[ Allan Wilkie, Shakespearian actor-manager in Australia. ] 24 Autograph Letters Signed to the theatre historian Allan Duncan, discussing his life and career in England and Australia, with copies of 18 of Duncan's replies, and nine other items,.

Allan Wilkie (1878-1970), Anglo-Scottish Shakespearian actor-manager in England and Australia; Barry Duncan Duncan [ Horace Alexander Barry Duncan ] (1909-1985), theatre historian and bookseller
Publication details: 
The first five from 42 Mount Edward Road, Rothesay, Bute, Scotland; 17 of the others (including 7 on his letterhead) from Montford House, Rothesay; the other one from Edinburgh. Between 11 January 1965 and 15 October 1969.
SKU: 19501

It is safe to say that no Shakespearian actor travelled as widely as Allan Wilkie, and few can surely match the number of his performances. Although born in Liverpool, Wilkie considered himself Scottish ('a young Scots boy'). Inspired by Osmond Tearle, he took to the stage, learning his craft with Ben Greet's company. The Times obituary of 'Mr. Allan Wilkie | Shakespearian actor-manager', 8 January 1970, describes how, after six years as a touring actor-manager in England, Wilkie took his troupe to India, China and Japan, 1911-1913. This was the beginning of years spent abroad which, by his own account, would see him travel 'all over the world, perhaps a million miles in all'. In 1915 he journeyed to Australia, where in 1920 he and his wife ('Miss Frediswyde Hunter-Watts') 'launched their own Shakespearean Company at the Princess's Theatre, Melbourne with Macbeth. Four years later they gave their 1,000th consecutive performance of Shakespeare, stated to be a record'. By 1928 their Australian tours had clocked up around 14000 performances. With the onset of the Great Depression, the Wilkies left Australia in 1931, and after a brief tour in Britain, retired from the stage the following year. The present collection of 51 items is in good overall condition, lightly aged and worn, with occasional slight smudging and staining. Much of the correspondence concerns Wilkie's memoirs 'All the World My Stage', regarding which he requests (and receives) Duncan's 'candid opinion' and advice. (Wilkie's attempts at publication proved unsuccessful. The National Library of Australia possesses the manuscript, edited by John Marlborough East with a foreword by Ngaio Marsh, with the subtitle 'A Biography of the Actor-Manager Allan Wilkie CBE, whose Exploits made him a Legend in Australia'.) ONE: 23 Autograph Letters Signed from Wilkie to Duncan, totalling 63pp. All but two are long letters, neatly and closely written. Nine are accompanied by their envelopes. The major part of the correspondence concerns theatrical matters, with Duncan as the informed historian of the theatre drawing out information about theatre history and mutual acquaintances such as Frank Pettingell. Wilkie also provides, especially toward the end of the correspondence, reminiscences about his early life, and his antecedent. Other topics include bereavements, his own ill health and that of his wife Kate; their home, and a range of subjects from politics to the 'cockney accent' that 'seems to prevail in the educated classes in the South'. The correspondence begins at the time of Duncan's publication of his book on the St James's Theatre, and this leads to a discussion of Wilkie's own memoirs, with his comments, in a succession of letters, on Duncan's advice. On 11 January 1965 Wilkie writes: 'I have never been quite able to get my reminiscences published “All the World My Stage” tho' most of the publishers I have sent it to tell me they have given it 2 & 3 & in one instance no less than 4 readings before turning it down. I have a very excellent introduction by Ngaio Marsh, but have not done anything with it for a year or two.' The next letter, 8 February 1965, finds Wilkie in low spirits. He mourns the loss of his 'only remaining sister & then shortly after my only remaining brother (91) wh. put me off correspondence […] I being the sole survivor of my generation, wh. I may state has made me realise that I am well into the sere & yellow leaf myself. I shall be 87 tomorrow!' At the same time he complains that 42 Mount Edward Road is not a 'suitable domicile', being 'but a furnished flat as a temporary halting place' (on 12 April he is delighted with his new residence at Montford House, which he describes approvingly), and also that he is 'unable to find £1,000 to publish' his memoirs. On receiving Duncan's book he writes (18 March 1965): 'I saw most of the productions at the St James's Th. between the late Victorian & Edwardian eras. So many of the actors you mention & illustrate I actually played with in my salad days, viz. Herman [sic] Vezin, Lal Brough, Dorothea Baird, etc.' A letter of 16 May [1965] includes an interesting discussion of Wilkie's 'production methods': 'they were always governed by the limited time at my disposal for rehearsals. With an active repertoire on an average of about 20 plays it was not possible to give the meticulous preparation of 6 weeks or more to a production. I was very often fortunate if I could give 6 days & on the memorable occasion when I produced “The Tempest” in Adelaide amidst the press of nighly changes I could only give 2 rehearsals to what was an entirely new production to me & my company & I am proud to say it went without a hitch. I was always a great traditionalist never seeking for

