbert Thomas and Bernard Merefield. From them one descended rapidly in the scale to the scrapings of the barrel, myself and a young girl with a face like a Burne Jones stained glass window, who was to make a big name for herself: Catherine Lacey. She admits today that she owes a great deal to Mrs.Pat, who took infinite pains to teach and train her. "That girl knows more about the theatre than I've forgotten". Catherine has more than justified Mrs.Pat's faith in her.
On Mrs.Campbell's first appearance in TANQUERAY, as she draped herself in the doorway of Aubrey's apartment, there was an audible intake of breath from the audience. Could this obese and ageing woman really be the great and beautiful Mrs.Campbell they had come to see? But within five minutes they were eating out of her hand, hanging on her every word, captured and enraptured by the music of her voice, and her playing of the opening scene with Aubrey, the scene that had started her on the high road to fame so many years ago with Sir George Alexander. It has been described by the late Jack Minster as the "magical five minutes". I agree with Jack. Here I recognised greatness. But she was full of mischief, doing all she could to make her Company laugh with her muttered witticisms. Later, I was promoted to play Captain Ardale. In one tense and dramatic scene I had to exclaim "You dare! You dare!" "Why, what would you do?" returned Mrs.Pat. With all the drama I could command, I replied, "Nothing, I'd shoot myself, that's nothing". Whereupon Mrs.Pat put her finger up to her face and whispered "You spat in my eye!" I had to make my exit as best as I could, trying to make my smothered giggles sounds like sobs.
After Merefield's departure, I became her Manager and also took the part of Cayley Drummle. At the beginning of our scene she would whisper "How much in the House?" and then, if the figure I mentioned warranted it, "Send £50 to Handley Seymour." She was always in debt to Handley Seymour, who supplied her with all her expensive wardrobe, for which she paid in bits and pieces, as and when the takings permitted. She always lived in great style, travelling by car with a uniformed chauffeur; and the chauffeur, like the actor, was frequently replaced by a new one. Once, before she drove from the Metropole Hotel, Brighton, to the next town, the sacked chauffeur was handing over to the new one. In a loud voice she cried, "Stop, you've got my breeches on. Go in and change them at once", and we had to wait while the wretched ex-chauffeur went back in to the hotel, to appear later with "her breeches" wrapped in a piece of brown paper to hand over to the new man. "I have no one to fight for me," she once said; "all my dealings are with men! That is why I have to be as strong as a man".
When I was in favour I was expected to travel with her to the next town, a far from restful experience. Suddenly leaning forward she would say, "You are doing more than twenty miles an hour, how dare you: slow down at once." On one occasion we passed a man on a bicycle with a dog tied to it, strugglin to keep up. "Stop" came the command. Out she got and told the man to let the dog loose. "Now you go on ahead and we will follow you, you brute. I shall report you to the R.S.P.C.A."
Her love for dogs was traditional. Once the taxi driver said to her as she was descending with her wretched little Belgian Griffon, "Look at the mess your dog has made in my cab". Came the quick retort in soft mellifluous tones, "No, no, it was me." Her favourite passion was a Pekingese. She would lay the little beast on its back, tickle its tummy and say, "Now tell the gentleman what your name is". I can remember it to this day: "Mimi pincon, qui est une blonde, Miss pipsy sweetle, swizzle swazzle, zou zou zumpkins up and pinch her." If I have got it wrong, I defy anyone to correct me. Yes, she was a very lonely woman.
One evening Mrs.Pat announced to us, "Next week you will be playing with a real Baronet; I hope you know how to behave." She was a friend of the Edens, and surely enough the "real Baronet", Sir Timothy Eden, and his beautiful young wife, Patricia, came to join the Company. They opened with us in THE THIRTEENTH CHAIR at the West Pier, Brighton, where Sir Timothy and I shared a dressing room. His first words to me were "I wonder if I could borrow your number 5?" Thus began a friendship which lasted until he died, and which I still treasure in my memory.
