Singer, comedian and Savoyard C.H. Workman arrived in Australia in 1914 as a member of The Girl in the Taxi company. He spent a total of nine years performing in various stage musicals, operettas and variety ‘turns’ for J.C. Williamson Ltd and on the Tivoli circuit, including tours to New Zealand, India and the Far East, before his premature death in 1923. In this article, the first in a new series, Rob Morrison draws on original interviews, anecdotes and newspaper reports to present a pictorial overview of C.H. Workman's life and career.
C.H. Workman in his favourite role of Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard.
Photo by Elliott & Fry, London. Author’s collection.
Portrait of C.H. Workman, c.1907.
Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. Courtesy of Elisabeth Kumm.
In addition to his recordings from the G&S repertoire in 1910 and 1912, Charles H. Workman featured in the following duets and concerted numbers from the score of Oscar Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier recorded by the Odeon Company in June of 1911.
The renowned British singer, actor and comedian, Charles Herbert Workman was born at 5 Richmond Terrace, Rimrose Road, Bootle, Lancashire on 5 May 1872, the youngest son (of four children), of Sarah and Charles Workman. From his early years he was keenly devoted to musical art in its operatic and comedy forms and his favourite amusement as a youngster was the production of home-made versions of plays he had seen. After schooling at Waterloo College in Liverpool, followed by a stint in ‘commercial life’ as a clerk in a merchant’s office in that city, which he could not stick at, Workman’s early ambitions to tread the boards achieved fruition when his older brother and singing teacher, Albert E. Workman overcame their father’s objections and arranged to have ‘Bert’ placed with a touring provincial D’Oyly Carte Opera Company staging Gilbert and Sullivan’s penultimate comic opera, Utopia, Limited at Torquay, where he made his debut as a chorister in October 1894, before graduating to the roles of Calynx/Captain Corcoran in Stratford-on-Avon in November.
It was through the D’Oyly Carte that he also met his fellow performer and wife-to-be, the Belfast-born Totie Adams,1. around 1897 and following a whirlwind romance and courtship, they were wed in her hometown in 1898 during the opera company’s tour of Ireland in December of that year. Their son, Roy was also born in Belfast in 1902. By this time Workman had worked his way through the ranks to achieve the position of principal comedian of the company and a prime exponent of the perennially-popular patter-songs. Under W.S. Gilbert’s personal direction, Workman achieved fame at the Savoy Theatre, London appearing in the respective repertory season revivals of the evergreen Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas between December 1906 to August 1907 and April 1908 to March 1909, earning particular praise for his portrayal of the tragi-comic jester Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard, of which Gilbert himself expressed his opinion in a public speech: ‘In Mr Workman we have a Jack Point of the finest and most delicate finish, and I feel sure that no one will more readily acknowledge the triumph he has achieved in their old parts than his distinguished protagonists, Mr George Grossmith, and his immediate predecessor, Mr Passmore.’2.
With such praise ringing in his ears, Charles Workman then took on the role of an actor-manager leasing the Savoy Theatre between September 1909 to May 1910 in a venture that proved to be less-than-successful and of which, more anon.
Bessel Adams (Mrs C.H. Workman) as Fiametta in The Gondoliers, The Theatre Magazine, ‘Savoy Number’, vol. II, no. 7, Feb 1907.
Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. Courtesy of David Stone.
Postcard of C.H. Workman and his son James Roy Workman. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, London, T1045.
Courtesy of David Stone.
Turning his attention now to the burgeoning craze for Musical Comedy (which had first been fostered by ‘The Guv’nor’ George Edwardes at London’s Gaiety Theatre in the 1890s), Workman achieved considerable success in principal and featured comedy roles in such shows as The Chocolate Soldier, Nightbirds [Die Fledermaus], The Girl in the Taxi and The Girl Who Didn’t, of which the penultimate provided his passport to further adventures in the land of the Southern Cross. When approached by J.C. Williamson’s London representative, Pat Malone, to recreate his role of Pomarel in the subsequent Antipodean production scheduled for early-August 1914, Workman readily accepted (with the added impetus of his doctor’s advice to seek sunnier climes to assist with his recovery from throat problems).
C.H. Workman as Monsieur Pomeral, with George Carroll as Emile, in The Girl in the Taxi, London, 1912.
