Robert Maynard provided this photo of former Pollard’s star William Thomas at his butcher shop, on Hampshire Rd, Sunshine, sometime in the 1920s. William (centre) proudly holds his daughter Emma. His years performing for Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in North America and Asia are far behind him.
My lecturers so long ago – Tom Ryan, Arthur Cantrill and Ken Mogg.
And the following people deserve special thanks;
Richard Bradshaw regarding Fred Stone
Joyce Mostyn, Norm Archibald, John Armine Wodehouse Earl of Kimberley, Dianne Byrne and Simone Cubbin regarding Mary Maguire
Martin Goebel, Charles Zhang and Mark Lepp regarding Saharet
Melissa Anderson regarding Lotus Thompson
Catherine Crocker regarding Midas Martyn and the Pollard’s
Robert Maynard regarding Willie Thomas and the Pollard’s
Stephanie Welsh regarding Jocelyn Howarth
Writer Robert Gott , Editors Jane Cussen & Ingrid Purnell
Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe
Sandra Joy Aguilar (Director of Archives and Curator at the Warner Bros Archives at the University of Southern California)
Joe Henderson (National Archives in Kew, England),
Dan Gulino (radiowasbetter.com),
Jock Murphy, (former Director of Collections at the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne),
Dorothy Weekes, (former Archivist at Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy),
Sister Helen Salter (Archivist at Loreto Convent in Brisbane)
A young Fred Stone from Sydney doing the splits in London in 1929 – an impressive skill only sometimes achieved by male dancers even today. Photo courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
At the age of 21, Fred Stone left Depression era Sydney on the P&O ship Benalla, arriving in London in May 1929. He never returned to Australia. In the United Kingdom he became a well known favourite on stage, sometimes also appearing in supporting roles in films and TV. Fred’s attitude to his country of birth was at best, ambivalent. While he stayed in regular contact with his Australian family until his mother died in 1956, he seems, by accident or design, to have often added to the confusion about who he was, and where he was from. This is probably reflected in the wildly inaccurate Internet Movie Database entry that currently states he was born in Derby, England!
He was born Frederick George Stone in a terrace house in Liverpool Street, Paddington, an inner suburb of Sydney, on 9 July 1908. His parents were Frederick Stone and Margaret Calder nee Nixon, both of whom had been stewards on ships. Fred and his older sister “Lalla” (Agnes), spent their childhood in a large airy home their father had built at 19 Balfour Rd, Kensington, perhaps as a consequence of his success as a punter. Both children attended the nearby Kensington Public School. At some point in his childhood, Fred discovered the pleasure of performing on stage, an interest his mother had encouraged. In his mid teens he worked for two years at Farmer’s Department Store, Sydney, but left to pursue his passion. In 1925, while attending the Harry Thomas School of Elocution, he came in for praise in the part of Paris, in Romeo and Juliet. Fred’s first professional roles were in the choruses of musicals. On 1 March 1927, Fred appeared in the chorus of “Sunny,” , a new musical by Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach at Sydney’s Empire Theatre. He also appeared (as Freddie Stone) in the chorus of Good News, a musical about US college life that opened at St James Theatre on 10 November 1928. A slightly sniffy reviewer for “The Sydney Morning Herald” described it as something that would be popular with those, who like “American jazz comedy“.
Above: Good News program courtesy Richard Bradshaw. Click to enlarge.
Left: Fred and his sister Lalla (and two of her children) shortly before Fred departed for England in 1929.
Right: Fred Stone in Wellington, New Zealand, in the late 1920s while he was in the chorus of the new musical “Sunny”. Photos courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
Fred was a good looking and talented young actor, so it is not surprising he found regular stage work soon after arriving in England. In late 1929 he had landed a role inMr Cinders at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol, the play being a clever inversion of the Cinderella story. He went on to appear in a number of musicals and comedies in the 1930s, including The White Horse Inn, The Flying TrapezeandTulip Time. He now called himself Frederic Stone, probably to avoid confusion with the US cinema star of the same name.
Above Left: Richard Hearne, Robert Gordon and Fred Stone making up for The Flying Trapeze at the Alhambra Theatre in 1935. Courtesy Richard Bradshaw. This was a musical set in a circus, starring Jack Buchanan. Fred’s supporting role was the Ballet Master. Above Right: A screen grab of Fred in Be Careful Mr Smith, released in 1935.
In 1935, he appeared in the film Be Careful Mr Smithas a performer who sings the old music hall favourite, “The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.” He is on screen with leading actor Bobbie Comber for a full five minutes, which makes the lack of credit for the role he played surprising, even for a “quota quickie,” as these types of movies were characterised.
The un-credited Fred Stone sings the first verse and chorus until interrupted by Mr Smith (Bobbie Comber) who insists it be sung slowly in the traditional musical hall manner. Clip from Be Careful Mr Smith courtesy Peter Charlton.
His successful stage career in the 1930s saw him perform throughout the UK and beyond – in 1937 he joined the George Clark company tour of South Africa, performing a review called Let’s Join George. On the outbreak of World War II he was appearing in a bedroom farce called Room for Two, and not long after that, another one, called High Temperature, advertised as “a play for the broad-minded.”
By early 1940, Fred, like numerous other actors, had joined the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). By a sequence of events no longer known, in early 1942 he had ended up in the RAF and was performing in one of Ralph Reader‘s Gang Shows. With more than ten years stage experience, Sergeant Fred Stone #1223414 was leader for one Gang Show group entertaining troops in Europe. Joining him, from about 1944, was a very young Tony Hancock, who can clearly be seen in the following photos. There were at least fifteen gang show groups performing for British and Allied forces.
(Click to enlarge)
Above Left: Fred in drag (second from the left) for a undated Gang Show sketch. Hancock is second from the right. Above Right: A Gang Show sketch with John Beaver as the sleepwalker at right. Hancock is fourth from the left, while Fred is fifth from the left with buck teeth. The astute reader will note that Fred marked himself in photos with a small cross, for the benefit of his mother. Courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
Above: Another Gang show with Hancock second from the left and Fred third from the left. John Fisher’s biography of Hancock may describe this sketch: “In one sketch entitled ‘Rumours’ Tony found himself in a skirt alongside John Beaver and Fred Stone…as three charladies caught up in an air-raid …until the arrival of a Duchess played by Robert Moreton”. Photos courtesy Richard Bradshaw.
The Gang Shows are famous for giving a number of British actors valuable stage experience – amongst them comedians Peter Sellers and Dick Emery. Interviewed about his Gang Show experiences in 1963, Tony Hancock had this to say;
“My first overseas posting was with Ralph Reader’s Gang Show to Africa – not that I really knew where I was going at the time; the R.A.F didn’t really keep me very well informed… From North Africa we moved to the front line in Italy. Well not actually to it. We got about three miles behind it once, but that was the closest we ever did.
When our show came back to England it was great to see that it was still tightly disciplined. And that was entirely due to Fred Stone who later appeared in ‘The Boy Friend.’ He was a very strong personality who managed to keep 11 men who were living as closely as we were in reasonable shape. And I realise now that this was because he would have nothing wrong with the show.
No matter what he felt personally about anything, it couldn’t interfere with a performance. I was only 20 or so at the time and it was a great example to me.” (Tony Hancock in the TV.Times [U.K.], 11 January 1963)
In 1949-50 he reprised his 1932-33 role as Leopold the waiter in The White Horse Inn on tour in the U.K. for theatre impresario Prince Littler.
Fred had first performed at the Players’ Theatre Club in 1939, and after World War II he returned – appearing there (between other commitments) in their nightly show, until the 1980s, often acting as Chairman (the traditional music hall term for Master of Ceremonies) who ad-libbed with the audience and introduced sketches. Many other well known British actors appeared at Players’ Theatre, some that today’s readers may recognise include Hattie Jacques, Peter Ustinov, Clive Dunn, Ian Carmichael and Joan Sterndale-Bennett.
In her entertaining but not always accurate autobiography, British Actress Ada Reeve recounted being taken to the Player’s Theatre for her 80th birthday in the early 1950s; “here, on the very stage where I had made my first West End appearance as a girl of fourteen, I once more had the thrill of being announced by a chairman – handsome Fred Stone, in appropriately Victorian garb.”
In 1953, Players’ commissioned Sandy Wilson to write a 45 minute piece to end the evening show – which became the genesis of The Boy Friend. It was so well received, that after four weeks, he was asked to expand it, and this became the musical so well known today.
Fred’s contribution is noted in Sandy Wilson’s own autobiography:
“Freddy’s presence in the show turned out to be another invaluable asset, since his experience went back to the Twenties themselves and he had actually been in the chorus of the kind of show we were trying to recreate. “
Wilson also acknowledged that he based ‘The Riviera’ dance’ in The Boy Friend on the ‘Varsity Drag’ from the musical Good News. Wilson recalled “Fred Stone’s advice was again invaluable because he had been in the chorus of that show.” Producer Vida Hope also incorporated many of Fred’s experiences – he reportedly said; “She made no bones about using everything I suggested…But, being an actor, I did far too much… So Vida would cut it down. She would let me do it for about twenty-four hours, and then she said, ‘Now, darling, we’ll tidy this up.'”
Fred as Percy Browne, the millionaire father of the heroine, in The Boy Friend, with Joan Sterndale Bennett as Madame Dubonnet, sometime in 1954. Photo courtesy Richard Bradshaw. Hugh Paddick also played this role.
The hugely popular musical The Boy Friend opened at the Wyndham Theatre in January 1954. This is the modest program from around that time. Author’s collection.
Fred’s other well known role was playing various pantomime dames, in fact a contract to perform as one took him away from The Boy Friendfor a short period. Fred’s 1995 obituary in “The Daily Telegraph” includes a mid 1960s photo of Fred en point in ballet shoes, with tutu and makeup, as “Madame Stonaskaya” and clearly enjoying the outrageous role.
Ever versatile, in 1959 Fred Stone finally took on the role of a villain, Captain Herbert Skinner, in a new version of a once popular Victorian melodrama The Silver Kingperformed by The Players’.
Fred playing the villain Captain Skinner, with Madeleine Dring and 27 year old Prunella Scales, in The Silver King. The Stage, 1 January 1959 via the British Library Newspaper Archive.
Between November 1961 and June 1962, a troupe of the Players’ club regulars travelled to New York to appear at the Strollers Theatre Club, where Fred performed as Chairman. A New York “Daily News” reviewer described that “delightful Englishman Fred Stone” as “a cross between (designer/photographer) Cecil Beaton and (actor) Cyril Ritchard.“ The journalist was unaware apparently, that like Fred, Cyril Ritchard was Sydney born.
(Click to enlarge) A troupe from the Players’ club arrives in New York, as shown in two publicity photos taken for Pan Am’s in-flight magazine “Clipper,”c 1961.
In the group photos with bicycles are, left to right: Fred, Jean Rayner, Anthony Bateman, Margaret Burton, Archie Harradine, Joan Sterndale Bennett, Sheila Bernette, and Geoffrey Webb. The review was called Time, Gentlemen Please.
Fred continued to be active to the end of his life. British director Lindsay Anderson recalled meeting Fred while making a Ronson shaver commercial in May 1965. His published diary records that at the time, Fred had just finished performing in Divorce Me Darling, the sequel to The Boy Friend. It also confirms Fred’s reputation as the consummate professional;
“Called wearily to St John’s Wood Studio at 8:30 for Ronson Shavers commercial … Fred Stone turns out [to be] excellent casting: the (only slightly) camp father from ‘The Boy Friend’ – has just closed in Sandy’s ‘Divorce Me Darling’. A trouper, and good. On hearing me sing ‘Spread a Little Happiness*’ remarks ––”I was in that show ––Mr Anderson’!”
(*This was a song in “Mr Cinders”)
Fred’s last theatre appearance may have been with the Players’ Theatre in 1990, when a dozen of the original performers in The Boy Friend reprised their roles. A reviewer for “The Stage” reported “At the end, a roaring surge of affection rewarded this great and gallant troupe of performers for providing an occasion at once historic, enthralling and deeply touching.” Fred Stone was 81 at the time, and he had been performing for over sixty years.
Late in life, Fred lectured and provided witty after dinner speeches about the great days of music hall entertainment. He also toured community centres in London, in entertainments organised by Peter Charlton.Always keen on physical fitness, he recovered quickly from a stroke which hit him during a performance later in life. He lived much of his life in a flat at 116 Great Titchfield Street in London, not far from the theatres of the West End. He died at Denville Hall, a retirement home for actors in Northwood, London, on 8 July, 1995. He had no partner and no strong ties to Australia. The obituaries were effusive – one spoke of a “marvellous man, full of vitality and a fabulous character…when he was up there on stage, there was nobody to touch him.”
For some years after his death, Fred was still introduced at the start of the second half at the Players’ Theatre with words to the effect “It gives me particular pleasure tonight, ladies and gentlemen, because the next artiste is none other than your own, your very own, Fred Stone!” There would then be an apology to explain he was not available tonight. Fred would have enjoyed the joke.
Special Thanks The Australian puppeteer Richard Bradshaw (OAM), former Artistic Director of the Marionette Theatre of Australia, is a nephew of Fred Stone. The author thanks him for generously providing so much information about Fred’s life and sharing so many of the photos Fred posted home to his mother.
