Cicely Courtneidge

Dame Esmerelda Cicely CourtneidgeDBE (1 April 1893 – 26 April 1980) was an English actress, comedian and singer. The daughter of the producer Robert Courtneidge , she was appearing in his productions in the West End , by the age of 16, and was quickly promoted from minor to major roles in his Edwardian musical comedies .After the outbreak of the First World War, her father had a series of failures and temporarily withdrew from production. No other producers offered the young Courtneidge leading roles in musical comedies, and she turned instead to the music hall , learning her craft as a comedian. In 1916 she married the actor and dancer Jack Hulbert , with whom she formed a professional as well as a private partnership that lasted until his death 62 years later. They acted together on stage and screen, initially in a series of revues , with Hulbert frequently producing as well as performing.Courtneidge appeared in 11 British films in the 1930s, and one in Hollywood, finding this work to be very lucrative. She and Hulbert also recorded for Columbia and HMV, returning to the stage in the late 1930s. During the Second World War, Courtneidge entertained the armed forces and raised funds for the troops. She then had a long run inUnder the Counter, a comedy in which she received glowing notices. Notable among her other successes was Courtneidge's performance in Ivor Novello 's musicalGay's the Wordin 1951–52. During the rest of the decade, she focused on revues and straight plays.After the mid-1960s, Courtneidge concentrated on the non-musical theatre, appearing in the West End and on tour in a range of plays, both serious and comic. While appearing in her last West End run in 1971, she celebrated 70 years on the stage. Afterwards, she continued to work for a further five years before retiring.

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 Cicely Courtneidge's Life and career

Early years[edit]

InThe Arcadians, 1909

A Midsummer Night's Dreamat the Prince's Theatre, Manchester .

Her first starring role was Eileen Cavanagh in the long-running Edwardian musical comedyThe Arcadians, which she took over from Phyllis Dare in 1910.In the piece that followed,The Mousmé(1911), which also featured a book co-written by her father, she was cast in one of the two leading female roles alongside Florence Smithson .

The Observerwrote that the co-authors had "failed to supply any adequate dramaticraison d'êtrefor the prominent character of Miyo, a fair-haired Japanese damsel, embodied by Miss Cicely Courtneidge with much sprightliness but far too much effort, facial and otherwise, of coy significance."The Timesliked her better and praised her "pretty impudence and roguery".

Advertisement forThe Pearl Girl, 1913

In June 1914, Courtneidge and Hulbert starred together inThe Cinema Star, an adaptation by Hulbert and Harry Graham ofDie Kino-Königin, a 1913 German comic opera by Jean Gilbert . The piece was a hit for Courtneidge and her father, playing to full houses at the Shaftesbury Theatre until Britain and Germany went to war in August 1914; anti-German sentiment brought the run to an abrupt halt.

The Pearl Girland three unsuccessful new shows,The Light Blues,My Lady FrayleandOh, Caesar!(all 1916).

After an early variety engagement in Manchester, the critic ofThe Manchester Guardianwrote of her "pleasant voice and much charm of manner" in sketches and songs: "one may express a preference for Miss Courtneidge as the hospital sister, presented with all the bright graciousness which properly belongs to the character, over her more elaborate representation of the Flying Corps 'knut'."

Nevertheless, she mastered the genre, according to her biographer Derek Pepys-Whiteley:

Courtneidge and Hulbert partnership[edit]

Jack Hulbert in 1921

Ring Up, by Eric Blore and Ivy St. Helier , at the Royalty Theatre in 1921; they received good notices, but the material was weak, and the show was not a great success.Courtneidge returned to variety, appearing at the London Coliseum in 1922.

The New York Timesfound the show "beguiling".The fourth in the series,Clowns in Clover, contained one of Courtneidge's most celebrated sketches, "Double Damask", by Dion Titheradge, in which her character, Mrs. Spooner , and two shop assistants become entangled in tongue-twisters. When Courtneidge's 1932 recording of the sketch was reissued in 1972,The Gramophonesaid, "it is an enduring classic comedy sketch as funny now as it was then".

She and Hulbert managed to work together on several films, includingThe Ghost Train(1931) andJack's the Boy(1932).

With Hulbert, she recorded such numbers as "Why has a cow got four legs".Courtneidge's solo discs include another of her most celebrated sketches, "Laughing Gas" (1931).

.Courtneidge and Hulbert were finally reunited as a stage act inUnder Your Hat, a spy story co-written by Hulbert, with music and lyrics by Vivian Ellis . According to Pepys-Whiteley, this was their favourite of all of their joint productions. It ran at the Palace Theatre until April 1940and was then filmed for the cinema .

