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Monday, December 05, 2016

Randal Charlton

The Tribune was a new Liberal morning penny newspaper, launched on Monday, 15 January 1906, just in time to report on the sensational result of the general election, which saw Arthur Balfour's Conservative and Liberal Unionist coalition government dumped and a landslide victory for Liberal Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The newspaper, founded by MP Franklin Thomasson, was considered a little heavyweight in both appearance and contents, ran for two years before announcing its demise on 7 February 1908.

It was launched with a capital of £20,000, but this disappeared in the first year without leaving any appreciable mark on its sale or advertising revenue and a further £150,000 had to be injected to pay off liabilities accrued during the previous year and to keep the paper going. But while the future seemed somewhat brighter, the paper was still losing between £900 and £1,500 a week, a financial strain that was too great to carry for too long.

It was with the Tribune that Randal Charlton first came to the public attention. In his mid-twenties, Charlton joined as a "special" writer on the paper, but his early efforts were probably overshadowed by his first impact. During the launch of the paper a party was organised for the staff and Charlton, arriving early, imbibed heavily and passed out at the feet of Liberal MP Augustine Birrell.

The newspaper became the background for Philip Gibbs' novel The Street of Adventure (1909), the first successful novel to accurately depict Fleet Street. "The book is classed as fiction, but even to those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the London Press, it will be at once obvious that the characters and scenes are drawn from real life, and that there is a distinct autobiographical atmosphere throughout," reported The Scotsman, and Gibbs would later admit that "It is no secret now that the newspaper was 'The Tribune,' which lived and died before the war, as one of the most unhappy adventures in Fleet Street."

Gibbs later recorded that, although the book was a huge success, he sadly made no money from it because his royalties were swallowed up in legal costs for a threatened libel action bought by his former colleague Randal Charlton. "He was not pleased with my portrait," Gibbs later confessed.

Discovering authentic information on this interesting Fleet Street character has proven surprisingly difficult, although he appears glancingly in a number of reminiscenses about the street of ink.

H. Simonis, in The Street of Ink (1917), called Charlton "a great news gatherer. He started the entertaining 'Rambler' page which is such a sprightly feature of the Daily Mirror, and which he still contributes. He has also been associated with the Sunday Pictorial since the first." He receives a mention in The Receding Shore (1933), the memoirs of Bohemian Henry Savage, and Lord Alfred Douglas thought him “a charming fellow, who also wrote for me on The Academy.” (The Pantomime Man, 1933). Hannen Swaffer (Daily Herald, 12 March 1945) recalled an incident at the 1918 funeral of a former boxer: "When the remains of Dick Burge were slid into the furnace, Marie Lloyd, I well remember, tore herself away from Randal Charlton's comforting arms and shouted 'Dick, let me come with you!'" Philip Page (The Sphere, 16 September 1933), recalled "another Daily Graphic colleague was Randall Charlton. Charlton was a curious character, vastly tall and impressive, a fine journalist when he chose to be, a promising novelist, and a man of odd enthusiasms, which included Marie Lloyd, "Squire" Chaplin—and a whole gallery of criminals. He was never deeply interested in the theatre, though his knowlede of the music-halls was extensive and peculiar."

Bernard Falk described him (in He Laughed In Fleet Street, rev. 1937) as “an astonishing bohemian … tall, mysterious, unplaceable, promising, once to be a first-class novelist, next looking like one of the great journalistic successes of Fleet Street, finally tailing off into an odd-job reporter. Whenever I saw him I had the feeling that I was talking to a picturesque character in an O’Henry story. None the less, a nice fellow, as gentle as his voice. When in need he applied to me, and I offered him work, gave him definite jobs to do, but what happened when he left my room I never knew; no copy came from him and no explanation.”