Poster for The Girl in the Taxi, Lyric Theatre, London, 1912.
Packing his trunks and accompanied by Totie and 12-year-old, Roy, Workman joined with his fellow principal players of the Lyric Theatre, London (who had also been engaged for the Australian tour of The Girl in the Taxi by Malone), aboard the RMS Orontes, which set sail from the London docks on 19 June 1914 travelling to Australia via Gibraltar, Toulon, Naples, Port Said and Colombo.3.
J.C. Williamson’s efficient publicity department, under the direction of Claude McKay, having already primed the local press with ‘copy’ concerning the imminent arrival of a new Musical Comedy company of English principal players as far back as late March,4. now swung into full action and ensured that there were reporters on hand to greet the ship at its first Australian port of call in Freemantle, Western Australia on 21 July.
FOR SYDNEY TOWN.
Theatricals En Bloc.
ARRIVAL OF MUSICAL COMEDY COMPANY.
Quite a large contingent of theatricals arrived at Fremantle to-day on board the R.M.S. Orontes. They are bound for Sydney where they will open a lengthy Australian season in the musical comedy, “The Girl in the Taxi.” The members of the Orontes company are as follows :—Messrs. C.H. Workman, W.H. Rawlins, Fred. Mcguire [sic] Paul Plunket, D.J. Williams, Chris. Wren, Hugh Huntly [sic]; Misses Maggie Jarvis, G. Hughes, Milly Engler [sic], Beda Probyn [sic], and Helen Hobson. In fact, the Orontes carries a complete musical comedy company, which is billed to open in Sydney on August 8, and which is engaged to stay 18 months in Australia.
Daily News (Perth, WA), Tuesday, 21 July 1914, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79954247
[The article continued with a profile on the background and career of the company’s soubrette, Maggie Jarvis.]
The Orontes continued its voyage to Adelaide, where further press coverage and interviews followed on board ship following its arrival on there on Saturday 25 July.5.
By the time the ship had docked at Port Melbourne en-route to Sydney, a press photographer was on hand to capture for posterity the assembled company’s first visit to Antipodean shores, with a photo that was published in the Melbourne Australasian on Saturday, 1 August 1914.6.
Left – The Girl in the Taxi Company on board the Orontes, July 1914. Right – Workman on board the Orontes, July 1914.
Photos by H. Neville S. Skeffington. Published in The Australasian (Melbourne), 1 August 1914, p. 67. State Library of Victoria.
When the Orontes had at last arrived at Circular Quay in Sydney harbour on Thursday, 30 July, the Australia-wide theatre-going public’s interest and appetite had been thoroughly whetted in eager anticipation of the delights to come from the latest Musical Comedy production to arrive Downunder from the fabled West End theatres, of which its weekly exploits, fads and fashions continued to receive wide newspaper coverage and readership around the nation. Of the new arrivals to the Sydney shores, the company’s chief comedian was spotlighted for a couple of puff pieces in the press; the first making front page news in a few paragraphs in the evening editions, while a more detailed profile appeared on Sydney-side breakfast tables the following morning.
GIRL IN THE TAXI.
LEADING MAN ARRIVES.
SURFEIT OF REVUES.
Mr. C.H. Workman, the leading man of The Girl In the Taxi Company, who arrived on the Orontes this morning, says he endeavors to live up to his name. He hurried through his breakfast, supervised the packing of his luggage, said dozens of good-byes, and within an hour of the time of arrival he had rushed off the boat and was on his way to rehearsal.
“You can never tell how the public will take a play,” he said, “but London enjoyed it for thirteen months and declared it to be the best thing of its type they had seen for many years. Personally, I think it grand. I created the part I will play here. It is funny, it's full of interesting situations, and it carries a story. In fact, it's more like a French farce set to music than the ordinary run of comic operas. The first act is good. The second is better, and the third, which the public expects to weaken, is the best of all.”
Mr. Workman was for many years with Gilbert and Sullivan's Opera Company, and he thinks that comic opera is coming back to its own. Revues have been so numerous that the public wants a change.
The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Thursday, 30 July 1914, p. 1, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229855143
A DISTINGUISHED COMEDIAN.
