Temple. Why did so many performers choose the stage-name ‘Temple’? From Mrs Harriet Major of Exeter Hall and the Italian opera, to endless little chorus girls and of course the celebrated Savoyard known as Richard Temple. But there was, of course, another ‘Temple’ who played in many of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas, at the Opera Comique, the Savoy, and in the provinces. He was not a veritable ’Temple’ either, but neither was he a performer to be ignored. It’s my theory that George Temple has suffered a bit from the big Cartesian shadow cast by Richard, so I thought I’d bring him out of the shadows for once. Because he’s an interesting chap. A versatile actor and capable vocalist, who has the particularity of playing in whole lot more Gilbert than Sullivan.
There was no secret that ‘George Temple’ was born James George Rexworthy, in Clifton, Gloucestershire, in early 1842, the son of James Hill Rexworthy (1811-1865), a brush maker and his wife Eliza née Edwards (1809-1887). The family can be seen in Bristol in the 1851 and 1861 census, with the daughters into sewing, brother John an assistant pawnbroker and George an apprentice brush maker.
While he brushed, George also sang, and I get the odd glimpse in the press of Mr Rexworthy in concert: at the Hannah More School (5 March 1861), with E Brison & Co’s Artizans’ Band at the Broadmead Rooms (24 February 1863), at Mr and Mrs Brennan’s concert at Henham (‘Nil desperandum’, ‘Suoni la tromba’ September 1864), with the Bristol Ethiopian Serenaders at Chipping Sodbury (October 1864), Walter Fisher’s concert (4 September 1865) …
However, by 1865, George Rexworthy had given up his father’s trade, and had become the lessee of the Old Duke Tavern, wine and spirit vaults, in King Street. He had also married (with some local fanfare) Mrs Harriet Bedford née Wedlake. The marriage would last longer than the pub. On 7 August 1867, George went bankrupt. And within months had launched himself on a stage career: as Mr George Temple.
His first engagement seems to have been at one of Glasgow’s minor houses, the Royal Colosseum and Opera House, where I see him playing George Peyton in The Octoroon in March 1868. He spent six months with the company (Squire Langley in The Gipsy Sailor, Ray Trafford in Under the Gaslight, The Miller and his men &c) in Glasgow and Paisley, before moving on to Newcastle. At Christmas he played Snowfall to the Robinson Crusoe of Lady Don.
George quickly found his way to London, securing an engagement for the company at Bradwell and Field’s newly revamped Charing Cross Theatre. He began as Jackson Goodchild in the drama Edendale (‘especial praise is due …’), but although he was billed for the accompanying burlesque W S Gilbert’s The Pretty Druidess, I think Richard Barker played the only male role. Emily Fowler then took over the management, and George was retained. He played Faust to her Mephisto in Very Little Faust and More Mephistopheles, and carried on through Won at Last, Little Fibs, Room for the Ladies, Twin Sisters, Illusions … but was not cast in the musical The Gentleman in Black. By W S Gilbert.
He played the rest of 1870 at the Globe (Captain Dudley de Vigne in Ecarté, King Dawdle in The White Cat, took a turn with Edward Sothern to Newcastle, and then joined Emily Thorne’s company, playing The Palace of Truth. By W S Gilbert. He was cast as Prince Philamir, and went on to play the role with the Kendals at Liverpool.
He returned to the Charing Cross as Rochefort in Shadows (‘roars of laughter’), visited the Prince’s, Manchester, to play The Merchant of Venice with Charles Calvert, and joined the Company at London’s Gaiety Theatre for a season (Ralph in Shilly Shally, Arragh na Pogue with Boucicault). During this time he evinced a seemingly photographic memory... There were many matinées – tryouts, vanities, Benefits – played in the London theatres of the time: George took part in an unconscionable number of such one-off performances and would continue to do so.
His next engagement, however, was anything but a one-off. Covent Garden mounted a vast, no expense spared, opéra-bouffe féerie entitled Babil and Bijou and George was cast in a featured spot as Lord Dundreary ‘expressed in action not in speech’. An imitation of Sothern which apparently was most successful. He also played a little forepiece No One Round the Cornerwith Gaston Murray. After another trip to Manchester, and an appearance as Tom Pogson in Henry Byron’s Time’s Triumph, he appeared briefly at the Queen’s Theatre in Black-Eyed Susan, at the Crystal Palace as Hastings in She Stoops to Conquer and Captain Absolute in The Rivals before joining the company at the Haymarket (Ben in The Heir at Law), then the Globe with Harry Montague (Family Jars, Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady, Still Waters Run Deep, The Rendezvous, Two Flats and a Sharp, Fred Fairfoot in Wig and Gown, Meacock in Our Clerks and the Adelphi this time as Dick Dowlais in The Heir at Law(‘the very best piece of acting he has yet given us’).