Charlton stood six feet four inches and was, according to Douglas Martin (New York Times, 21 December 2002), "something of a dandy who wore morning coat, brocaded waistcoat and top hat as he made his reportorial rounds." He cut a regal figure in Bouverie Street; he was one of the New Bohemians—a drinking club founded in the early 1900s, that held its first meeting in the Portugal in Fleet Street and later gathered at the Tarton Room in Scotch House, Milford Lane, The Devereaux, The Prince’s Head in Buckingham Street, the Mitre and the Round Table. Its members included F. J. Cox, Edwin Pugh, Edgar Jepson, Cecil Chesterton, Charles Sheridan Jones, David Wilson, Arthur Machen and Christopher Wilson.

The description of him as potentially a first class novelist is backed up by contemporary reviews of his three novels, which appeared over a period of five years: Mave. A romance (1906), The Virgin Widow (1908) and The Bewildered Bride (1911). The first of these was seen as highly promising:
Mr. Randal Charlton has given us in "Mave" a singularly romantic tale in a delightful setting of old English country life. The love affair of Robert Trayner, who goes down to a little market town to transact professional business for his uncle, the London broker, and of Mave O'Moran, the pretty assistant in the ribbon shop, is withal a sad story. The lad is honest and the maid true, but fate is unkind to both, and to one there comes a tragic ending terrible in its pathos. Mr. Charlton has worked out a plot very deftly, and drawn his characters with a strong hand. The heroine is innocence itself, fervent in her love of the impetuous youth, and trusting implicitly in his honour—and her faith in him is not misplaced. But she stands in deadly peril of two individuals of widely different temprements—one a "patron of the virtues," the other a brutal ruffian of the most degraded type. The circumstances in which the three are brought together form the main, and, indeed, the most exciting part of the story. Other personages figure in the narrative—Trip, a horse jockey, full of anecdotes of old prize-fights, and with an unrivalled capacity for swallowing strong liquor; John Moff, the landlord of the inn; and old Mosely, the shady attorney. The old-fashioned surroundings, the life in the country inn, the movement in the High-street, the talk of coaches and post-chaises, and the scandal and gossip, all go towards the making of a very charming picture of the days when the nineteenth century was young, and men of fashion, like Mr. Robert Trayner, wore green coats and fine cambrios. (Norfolk Chronicle, 14 July 1906)

One detects in "Mave" ... a new note, which is full of promise of something greater than even the considerable achievement that stands to the author's credit in this novel. The atmosphere is charged with romance, and the story, which is by no means an easy one to present, is very cleverly told. Mave, the daughter of a woman who was hanged in the days when executions for petty offences were common enough, is the ribbon-counter girl in the millinery shop of a small country town when she excites a storm of passion which sweeps away several men. In the verse used as a motto to the book there occurs the line, "You were made from the twilight and rain"; and, consequently, no definite portrait of her is given. But Robert Trayner, whom she inspires with a great and a pure love, and Daniel Deacon, whose religious zeal is replaced by overwhelming desire, as well as Nat Avershaw, with his brutish admiration, are all drawn to the life. The end is tragic—it could not be anything else—and one perceives the hand of destiny. It is a notable and a distinguished piece of work, and much may be expected from the author. (Manchester Courier, 24 July 1906)
During 1907, Charlton was involved in the "The Cry of the Children" campaign, named after a series by George R. Sims and intended to raise awareness and push for legislation to prevent children from being allowed in public houses under a certain age. Charlton spoke at meetings, including a large meeting at The Corn Exchange in November 1907 in which he insisted that nobody could be satisfied with the state of England as it was to-day; nobody could feel that this great nation was organized as it ought to be; it seemed to him like a body in which the circulation of the blood was not active enough, and where every member of that body did not get sufficient life and power into it.

Charlton was clearly a powerful and popular speaker, his speech littered with applause when he spoke of  the crowd gathering that night because they wanted to give children the change to grow in wisdom and stature; to save them from their bad homes, from the bad streets, and from the power of the public houses—although the loudest applause was reserved for the end of his speech, which was a quote from Isiah: "How art thou fallen from salvation O day star, son of the morning; how art thou cut down to the ground, O thou who didst lay low the nations."

The following year, the Liberal government passed the Children's Act, also known as the Children's Charter.