Nick Murphy August 2019
John Fisher (2008) Tony Hancock: The Definitive Biography. Harper
Jean Anderson, Leonard Sachs (Eds) Archie Harradine (1943) Late Joys at the Players’ Theatre. Staples Press.
Reeve, Ada (1954). Take It for a Fact: A Record of My Seventy-Five Years on the Stage. Heinemann.
Paul Sheridan (1952) Late and Early Joys at the Players’ Theatre. T. V. Boardman and Co
Paul Sutton (2005) The Diaries – Lindsay Anderson, Methuen.
Sandy Wilson (1975) I could be Happy: An Autobiography. Joseph.
The Daily Telegraph (UK) Fred Stone Obituary. 25 July 1995
National Library of Australia – Trove
British Library – British newspaper Archive
The Stage (UK) The Boy Friend in Concert. 8 February 1990
This screen grab shows Harry Allen as the photographer in “Ella Cinders”, a 1926 Colleen Moore film. He was 47 by this time this film was made. Source – author’s collection. The film is now in the public domain.
Born in Carlton, Melbourne, in 1878, Henry “Harry Radford” Allen’s story is a familiar one. A stage actor who worked hard to establish his name, Harry found himself in the later part of his career working in Hollywood, taking on minor supporting and often un-credited roles, generally as a cockney cabman, a doorman, a butler or similar. Harry had at least 100 film credits of this type, unfortunately many of these quite forgettable. It was an experience shared by other Australian actors in Hollywood, including Charles Coleman, Robert Greig, Clyde Cook and Snub Pollard, who had also arrived there after successful careers on stage – usually in vaudeville.
Above: A bald Harry Allen in his small speaking scene from The Earl of Chicago (1940), with fellow Melbourne actor Snub Pollard as an extra clearly in the background. The two children may be Allan’s own. Australians Billy Bevan and Frank Bakeralso appeared in the film. MGM and Warner Home movies re-released this film on DVD in 2011.
Harry was born in Barkly Street in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton, near the busy intersection of Johnson and Nicholson Streets, on 10 July 1878. Harry’s parents were Cordelia Potter, a singer and pianist from Fitzroy, and Robert Owen Allen, from Tasmania, a sometime storeman and clerk, who may also have been a comic singer. Although many of the small cottages in this area have been demolished, those surviving give us an idea of the area in the time Harry was born.
Harry was almost certainly encouraged onto the stage by his parents, but of his upbringing we know little except that a sister, Georgina Ethel, died in infancy in 1880. We also cannot easily trace what happened to his parents, although it appears Cordelia may have later remarried. Nor do we know much about Harry’s career in the late 1890s and early 1900s. We do know that by his late twenties, Harry had some stage experience with J. C. Williamson’s in Australia, although curiously, unlike so many of his contemporaries, he consistently avoided publicity. In June 1910, he married a fellow actor – Marjorie Josephine Condon, at the Brisbane registry office. Here, on a remarkably inaccurate marriage certificate, he gave his age as “27” (he was 32) and his birth place as “New York”. In March 1912, Harry managed a J. C. Williamson’s fund- raising “monster theatrical carnival,” held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But soon after this, he abandoned Australia and Marjorie forever. In May 1913 he set off for New York via Vancouver on the SS Marama, in company with well known comic Sam Rowley, who had considerable experience working in North America. On the ship’s manifest Harry again claimed he had been born in the United States.
While Sam Rowley continued to make a name for himself as “the little man with the big voice” in Canada, Harry settled into work for prolific producer William A. Brady in New York. His breakthrough role came in early 1919, when he was cast as Bert in the new British musical comedy, The Better ‘Ole. The play was based on three popular cartoon soldier characters – Old Bill, Bert and Alf, drawn by Bruce Bairnsfather for the British weekly “The Bystander” under the title “Fragments from France.” It was such a great success that several companies performed the show across the US and Canada at the same time.
Above left: Australian performer Sam Rowley, who travelled with Harry to North America. But once they were there, they seem to have parted company. The Saskatoon Daily Star. 25 Oct 1913. Above Right: Harry Allen in character as Bert in The Better Ole. The Buffalo Times. 19 January 1919. Via Newspapers.com
Following this success Harry was offered a string of important roles in musicals, comedies and farces – including June Love, For Goodness Sake and Her Temporary Husband. The path to success had been a long one – he was 40 years old, but now an established actor. At the same time, he made a decision to stay in the US for good. In 1917 he began the process of applying for citizenship – his application noting he lived with his “wife Sue” and that the small finger of his left hand was missing.
The 1915 New York census also suggests Harry had married, or at least cohabited with, a woman named Susan W.
Harry Radford Allen’s Application for US citizenship, April 1917 (enlargement) Note the annotation “my wife name Sue she lives with me”. Via US National Archives, via Ancestry.com
Sometime in April 1920, Susanne Westford Allen (1865-1944) of New York, the youngest sister of the famous actress and political activist Lillian Russell (1860-1922), announced publicly that vaudeville actor Harry R Allen was “no longer regarded as a member of my family”. The problems were his straying affections and also a matter of money borrowed and not repaid. Susanne (also known as Susan or Suzie and sometimes using the surnames Leonard or Russell) was performing at the time in the play Clarence at the Hudson Theatre. This writer has not found a marriage certificate for Susanne and Harry R Allen, but The Daily News of New York suggested at the time they were married and the matter was going to court. Today it’s easy to dismiss this as a mixed-up newspaper story.
Left: Lillian Russell in The Evening Statesman. Washington, 20 May 1907.Via Newspapers.com Centre: Susanne Westford in The Daily News. New York, 19 April, 1920. Via Newspapers.com.
Right: Owen Westford and Susanne Leonard (Westford) performing together in Washington in 1902. Note the heading –“Polite Vaudeville.” IS there such a thing!? The Washington Times, 21 December 1902. Via Newspapers.com
And yet… there was, apparently, a real connection. Susanne Westford had been married to actor Robert Owen Westford (1858 – 1908), a native of Tasmania, from the mid 1880s until his sudden death in Washington in February 1908. Regularly praised for his versatility as an actor, Westford sometimes added Allen to his surname and had performed often as a comic singer with Susanne and Lillian Russell. He seems to have first appeared as an actor in Australia in 1880, and thus, obviously closely resembles the description of Harry’s own father.
Furthermore, when Harry died in 1951, his death certificate clearly listed an Owen Westford as his father. The reader will thus be wondering – did Harry really marry or cohabit with his step-mother? Or was this just all an arrangement to smooth his transition into the US that went horribly wrong? Unfortunately, we do not know the answer. Nor can we tell what impact this might have had on his career, as Harry remained characteristically silent.