Between 1874-5 he returned to the Haymarket for a goodly stint with Sothern: Lt Vernon in Our American Cousin, Charles Surface, Captain Absolute, Young Marlowe, Dundreary Married and Settled, after which the Charing Cross in Brought to Book, the Opera Comique as Sir Edward Mortimer in A Tempting Bait and as Gnatbrain with Pattie Oliver and Danvers in Black-Eyed Susan and in 1876 the Gaiety again (Tottles, Fortunio, Charley Garner in Dearer than Life, Joe Lennard in Uncle Dick’s Darling, Sebastian to the Malvolio of Phelps in Twelfth Night, Francis in The Stranger &c). He ended at the Gaiety in August 1876, and set out on tour with Mr and Mrs Chippendale’s Comedy Company playing the Haymarket repertoire. He appeared in Liverpool (Freemantle in Stolen Kisses) and at Newcastle where his roles ranged from Hawkshaw in The Ticket of Leave Man via Hamlet and Richard III to the King in Hop o’ my Thumb with Rebecca Isaacs …
It can be clearly seen that Mr George Temple, actor, who, up till now, had made very little use of Mr Rexworthy’s ‘fine baritone voice’, was altogether more successful than had been Mr Rexworthy, as a brushmaker and publican. And he seemed to be able to play any kind of role -- straight juveniles, comic juveniles, husbands serious and comical, pantomime Kings or clowns – in any kind of play, dramatic or comic, and in the very best of company – Toole, Brough, Montague, Sothern et al – and in theatres such as the Haymarket, the Gaiety or the Manchester Prince’s.
But I think something must have happened in 1877. Between March and November, I lose him. And when he surfaces, he is a member of the company at the distinctly second-rate rate Park Theatre. For something like a year, he played everything imaginable at the Park – classics, Shakespeare, Mazeppa, Tom Tug in The Waterman, pantomime with Rose Bell, William in Black-Eyed Susan, Peep o’Day and even the title-role in the barely successful comic opera, Pom which Mdlle Bell had played on the road… and then I lose him again.
Well, one thing that seems to have happened was that his marriage had died. Mrs Rexworthy was still living at 42 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town, their long-time home, but Mr Rexworthy was down at 7 High Street, Bloomsbury where he would be joined by an ‘Annie Temple, musician’ in the 1891 census. In the 1881 George is censused at both addresses. Hmmm.
When I do pick up George again, in 1879, he has an unusual (for him) job. Mr D’Oyly Carte was staging a five weeks’ season at the Standard and Park (aha!?) Theatres of his Opera Comique hit HMS Pinafore. He plucked his cast for the occasion from here and there (and that’s a whole other story) and as Captain Corcoran he hired George Temple. He ‘did himself credit both as a vocalist and an actor’, and Carte promptly moved him to the main production. Conventional wisdom says he went to replace a holidaying Rutland Barrington as Corcoran, but the cast-lists ‘under the clock’ seem to indicate that it was Richard Temple who was on holiday. All these Temples! As confusing as Abu Simbel. At one stage both, and Barrington, are all ‘under the clock’.
He went out briefly on tour as Corcoran, with Emilie Petrelli and James A Meade, but returned to the Opera Comique, playing in the afterpieces After All and In the Sulks and, doubtless, covering. Thus, he was on hand when The Pirates of Penzancewas given its London production, and he was cast in the role of Samuel. His name appeared in the cast list right next to Richard Temple, as the Pirate King, and I’m sure 12 year-old I was not the only one who assumed they were related. George deputised for Richard on occasion, and ‘poured the pirate sherry’ for the run of the show.
Aside: when will someone stage Pirateswith the men drinking their aristocratic sherry from sherry glasses instead of beer-tankards?
One would have thought there might have been a role for George in Patience,to follow, but he was off to join the cast of La Boulangère at the Globe, appearing as the Commissioner of Police (‘decidedly comic’) and as Samuel Pribble its companion comedy Seeing Frou-Frou. When the Offenbach piece failed to run, he switched to the Alhambra and its mish-mash of The Bronze Horse, and then back to the Opera Comique (Jamilek in Princess Toto, Quid pro Quo with Emily Cross, Jacaway in The Mother-in-law,Vulcan in Pluto, Bosun in Wreck of the Pinafore).
