LUNCHED at the Garrick Club once, the guest of a member who shall remain nameless. For mine host, it was a regular bolthole from the demands of life in central London, but for me, sitting in the grand Milne Room of that storied actors’ home from home in the heart of the West End, it was memorable.
When not star-spotting with discreet glances, I could still see dozens more thespians staring down at me from the walls, for the club owns an extensive collection of 18th and 19th century theatrical portraits.
The club’s archive contains more than 1,000 paintings and thousands of drawing and prints as well as sculptures, 10,000 books and manuscripts on the history of British theatre and a host of theatrical memorabilia and ephemera.
Less well known is the club’s collection of theatrical ceramic figures and that it was curated by Rodney Bewes, of BBC sitcom The Likely Lads fame.
As the first anniversary of his death approaches – he died on November 21 last year – Salisbury, Wiltshire auctioneers Woolley & Wallis has announced the sale of his personal collection.
Not surprisingly, figures modelled as 19th century actors and actresses dominate. They will be sold among 18 lots on Tuesday, October 16.
In complete contrast are 21 lots of 20th century furniture and design with which he furnished his 1960s-built home in Henleyon-Thames. They will be sold the following day.
It was his love of 18th and 19th century pottery and porcelain that led Rodney to curate the ceramics at his beloved Garrick Club.
Woolley & Wallis specialist Clare Durham says the role naturally introduced him to the auctioneers.
“He was fiercely protective of all the club’s acquisitions, and with a wealth of knowledge... his enthusiasm for theatrical pottery and porcelain figures was infectious,” she says.
“His personal collection focussed more on the characters of the 19th century actor John Liston, along with other items that caught his keen aesthetic eye, and visitors to his home were often treated to a tour of his favourite pieces.”
John Liston (1776-1846) tried to be an actor in tragic roles but failed to make his mark.
Instead, he turned to comedy and found his forte. An introduction to Charles Kemble, a prominent member of the Welsh acting dynasty, led to Liston’s first comic role and he went on to become the highest-paid comic actor on the English stage.
BORN in Bingley, West Yorkshire, Rodney Bewes made his acting debut aged 13 on BBC Radio’s Children’s Hour. After being expelled from RADA and a two-year break for National Service, a decade in repertory established his love of theatre.
In his day he commanded a salary greater than a tragedian, earning between £60-£100 a week with Madame Vestris’ company at the Olympic Theatre. He retired in 1837 after a career of more than 30 years.
Perhaps his most famous role was the lead in Paul Pry, a farce by John Poole, which premiered at the Haymarket Theatre in 1825.
The play was so well received that pictures of the two characters began appearing in shop windows and on silk handkerchiefs and snuffboxes.
The popularity of the images prompted ceramics manufacturers in Staffordshire and at Rockingham, Derby and Worcester to produce figures of the two, a number of which figure in Rodney’s collection.
One late Derby example shows the actor as Pry, his umbrella tucked under his
BBC TV appearances followed in Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars, but the role for which he is best known – as Bob Ferris opposite James Bolam in The Likely Lads – followed, running from 1964-66. He reprised the role in the 1973 arm, while another in Staffordshire porcelain depicts Liston in his role as Van Dunder in John Poole’s comedy ‘Twould Puzzle a Conjurer, first produced at the Haymarket Theatre on September 11, 1824. Together, they are estimated at £150-250.
Another two in pearlware dating from around 1830 show Liston in his comic costume as Van Dunder, and Madame Vestris as the Broom Girl.
Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (1797-1865), made a name for
ALTHOUGH TV work dried up in later years, he continued to tread the boards, touring a number of one-man shows. He was 79 at the time of his death.