It was arranged that we should play a special "Gala Week" at Bishop Auckland, which was the home ground of the Eden family, and the whole Company was invited to stay at their large and stately home, Windlestone. On the Sunday night when we arrived, we enjoyed ourselves enormously, rampaging wildly through this great house, playing Hide-and-Seek, Sardines and so on. But not so Mrs.Pat, who could not bear to see her Company enjoying themselves. She retired to her room in high dudgeon, announcing that she was far from well, and that it was doubtful if she would be able to appear on the Monday night, when we were due to open with TANQUERAY. Nor did she appear, and indeed she did not leave her room for the entire week. The result was an absolute shambles, as may well be imagined. Her understudy, in name only, was a young timid girl whose main function on the tour was to help dress and pack for Mrs.Pat. She had no pretensions as an actress, did not know the part, and was in any case far too nervous to say any lines she might have known. The first night was disastrous, as was the whole week. Not only was our intended happy visit ruined but Sir Timothy was made a laughing stock by this cruel, spiteful old woman. He never forgave her, and left the Company soon after.
But I was forever grateful for the opportunity of meeting both Tim and Patricia, who showed me so much kindness in later years, when we became constant companions at their home in Hyde Park Gardens. Tim had few friends. He had inherited from his father a great intolerance of the world and those who lived in it. Like Sir William, too, he painted with exceptional talent and much reverence. He wrote much, though he published comparatively little, among his best work being his biography of his father, "Tribulations of a Baronet" and his "History of the County of Durham". Despite his uncontrollable temper, he had a great love of all that is beautiful, the heart of a child, the mind of a master. Difficult to live with, impossible to argue with, he was tempestuous and yet forgiving. His mind was a treasury of all the finest poetry, literature, works of art. Asked to supply the missing word from a quotation from some poet in a crossword puzzle, he would not only supply the word, but reel off a whole stanza from memory. I spent many happy days and weeks in his company during my periods of unemployment. We would discuss actors, plays, pictures, until a disagreement over some topic would invariably flare up: then after a sulky silence, he would say, "Fitz, let's play golf". He generally beat me at golf and tennis, but we had battles royal, usually ending up with some outrageous display of temper. But his anger never lasted, and we would return to Hyde Park Gardens and settle down to some childish game of "Battleships". "Blast you, Fitz, you've sunk one of my destroyers, and hit my battleship twice."
We seldom discussed politics, which was far too dangerous a subject. He was outwardly indifferent to his distinguished brother's success as Foreign Secretary, and later as Prime Minister, and was often critical of the Tory Party, though immensely proud of his son John when he entered Parliament.
I was frequently asked to dinner at Hyde Park Gardens. Sometimes it would consist of porridge, with perhaps bacon and eggs; but when some important guest was expected, I would arrive to find that dinner had been ordered from the Ritz, with liveried servants in attendance. Eventually the Edens left London and went to live at Fritham, in the New Forest. It was there, at Cadnam, that we played our last game of golf. True to form he ended up by throwing his clubs into a nearby pond. There, he and Patricia started the School, which still flourishes, and Tim spent his last days teaching the girls who adored him, and enriching them with the treasures from his bejewelled mind. He cut himself off from the world that had become unbearable to him, refusing even to read the daily papers. He died a stag at bay in the heart of the New Forest. God rest his restless soul, and keep my memory clear, for I shall not meet his like again.
But back to Mrs.Patrick Campbell and her London Company. The tour went on, actors came and left, there were the usual morning rehearsals and nightly castigations. During this tour I became engaged to be married, to Rosalie Gray, only daughter of a retired and successful businessman, residing in Surbiton. Mrs.Pat made comment, "I hear you are going to be married. What a pity, young men are not nearly so interesting when they are married." I thought of Sarah Siddons, and her advice to Macready when, as a young man, he went to pay homage to her in Bath: "No actor should marry before he is thirty. You can't learn your parts with a lot of children tugging at your coat tails." In spite of strong parental opposition, Rosalie and I arranged to be married the week the Company were playing at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith. Mrs.Pat came to the wedding at St.Paul's, Knightsbridge, and insisted on signing the register "Beatrice Stella Cornwallis West". During her literary flirtations with Shaw, and in a moment of pique, she had married George Cornwallis West, and though no longer living with him, she was still proud to bear his aristocratic name. Later she came to have supper with us in our digs in Bath. On being shown the engagement ring, which had cost me dear on her salaries, she remarked, "How sensible of Mr.Fitzgerald not to pretend he's a millionaire." But she had her human side. She became godmother to our son Michael, and sent six pairs of exquisite boottees from Paris as a Christening present.