or novelty but as far as possible adopting the business & readings evolved by all the great actors of the past & transmitted to Osmond Tearle, Benson, Greet & others. My earliest mentor in this respect was an old actor in my company who had been associated with Barry Sullivan, John Coleman & other famous Victorians. Of course where no such information was to be obtained I had to work my own production from scratch.' A letter of 20 July 1965 responds to a number of observations from Duncan. Wilkie accepts 'the desirability of introducing the names of some of the actors with whom I have been associated, including Frank Pettingell,

, Frank Royde & others whom I met in my youth'. Regarding 'advertising methods' he writes: 'I do feel very strongly about this & great as is my reverence & admiration for Irving & E[llen]. T[erry]. I still deplore their use of this form of publicity.' And on his treatment of the question of 'Maoris & cannibalism' in his book: 'The whole point of my anecdote was to shew the remarkable development of the maoris who were able to understand & enjoy such a play as Hamlet when only one generation removed from savages & cannibalism. I think it is quite astounding & shd be noted. (Ngaio Marsh who wrote the introduction is a New Zealander made no comment when she wrote me)'. Returning to his 'methods of producing' he writes that 'With such a huge repertoire & the constant travelling involved there was not the time at my disposal to introduce a great deal of finesse in my work. I did perhaps expound my views upon the over-production by modern

wh. I am inclined to think destroys all spontaneity & makes performances somewhat mechanical. But I suppose I belong to the older school of the stock days when productions were more rough & ready.' Although his 'connection with Australia is 35 years past', his name 'frequently crops up in the Australian press &

told me in a recent address he gave in Wellington N. Z. the mention of my name brought forth a hearty round of applause, and on a visit to Australia a few years ago homeward bound to London when my ship put into Freemantle for a day a special reception was organised for me in Perth & I was interviewed widely.' On 9 August 1965 he returns to the subject of Irving and 'cheap publicity by advertising': 'Even if you can quote the great H. I. (for whom I have an almost fanatical admiration) as being an offender it does not shake my opinion that it is a cheap & vulgar practice. The greater the name the less need to resort to it. I was never in the category of the great but I was sufficiently prominent in Australia to be approached several times to lend my name to varioius articles but always set my face against it. - This reminds me that once when I was playing in Auckland I was interviewed & amongst other queries was asked about my opinion of the present day (then) state of the drama? Amongst many other factors I said actors themselves had lost ground in the respect of the public and the aura that once surrounded them by resorting to all kinds of cheap publicity & in particular emphasized this practice of endorsing the value of certain patent medicines, shaving soaps, etc. wh. I knew (from my own experience of approaches made to me) they had never used or even heard of. A very famous star actor was following me at the Theatre in Auckland under the aegis of J. C. Williamson, who had just finished a very successful season in London. Whether by chance, a humorous design on the part of a sub-editor there was a large splash advert, plus photo, of the actor in question in a parallel column to my interview, advertising some popular brand of shaving soap.' The same letter contains a long postscript regarding Frank Pettingell and 'Charley's Aunt', and the following letter, 24 February 1966, relates to Pettingell's death, and Wilkie's receipt of 'probably the last [letter] he ever wrote', and a visit in 1963 to his house: 'He shewed me his remarkable & vast collection of books & souvenirs. I have a roomfull but he had a whole house (& garden sheds) chockfull. […] Our own association went back 60 years & although there was a long gap in our contacts owing to my being broad I greatly enjoyed our renewal of our friendship over the past four years. […] When I met him first, although only a youth he was a journalist & cartoonist on a Blackpool paper & he did a design for me of a combination picture of myself in about 2 dozen characters from my repertoire wh. I had developed as a post in colour by David Allen & Sons.' In a postscript he comments gloomily: 'Although I am still alive & kicking I am as an actor dead to all intents & purposes & I can console myself by that on my inability to find a publisher for my magnum opus!' On 22 March 1966 he discusses his souvenirs of the stage, including a sword, 'the property of George Rignold – his Henry V. sword, in wh. part he made (as you probably know) an almost world-wide reputation […] It came to me as a gift from the