Mr. C.H. Workman, whose position as a comedian in musical pieces on the English stage approximates to that of his English predecessors on this side of the world, William Elton and G.P. Huntley, arrived here yesterday from London by the Orontes. The newcomer will head the company formed by J.C. Williamson, Ltd., for the production of “The Girl in the Taxi” at Her Majesty's Theatre on August 8. In this piece he will play his original London character. Miss Maggie Jarvis, Mr. W.H. Rawlins. Mr. D.J. Williams, and the other artists of the combination, arrived here two or three days ago, and complete "finishing" rehearsals will begin to-morrow.
Mr. Workman, unlike most comedians, was primarily a singer. As a boy he was soloist at the Emanuel Congregational Church, Liverpool, and later he studied as a baritone under his brother, A.E. Workman, a voice producer of reputation in that great city.
His first appearance on any stage was as Captain Corcoran in “Utopia Limited,” that character from “Pinafore” having been reintroduced by W.S. Gilbert as one of the Flowers of Progress imported as examples of manners and morals in the imaginary kingdom. This was at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, so that the new career was taken up under romantic conditions. After some months Mr. Workman applied to D'Oyley Carte [sic] in London, who sent him on tour, and it was whilst appearing in “Patience” as Bunthorne's solicitor that he won promotion in a part whom he had "nothing to say and still less to sing."
However, the audacious young artist invented an exit. When heartily cursed by the other characters, he executed a whimsical pirouette of horror, contrived so as to bring him within range of a vicious boot with a kick in it, and this kick landed him, after a lofty aerial flight, in the wings. It happened that Mr. D'Oyley Carte [sic] visited the show unexpectedly, observed the innovation, soundly rated the young artist for thus tampering with the traditional "business"—and at once promoted him to the Savoy Theatre! Mr. Workman was placed in the chief character in a curtain-raiser, “After All,” in which he appeared 500 nights, and a little later he replaced George Grossmith in “His Majesty,” playing the name part. After a Scottish tour, which opened at Dunfermline on Christmas Day, when he played Jack Point in the afternoon, and Ko-Ko at night, Mr. Workman was appointed principal comedian to the No. 1 company on tour and during ten years he played all the central Gilbert-Sullivan characters (except “Ruddigore”), and made a big reputation in the great provincial centres. In 1906 he toured South Africa with success, and then he played all the Gilbert-Sullivan characters at the Savoy Theatre. Mr. Workman briefly describes his subsequent London career in the words:–
“I then became lessee of the Savoy for a starring season, and produced ‘The Mountaineers,’ Gilbert's last piece, ‘Fallen Fairies’ (to Edward German's music), and Reginald Somerville's ‘Two Merry Monarchs.’ The first two pieces did not catch on, but the last pleased the public, and would have put me on my feet as an actor-manager but for the lamented death of King Edward. However, without loss of time I accepted the role of Bumerli, which I created at the Lyric Theatre during the immense run of ‘The Chocolate Soldier.’ Constance Drever was the Nadina, and the cast included two Australians, Roland Cunningham, (Alexis) and Lempriere Pringle, as well as Elsie Spain, now in Sydney. We played 12 times a week, then ten times, and never less than eight times. I stood the work splendidly, having a good natural, ‘forward’ production for a light baritone singing role, ranging up to the high A flat. The prima donnas were knocked out right and left, and, in all, I sang with 13 of them in 18 months! My next engagement was also at the Lyric, as Max Cliquot in ‘Night Birds,’ and I was also the chief comedian as the scent manufacturer in ‘The Girl in the Taxi,’ and, before leaving for Australia, I appeared in Jean Gilbert's ‘The Girl Who Didn't.’ ‘The Girl in the Taxi’ is a wonderfully bright and taking production, and I feel sure that Australian playgoers will be pleased with it.”
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Friday, 31 July 1914, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15526435
Constance Drever and C.H. Workman in The Chocolate Soldier, 1910.
Photo by Foulsham & Banfield. The Play Pictorial, vol. XVI, no. 98, 1910. Courtesy of Dominic Combe.
Constance Drever, C.H. Workman and Australian actor, Claude Flemming, in Nightbirds, London, from The Play Pictorial, no. 115, vol. XIX, 1911.