Under the heading "Clever, but depressing," the Daily News reviewed Charlton's next novel, The Virgin Widow:
Originality and cleverness distinguish this novel, but it is original at the expense of probability, and its cleverness takes a morbid and unpleasant turn. An outline of the plot will help to explain our meaning. The story is told by "Mr. John," a cripple whose misfortune makes him adopt the tone of a lonely philosopher. His brother, Edward Bulmer, is dying of a wasting disease. He married – if the contract can be called a marriage – a woman who is content to be his nurse in return for a home. He then adopts, or, to be more precise, buys a child, Francine, and the happy home is complete. Edward is soon dead and out of the way.
    The next important character to appear is one Bramwell Moore, a playwright, and, of course, a disappointed playwright, because nobody must be cheerful in this novel. He is a frequent visitor to 'The Farm,' where the widow resides, and she falls in love with him. But he (need we say?) loves another – the girl Francine. The plot thickens with the arrival of an Italian, one Garianni, who holds a secret of the widow's past life, and is blackmailing her. He is murdered, by whom we are left to guess. In any case, Moore is tried for the crime, and acquitted through the sacrifice of the widow, who proves an alibi for him which involves a very emphatic and quite untruthful denial of her own virtue. After this it is a bitter blow to her to discover that the man on whose behalf she has abased herself is to marry Francine, and the book ends with her death under pitiful circumstances. Such a story might have depressed Mark Tapley* himself.
    * The depressed Dickens character from Martin Chuzzlewit.
Charlton's follow-up, published in 1911, was also reviewed in the Daily News (5 June 1911):
It is a pleasant fancy of Mr. Charlton's to pretend that his story is founded on fact, and there is, we suspect, this much ground for his pretence, that one of the characters has been suggested to him by some living person. We mean Mr. Hillary St. Ann, a gentleman in whom the author takes great and justifiable interest and pride. He is a bachelor who is losing the bloom of youth. Untouched himself, until too late, by affairs of the heart, he contrives to be the deus ex machina for troubled lovers, and he has the two refreshing qualities of superficial cynicism and a warm heart. The other characters are either undistinguished or unconvincing. The hero, Harry Monteith, is a shallow and impressionable young man, and the "bewildered bride" herself an ingenuous young lady of little individuality. Miss Scarlett, the servant girl whose past has converged on sordid lines with that of the hero, is not a convincing figure, although Mr. Charlton deserves credit for some originality in his treatment of her. The story is very clever and interesting, in spite of incidents which the author himself excuses on the ground that he is only narrating facts—an excuse, by the way, which is never valid for the purposes of a novel.
The Manchester Courier, meanwhile, thought it a "frankly sensational love story":
The author professes that it is simply a narrative of actual happenings, and extraordinary events do occur in real life. Certainly the tale is told in a matter-of-fact, off-hand style, with few trimmings and no attempt at polish, so that the profession of actuality is so far supported by internal evidence from the book itself. Anyhow, the story is readable, and that quality in this connection is of vastly more importance than mere truthfulness.
The Bewildered Bride was to prove Charlton's final novel, and his literary and theatrical career tailed off after this point. In 1915, he co-authored (with Frank L. Lascot) a biography of Edith Cavell which was announced to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1916, but there appears to be no trace of it held by any of the copyright libraries or on sale second hand. Charlton also had a hand in the production of Joy-Land, a huge, colourful musical revue produced by Albert de Courville at the London Hippodrome in December 1915 and subsequently on tour. The music was by Herman E. Darewski and how much was contributed by Charlton is unknown as the book and lyrics were credited to De Courville and Wal Pink.

While his literary career may have stumbled, Charlton was still finding regular work as a journalist. Following the demise of the Tribune, he had worked for the Daily Graphic, covering such stories as the trial of Dr. Crippen. In around 1913, he joined the staff of the Daily Mirror where he created the "This Morning's Gossip" and "Today's Gossip" columns, signed by 'The Rambler', that ran throughout the war years 1914-18. He was also a regular contributor to the Sunday Pictorial (which would later become the Sunday Mirror) during that same era.

