Back in February I wrote about some of the theatrical items held at the Churchill Archives in the collections of Lord Chandos and Jack le Vien. However I recently come across items in our Broadwater collection which highlight the theatrical side of one of the Churchill family, namely Winston’s mother Lady Randolph Churchill.
The items were catalogued into the Broadwater collection last year. The collection includes scripts of plays written by Lady Randolph, together with related correspondence and financial papers.
The collection includes an annotated script of Lady Randolph’s first play "His Borrowed Plumes", a comedy about an authoress which opened in July 1909. The collection also includes annotated copies of her next play "The Bill" which opened in 1914. The copies belonged to Lady Randolph and Frederick Kerr, the male lead and producer.
The Broadwater Collection, BRDW IV 1/4
As well as scripts the material also includes letters of congratulation on the success of the play from friends and correspondents including Maud Beerbohm Tree, wife of actor and theatre manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852–1917). Among the correspondence is a promotional leaflet for the play which interestingly promotes the play under Lady Randolph’s married name Mrs. Cornwallis-West. In 1900 Lady Randolph had married George Cornwallis-West (1874–1951), a captain in the Scots Guards who was the same age as her elder son, Winston. Unfortunately however the play has gained notoriety from the fact that Cornwallis-West began an affair with legendary actress Mrs Patrick Campbell who was playing the lead.
Less well known is Lady Randolph’s next play with a political theme "The Bill". Copies of the script were sent to members of the profession and the archive includes letters which reveal what some of the famous theatrical figures of the day thought of the play. This includes a letter from actor-manager Harley Granville-Barker who wrote to say that he felt that ‘the intrigue’ did not ‘spring naturally and interestingly’ from the political part of the play. However his letter was encouraging and he added that the play would be more interesting and dramatic if it were more historical.
In his reply, Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), one of the most famous actors of his day and the first actor to be awarded a knighthood, described the play as ‘too political’ while actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who was the proprietor of His Majesty’s Theatre rejected a production of the play at his theatre as there was no part for him in the play.
In addition to this correspondence the archive also includes financial and business papers. An interesting example is a receipt for the play from the Lord Chamberlain’s office sent to Alfred Wareing, Director of Alfred Wareing’s Repertory Season which signed a contract to produce the "The Bill". Prior to 1968 the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was the official censor for virtually all theatre performed in Britain.
The Broadwater Collection, BRDW IV 1/15