Courtesy of Andrew Lamb.
C.H. Workman as Count Max Cliquot in Nightbirds, London, from The Play Pictorial, no. 115, vol. XIX, 1911.
Courtesy of Andrew Lamb.
Elsie Spain as Mascha in The Chocolate Soldier, 1910.
Photo by Foulsham & Banfield. From The Play Pictorial, vol. XVI, no. 98, 1910. Courtesy of Dominic Combe.
Under the practised hands of J.C. Williamson producer, Charles A. Wenman and the experienced guidance of its Sydney-based ballet mistress, Miss Minnie Hooper, the imported English players joined their Australian counterparts (who had already begun rehearsals some weeks earlier), and the production continued to take shape and achieve its final polish in readiness for its scheduled opening night a mere week-and-a-half away.
Some months prior to this in the Melbourne-based workshops of ‘The Firm’ located at the rear of the southern capital’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, carpenters, scenic artists, dressmakers and all other artisans and craftsmen attendant to the staging of a major musical production had been hard at work reproducing in fine detail the costume and scenic designs that had so enthralled and enchanted London audiences at the Lyric Theatre during the show’s initial West End run of 385 performance some two years earlier, and the fruits of their collective labours were freighted to the northern capital via train to be ‘bumped in’ at Sydney’s regal counterpart.
The Girl in the Taxi, Acts 1 & 3 – Reception room in Baron Dauvray’s house in Paris. The scenery was painted by JCW’s scenic art department based on original designs by Baruch & Co.
JCW Scene Books, Theatre Heritage Australia, Book 08-0075.
The Girl in the Taxi, Act 2 – Restaurant Jeunesse Dorée.
JCW Scene Books, Theatre Heritage Australia, Book 08-0075.
Meanwhile half-a-world away, on 28 June 1914 an assassin’s bullets put paid to the lives of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, whilst on a tour of Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shots that would reverberate around the world and would leave lasting scars that would take many generations to heal.
On 5 August at the Spring Street Parliament House of the nation’s then temporary capital in Melbourne, the Prime Minister, Mr Joseph Cook announced that: ‘Australia is now at war. Our duty is quite clear—to gird up our loins and remember that we are Britons’, pledging full support to the mother country following his British counterpart, Mr Herbert Asquith’s declaration of war against Germany in the House of Commons the previous day. German troops had invaded Belgium hours earlier breaking the terms of its 1839 agreement with Britain and France to respect Belgium neutrality. Following Asquith’s announcement, huge cheering crowds surged through London to gather outside Buckingham Palace, to sing the national anthem. Similar patriotic demonstrations followed suit throughout Australia once the news had been cabled to Antipodean shores.
But the theatrical profession pays little heed to the world of politics for ‘The Play’s the Thing!’ and ‘The Show Must Go On!’
Opening night approached, preceded by sitzprobes with the theatre’s orchestra under the baton of Victor Champion, plus the refinement of the lighting plots and technical rehearsals for the benefit of the back-stage crew under the direction of the Stage Manger, Redge Carey, followed by dress rehearsals with the cast becoming fully comfortable with their costumes and the scenery on the stage of the theatre itself.
Time passed until the big day finally arrived, with its attendant opening night nerves and backstage cries of ‘Break a leg!’ and that curious Australian theatrical expression—‘Chookahs!’ The call-boy made his appointed rounds of the theatres’ dressing rooms, starting with a knock on the respective doors of the principal players located at stage level and ending with those of the communal chorus boys and girls located off the first floor galleries in the ‘flies’ above— ‘Overture and Act one beginners please!’
To be continued...
Special thanks to: Dominic Combe, Scott Farrell, Elisabeth Kumm, Andrew Lamb, Andrew Lee Hart, George Lowe, Chris Webster & David Stone; also State Library of Victoria & Victoria and Albert Museum (London).
Workman as Pierre in The Mountaineers, London, 1909.
Photo by Dover Street Studios. Courtesy of Scott Farrell.
Workman as Lutin in Fallen Fairies, London, 1909. From The Sketch, 29 December 1909, p. 361.
Courtesy of Scott Farrell.
Savoy Theatre, London, 1881. Drawing by Charles J. Phipps.
