Managers and Impresarios (19th Century)

This section of the website provides brief biographies of some the key actor/managers or impresarios who were influential in the development of British Theatre. Some, but not all, have had an direct impact in Scotland, either by personal engagement in the country or by their 'founding' of theatrical dynasties. The importance of Dublin, and the Irish circuit, should not be overlooked when considering Scottish activity, despite the practice of enhancing the indigent stock companies with London 'stars'.



R. H. (Robert Henry) Wyndham, 1813-1894

R. H. (Robert Henry) Wyndham (1813-1894), was the founder of the Howard and Wyndham theatre management organisation.  Born in Salisbury, he was a skilful actor and manager; a man of unusual enterprise and vision.

Wyndham began his career as a member of Macready's company at Covent Garden and first came to Scotland to play at the Adelphi Theatre in Glasgow.  William Murray, long serving manager of the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh, saw him perform there and brought him to join his company in Edinburgh in 1846.  Wyndham became Murray’s last assistant manager and, on Murray’s retirement, Wyndham took the lease of the Adelphi Theatre in 1851. 

His opening production at the restored Adelphi theatre was The School for Scandal in which he played Charles Surface. His wife was Lady Teazle and, keeping family ties to the fore of the company, his brother-in-law, Mr. Saker, played Moses.  There were frequent clashes of repertory between the Adelphi and the Theatre Royal: Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Gulliver’s Travels, Rob Roy and The Corsican Brothers could often be seen in both theatres in the same week.

From 1853 to 1859, after a short lease by the comedian H. F. Lloyd, Wyndham became the last lessee of the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh (responsible for the ground rent and the theatre building itself), where he made his headquarters.

During his early career Wyndham had outshone Charles Kean with the splendour of his productions of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  In 1857 he engaged Henry Irving, straight from a debut in Sunderland, to be a juvenile lead. The future first Knight of the British theatre was given four hundred and twenty eight roles in Wyndham's Edinburgh stock company.

Links with Ayrshire:

There is no information available to link Wyndham with Ayrshire although his management company included theatres in Glasgow.

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Wyndham
Portrait of R. H. Wyndham 1813 – 94.   magnify [Image in the public domain.] 

Harry Johnston1777-1845

Born in 1777 in Edinburgh, Henry Erskine Johnston was the son of a High Street barber.   Initially in the post of clerk in a writer's office, he had drifted into the acting profession, making his first appearance at Edinburgh in 1797. 

Johnston's first big success was made at Edinburgh in Home's Douglas, in which he appeared as young Norval. Just at that time the revolution in stage costumes had commenced, and Johnston chose the occasion to dress somewhat differently from his predecessors in the part. Formerly it had been played in trews and Scots jacket. Johnston donned full Highland costume—kilt, breastplate, shield, claymore, and bonnet, and, on his first appearance, was greeted with thunderous plaudits.   From Edinburgh he went to Dublin and elsewhere; then on to London.  He was at Covent Garden from 1797 - 1803, moving to Drury Lane in 1804. 

After a period in Dublin and the English provinces, Johnston applied, in 1808, for the position of manager of the Edinburgh Theatre.  Although his application was not accepted, he went on to become manager at a variety of theatres including Astley’s Amphitheatre in Dublin, 1811-12, and at Aberdeen, Greenock and Glasgow. He combined his management with regular appearances in leading roles with a variety of stock companies, maintaining some links with the Siddons's, now resident in Edinburgh. 

At the beginning of 1823 he was manager of the Caledonian Theatre (as he rechristened a building in Edinburgh previously known as the Circus).  Further periods in management in Glasgow followed before he disappeared from the Scottish stage in 1830.

Links with Ayrshire

Henry Erskine Johnston played in the empty soapworks beside the main gate of the former Dalblair House, Ayr around 1812, before moving to Content Street. It is believed that Johnston became part-owner (with the banker, James Morris) and lessee of the new Ayr Theatre, opened at Sandgatehead in 1815.   Although this became known as the Theatre Royal, there is no obvious evidence that the owners gained letters patent from the crown, permitting the performance of serious drama. 

Commonly known as Harry, in his mature years, Johnston was sometimes manager at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, retaining links with Ayrshire during this period.