News spread in early July 1916 that Charlton, described by The Era as "a well-known journalist" and by the Sporting Times as "the handsome young fellow with the Early Victorian tailor, who writes the genial “Gossip” in the Mirror," was to marry. A report on the wedding was carried by The Guardian (23 July 1916):
There was a large congregation at the church of Our Lady and St. Edward, Chiswick, yesterday, when Miss Birdie Coplans—well known in theatrical circles as Birdie Courtney—was married to Mr. Randal Charlton, who has been for some years past on the staff of the “Daily Mirror.” The wedding ceremony was performed by the Very Rev. Canon Egan. The bride has been appearing with great success in “Half-Past Eight” at the Comedy Theatre.
Birdie was the daughter of Elimelich Coplans (1856-1923) and Rachel Dinah Coplans (neé Press, 1858-1937), both immigrants from Jonava, Lithuania. They had married in Lithuania in 1874, shortly before emigrating, first to Whitechapel and then to Canterbury, and having 12 children. Birdie was born Fagilia Coplans in Canterbury in 1891, but registered as Fanny Coplans; as “fagilia” means little bird in Yiddish, she became known as ‘B’ or ‘Birdie’, but later anglicized her name to Barbara.

By 1916, she was well known for her appearances in revues and as a chorus girl with George Edwardes "Merry Widow" company.

Two children were born over the next couple of years—Maud M. Charlton on 24 March 1917 and Warwick Michael John Charlton on 9 March 1918—and the family were to be found living at 119 Park Road, Hanover Gate, London. However, life was not easy for the new family and on 13 April 1921, a petition was filed against Charlton with the High Court of Justice, and an order was made on 5 August 1921: Charlton was bankrupt and debts were paid off at a rate of 4 shillings to the pound. Another petition was filed on 4 August 1922 and an order made on 29 September 1922.

By this time, Charlton gave his address as John Bull, Long Acre, London. He had been a long-time friend and defender of Horatio Bottomley, who had been a Liberal MP when Charlton worked on The Tribune. Bottomley had founded John Bull in 1906. He was possibly working on Bottomley's newspapers at the time, the National News (later the Sunday Illustrated) and the short-lived Sunday Evening Telegram following his seeming departure as 'Rambler' from the Daily Mirror. By 1922, Bottomley was no longer connected with the paper and was facing a great many charges for fraud, for which he received a seven-year sentence.

Charlton's problems were not solely financial. He had separated from his wife and had been ordered to pay her the sum of £125 a year. Charlton had petitioned for a divorce naming a candidate in the then-current Parliamentary election as the co-respondent. However, he subsequently took out a summons asking for his petition to be withdrawn and instead tried to claim damages of £2,000 from the co-respondent.

Mrs. Charlton, meanwhile, claimed that her husband had paid none of the money he was ordered to pay and the case came before Mr. Justice Astbury at the Bankruptcy Court. Charlton was summonsed to appear due to arrears of alimony amounting to £85 10s.

Charlton's poor fortunes meant that final payments made against his latest bankruptcy amounted to only 5d. in the pound. He was eventually released from his 1921 bankruptcy on 3 January 1924, and the 1922 bankruptcy on 17 March 1925.

In 1930, Charlton (increasingly, his first name was spelled Randall) was back in court, but was this time not the defendant. The only mention I have been able to find is in the Yorkshire Post (10 May 1930):
Before Mr. Justice Maugham, in the Chancery Division yesterday, mentioning was made of the action by Mr. Randall Charlton against Messrs. Hutchinson, the publishers, upon which there was a motion for an injunction to restrain an alleged passing off by the defendants. It was stated that it had been agreed, subject to the approval of the Court, that the motion should stand over until the trial of the action, costs to be costs in the action. Mr. Justice Maugham approved this action.
The lack of any further newspaper coverage makes it seem unlikely that the case ever came to trial. Eighteen months later, and almost unnoticed, Randal Conway passed away at the age of 49. The New York Times carried a brief note:
LONDON, Dec. 27.—Randal Charlton, novelist and theatrical critic, with a wide circle of American friends, died during the week-end. Mr. Charlton for many years was one of the best known figures in Fleet Street and was chiefly associated with the Daily Mirror.
Although the NY Times refers to the previous week-end, the date of Charlton's death has been given as 8 December 1931.