The Saskatoon Daily Star advertises Harry’s first film. 18 March, 1922. Via newspapers.com
Harry’s first film role was for Ralph Ince in After Midnight, made in 1921 – reviewers describing it as “finely staged, and highly acted, and …a thrilling story”, apparently set in New York’s Chinatown. Being quite well known he was listed as one of the film’s “popular players.” At the same time, he was still active in theatre – appearing in a string of light comedies and musicals.
In 1923 he married another actor, Dorothea Hyde, and in 1925 they moved to the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles in California. There, he began to appear regularly in entertaining character roles in a series of silent films. Two children were born of the union in the late 1920s.
Left to right: Harry as the photographer in Ella Cinders (1926), as Riggs the butler in The Enchanted Cottage (1924), and as Dad Mason, in The Adorable Cheat (1928). These films are widely available on the net and now in the public domain. (Click to enlarge)
As the 1920s came to an end, and as sound films arrived, the roles he found were more perfunctory. This was hardly surprising – given his age and the fact that Hollywood was changing again. The impact of the depression and the rise of the Hollywood studio system saw thousands of small producers and independent theatres go under and fledgling national cinemas (like Australia’s) crippled. In this environment, film making became more formulaic and the opportunities for the old vaudevillians like Harry, were fewer. Thus many of his later roles hardly register on the screen. In 1943’s massive patriotic effort by Britons in Hollywood, Forever and a Day, when he plays an air raid watcher, or in 1945’s Hangover Square, his presence is so fleeting he is hard to notice.
The Internet Movie Database notes that Harry appeared in several Best Picture Academy Award winners and nominees in the 30s and early 40s. However, because he didn’t ever comment on his choice of role – we can’t assume this was anything more than good luck. Yet again – many of these roles are entirely unnoticeable. In Of Human Bondage (1934) for example, he apparently plays the taxi driver at the very end of the film – but its definitely a case of “blink and you would miss it.”
In 1951, Harry’s Melbourne contemporary Snub Pollard provided some perspective on the work he was now doing as an extra. “I have no…regrets, not a one. I get plenty of work and I live comfortably and sensibly. I am in good health and have lots of friends. The fact that I am not on top now does not bother me. Most people never get there at all.” Hopefully Harry Radford Allen shared this view.
Harry’s two children, Radford and Paula, made brief appearances in several of Harry’s later films but they did not pursue acting as a career. Harry died in Los Angeles in December, 1951 at the age of 73. He worked almost until the end of his life. As was often the case, his passing was reported in US newspapers, but in Australia it went completely unnoticed.
Note 1: Harry’s date of birth was 10 July 1878. The confusion on various websites may relate to freely existing documents that are not accurate and like many performers at the time, Harry may have contributed to this. There are various claims he was born in 1876 (citing his 1917 US naturalization application) and 1883 (citing his WWII registration card). However, his Victorian birth certificate is quite clear.
Nick Murphy July 2019
Gerald Martin Bordman (1978) American Musical Theater: A Chronicle. Oxford University Press.
George Kemp Ward (1910) reprinted 2017. Andrew Warde and his descendants, 1597-1910. Forgotten Books.
Mark Evan Swartz (2000) Oz before the Rainbow. L. Frank Baum’s the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage. John Hopkins University Press.
J.P. Wearing (2013) The London Stage 1890-1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press.
A pensive Alf Goulding with other members of the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company on the steps of the Badminton Hotel in Vancouver in 1905. He is flanked by Harold Fraser (Snub Pollard) and Teddie McNamara. The full photo of the Pollard Company is on the Vancouver As It Was website. Photo used with their permission.
The adult working life of prolific Hollywood based filmmaker, Alf Goulding (born 26 January 1885 as Alfred John Goulding), is well documented. He had an impressive output as a director – working first with Hal Roach and later Mack Sennett. By the time he made A Chump at Oxford (1939) with Laurel and Hardy, he had directed over 200 films, and had written and appeared in many others. There were of course, a few duds – including his only Australian film, A Yank in Australia (1942).
It’s less commonly known that Goulding owed much to his long experience with the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company, and that he was a Melbourne neighbour and long-time friend of Daphne Pollard (Trott) and Snub Pollard (Harold Fraser).
Alf Goulding can be traced through at least six Pollard’s overseas tours (which all ran for more than 12 months) – something of a record – this writer can only find one other Pollard’s performer who matches it – Irene Findlay. It’s hard to know if many people have ever really run away “to join the circus”, but Alf Goulding is indeed a variation on this. Between the age of eleven, when he went on his first Pollard’s tour, and twenty-four, when he left to settle in the US, he could not have spent more than 24 months living in Melbourne.
Goulding’s place of birth was the suburb of Richmond, but he lived most of his brief Australian life in Fitzroy. His father Frank, a bootmaker, and mother Maggie (stage name Maggie Walsh) were both involved in local Melbourne theatre, with moderate success. Alf’s half-sister from his mother’s first marriage, Elsa Goulding (sometimes known as Elsie Golding), had gained some reputation as a singer by 1893 and, determined to maintain the family tradition, Frank encouraged his oldest son Frank junior, Alf and later his youngest daughter Irene to go on stage. By the time of Maggie’s death in April 1895, Frank junior and Alf had developed a popular act together. Reports from papers in 1894 and 1895 stated that the brothers had the Melbourne audiences in “roars of laughter”.
Left: The white terrace house at 431 George Street, Fitzroy photographed in 2019. The Goulding family lived here in 1895. Photo – Author’s collection. Right: Photos of Alf in his early days are hard to find. This photo, now in the public domain, is from c.1905-10 and its original source is unknown. Via wikimedia commons.
Triumphs, Tragedies and child labour
In 1896, Frank junior and Alf joined a troupe of the Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company. Under the management of Charles Pollard, this group of under-age performers departed in September for a tour of colonial audiences in South East Asia (Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore etc) and India, where they were received with great enthusiasm. Their father Frank was paid a monthly wage for both children performing, while their travel, food and accommodation costs were covered by Pollard’s. According to a contemporary Singapore paper, whilst touring, the child performers with Pollard’s had the following program;
9.00 am breakfast,
10 am until 1.30 pm rehearsal, then had
1.30 “Tiffin” (an Indian term for a meal),
two hours of siesta, then
two hours of lessons with the teacher (who doubled as the cornet player) ,
then play and rest before a light dinner and
the evening performance.