H. Beard Print Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, S.1121-2011.
Robert Whyte Jr, Lennox Pawle and C.H. Workman in Two Merry Monarchs, London, 1910.
Photo by Foulsham & Banfield. Courtesy of Scott Farrell.
Programme for Two Merry Monarchs, Savoy Theatre, 10 March 1910.
Courtesy of Scott Farrell.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, c.1908.
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, 85/1286-51.
Portrait of C.H. Workman, c.1914.
Photo by Monte Luke. Author’s collection.
Minnie Hooper and Charles A. Wenman discussing a ballet.
Photo by Monte Luke. Punch (Melbourne), 5 December 1912, p. 28. Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/20511862.
‘Victor Champion conducting’, from Theatrical Caricatures by Harry Julius, with marginal anecdotes by Claude McKay, Bookstall Co. Ltd., Sydney, NSW, 1912, p. 52.
A post-WW2 aerial photo of C.H. Workman’s birthplace at Richmond Terrace, Rimrose Road, Bootle, Lancashire, England (now demolished).
Courtesy of Chris Webster.
Poster for Two Merry Monarchs, London, 1910. Printed by David Allen & Sons.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, S.2019-1995.
- Totie Adams (Mrs. C.H. Workman) was born Caroline Josephine Bessel Adams in Belfast on 18 July 1870, the daughter of Caroline (née Valentine) and James Adams. She performed under the stage name of Totie Adams when she first appeared in the programs of D’Oyly Carte’s ‘C’ Company in 1899 playing featured soprano roles. As Bessel Adams, she later appeared in smaller soprano roles with D’Oyly Carte’s ‘C’ (later Repertory) Company from 1902 through November 1906. She also appeared with her husband in the First London Repertory Season of the G&S operas at the Savoy from December 1906 through August 1907, after which she retired from the stage. See also: gsarchive.net/whowaswho/A/AdamsBessel.htm
- Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte by François Cellier & Cunningham V. Bridgeman, p. 408.
- The Times (London), shipping adverts of 1914.
- Daily Herald (Adelaide), 24 March 1914, p. 3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/105625712
- The Register (Adelaide), 27 July 1914, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56703680
- The Australasian (Melbourne), 1 August 1914, p. 67, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143284655
C.H. Workman featured in the following duets and concerted numbers from the score of Oscar Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier recorded by the Odeon Company in June of 1911.
- ‘Sympathy’ – Miss Evelyn D’Alroy & Mr. Charles Herbert Workman (Odeon 0703 or 66841)
- ‘The Tale of a Coat’ (Sextett) – Members of the Lyric Theatre cast (including Miss Evelyn D’Alroy, Miss Elsie Spain, Miss Amy Augarde, Mr Roland Cunningham, Mr Charles Herbert Workman & Mr Tom Shale) (Odeon 0705 or 66826)
- ‘That Would be Lovely’ – Miss Evelyn D’Alroy & Charles Herbert Workman (Odeon 0704 or 66833)
- Finale of Act II – Members of the Lyric Theatre cast, (including Miss Evelyn D’Alroy, Miss Elsie Spain, Miss Amy Augarde, Mr Roland Cunningham, Mr Charles Herbert Workman, Mr Tom Shale, Mr Lempriere Pringle & Chorus) (Odeon 0703 or 66827)
- ‘The Letter Song – duet’ – Miss Evelyn D’Alroy & Mr Charles Herbert Workman (Odeon 0704 or 66846)
Recordings courtesy of Dominic Combe [Palaeophonics 135], https://castalbums.org/releases/browse/?in=Labels&order=Label&limit=500&search=Palaeophonics
François Cellier & Cunningham V. Bridgeman, Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte: reminiscences of the Savoy and the Savoyards, Isaac Pitman and Sons, London, 1914
Scott Farrell, The Final Savoy Operas: a centenary review, e-book, 21 March 2013
Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchensen, Musical Comedy: a story in pictures, Peter Davies, London, 1969
Viola Tait, A Family of Brothers, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1971
Various newspapers & journals including: The Australasian (Melbourne), The Bootle Times (Bootle), Daily News (Perth, WA), The Play Pictorial (London), The Register (Adelaide), The Sun (Sydney, NSW), The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Table Talk (Melbourne), The Times (London)