[This text draws on material in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and The Story of the Scots Stage, by Robb Lawson (1919).]

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Johnston
Portrait of Henry Erskine Johnston. Engraving by K MacKenzie from an original drawing by R Dighton (Portrait, bust, in sepia). Stipple engraving. Dimensions Border 2 5/8 x 3 3/8 inches. [Image in the public domain.]

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Alfred Bunn 1796 – 1860

Alfred Bunn, born in Boulogne-sur-Mer, was an English theatrical manager who worked in major theaters in London and in Glasgow. 

In 1819 he met his wife, Margaret Agnes Somerville, who was performing in Birmingham.    Her husband relocated to Drury Lane in 1823 when he was appointed (by Elliston) as stage manager and was joined by his wife to play the role of Bianca in the play Fazio, by Dean Milman. She also performed between 1823 and 1824 in Kenilworth, playing Queen Elizabeth. She also appeared as Hermione in The Winter's Tale and Cornelia in Sheridan

By 1826, Bunn was managing the Theatre Royal in Birmingham, and in 1833 he undertook the joint management of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, London. A fiery tempered individual, Bunn had difficulties with his company, then with the lord chamberlain, and had to face the keen rivalry of the other theatres.

A longstanding quarrel with William Charles Macready resulted in the tragedian assaulting the manager.  Bunn also quarreled with the opera singer Jenny Lind, the 'Swedish Nightingale', over her contract. According to Lind's biographers, Henry Scott Holland and W. S. Rockstro, the singer 'was so terrified at the penalties, the law-suits, and the disgrace with which Mrs. Bunn had threatened her, that her dearest and most trusted friends could not persuade her to entertain the idea of appearing at an English theatre, under any circumstances, or upon any terms whatever.'  The controversy was recorded by Bunn in his The Case of Bunn Versus Lind

In 1833, Bunn undertook the direction both of Drury Land and of Covent Garden, retiring from the latter in 1835. Of his time at Drury Lane, H.B. Baker comments that 'there was not a style of entertainment that Bunn did not essay; he began with the legitimate drama, and descended, in 1839, to tight-rope dancers, and Van Amburg the lion-tamer.... Opera, however, was the staple fare; he gave English versions of Weber's and Rossini's operas, mutilated, it is true, but competently rendered; he treated his patrons to German opera, and Jullien's Promenade Concerts, varied by tableaux vivants, and Macready, Phelps, and Mrs. Warner in tragedy'.

In 1840 he became bankrupt, but his connection with Drury Lane, renewed in 1844, did not close till 1848.  (He also managed the Surrey Theatre during this period.)  In this second enterprise, 'operas, ballets, extravaganzas, and pantomimes were his principal productions; indeed, Drury Lane was for years an opera-house rather than a theatre. Here he produced Balfe's Bohemian Girl, Maid of Honour, and many other of his works; Benedict's Brides of Venice, Wallace's Maritana, etc.' The result was again failure, and Bunn retired penniless to Boulogne at the age of fifty-two.

Artistically, his control of his English theatres was highly successful. Nearly every leading English actor of the time played under his management, and he made an attempt to establish English opera, producing the principal works of Michael William Balfe. He had some gift for writing, and most of the libretti of these operas were translated by him. In The Stage Before and Behind the Curtain (3 vols., 1840), he gave a full account of his managerial experiences.  He was also the reputed author of A Word with Punch, in which he replied to the attacks made upon him by the Fleet Street jester.

In James Joyce's Ulysses, the main character Leopold Bloom thinks briefly (and incompletely) of a lyric Bunn wrote: 'Whose smile upon each feature plays with such and such replete'. The original lyric, from the William Vincent Wallace opera Maritana, is: 'Whose smile upon each feature plays with truthfulness replete'.

Bunn also wrote Kenilworth, an historical drama (printed 1825); The Minister and the Mercer, a comedy (printed 1834); My Neighbour's Wife, a farce; and the libretti of the following operas: The Bohemian Girl, The Bronze Horse, The Daughter of St. Mark, and The Maid of Artois. He published volumes of Poems in 1816 and 1819.

Bunn died in Boulogne in 1860.

[Text based on The Theatre Database and other published material in the public domain.]