family, one of whom (Arthur) was an actor in my company. His elderly sister looked after Rignold in his retirement in Sydney.' A letter of 27 March 1966 quotes from Pettingell's last letter to him, and discusses the means of selling the dead actor's books, which Duncan has acquired. A gap occurs in the correspondence at this point, with the next letter written on 19 November 1968. On learning of Duncan's removal from London to Southampton Wilkie is led (30 November 1968) into reminiscences of his youth: 'And Southampton of all places, with which I have so many associations. My mother's name was Bowyer & she was born in Woolston across the Itchen & I must have dozens of Bowyer cousins kicking about Soton. Two of them were mayors of Southampton, first cousins of mine Henry & Vincent Bowyer – brothers. In all my boyhood years I spend my long summer holidays with a Bowyer uncle who lived in Fawley, then a delightfully rustic village when the days of the motor vehicle were unknown & long before the Agwi oilworks which have ruined the right bank of Southampton water & done away with the great millpond in wh. I used to bathe'. The letter also describes a visit to Rothesay by Professor Arthur Colby Sprague of Bryn Mawr University: 'He has frequently honoured me by consultation & quoting me in his works. He & his wife paid a visit to Rothesay for a week in July in order to see me, and I took them to “Kean's Cottage” in which he was greatly interested.' On 12 December 1969, following the receipt of a copy of Farquhar's 'The Constant Couple', he show that in his last year of life his faculties remain intact: 'It was a labour for me to read it because with my now defective vision I found the small print plus the f's for s. etc. hard going. […] I found it very interesting though hardly sufficiently attractive to justify its one-time popularity with both actors & the public. It is a bawdy play & depends largely upon its bawdiness for its humour.' The letter also discusses Duncan's friend the actor-manager Jimmy Lynton (Tony Blair's grandfather). On 2 May 1969 he complains of more bereavements: 'Since the 1st January '69 I have lost 2 nephews, [and] many old friends including former members of my company'. He discusses the circumstances surrounding the 'Eccentric Will' of one of the nephews. The final letter, 15 October 1969, is written from Edinburgh, where his wife is undergoing medical treatment. He discusses the election, once again with a curiosity and relish that indicate, within a few months of his death, undimmed energy. There are a number of theatrical reminiscences. On 24 February 1965 he describes Calvert Routledge, 'who 60 years ago was the manager of H. M. Th. Barrow-in-Furness', as 'the most loathsome toad of a manager I ever had dealings with in my long experience of the stage'. A letter of 18 April 1965 contains a long passage about the actor Henry Ainly and the 1902 production of Paolo & Francesca in which he made his name, beginning: 'As I think I mention in my book I was sharing a sitting room with Ainsley during the production & early run of P[aolo]. & F[rancesca]. & it was he, himself, who told me that when he had settled down in his role of P. he was informed by the management that they had been very dubious as to whether he had sufficient experience to carry the part (& that Alexander was secretly rehearsing it up to the last moment)'. On 8 July 1965 he discusses a book on 'the Father of Australian Theatre', George Coppin, 'whose daughter Lucy only died five years ago & whom I knew well'. TWO: Typed Letter Signed from Wilkie to Duncan. 26 August 1953. 1p., 8vo. Regarding a lent book ('the matter is too light and ephemeral to be worth putting on my shelves') and his ill-health. THREE: Three Autograph Cards Signed from Wilkie to Duncan. 1965, 1967 and 1969. The last, postmarked 15 December 1969, written a few days before his death, ends: 'Windy weather does not suit me in my old age!' With two Christmas cards from Wilkie (one typed out by him) and a third from Wilkie's wife, with autograph message. FOUR: A small black and white photograph of Wilkie, standing on the steps of a country house. FIVE: Carbon copies of 18 TLsS from Duncan to Wilkie, dating from between 14 January 1965 and 12 July 1969. Totalling 37pp. A chatty correspondence, much of it concerning Wilkie's autobiography. A letter of 9 May 1965 ends with a two-page reworking by Duncan of part of Wilkie's manuscript, with both leaves headed in manuscript 'draft notes only'. These notes includes information regarding Wilkie's youth ('I really loathed the office routine of my five years apprenticeship'), the first play he 'ever saw' ('at the Barron-in-Furness Royalty when on holiday from the office. It was A Bunch of Violets by Sydney Grundy and though neither that domestic comedy nor the performance made much impression on me it whetted my appetite for a new-found and delightful form of entertainment'), and the actor-manager Osmund Tearle ('a singularly lovable but independent character who refused many tempting offers from Irving, Tree and others, perferring the more glorious if uncertain life of a touring actor-manager instead of the more secondary fame under others of the wider London stage'). Much of the the rest of the correspondence is also on theatrical themes, with other topics including Duncan's personal and business activities, mutual acquaintances (Carl Routledge, Herman Vezin, Donald Sinden, Jimmy Lynton). SIX: Two newspaper cuttings, one of a long letter from Wilkie to the editor of the Scotsman, 9 June 1956, under the heading 'TV and Theatre | Decay of the Live Drama', the other Wilkie's Times obituary, 8 January 1970.