Unfortunately a terrible tragedy occurred when Frank junior died and was buried in Calcutta, in January 1897. We can only imagine how hard this was for Alf, still on tour, let alone his father and sister back in Melbourne. His Indian burial certificate clearly lists the cause of death as smallpox, an even greater tragedy given that a vaccine existed at the time. One wonders if Frank’s father ever knew the truth, as it was never acknowledged.
Frank Junior’s death from “pneumonia” is reported by “The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser”, 23 Feb 1897, via Newspapers SG – digitized newspaper collection.
Frank Goulding’s death from Smallpox in Calcutta. “Confluent smallpox” generally meant the pustules ran so thickly on the skin they often formed a massive sore. Via Ancestry.com
Yet it was all back to work for the Pollard’s children. Two months later, on April 20, 1897, the same Singapore newspaper reported; “Master Alfred Goulding scored the principal success again, this clever boy keeping the house in fits of laughter… In the part of Lurcher, the bailiff…his acting could not easily have been beaten by a professional comedian.” Of course, Alf was a professional comedian – even if he was only 13 years old at the time.
In August 1898, a second Pollard’s troupe, including Alf and now with Irene, arrived in South Africa. Interviewed in July 1899 by a correspondent for the “Sydney Referee“ , the children were probably all instructed to put a positive spin on their work, the endless travel and to not mention their homesickness. From Johannesburg, South Africa, the correspondent wrote of Alf Goulding, as “the clever young comedian of the company, aged 12 years” and Irene Goulding, “a bonny girl of 8 years.. who hadn’t been very well lately.” Pollard practice was very typically never to accurately give the ages of the child performers. Alf was in fact 14, and Irene 10.
With the outbreak of the Boer War, Manager Charles Pollard apparently rushed the company to safety. But it seems he was in no hurry to bring them home – it was July 1900 before the children were all back in Australia, via Hong Kong and other stops in the “far east”, and Charles with exciting war stories to tell. How seriously at risk they were is impossible to tell now.
Gillian Arrighi and others have written of the phenomenon of the child performer tours, and the later impact of the disastrous 1910 Pollard tour of India; which saw new Australian laws restricting children leaving Australia to be performers. It’s also worth pausing and looking past the modern nationalist sentiment we might attach to these pioneer Australian performers today, to wonder whether this was really just another form of child exploitation, even by the standards of the time.
Above: Alf Goulding now listed as the Pollard’s stage manager by the “China Mail,” December 26, 1900. He was almost 16 and the troupe were perhaps on their way home from South Africa. Image via Hong Kong Public Libraries Multi Media Information Systems.
There is some good reason for thinking this. By leaving Australia, not only did Pollard’s avoid Australian education laws, they were also able to essentially not pay their performers, certainly not at adult rates. Parents were paid via a trust fund. And was a life on stage a healthy upbringing for a child? Even at the time, many didn’t think so. The influence of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the “Gerry Society” kept Pollard’s away from the east coast of the US, as is obvious from the tour map below. The society’s opposition to children performing on stage was well-known. The Chicago Tribune of 19 May 1902 touched on this issue in a long article about the company during their only visit to that city; “Although the idea of keeping children on the stage is repugnant to Americans, and although it is forbidden by law in some states, the Pollards claim that their children… suffer no evil effects from the experience.”
We should also remember that the Pollard’s performers were playing adult roles on stage, a fact that some commentators found confronting, given the adult content of the musicals they performed. One correspondent for the Hong Kong Daily Press on December 27, 1907 reminded readers “Pollard’s Lilliputians are children, but their performance is anything but childish… That shrimp of a maiden …who portrays a woman many times divorced, how are we to regard her?” (in reference to a leading character in The Belle of New York). Yet at the end of their review, the writer felt the need to abandon their concerns and recommended all readers should see it. The Pollard’s performance was “beyond praise” the writer concluded.
A life of touring
Alf’s tours with Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company, managed by Charles Pollard and Nellie Chester – as identified so far by this writer are:
I. Sept 1896 – c. Sept 1897, Tour to India and the “Far East” (meaning Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong)
II. August 1898 – c. Dec 1900, Tour to South Africa and the Far East.
III. September 1901 – October 1902, Tour to North America
Manifests show SS Sierra departed Sydney 3 Sept 1901, SS Aorangi arrived back in Australia on 17 Oct 1902. Then, three months later…
IV.January 1903 – April 1904, Tour to North America.
Manifests show SS Changsa departed Sydney 18 Jan 1903, SS Miowera arrived back in Australia on 2 April 1904.
None of this travel seems to have bothered Alf Goulding, indeed he may well have had his own reasons for not wanting to live at home. Back in Melbourne, Frank Senior found the new century and the life without wife, children and oldest son increasingly hard to deal with. Now a bootmaker, he blamed the Pollard company management for the death of Frank Junior and began to send abusive letters to the Melbourne managers, even while they engaged Alf and Irene. He complained that the money promised to him by Pollard’s was not being paid. Frank had already been publicly embarrassed the year before, when details of his passionate letters to a sometime servant/petty thief were plastered about the Melbourne papers. Now in 1903, his stream of abusive letters saw him end up in court again, a lonely father, perhaps also disconnected from his two children. When he failed to pay the £20 fine, he went to gaol for a month.
Returning to Australia on SS Miowera on 2 April 1904, Irene, now aged 15, apparently decided she had had enough of performing and touring.
V. July 1904 – February 1907, Tour to the Far East and North America. Departed July 1904 for Queensland and then 27 September 1904 for Hong Kong. Arrived July 8 1905 in Vancouver. Arrived back in Australia 26 February 1907 on the SS Moana.
The Pollard Company’s “Grand Tour” of North America (March 1905- Jan 1907) avoided much time in the eastern USA, where child labour law made performances impossible. The troupe was in Sacramento during the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map is based on company member Midas Martyn’s diary. Thanks to Catherine Crocker for sharing this information. Courtesy Google Maps. Click to go to the google map
VI. July 1907 – April 1909, to the Far East and North America
Another trip departed in late July 1907, again testing out shows in Queensland before departing for the Far East. The Company arrived in the US on the SS Nippon Maru from Yokohama, Japan on 3 March, 1908. It appears most of the company from this tour arrived home in Australia on RMS Makura in April, 1909.
Charles Pollard announced his retirement in March 1909, while the company was in Honolulu, heading home. At this point, many of the older company members, including Alf, decided to branch out with their own Pollard’s Company (dropping Lilliputians from the title). With about 15 others, including Carrie Moore’s sisters Olive and Ivy, Harold Fraser and Teddie McNamara, a new adult Pollards troupe would be established. And indeed, through 1910, the group set off again back across Canada, with Alf as Actor – Director-Stage Manager. But instead of storming the US east coast as they planned, they again specialised in visiting all the familiar Pollard’s locations where their popularity was assured.