This uncertainty about the date seems quite fitting, as it caps a rather mysterious life. Charlton appears to have arrived fully formed at The Tribune, and no earlier official record than the 1911 census, which records his birthplace as Bloomsbury, London, and his age as 28.

Of his family, there was certainly further trace. In 1933, Mrs. Randall Charlton penned "The Rabbit", a short story in the pages of The New London Magazine. Her husband had also written at least a couple of stories during the Great War, "Shuffling Papers" (The Strand (US), May 1914) and "Wit of Don Jose" (Overland Monthly, Mar 1917).

In 1938, Randal Charlton's daughter hit the headlines when it was announced that her previously announced engagement to Viennese film star Anton Walbrook, would not be taking place. Maude Courtney (her mother's stage name was Birdie Courtney) was a 21-year-old chorus girl with C. B. Cochran's company and 38-year-old Anton Walbrook was internationally famous for his appearance as Prince Albert in Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious Years and as Michel Strogoff in Michel Strogoff and The Soldier and the Lady.

Walbrook was born Adolf Wohlbrück and it was his nationality that was the problem, as was explained by solicitors when the split was announced:
It appears that Mrs Randall-Charlton, the mother of Miss Courtney, while aware of her daughter's close friendship with Mr Walbrook, was ignorant of the proposed marriage.
    Immediately she learned of the plan she pointed out to her daughter that by marrying Mr Walbrook she would automatically be forced to surrender her British passport and thus lose her British nationality.
    Legal advice was sought this morning, as Miss Courtney is not yet 21 years of age [she was – Steve], and, as a result of this advice Mr Walbrook and Miss Courtney have reluctantly agreed that in view of the difficulties that would arise for both parties, the application for marriage should be withdrawn.
    Mr Walbrook, who has made England his home for the last two years, is still an Austrian subject, and, although he hopes to remain in this country, both he and Miss Courtney have agreed that legal obstacles have unfortunately created the postponement of their plans.
    Mrs Randall-Charlton told a reporter that Mr Walbrook's nationality was the sole bar to his marrying her daughter. "Personally I think he is a very charming man," she said.
    "Maudie is, of course, terribly disappointed—broken hearted. They are still friends and if there is any way of surmounting the barrier the wedding will take place as soon as ever the difficulties can be straightened out.
    "In the present state of European turmoil I dare not think of my daughter becoming an alien, being married to a man without a country, and a subject of Herr Hitler.
    "Mr Walbrook is a refugee—he had a Jewish grandmother—and Maudie is a Catholic. Her family is descended from the Plantagenets and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is one of the oldest families in England.
    "How could she sacrifice this great heritage to become an outcast?"
As Birdie Courtney's family were Lithuanian, she can only be talking about her late husband's family.

Warwick Charlton, her son, also had a turbulent career, leaving school to become a journalist like his father, but soon caught up in the war. Originally in the Royal Fusiliers, he produced a magazine that was seen by Randolph Churchill, who asked him to produce a paper for the Western Desert Force. This was the infamous Eighth Army News and Charlton went on to produce The Crusader and Tripoli Times and earned himself a mention in despatches at El Alamein. He was press advisor to General Montgomery and, after VE day, Service Relations Officer to Lord Mountbatten before becoming a feature writer for the Daily Express and broadcaster.

He wrote plays and a book on the Profumo Affair, raised money to build a replica of the Mayflower, which sailed to America in 1957 under Captain Alan Villiers, and in 1999 was behind the proposed Hawking Spacetime Centre in Seville. Warwick Charlton died in December 2002, aged 84.

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