1940s and 50s[edit]

Hulbert in later life

Together with other prominent performers including Robert Donat and Florence Desmond , Courtneidge led professional opposition to a wartime proposal to allow theatres to open on Sundays. Instead, they proposed that only charity shows for the troops should be permitted on a Sunday.The Hulberts appeared together in another musical,Something in the Airin 1943. The show received only moderate praise, although the performances of the two stars received good notices.

, a comedy produced by Hulbert. Its theme was the black market in luxury goods and the heroine's shamelessness in manipulating it to her advantage. This struck a chord with British audiences after the privations of the war, and the play ran for two years. When Hulbert took the production to Broadway, the premise of the piece meant nothing to New York audiences, and it ran for only three weeks.Hulbert and Courtneidge then took the play to Australia, where it fared better.The Australian Quarterlywrote:

Under the Counteris remarkable as a piece of acting virtuosity. She knows all the tricks in the trouper's basket, and she rings the changes from dry humour to dewy sentiment, from song to dance, from pathos to Hungarian hotcha, and from all moods to subtle mimicry as quick as a naughty wink.

The Observer, "Miss Courtneidge is so indefatigably and abundantly herself that it is her show or nobody's."After a pre-London tryout, the show opened in the West End in February 1951 and ran until May 1952.In 1951 she was appointed CBE .

(1953), and the playsThe Joy of Living(1955),Star Maker(1956),The Bride and the Batchelor(1956), andFool's Paradise(1959).

Later years[edit]

Courtneidge in 1975, by Allan Warren

she played an elderly lesbian, living in a drab London flat with her cat, recalling her career as an actress and forlornly trying to keep in touch with former friends.The Timesdescribed her performance as a triumph.In 1962 and 1963, she and Hulbert starred alongside Vic Oliver , in the BBC radio sitcom,Discord in Three Flats(1962).

The notices for the piece were dreadful, and those for Courtneidge's performance scarcely better:The Guardianwrote of "a woeful excess of underplay",andThe Observercommented, "The sight of Cicely Courtneidge hamming it until she drops in purple harem knickers with diamanté cycle clips isn't honestly hilarious enough to carry the evening."

In 1969, Courtneidge turned to television, playing a working-class role as "Mum" in the first series of the LWT comedyOn the Buses, opposite Reg Varney .In about 1970, Courtneidge and Hulbert were engaged by the impresario Pieter Toerien to perform in John Chapman 'sOh, Clarence!in Cape Town , South Africa.

at the Vaudeville Theatre , playing "a prudish authoress from Norfolk, bemused by all the flying exits, unexpected entrances, and atmosphere of incipient carnality."During this, her last West End run, she celebrated 70 years on stage.In 1972 she was appointed DBE .In 1976, she and Hulbert toured in a semi-autobiographical revue,Once More With Music.

God Save the Queen!and had an all-star cast, including Ingrid Bergman , Wendy Hiller , Flora Robson and Diana Rigg .

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 Cicely Courtneidge's Filmography