While playing at Cheltenham, we were asked to give a special matinee performance of MAGDA at the Papworth Tubercolis Settlement. We arrived to find a very small stage fixed up in the dining hall, with an inset box set which made it even smaller. Something sent us all into hysterics, including Mrs.Pat. Could it be that we, and she, were wondering how her massive figure could ever make an entrance? There was so little space between the box set and the wall, and a window had to be negotiated before reaching the centre door to make an entrance. However we were warned by Mrs.Pat to be on our best behaviour as the patients were so looking forward to a dramatic treat. To avoid being seen by the audience, we all had to approach the entrance on our knees, including Mrs.Pat, who crawled along in her expensive Handley Seymour gown, giggling audibly. As may be imagined, we were under great stress to control ourselves.
Mrs.Pat was always trying to "upset" us. In one town, the Manager of the theatre sent word round, "Would Mrs.Campbell refrain from making her Company laugh on the stage", to which she replied "Why? The only time I can bear them is when they are laughing."
During a dramatic scene between Magda and her would-be-seducer, Von Keller, played by me, I turned to see a white cat sitting on the stage watching us intently; so did Mrs.Pat. At the end of the scene, Magda has to point dramatically to the door and in outraged tones cry, "out, out, out"" Of course, it had to happen: the cat got to its four feet and walked off. I was thankful that I was able to obey Magda's command and get out, out, out, before relapsing into helpless giggles.
In MAGDA, Bernard Merefield, playing the Parson, made an entrance. As he shut the door, the handle came away in his hand. He had to play the entire scene clutching the wretched thing. On making his exit, with great presence of mind, he carefully replaced the handle, opened the door, shutting it again on the outside, and all was well!
MAGDA is a highly dramatic play, which finished with a highly dramatic scene, but even this was topped one night by an unforseen and unrehearsed slice of drama. Magda's father, Colonel Schwartz, by now convinced of his daughter's loose living, seizes a pistol from the table, and pointing it at her cries: "Strumpet, Strumpet". Before he can fire it, however, he is seized with a fit, and falls back into the armchair. The commotion has roused the other characters, who now come rushing onto see what all the rumpus is about. Amongst them is Max, a young Lieutenant, wearing a sword. Magda cries, "Max, run for a doctor", which he does. But one night the unfortunate fellow got the hilt of his sword entangled in the long fringe of the table cloth on which stood the traditional bowl of goldfish. As he rushed for the doctor, he dragged the table cloth with him, causing the glass bowl of fish to crash to the stage. The bowl was smashed, and the fish scattered around, protesting strongly as fish will do when deprived of their means of livelihood. The play was forgotten, the Colonel left to continue having his fit in the armchair. Mrs.Pat was on her knees, shouting, "Quick, a bucket of water." One of the cast ran and fetched the fire bucket from the Prompt Corner. Mrs.Pat collected the gasping, flapping little fish, popping them one by one into the bucket. Then she rose, and lifting the bucket on high, announced in her most dramatic tones to the audience, "The Fish are safe!" Result? Curtain after curtain of thunderous applause, and improving business for the rest of the week. Humane Mrs.Pat. And clever too!
I had been on tour with Mrs.Pat now for close on two years. Many actors had come and gone, and I had played in most theatres in the British Isles. My salary had now risen to ten pounds a week, and the time had come to replace me with someone cheaper. I made the suggestion that I should depart, and she readily agreed to it. But I had much to be grateful for, including the opportunity of seeing into the mind of this great personality, whose twin loves were the theatre and her wretched little dogs. I felt that I had gained much in experience and knowledge. And later on I was to have even more cause for gratitude.