Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fred Clifton: a G&S player unveiled...


Fred Clifton. Yes, the whole world of Gilbert and Sullivan scholarship knows of Fred Clifton. He’s the comic actor-singer who almost was. The man who after having played supporting roles in The Sorcerer (Notary) and HMS Pinafore (Bobstay) was intended for the London role of the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance. But a certain Rutland Barrington begged for the part … so Fred’s chance for fame was pretty well lost. And it never really came again.

David Stone has summarised the central part of ‘Fred’s’ career on his G&S archive site, so I am not going to repeat that here ... I’ll just put in the bits about his life, rather than his career, that I’ve discovered.

 So, to start with, who actually was Fred? We have been longtime told that he was born in Birmingham, 29 May 1844. And guess what, half of that, I now discover, is right! And it is the date that is right! ‘Fred’ was actually born in Dudley, and it was his father’s name that was Fred. He was Tom. There they all are, in Castle Street, Dudley, in the 1851 census: Fred the hairdresser from Peterborough, mama Eliza, and four children of whom Tom is the oldest.

Oh, and their name is not, of course, Clifton. Fred was born Thomas Husler Green. How’s that for a discovery. And how did I discover it? Well …

Let’s dip into the early career. Someone said that ‘Fred’ started his career at Reading in 1861. Perfectly possible, but the first reference I’ve found to ‘Fred Clifton comique’, in tiny provincial  concerts, comes a year or two later.

But very soon, it’s ‘Mrs and Mrs Fred Clifton’. Really? I have to admit I never really believed it. ‘Marriages’ were not always of a fact in the Victorian theatre. But this one was a fact! And the lady? She was Mdlle Therese Brunelli, from Italy, pupil of San Giovanni (or sometimes ‘Don Giovanni’), prima donna La Scala, Milan, soprano …

Now ‘Mdlle Brunelli’ wasn’t rubbish. During her career she sang major roles in London. But she was no Italian. Of course, she didn’t know that Census records would one day be on the internet, so in 1871, when Tom was pretending to be ‘Fred Clifton’ she blithely put herself down as Mrs Ellen M Clifton, born Teignmouth, Devon. 

Well, she was actually born Ellen Matilda Hird in Shaldon, across the water from Teignmouth, and she married Tom Green 13 November 1862 at Liverpool. And it was from that marriage record that I found out that ‘Fred Clifton’ was really Tom Green. 

The couple performed together in music halls and the like for several years (‘Mr & Mrs Fred Clifton, burlesque operatic, high and low comic, duettists and solo comic and sentimental singers’), often around the Hull or Sculcoates area where Ellen’s folk (father was a customs tide-watcher) lived. Dioramas, operettas, music-hall sketches – I have a long list of minor dates – until Mr D’Oyly Carte (agent) discovered ‘Therese’. And next thing she was up in London, starring in the title-role of Black Crook at the Alhambra!

At the same time, Fred was traipsing round with the Eldred opéra-bouffe company, and then as a support to Jolly John Nash in his ‘musical, mimetic, Protean’ act..

And then, somehow (I’m sure someone knows how), he, like Messrs Grossmith and Barrington, moved out of the ‘entertainment’ business and into Mr Carte’s company ..

Also, around about that time, it seems that ‘Fred’ dropped Ellen, and waltzed off with a lady who appears to have been a chorine named Mary or Marie Glover. They promptly had one daughter in England (while ‘Therese’ staunchly still billed herself as ‘Mrs Clifton’) and then fled across the Atlantic, as ‘bigamists’ in those days had a habit of doing, to where ‘Fred’ would find a moderate career and an obviously fulfilling family life which produced six more (illegitimate) children before his death in Boston on 7 September 1903.

‘Therese’ put an end to her singing career in the early 1880s, and can be seen in the 1891 and 1901 census working as an attendant at the Lunatic Asylum at Banstead in Surrey …

Marie? Couldn’t care….

And that’s it.

So there you are. The details and facts which the various articles on Fred’s professional career, and all those G&S books don’t tell you, here they are! … come on, it only took me twenty years ..


ss said...