Alf in makeup as Ko-Ko for the Mikado. The Province, British Columbia, 11 April, 1911. Via Newspapers.com
But by 1914, the adult Pollard troupe had broken up, and for a time they went their separate ways.
Alf and Daphne Pollard performing together in “A Knight for a Day,” Los Angeles, May 1914. Los Angeles Times, 28 May 1914. Vis Newspapers.com
Alf Goulding appears to have maintained a personal and professional friendship with former Pollard Company performers for much of his life. In 1911, Alf was married to Gladys Watson, with Daphne (Mrs Ellington Bunch) and her husband as witnesses. They were married in Seattle by the same official as Daphne and her husband had used, exactly three months before.
Below: Marriage certificates for Daphne Trott and Alf Goulding weddings. US national archives via Family search.org.
It is hardly a coincidence therefore that Goulding is reputed to have been instrumental in convincing Daphne to work for Mack Sennett, and he was apparently on hand when she arrived at Sennett studios. He also directed a number of her first films – including “Run Girl Run,” “The Swim Princess” and “The Campus Carmen”. He also worked closely with Snub Pollard (Harold Fraser) in his early years in Hollywood.
Snub Pollard Harold Lloyd & Alf Goulding on set 1918 Somewhere in Turkey
Left: This is the only photo I have seen of Goulding at work. It shows Snub Pollard (Harold Fraser), Harold Lloyd, and Alf Goulding at right, on the set of “Somewhere in Turkey” (1918) Source: Unknown – via Pinterest. Right: Advertisment for Rolin Comedies – Snub Pollard and Ernie Morrison, directed by Alf Goulding. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
There was perhaps a real camaraderie amongst the old Pollard players. For Alf, the performers he knew had probably been family. When former Pollard alumni Teddie McNamara died of pneumonia in early February 1928, on the eve of great success, all the Hollywood based former Pollard players attended his funeral – Goulding, Daphne Pollard, Snub Pollard and Billy Bevan.
Alf Goulding died in Hollywood in 1972, after a long and very well documented career as a screenwriter and director. The later career of the talented Irene Goulding is not clear, but it appears she may have worked in sales in Melbourne. She married Albert Smith in 1931, and lived most of her later life in a comfortable house in Riversdale Rd, Hawthorn.
Nick Murphy, May 2018 updated February 2019
His date of birth is regularly and incorrectly given as 1896. However, the Victorian BDM, which can be searched for free, are quite clear. Its possible that Goulding himself may have contributed to this confusion – it was not uncommon in Hollywood’s golden age to “drop a few years”.
Gillian Arrighi (2017) The Controversial “Case of the Opera Children in the East”: Political Conflict between Popular Demand for Child Actors and Modernizing Cultural Policy on the Child. “Theatre Journal” No 69, 2017. John Hopkins University Press.
(This can be purchased at https://www.press.jhu.edu )
Brent E. Walker (2010) “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel.” McFarland and Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-3610-1
From National Library of Australia, Trove, Digitised Newspaper Collection
Above: Years before he became well known as a Hollywood character actor, Robert Greig is shown here with fellow actor and wife Beatrice Holloway. They remained a devoted couple until his death in 1958, although the move to the US meant the end of her career. Source; Table Talk, Thursday 29 June 1922. Via National Library of Australia Trove
Robert Greig was the quintessential movie butler of Hollywood’s golden age. He first appeared in the Marx Brothers“Animal Crackers” in 1930, playing the role of Hives the butler, followed by another twenty years of related roles – more butlers, doormen, stuffy judges and remote English lords. Various online biographies generally make no reference to the first fifty years of his life, or the significance of Beatrice Denver Holloway, his wife and on-stage collaborator for many years, who moved with him to the US in the late 1920s.
Beatrice Denver Holloway was born in Richmond, Melbourne Australia in 1884. The daughter of actor-manager Charles Holloway and actress Alice Doerwyn, she learned her stagecraft with her parents and the Holloway Dramatic company, travelling Australian cities and towns. Her earliest appearance was at the age of 10, as the child Anne, in “The World Against Her,” a drama on the “question of marriage.”
She later had notable success in a popular, sentimental story of two homeless boys – “Two Little Vagabonds” by George R. Sim and Arthur Shirley. This production was toured throughout Australia and New Zealand in 1903, with Beatrice playing Dick and Sophie Lashmore as the consumptive Wally. While it is a style of production that audiences would now find very dated, it found enthusiastic audiences in 1903. The following typical lines are spoken by Wally as he departs this world; “I won’t be a thief never no more, lady, never so more so long as I live. And I shall see my muvver, my real muvver in Heaven. Good-bye, my old pal Dick.”
Robert Greig was born in Toorak, Melbourne, Australia in December 1879. At birth, he was named Arthur Alfred Bede Greig. However, Robert Greig was his stage name and in life he was known as Bob or Bobbie to all who knew him well. After an education at Xavier College and some mundane experience working at Dunlop Tyres and as a commercial traveller, he became increasingly interested in amateur theatricals, and then, nearing the age of 30, made the transition to professional performer. He was offered a contract with the Hugh Ward Comedy Company, in 1909. He toured with them for a season, performing comedy roles in “The Man from Mexico” and “Mr Hopkins”.
Beatrice and Bob met and first performed together in “Beauty and the Barge” in 1911. It was the start of a long and productive partnership. They married in December, 1912. It was a novelty wedding for the time – considerable press attention was given. Melbourne Punch ran full page photos of the wedding party which included Fred Niblo and Josephine Cohan – who had arrived from the US only six months before. They had met while preparing for George M Cohan’s “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford,” which had its Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre in Sydney, in August 1912. Niblo gave the bride away and was a witness.
During Niblo and Cohan’s three years in Australia, they often worked with Beatrice and Bob, although apparently not on Niblo’s two Australian filmed versions of “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford and Officer 666, made for J.C.Williamson’s in 1916. Bob stated a great admiration for American plays. “They are all about natural people…there is always a big, good-natured man in anything American,”he told Adelaide’s Critic in November 1913.
As Elisabeth Kumm has noted, Australian theatre was already undergoing change even before the outbreak of World War One. After a brief hiatus in 1914, Australians flocked back to the theatres for escapism, and US comedies and performers filled some of the headline acts once dominated by British stars, now difficult to engage. In early 1918, Bob became Associate Director for the Tivoli theatre circuit. It seems the disruption of the War and attractive local contracts kept the couple busy in Australia for more than ten years, touring Australian towns and cities. Often under the banner of the Greig- Holloway Comedy Company the couple performed new plays like “Baby Mine” and familiar favourites including “Officer 666”.