 Cicely Courtneidge's Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^A "knut", defined by theOxford English Dictionaryas "a fashionable or showy young man", was a popular term in early 20th century England, celebrated in Arthur Wimperis 's song about "Gilbert the Filbert, The Colonel of the Knuts."
  4. ^(1925–26),Lido Lady(1926–27),Clowns in Clover(1927–29),The House that Jack Built(1929–30), andFolly to be Wise(1931).
  5. ^Courtneidge reprised the sketch on BBC television in the seriesBefore the Fringea few years before the recording's reissue.
  6. ^to work with, and I never want to do anything else with him. I'd have to be starving, I really would."After the opening night, Coward wrote in his diary, "Cis also got some well-deserved cracks for vulgarizing Madame Arcati, and serve her bloody well right."
  1. ^Green, Stanley. "Cicely Courtneidge" .Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre( Da Capo Press, 1980. ISBN 0-306-80113-2 . p. 86
  2. ^abcdefghijklmnoPepys-Whiteley, D. "Courtneidge, Dame (Esmerelda) Cicely (1893–1980)",Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2011, accessed 8 August 2011(subscription required)
  3. ^ab"Courtneidge, Dame Cicely",Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edition, Oxford University Press, December 2007, accessed 8 August 2011(subscription required)
  4. ^abcdeWaymark, Peter. "70 years on stage for Cicely Courtneidge",The Times, 3 September 1971, p. 14
  5. ^"Apollo Theatre",The Times, 1 May 1907, p. 8
  6. ^Gaye, p. 491
  7. ^The Mousmé,The Play Pictorial, July 1911, p. 40
  8. ^"New Japanese Play",The Observer, 10 September 1911, p. 8
  9. ^"Shaftesbury Theatre – 'The Mousmé'",The Times, 11 September 1911, p. 9
  10. ^abThe Pearl Girl",The Times, 26 September 1913, p. 7
  11. ^abcdeGaye, p. 492
  12. ^abcdef"Obituary, Dame Cicely Courtneidge",The Times, 28 April 1980, p. 16
  13. ^"Variety Theatres",The Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1917, p. 8
  14. ^"Ring Upat the Royalty",The Observer, 4 September 1921, p. 12, and "Ring Up",The Times, 5 November 1921, p. 6
  15. ^"The Coliseum",The Times, 21 February 1922, p. 14
  16. ^"New revue at Little Theatre",The Times, 20 March 1924, p. 12
  17. ^"Revue from London proves beguiling; Cicely Courtneidge's Character Roles the Gems of 'By the Way' – Jack Hulbert Also Gifted" ,The New York Times, 29 December 1925
  18. ^ab"Revue 1919–1929",The Gramophone, August 1972, p. 117
  19. ^"Mrs. Bartholomew", HMV B4475
  20. ^HMV B4134
  21. ^HMV B4475 on reverse of "Mrs Bartholomew"
  22. ^HMV B3993
  23. ^"Hide and Seek– Mr. Hulbert's Team at the Hippodrome",The Manchester Guardian, 5 October 1937, p. 10
  24. ^"London Hippodrome –Hide And Seek",The Times, 5 October 1937, p. 14
  25. ^"Picture Theatres",The Times, 11 October 1940, p. 6
  26. ^"The Theatres",The Times, 13 April 1942, p. 8
  27. ^"Opposition to Sunday Theatres – Chorus Girls at the House of Commons",The Times, 3 February 1943, p. 2
  28. ^"Palace Theatre –Something in the Air",The Times24 September 1943, p. 6, and Brown, Ivor , "Theatre and Life",The Observer, 26 September 1943, p. 2
  29. ^Rees, Leslie, and Coralie Clarke Rees. "Drama in Sydney",The Australian Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (March 1948), pp. 122–124(subscription required)
  30. ^Brown, Ivor. "At the Theatre",The Observer, 26 June 1949, p. 6
  31. ^Brown, Ivor. "High Performance",The Observer, 25 February 1951, p. 6
  32. ^"Theatres",The Times, 2 May 1952, p. 8
  33. ^"The New Year Honours",The Times, 1 January 1951, p. 6
  34. ^Crowther, Bosley. "Movie Review:The L-Shaped Room(1962)" .The New York Times, 28 May 1963
  35. ^Castle, p. 247
  36. ^Coward, p. 579
  37. ^Nightingale, Benedict. "High Spirits",The Guardian, 21 October 1964, p. 9
  38. ^Gilliatt, Penelope. "Back to the big stuff",The Observer, 8 November 1964, p. 25
  39. ^Bryden, Ronald. "Return of a Legend",The Observer, 10 December 1967, p. 25
  40. ^Hope Wallace, Philip. "Dear Octopus",The Guardian, 8 December 1967, p. 9, and Wade, David. "A not so happy family",The Times, 8 December 1967, p. 13
  41. ^Reynolds, Stanley. "London Weekend",The Guardian, 3 March 1969, p. 8
  42. ^"Toerien-Rubin Company" ,Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance, accessed 22 October 2014
  43. ^Watts, Janet. "The couple that cheers",The Guardian, 19 March 1974, p. 12
  44. ^Billington, Michael. "Move Over Mrs Markham",The Times, 19 March 1971, p. 12
  45. ^Supplement toThe London Gazette. 31 December 1971, p. 8.
  46. ^"Courtneidge, Cicely",Oxford Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Oxford University Press, accessed 9 August 2011(subscription required)
  47. ^A page fromGod Save the Queen!. Chichester Festival Theatre programme, June 1977. Courtneidge performed a segment called "Princess Elizabeth Meets Prince Philip at Dartmouth, 1939", fromThe Little Princesses, by Marion Crawford, Cassell, 1950

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 Cicely Courtneidge's Sources

  • Castle, Charles (1972).Noël. London: W. H. Allen. ISBN   0-491-00534-2 . 
  • Coward, Noël (1982). Payn, Graham; Sheridan Morley, eds.The Noël Coward Diaries. London: Methuen. ISBN   0-297-78142-1 . 
  • Gaye, Freda (ed.) (1967).Who's Who in the Theatre(fourteenth ed.). London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons. OCLC   5997224 . 
  • Morley, Sheridan.The Great Stage Stars. London: Angus & Robertson. ISBN   0-8160-1401-9 . 

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 Cicely Courtneidge's Memoirs of Courtneidge and Hulbert

  • Courtneidge, Cicely (1953).Cicely. London: Hutchinson. OCLC   559973615 . 
  • Hulbert, Jack (1975).The Little Woman's Always's Right. London: W H Allen. ISBN   0-491-01653-0 . 

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