Dear Kurt, a correspondent of mine did some further research on Clifton and turned up the following:

In June-July 1880, Clifton sailed back to England on the SS Abyssinia with other members of the company. See "A Journey with 'The Pirates'", The Era, 11 July 1880, p. 7. He was appearing in Brighton, by the second half of July 1880. See "Provincial Theatricals", The Era, 25 July, p. 7. In 1881, he played the Registrar General in La Belle Normande (an adaptation of Léon Vasseur's 1874 operetta La famille Trouillat ou La rosière d'Honfleur) at the old Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street. See"La Belle Normande", The Era, 29 January 1881, p. 8.

Clifton apparently returned to the US by the middle of the decade, as an actor of that name played the butler in 'Twins' at the Standard Theatre in New York in May 1885. See "The Drama in America", The Era, 16 May 1885, p. 15. He appeared with Lillian Russell and fellow ex-D'Oyly Carte principals [[J. H. Ryley]] and [[Alice Barnett]] in 'Billee Taylor' at New York's Casino Theatre in July 1885 ("The Drama in America", The Era, 4 July 1885, p. 7) and with Harry Paulton and company in the comic opera 'Paola' by Edward Jakobowski, with a libretto by Paulton and Tedde at the Grand Opera House, Philadelphia, in 1889. See "The Drama in America", The Era, 1 June 1889, p. 10. Stone says that Clifton continued to appear in comic opera in New York until 1897.

3 other things. First, Stone says that Clifton wrote a textbook, ''A Theory of Harmony'', published by Boosey, and reportedly composed incidental music for several plays, but he may be confusing the subject with John C. Clifton, who a similarly named textbook in 1816. See

Second, all the public records that we could find have Clifton's real middle name as "Huslea", not "Hunsler". Can you please check?

Finally, do you know where Clifton died in 1903?

All the best,
Sam Silvers


Yes got all that. Poor man was even in MELITA. And he composed quite a bit of music. I have (or had) programme for a play called THE QUEEN

For the name I have only the wedding certificate, the rest are transcriptions

He died in Boston.

Do you know what became of Miss Glover? Or 'Therese' after the Banstead asylum?

ss said...

Sorry, do you mean that you agree that our Fred did *not* write the textbook? And do you mean that Fred, or rather John, was the composer?

I don't know what became of Miss Glover -- was she not the mother of his 6 other children in America? As for Therese, it seems that she was happily retired from show business for at least a couple of decades before her death, but as she been a West End star, it would be sad if she was not mentioned in any obituaries at all.


I have no idea about the textbook, Ive never seen it. Fred composed THE QUEEN.

Therese by any other name is last sighted working in the asylum at Banstead.

ss said...

Thanks! Would you mind editing your article above to add Clifton's full date and place of death? All the best!


Mathew Homewood said...

Thomas's birth record clearly shows the spelling as 'Husler'. This was his mother's maiden name, and that is also the spelling on her marriage to Frederick Green in 1842.


Thanks Mathew .... I should have found that. Wonder why I didn't . Will alter.

ss said...

Thanks. There was some difficulty reading the handwriting, but that must be right.

Mike Green said...

Just to say thank you for your research Kurt. Frederick Green is my great great grandfather. After starting out as a hairdresser, he founded a musical instrument business, selling pianos, harmoniums and doing some piano tuning and teaching on the side. I'd not known about his oldest son before so it is all very interesting. This also goes to explain a DNA connection to a couple of people in the States who let me know their link to England was through the name Clifton. I'd be interested to learn anything else you found out about Fred Clifton's life and family for example you say he had a number of children.

Alexandra Stark said...

Fascinating. Fred Clifton is also my great-great grandfather... would love to connect with both Mike Green (above) and you for more family information. My grandmother was the daughter of Fred's daughter, Stella. My email is


Alexandra Stark said...

Also... sorry, but Marie Glover WAS very much his wife. Her name was Marie, and they did have many kids - I would give you their names but not sure you care. I just want to remind you that there are family members out there still and Marie had a life and family and so did her children, so I wish the tone you write about these strangers to you would be a little different. Anyway, thanks for the research.

ss said...

Hello, Alexandra. Can you link to an obituary or other article about Marie Glover?