Saturday, February 17, 2024

Edwin and his Emilies ... or, Mr Wilson and his wives


Yes, it's that time again. My desktop is bulging with oldtime folk, gathered from around the internet ... so it's time for a clean out ...

Let's begin in Australia, for thats where the grave of the actor/singer/comedian known as Edwin BRETT can be found. At Bateman's Bay, New South Wales.

Theatre historians of NSW, he could do with a little wash and brush up!

The story doesn't begin in Australia, of course. Eddie was an Englishman. Born Edward Bernard WILSON in Shoreditch 3 December 1866, the son of tailor Peter Wilson and his wife Charlotte née Brett. After early life in an office, he took to the stage and I see him in 1888 playing a policeman, a Major-General and a butler in Mark Melford's Kleptomania and Turned Up company. When the troupe played the dramatic The Squire's Wife he took the role of the old Squire (with a death scene). Kleptomania came to London's Novelty Theatre and provided the young character actor with his metropolitan debut. He next went on tour as a Frenchman in Human Nature, played the villain in Robinson Crusoe at Eastbourne and in 1891, in Henry Dundas's Jack in the Box ... In the company was a young lady dubbed 'Emily Constance' [Emily CUSTANCE], and they were married September 19. They spent Christmas in panto as villain and Princess in Dick Whittington at the Brighton Aquarium ...

More of the same followed. I see him as Hatchett in van Biene's tour of Blue-Eyed Susan, in The Trumpet Call, The Plunger as a comic tramp, in Milton Bode's panto (Abanazar, with wife, now 'Custance'), supporting van Biene as Dickson in The Broken Melody ... and on 4 March 1894, Emily gave birth to Marjorie Wilson Brett.

In 1894 he played the star role of Captain Coddington in the tour of In Town, and in 1896 he was Pilkington Jones in Bode's Gentleman Joe. The role of the 'heroine' was taken by Miss Emmeline ORFORD. I presume they began their cohabitation during the tour. While the tour ran on and on, the real 'Mrs Brett' posted their five year-old wedding announcement in the trade press. She had no chance. The unofficial marriage would last for half a century. 

Miss Hook of Holland

Alderman Fitzwarren ('Staring me in the face', 'A funny kind of feeling') at Stratford East, and back to Gentleman Joe with Emmeline, until they went into Bode's next production Orlando Dando as Jonathan Q Jefferson an American millionaire ('I guess he guessed wrong'). And in 1899, when they went on the halls with an act A Ten to One Chance, they were announed as a pair. Emily, defiantly billed as Mrs Edwin Brett, was playing In Old Kentucky, and at Christmas Edwin was giving his Abanazar at Glasgow. The next year it was Dublin, while they swapped their music hall scena for another, On the Quiet.... 

In 1908, the couple took a two-years trip to Australia for J C Williamson (Hook in Miss Hook of Holland, Sergeant Brue, The Belle of Mayfair, pantomimes). They would made five Australian trips in all. . On returning to Britain they went on the road in George's Dance's A Waltz Dream (Count Lothar, Fifi), played more halls, toured variety, he played in High Jinks and The Boy and they toured together in a piece called Petticoat Fair with Walter Passmore (1919). 

In between Australian visits, I spy him in 1925 touring in Patricia, in 1927 in Oscar Asche's The Swordsman (Planchet) ...  In Australia they appeared in musical comedy (The Maid of the Mountains) and pantomime and as late as 1931, he played in Sons o'Guns.

In the 1930s, Edwin appeared in several motion pictures (His Royal Highness, Harmony Row, Diggers in Blighty)

In 1948, the couple made a final visit, from their home in South Benfleet, to the shores of Australia. They were, they said, at last, going to settle there.  Edwin died 20 July 1950. Emmeline -who had finally been billed as 'Mrs Brett' correctly after Emily's death 12 November 1937 -- survived him, and died in Cairns 1 June 1955.

No comments: