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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sexton Blake, Detective (1908)

The play Sexton Blake, Detective commenced at the Crown Theatre, Peckham, on Monday, February 24, 1908 for six nights and one matinee. Later moved to the Star Theatre, Liverpool (six nights from Monday April 6, 1908), then to Shakespeare Theatre, Clapham Junction, London (six nights from April 13, 1908), then to Grand Theatre, Brighton (six nights from April 20, 1908), Woolwich (six nights from April 27, 1908). Later shows include the Rotunda Theatre, Liverpool (from July 27), the County Theatre, Reading (from August 10) and the Princess’s Theatre, Glasgow (from August 31). The play continued to be performed around the country until September 20, 1909.

John M(arlborough) East (1860-1924), a Shakespearean actor and theatre manager realised the potential of Sexton Blake and interested Percy Nash (1869-1958) in a dramatic project to bring Blake to the stage. Nash negotiated a deal with Amalgamated Press and Brian Daly commenced work on a freely adapted version of W. Murray Graydon’s ‘Five Years After’ which had appeared in a double-length Christmas number (6 December) of Union Jack in 1906. He cut out the second villain and substituted—all with Graydon’s approval—an unprincipalled adventuress by the name of Philadelphia Kate who had appeared in another Blake story.

A company called Melodramatic Productions Syndicate Ltd. was floated on February 20, 1908, a month after a special performance at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, and a revised version of the play opened at the Crown Theatre, Peckham, on Monday, February 24, 1908. East, still busy with a pantomime at the same theatre, was still unhappy with the production and, once free of his commitments, took control, casting himself as a Bill Sykes character by the name of Simon Faggus.

The basic plot involved the the wicked Philadelphia Kate (Miss East Robertson) whose influence over the weakwilled ne’er do well Randolph Lovell (Charles Est) was contrasted with the virtuousness of  his cousin, Marjory Lovell (Lily Hammond) and her pure and philanthropic John Blackburn (Brian Daly), a local farmer.

Randolph will inherit Cossington Hall upon the death of the squire, Marmaduke Lovell, and hires Simon Faggus (East) to kill him and place the blame on Blackburn’s son, Roger (William Felton). The mystery was enhanced by Roger’s disappearance and the mystery of Squire Lovell’s death had confounded the investigations of Sergeant Widgeon of the Yard for five years until Sexton Blake came upon the scene.

The play was very popular as it toured around the North of England and apparently seven touring companies were put on the road and the original play was still being performed ten years later.

East produced a number of other plays during this period based on various popular crime stories, amongst them Tracked by Wireless by William Le Queux and Convict 99 by Marie Connor Leighton and her husband Robert Leighton (which was reprinted in Union Jack in 1909) and a second Sexton Blake play, Hush Money; or, The Disappearance of Sexton Blake, Detective (produced c.1909).

East and Daly later collaborated on the movie The Romany Rye (1915); Daly acted in quite a few films during the early years of the Great War.


Synopsis of scenery:
Act 1. (Scene 1) Farmer Blackburn’s Garden – Summer-time. (Scene 2) A Lane at Cossington – Winter. (Scene 3) The Library at Cossington Hall.
Act 2. (Scene 1) In the London Slums. Five years later. (Scene 2) The Mission Hall in the slums.
Act 3. (Scene 1) The Old Wharf at Rotherhithe. (Scene 2) Sexton Blake’s Rooms in Baker Street. (Scene 3) The Library at Cossington Hall.
Act 4. (Scene 1) Birdcage Walk, St. James’s Park, by Night. (Scene 2) Interior of a Church in the West End of London.

Sexton Blake_____________ The Celebrated Detective
Tinker__________________  Sexton Blake’s Young Assistant
Pedro__________________  The Famous Bloodhound
Inspector Widgeon________  A Scotland Yard Detective
Squire Marmaduke Lovell___ Owner of Cossington Hall
John Blackburn___________ Farmer. The Squire’s Tenant
Roger Blackburn__________ His Son
Reverend Edward Grey_____ A Clergyman
Simon Faggus____________ A Professional Burglar
Mrs. Blackburn___________ John Blackburn’s Wife
Euphemia_______________ Maid-of-all-Work. Afterwards a Music-hall Artiste
Marjorie Lovell___________ Roger Blackburn’s Fiancee
Philadelphia Kate_________ An Adventuress
Loafers, Villagers, Policemen, etc., etc.


Chap O'Keefe said...

A fascinating piece of research, Steve. Little did the writer of the picture caption know: the ten-year-old series of stories was to continue for most of the twentieth century! Now I guess the name Sexton Blake means next to nothing in any medium of popular culture. Do any copies exist of the play's text?

Steve said...

I've never come across the text for the play but presumably it was registered with someone. I thought it was the Lord Chancellor but a Google search didn't turn up anything.

By the way, there are now only five living authors of the 176 or so authors who penned Blake's adventures. A dying breed.