It’s the one that always goes wrong, isn’t it. And it seems to have gone wrong for me. Unless the two men here pictured are one and the same person, a few decades apart. They have the same name … and not a common one … but we’re talking theatre, so names mean nothing.
David Stone’s third labour for this Hercules was to solve the mystery over the appearance, disappearance, and identity of Frederick Bovill. Not something I’d ever thought of investigating. Mr Bovill’s career can be fitted (and has been) into a few lines. Comes from nowhere to be featured as Pish Tush in The Mikado. Plays it through the run at the Savoy Goes on the road with the J W Turner and Henry Walsham Opera troupes, playing the baritone roles of Don Jose, Arnheim, Devilshoof, Luna, Danny Mann for eight months (‘too much vibrato’ ‘lacking in incisiveness’), then disappears for a while, surfacing to take tiny parts in the Carte productions of Ivanhoeand La Basoche. And that is effectively it.
Not many clues in there. Was he, I wondered, an amateur with something of a voice, fulfilling a desire to go on the stage? A friend of a friend of someone? But surely, then, he’d turn up in amateur productions. There must be a Reason for Mr Bovill, who couldn’t even sing the role adequately and had to hand over his part in the madrigal to one with a better range, being cast in The Mikado apparently with no previous experience.
And then name? Could it be real? I checked out the Fred Bovills of Britain. A grocer in Kingston. The Rector of Eggington. Mr F W Bovill of Harrow and New, classics scholar from Dorking (not he, he’s still at Oxford in 1886), a fish sauce and picklemaker …
I took another angle. After his little turn at the English Opera House, I see Fred performing twice. 12 May 1892 in Edgar Brightwell Skeet’s dramatic and humorous recital at Steinway Hall and then in the one performance of Alec Nelson’s operetta A Hundred Years Agoat the Royalty with Mr Smallwood Metcalfe. The two occasions have something in common: Mr Skeet and Mr Metcalfe are the chief tutors at Gustave Garcia’s stage school. And the operetta was composed by the conductor of the other concert: Mr Henry J Wood. So is there a connection between Bovill and the school, or even Henry Wood. It’s just a thought.
I wasn’t getting anywhere. Either he wasn’t really a Bovill or …
One last look. Dates-wise only one of the Freds seemed to fit. Yes, I’m afraid it’s the pickler … and during the years 1885-91 when our Fred was er ‘flourishing’, the pickler had three children. Each birth certificate confirms him as a ‘merchant’ … Claude Hardwicke Knight Bovill … what a name! Hang on! I KNOW Mr C H Bovill …. librettist and lyricist to the British musical theatre of the 20th century! Oh but wasn't he Charles Henry ... oh, I dunno.
Coincidence? Red herring? Maybe there’s an interview saying ’Daddy was Pish Tush’. Or Daddy was a pickler.
Anyway, that’s Daddy’s photo above … below our Fred.
My efforts have really discovered nothing. Mr Bovill will have to go into the UNSOLVED box for the meanwhile, to keep company with the biggest Gilbert and Sullivan identity mystery of all … WHO WAS ALICE MAY?