With many friends and connections overseas, Bob and Beatrice often spoke of travelling to the United States, where both he and Beatrice felt sure they would find work. The demand in the US for Beatrice’s “style of work” was great, he once said. In fact, it was not until 1925 that they travelled to the US, and then it was Bob who appeared onstage at Philadephia’s Garrick Theatre in “A Night Out”, not Beatrice.
Bob’s first Hollywood role was an important straight character role as Hives the Butler, in the 1930 Marx Brothers’ film “Animal Crackers”. Bob had played the same role in the Broadway musical production a year before. But aged in his 50s and by now, very overweight, he found himself consigned to playing similar roles in Hollywood films. An Australian newspaper report appeared in 1936, stating he was feeling typecast and had tried a trip to the UK to break the cycle. If this was so it didn’t work. In a career of more than 100 films, the movie butler became his signature role.
A few years after settling in the US, Robert Greig had a refined transatlantic accent. In this short clip from Dorothy Arzner’s “Merrily We Go to Hell”(1932), Jerry Corbett (Frederic March) complains he can’t find a baritone. Bartender Robert Greig explains that he is one.
By the time of the 1940 US census, he and Beatrice lived comfortably in an apartment on Franklin Avenue Los Angeles, living on a modest income from his films. Robert died in 1958, Beatrice in 1964. What became of Beatrice’s career aspirations we do not know.
Robert Greig’s memorial plaque at Holy Cross Cemetery in Los Angeles. A sign of the couple’s enduring affection.
The couple did not return to Australia and soon lost touch with their Australian admirers. One hopes that the couple lived a happy life. But one can’t help feeling that the “fondest memories” Beatrice referred to on Robert’s memorial were of the years before Hollywood.
Florrie Forde was born Flora Flannagan in Fitzroy on 16 August 1875, to Lott Flannagan and Phoebe (Simmons). In time, she would become one of the great British Music Hall stars of the early twentieth century. A great deal has been written about her – she cannot be described as a forgotten Australian! Yet it perplexes the author that in a neighbourhood that also saw the births of Daphne Trott, Alf Goulding and Saharet, there is, today, no acknowledgment she was ever there.
Part of Flora Flannagan’s birth certificate. She was very clearly named Flora, not “Florence” and without middle names “May Augusta” even if these were adopted later. Via Victoria Birth Deaths & Marriages.
She was born at one of the family residences in Gertrude Street Fitzroy – the handsome but modest United Service Club Hotel run by her father at 88 (now 122) Gertrude Street being the most likely – although her birth certificate does not give a definitive address. However, in a very thorough survey of her early life in Australia, researcher Tony Martin Jones has suggested that instead of a noisy pub, her place of birth may have been at her maternal grandparents shop and residence nearby. Barnett and Susannah Simmons ran a crockery store at 181 (now 203) Gertrude Street. However, I think this is less likely – that building is only a few doors from an even larger, noisy pub – the Builder’s Arms. Unfortunately, we are now unlikely to ever know for sure.
A terrace of shop/residences in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Taking into account the change to street numbers, the Simmons crockery store was the building on the right, behind the blue car. Author’s Collection
Florrie first appeared on stage in Sydney in early 1892, and quickly became a popular singer and performer in pantomime. By 1894 she was a regular performer in Sydney and Melbourne. In 1897 she made her first appearance in London – apparently playing three music halls in the one night.
Left: Florrie Forde in 1898. Source: Mebourne Punch August 24, 1898, via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Centre: Florrie Forde not long after her breakthrough on the stage in London. Source: “The Sketch,” Sept 21, 1898. Photo copyright Illustrated London News Group. Author’s Collection. At right – A postcard taken sometime later in, life, probably in the 1920s. Author’s Collection.
A talented singer with an exceptional wit, she was supremely confident on stage and held a genuine affection for her audiences – music hall being her favourite. Her name is still connected with many of the music hall songs she made popular, such as the World War One favourites “A Long Long Way To Tipperary”,“Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag” and “Has Anybody here seen Kelly.” She appeared as herself in several British films in the mid 1930s, and in character in “My Old Dutch” in 1934. Her Australian accent remained with her all her life, as the numerous recordings she made demonstrate. As theatre historian Frank Van Straten notes, she achieved all this without any formal musical training – a remarkable achievement.
This C1930 booklet of sheet music lists many of Forde’s popular songs. Author’s Collection
Jeff Brownrigg’s entry at the Australian Dictionary of Biography provides an account of her work and quite tumultuous, perhaps dysfunctional, upbringing. She worked all her life – dying suddenly after entertaining in a Scottish naval hospital in 1940. Obituaries in the UK and Australia were effusive. Florrie was very much the voice of the people, and apparently even Dame Nellie Melba was an admirer.
Explanatory signage for Orlando Fenwick and Samuel Amess, on streetsigns in nearby North Carlton. I’m certain they were honourable men, but where’s the similar sign for Florrie Forde!? Author’s collection.
More than a century later – this is the remains of Willie Thomas’ make-up box, including false moustaches. Photo courtesy of his grandson Robert Maynard.
“Willie” Thomas was a child performer in Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company, as it toured cities in South East Asia and North America, several times, between 1901 and 1906. He is shown below with his older sister Emma Thomas, while the company was in Vancouver.
William Thomas was born in Collingwood in January 1889 to Ironmonger William Albert Thomas and his wife Emma, nee Stone. There were four older children – two brothers and two sisters in the family. Two other sisters died in infancy.
Much of the history of Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company is lost to us today and confusingly, there was more than one troupe of performers using this or a similar name in the early twentieth century. But we know that this particular troupe ran several extended and highly acclaimed tours to the Philipines, Japan, China and North America between 1901 and 1909 – each lasting a year or more, punctuated by a short break of a few months at home in Melbourne. The performers were talented young Australians, most from suburbs of inner Melbourne. Managed by Charles Pollard and his sister Nellie Chester, this troupe is also of interest historically, because a number of its performers went on to stay on in the US and work in Hollywood – including Alf Goulding, Harry Fraser or “Snub Pollard“, Daphne Pollard and Teddie McNamara. And the talented Willie Thomas from Collingwood worked amongst them.
Pollard’s advertises for new child performers. The Age, 13 Feb, 1907. Ford’s Hall, at 150 Brunswick Street where these auditions were held, was very close to the former home of Daphne Trott (Pollard) in King William Street. Perhaps Willie had seen an advertisement like this when he joined up.
Willie Thomas (with Emma serving the company in a supporting role) went on three separate trips with Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company. Historian Gillian Arrighi points out that several Australian companies employed child actors for prolonged offshore tours at this time. This practice enabled the producers to avoid contravening child labour and education laws in newly federated Australia. And apparently it was lucrative – for families and the organisers. Child performers made pocket-money selling postcards of themselves, parents back in Australia were paid via a trust fund.
Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in costume, taken in the US about 1905. It appears to show Willie Thomas, second from right at the front, next to Daphne Pollard. Copy of postcard courtesy Robert Maynard
The Thomas’ names are found amongst other Pollard performers on the shipping manifests of the time. More interesting are the accounts that appeared in US and Australian papers as they travelled, that documented some of their experiences. Willie was amongst the Company’s leading performers.
Left: On his first tour of North America, Willie Thomas and three other performers had a near miss with a gas leak, according to The Sioux City Journal (Utah), May 28 1902. Via Newspapers.com
Right: A second tour, another performance. The San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1903, announces a new Pollard season and some of the stars – including Willie. Both these articles confirm the constant rotation of shows while on tour. Via Newspapers.com
Robert Maynard still holds the postcards, makeup box and other ephemera that belonged to his grandfather. There are also over 50 postcards that Willie collected including several from Shanghai, Japan, Suva, Canada and the United States. These are unmarked, so he apparently never posted them home, rather – keeping them as mementos of his travels. The remains of his makeup box includes fake moustaches and numerous sticks of grease paint etc.
Willie’s final North American tour with Pollard’s seems to have ended in early 1907, when he was 17 years old. Perhaps it was his age, but the reasons for leaving are not clear today, particularly as he ceased performing altogether. Maybe the marathon Pollard tour of 1905-1907 (see below) convinced him performing on stage was not what he wanted to do.
The Pollard Company’s “Grand Tour” of North America (March 1905- Jan 1907) avoided much time in the eastern USA, where child labour law made performances impossible. The troupe was in Sacramento during the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map is based on Midas Martyn’s diary. Thanks to Catherine Crocker for sharing this information. Courtesy Google Maps. Click to go to the google map – the author’s attempt to illustrate this extraordinary tour.
This writer has written elsewhere of the controversy accompanying Pollard’s travels to the Far East and North America. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the “Gerry Society” kept Pollard’s away from the east coast of the US. The society’s opposition to children performing on stage was well-known. The Chicago Tribune of 19 May 1902 touched on this issue in a long article about the company during their only visit to that city; “Although the idea of keeping children on the stage is repugnant to Americans, and although it is forbidden by law in some states, the Pollards claim that their children… suffer no evil effects from the experience.”
Whatever his reason for leaving the stage, a few years on and now calling himself “William,” he had became a butcher. He was also a competent Australian Rules Football player, playing for teams in Boulder Western Australia (where he spent a few years between 1910 and 1913) and Sunshine, Victoria.
Above left: William in the Boulder City (Western Australia) Football Club in 1911, seated front left, Above right: William seated at right with Sunshine Braybrook Football Club in 1914. Photos courtesy Robert Maynard.
Following the outbreak of war and during the surge of enlistments following the Gallipoli landings, William and his two older brothers Albert and Jack (John) joined the Australian Imperial Forces. With other soldiers of the 3rd Division AIF, they sailed on the Medic, arriving at England in July 1916. William went on to serve in France with the 29th and 30th Batteries, 8th Field Artillery Brigade. In the photo enlargement below, William is seated on the left, Albert is on the right – unusually the two brothers served together. In February-March 1918 William’s military record shows he was granted leave in England. There he saw Albert De Courville‘s latest review, Box o’ Tricks, at the London Hippodrome, featuring a very old friend, Daphne Pollard in the line-up, whom he met after the show. The conversation must have been a joyful one about show-biz; it defies belief that William, having been under fire and in action for the last 14 months, would wish to talk about the appalling reality of trench warfare.
Photos courtesy of Robert Maynard
Miraculously, all three Thomas brothers survived the war and returned to Australia in 1919. In the early 1920s William set up a butcher’s shop in Sunshine, a western suburb of Melbourne, in partnership with brother Albert. In 1924 he married Lizzie O’Brien and brought up a large family, at first in the house next to the shop, and later in nearby Adelaide Street. Lizzie, the “life of the party” and a favourite with all the children in the family, called him “Butcher.” Like many returned soldiers, William liked a drink, and earned a reputation for regularly being thrown out of the Sunshine pub. One can’t help wondering if the Sunshine pub became the place he liked to practise the keen sense of humour he had developed on stage with Pollard’s, years before.
William Thomas’s Butcher shop, on Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. William Thomas is proudly holding his daughter Emma, with brother Albert (second from left) and nephew William (at right) and another butcher. Before widespread refrigeration, the horse and gig was a quick and convenient way to sell and deliver meat. Photo Courtesy Robert Maynard.
Unfortunately, the Depression hit William’s family hard. Such businesses were used to extending credit and dependent on a regular cash flow. A kind man (in 1924 he had paid for his nephew to travel to a scout jamboree in England) William’s generosity eventually got the better of his business in the hard times of the 1930s, and it closed down.
By 1941, the family had relocated to Boulder, Western Australia, where William, determined to make a fresh start, became a butcher again. He died there, aged 80, in 1969. Sister Emma had died in Sunshine in 1963.
A few years after Willie Thomas’ final tour, the era of the travelling troupes of Australian children came to an end. In 1909, another Pollard family member, Arthur Hayden Pollard, who had been on some of the North American trips as a mechanist, raised a mostly new troupe to perform in South East Asia and India. It was a disaster and amid the claims of impropriety, cruelty and underpayment, the troupe broke up, with the children forced to find local support to make their own way home. William had no association with the company anymore, but he knew Irene Findlay, one of the performers, well enough to write her postcards. New legislation in 1910 banned Australian children travelling overseas to perform.
William kept his Pollard’s make-up box all his life, which says something about how fondly he viewed this exciting stage of his childhood. If he regretted his five years of travel and performing, and then leaving the stage behind forever, he never said.
Nick Murphy, Updated January 2019
To Robert Maynard, William Thomas’ grandson, for so generously sharing his family history – much more than I could fit in this article.
The Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company Tours of South East Asia and North America under the leadership of Charles Pollard appear to be:
1. Departing Australia via SS Sierra 3 September 1901
Returning to Australia via SS Aorangi 17 October 1902
2. Departing Australia SS Chansha 18 January 1903
Returning to Australia SS Miowera 2 April 1904
3. Departing on a Queensland tour July – Sept 1904, then to “the far east” late September 1904, then SS Empress of India arriving Vancouver BC, March 1 1905
Apparently returning home on the SS Moana in February 1907, an extraordinary tour of over two years.
4. Under the leadership of Arthur Pollard, another trip departed sometime in late 1907, arriving US on the SS Nippon Maru from Yokohama, Japan on Mar 3, 1908.
Arrived home in Australia on RMS Makura on April 17, 1909