I was recently contacted by an organisation called Shepherd.com to nominate my Five Best Books on a topic connected to my writing. My final list, about early 20th century actors, whittled down from bookshelves-full of stuff on what was a fascinating time in theatre history, is here:
It includes serious books about the status of the actor (Michael Baker’s The Rise of the Victorian Actor) and shifting Edwardian morality (The Edwardian Turn of Mind by Samuel Hynes), a wonderfully-researched book about women in theatre (Innocent Flowers by Julie Holledge), and a couple of light-hearted accounts from a failed actor (On Stage and Off, by Jerome K Jerome) and of Bernard Shaw’s experiences working with major divas – Mrs Patrick Campbell and Herbert Tree – on the first ever production of Pygmalion (The Truth About Pygmalion by Richard Huggett). I could also have included books by Violet and Irene Vanbrugh and their brother Kenneth Barnes, who was the first administrator of RADA, all manner of biogs on Mrs Pat and Herbert Tree, memoirs from the likes of Harley Granville Barker, George Arliss, Gertrude Kingston and George Grossmith – who apart from co-writing The Diary of a Nobody with his brother Weedon was an actor, singer, writer and composer of several comic operas and originated many of the iconic characters in Gilbert & Sullivan shows.
When people talk these days of ‘the triple threat’ – folks who can act, dance and sing – it sounds mighty impressive. It was not an expression that existed, or a notion that one necessarily aspired to, in my acting days. Yet in days of old most actors did far more. Many of them in addition to their triple threat abilities were producers, writers, acrobats, musicians and managers – women as well as men. If you’re interested in that kind of thing take a look at Grossmith’s memoir, A Society Clown, which is available on Gutenberg Books here:
And if you’re looking for recommended books on specific subjects check out the shepherd.com site. Here for example is a list of Five Best Books on the suffragettes. I could add to that list if I had time. But meanwhile there are books to be written, housework to be done and a heatwave like never before witnessed in London to be avoided. Does that make me a triple threat?
Stay cool folks.