Links with Ayrshire:

It is known that Bunn gave his 'Bunn's Reminiscences of the Stage' in the George Assembly Room, KIlmarnock (ca 1850) and at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow.  He performed elsewhere in central and the west of Scotland and was active as a theatre manager in Glasgow.

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Bunn
Alfred Bunn 1796 – 1860. Mid 19th century lithograph, by Richard James Lane, after Unknown artist.  247 mm x 208 mm. Original in the National Portrait gallery, Given by Austin Lane Poole, 1956.   magnify   [Image in the public domain.]

William Glover 1836–1916

William Glover came from a theatrical family, making his mark as a painter in oil and watercolour.  He was noted for his landscapes, predominantly subjects drawn from the Highlands. It is possible, but by no means certain, that he was the son of Edmund Glover q.v. and Elizabeth Peperall

Glover was elected RSW in 1878 and exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Glasgow Institute and the Royal Scottish Watercolour Society. His paintings are in the Paisley Art Gallery and Hamilton Museum.

Little is known about the artist himself but he was of sufficient note to be caricatured in The Baille.  Living in Glasgow and latterly Cumbernauld, he was a landscape painter, but also worked as a scenery artist, stage manager and theatre director, managing the Theatre Royal in Cowcaddens and the Kilmarnock Operetta House during the 1870s.

Links with Ayrshire:

Glover was one of the initial lessees of the Operetta House in Kilmarnock, opening that theatre with a performance of Guy Mannering in the autumn of 1776

[Text based on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and The Glasgow Story.]

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Glover
Caricature of William Glover from The Bailie.  magnify   [Image in the public domain.] 

Samuel Edmund Glover 1813 - 60

Samuel Edmund Glover (1813–60), actor and theatre manager, was the eldest son of Samuel Glover and the actress Julia Glover, née Betterton (1779/1781–1850).  He was a man of diverse talents, a sound though not a brilliant actor, a good dancer, fencer, and pantomimist, and a fairly skilled painter.

Edinburgh, where, under W. H. Murray, he played leading business. He appears to have joined the Theatre Royal company about 1841 and remained until 1848. The parts he played included Richelieu, Rob Roy, Creon in Antigone, Jonas Chuzzlewit, Othello, Macbeth, Richard III, Iago, Shylock, and Cardinal Wolsey. On 16 January 1848 he played Falkland in The Rivals—his first appearance after a severe accident.

In 1847 Glover engaged Jenny Lind to sing in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth, and cleared £3000 by the transaction. Emboldened by this success he took a large hall in West Nile Street, Glasgow, which he opened as the Prince's Theatre in January 1849. In 1852 he undertook the management of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. He became lessee also of the Theatres Royal at Paisley and Dunfermline, and in 1859 opened a new theatre at Greenock.

Glover maintained his connection with Edinburgh during this successful period as a theatre manager. In March 1850 he was Othello to W. C. Macready's Iago, and he played Falkland at Murray's farewell benefit in October 1851. In March 1856 he began to alternate with Thomas Powrie, the Scottish tragedian, in the parts of Macbeth and Macduff. In February 1857 he played alongside Henry Irving. His last appearance at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal was in May 1859.

Glover's wife, Elizabeth Peperall (1809–1895), was also on the stage and was seen in Glasgow as Lady Teazle (1852), Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew (1853), Helen in Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback, and Mrs Simpson in John Poole's Simpson and Co. (1858). Of their children, William was said to have inherited his father's talents as a painter, Samuel became a well-known Scottish comic actor and died abroad, and Phyllis married Thomas Powrie.

Edmund Glover died on 24 October, 1860, of dropsy, at 3 Gayfield Place, Edinburgh, in the house of Robert Wyndham, later manager of the city's Theatre Royal.  He had been ill for some time prior to his death.

Links with Ayrshire:

[Text based on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and The Glasgow Story.]

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J. B. (James Brown) Howard, 1841-95


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Theatrical Fires

Wyndham could claim to have had four Scottish theatres burned under him, a record for a theatre manager in Scotland.


Brithers a' (An incident unrehearsed)

Bunn encounters another Templeton when appearing in Kilmarnock.

Bunn at Covent Garden

Mr. Bunn has varied a little his Covent Garden repertoire.

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