1883 seems to have been a lean year, unless I have missed something. I see him only in more matinee tryouts. 1884 saw him in Edgar Bruce’s unfortunate revival of The Palace of Truth at the new Prince’s Theatre. Kyrle Bellew played George’s old part of the Prince. He was Zoram. But not for long. He was off north to play Count Pomposo in a new musical entitled Estrella. Estrella is yet another story.
He joined Herman Vezin as the Sieur de Beringhan (‘played his part really well’) in Richelieu at the Imperial, went north to play Leonard Lavender in Harry Paulton’s Lilies,went on tour with Mrs Saker to play Pygmalion in Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea with an insufficient May Fortescue, toured in Thomas Thorne’s Open House and joined Willie Edouin and Li Brough at the Novelty inMoneybags … but nothing seemed to last for long. And all the time there were these matinee try-outs and vanities …
1886 saw him engaged by Claude Marius for the Empire Theatre, where he played in the songs-and-scenery shows Round the World (Wolfe the captain of the Henrietta) and The Palace of Pearl, before he developed a relationship with Miss Priscilla Cartland (Mrs Murray). One item says he was her ‘teacher’, but she had been long on the stage. But ‘Miss Grace Hawthorne’ was from Bangor, Maine, so maybe he was teaching her to speak English. Anyway, he was at the lady’s side when she took the Olympic Theatre, and played Maurice de la Tour to her ‘Miss Multon’ when she produced an adaptation of that French play as The Governess. It was judged well-done, but too grim. He had a less good role as Wilfred Meredith in A Ring of Iron before Miss Hawthorne’s season ended. She would go wildly bankrupt for some 3000 pounds.
The following year, he returned to comic opera, touring for Carte first, it seems, as a brief Pooh Bah, and then as an excellent Sir Despard to the Margaret of Annie Montelli. That saw him through 1887, but there was a gap before he joined a second-rate touring troupe of Les Manteaux noirs (‘a pillar of strength’ as Don Phillip). In 1889, he appeared in the tryout of a Faddimir (Baron Krazinski) of which the only retrospective point is that it was the debut of lyricist ‘Adrian Ross’, and joined the Carl Rosa troupe at the Prince of Wales. Another musical, the antiquated Gretna Green (Justice Nettle), was not a success.
In 1890 he was recalled by Carte, to introduce the Duke of Plaza Toro to America. But America didn’t care for The Gondoliers, and George returned home ilico presto to give his Duke to the British provinces and, in place of the original, Frank Wyatt, at the Savoy Theatre. But there still was not a semi-permanent spot for him in the Carte ranks. At Christmas he went to Drury Lane, where, alongside Vesta Tilley, Belle Bilton and Dan Leno he gave ‘Hush, the Bogie’ as the King of Beauty and the Beast until April.
And then he is AWOL again. But this time I know where he went. South Africa. I don’t have the details, but when I was researching ‘Agnes delaPorte’ I found her down under singing in Rip van Winkle with George in the title-role.
In 1893 he was back, touring as the Marquis in Captain Thérèsewith Miss Emmott Herbert, in 1884 in something called Held in Slavery! before in October he took the role of A Sentry in His Excellency (libretto: W S Gilbert) at the Lyric Theatre.
He must have like South Africa, for the following year he returned. With May Fortescue. Details unknown. But the manager was Luscombe Searelle, composer of The Wreck of the Pinafore and Estrella!
Back in London, he took his last major job, touring for Carte, once more, playing Ben Hashbaz in The Grand Duke. The end of that tour, November 1896, was virtually the end of George’s career. He played the odd matinee, and even went out in a lowbrow piece called The Sorrows of Satan ..
J G Rexworthy, ka Temple, died back home in Clifton, Bristol, at Lower Redland Road, of heart failure 8 December 1899. His seemingly abandoned wife had died the year before. I don’t know what happened to ‘Annie Temple’. But someone called 'Julie' left a fond death notice ..
Well, five pages. But he deserves it. A thorough Victorian man of the theatre. From Charles Surface to ‘Hush the Bogie’. Via the G&S catalogue, from Pinafore to Grand Duke …
I like Mr Rexworthy!