Whatever happened to the Likely Lad’s thespian figurines?
Best known for TV and stage roles, actor Rodney Bewes also had a passion for ceramics, and his fine collection is to be auctioned off
ILUNCHED 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. focussed “His personal more on collection 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. salary In his greater day he than commanded a tragedian, a 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 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 herself in Paris and London, portraying men in breeches that emphasised her shapely derriere. The Broom Girl was her most famous song, which she performed first at the Haymarket in 1826. She began managing the Olympic Theatre in 1830, and after her marriage to Charles Mathews in 1838, she managed Covent Garden and the Lyceum theatres for a period.
A Staffordshire porcelain figure of her in the role of Paul in the musical drama Paul and Virginia by James Cobb (1756-1818) shows the character praying for the safe return of his childhood friend.
It is estimated at £200-300. Amusingly, an early 19th century Derby figure of Richard III in dramatic pose could depict any one of at least three actors. Originally, the figure was modelled as David Garrick, but it was reissued with a new head when John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) took the role.
It is estimated at £100-200, the same as a figure from 1973 by Michael Sutty, which shows Sir Donald Sinden as Sir Harcourt Courtly in the six-act comedy London Assurance.
It was gifted to Rodney by Sir Donald, a long time friend and fellow member of the Garrick Club.
Above: Silvered bronze bird light fittings. Estimate £120-180 Left: A porcelain figure of Sir Donald Sinden, one of five made in 1973 by Michael Sutty ■ More information on the sale from Woolley & Wallis, 01722 424500.
L-R: Madame Vestris dressed as Paul inPaul and Virginia, £200-300; Derby figure of John Liston as Van Dunder and a Staffordshire porcelain figure of the same actor as Paul Pry, £150-250; two pearlware figures of John Lister as Van Dunder and Madame Vestris as the Broom Girl, estimate £200-300; a Derby figure of Richard III, £100-200