heslop bannerCentral image shows Dress Circle of the Palace Theatre, Melbourne, 1924

Basking in the success of his theatrical seasons in Melbourne, comedian Charles Heslop took time out to indulge in a flight of fantasy in which he contemplated the homecoming of an English actor following a triumphant tour of Australia, in the fifth instalment of his articles originally written for the London theatrical journal The Stage.


THE Curtain rose and fell ... and fell and rose ... and rose and fell ... again, again, again. It seemed to Orlando (standing there, centre stage, bowing and smiling rather twitchingly, now supported by his loyal colleagues, the “powerful cast,” now rather pathetically alone with his pride and his presents) like a vast shutter, imperfectly damping down at intervals the roaring of the furnace beyond. That roaring which each exposure, as it were, seemed to increase; that furnace which gleamed with a myriad highlights of faces and shirt-fronts. A representative audience, it was assembled to say good-bye to him. Him, Orlando Rippit. A tribute to his three years’ triumph amongst them. Tomorrow the great star was going home.

(By the way, and before we forget—all the characters and incidents in this story are purely fictitious. It is manifestly impossible, as you will see later, that they should be otherwise. Very well then. Where were we? Ah, yes—we left Orlando Rippit bowing and smiling before the thunders of applause on his farewell night.)

They were applauding—they were cheering—because he was going home.

(Forgive another parenthesis, but that last sentence looks ambiguous. It reads as if the audience were delighted about him leaving them, doesn't it? No doubt some of them were, just as some of them were indifferent about it either way, having merely come to see “a play” in the ordinary course. But quite sixty per cent. of that vast concourse were genuinely sorry Orlando was departing from their midst, and were expressing their sorrow in the only way an audience can, i.e., by making all the sounds, signs and portents of genuine delight. Well, you couldn’t have them messing the place up with tears, could you? Let’s get on with it.)

Orlando is still bowing and smiling. And his mind, in the way minds have in these moments of ecstasy (ah, if he’d had as much of this sort of thing as you and I, gentle reader!) was darting hither and thither, and thither and yon—from that carefully-rehearsed impromptu speech he was going to deliver in a minute, from what the management had to say about it now, to the perspiring stage-hands hauling on the rope and cursing all such functions, to the individuals in the audience before him. For instance, that was surely old Daniels down there in the stalls corner, and certainly the Arkwrights in the O.P. stage box. What the devil were they getting so excited about? Old Daniels, now, who sold him his wines and spirits, and was the picture of impassivity behind the counter. Look at him now!  Good Lord, red in the face and—yes, actually cheering. No doubt there were a lot of Daniels in the theatre, all doing the same. He was the lion of the evening—a lion in a den of Daniels. Rather good, that. Perhaps he could work that in—no, of course he couldn’t. But this, he supposed, was the audience that had made him out here. Daniels and the like. The Arkwrights, too. They were shouting “Speech, speech” —how very unlike them. But, of course, it was all un-normal. He himself felt un-normal—a curious lightening of the head, a strange contraction of the throat. Oh, shut up, everybody!

He’d heard of people getting swollen-headed out here. Well, it was something to have your fellow creatures standing up and yelling appreciation at you.  They didn’t often do it to mere “straight actors”—or, did they? Of course, they did—anyway, out here. What was it, he wondered, about himself or his acting that made all in this building lose all control of themselves and their feelings for—. Wait a bit!  Everybody? Then who was that wet blanket making stealthily for the exit? Several of them, now he could see more plainly. Damn it! they were almost streaming out of the pit.

heslop theatre attendance 01

For five long minutes Orlando Rippit bowed and smiled before that deafening uproar. And then it died down, and he spoke to them—spoke to them in deathly silence, rather brokenly, very sincerely; he—and they—were convinced of that. And the management spoke. And there was a laurel wreath and musical honours, and at very long last, the curtain came down for the last time on Orlando Rippit in Australia. And that was that.

In valedictory notices in the Press references were made to Mr. Rippit’s regret at leaving a country where his great talents and outstanding personality had deservedly endeared him to every section of the theatre-going public ... It was understood that long-standing contracts recalled him; ... that he left reluctantly to resume the magnificent position which he adorned in the Old Country. ... And so on.  That, I say, was quite understood.  So “the boat sailed on Wednesday.” The streamers parted, the last notes of “Auld Lang Syne” lingered tremulously on the hot summer breeze. . . .

A few minutes later an amazed bathroom steward heard strange sounds issuing from a locked cabin amidships.

To his anxiously repeated knocks: “Go away! I’m singing!” shouted Orlando.

* * * * * *

With all apologies to Mrs. Elinor Glyn, Five Weeks passed entirely without incident.

Heslop London“One of London’s wet days” (on Aldwych and Wellington St.) from Photograph album – London, 1920s, by Harry Moult. Te Papa (Museum of NZ) (O.032095)

It was raining in London, and for many reasons none of those friends, relations, managers, and agents to whom he had imparted the glad tidings of his return were there to welcome our hero upon the platform. Or, I must add, did he expect them. Almost before the train stopped he was out and away for a taxi.

“Gawd!” he said, as his luggage was piled up, “London!” and breathed deeply and gratefully to find things so little changed.

A little man passing, with a self-conscious walk, turned and looked again.

“H’are you, Rippit?”

“Bolsover, by Jove!” The little man, violently wrung by the hand, was startled at Rippit’s evident affection for him. “What are you doing these days?”

“Been away, have you?”heslop actors

“Just back from Australia.”

“Of course. Otherwise you’d have known. I’m at the Comedy. As a matter of fact, made a bit of a hit there, old man.”

“Splendid. I’m so glad.”

“Thanks.” Encourged, Bolsover produced a pocket-book.

“I’d like to show you a few of my—Of course, press-notices don’t mean anything to me; as a matter of fact, I never bother to read the things, but—”

“Rather; I’d love to see ‘em all later on. Just at the moment, I’m afraid—”

“Well, cheerio. See you somewhere soon, old man.” And the pocket-book was replaced and the self-conscious walk continued.

Rippit bounded up the stairs of his old rooms in Victoria three at a time. It was all the same, except for a new tablecloth, and he resented that, rather. There was a note from his landlady, propped in front of the clock, asking him to put the hall gas out and lock up.  He ran down to do this. ... and stumbled back in pitch blackness. ... to find some letters he’d overlooked on the mantlepiece. Ah, his agents ...

“... Nothing much doing at present, and we think you would have been wise to stay longer in Australia. ... You might perhaps call in next week, as they may be wanting small part people for the tour of ...” The other letters were equally inspiriting. Outside the rain had increased and the landlady had omitted to pull the blinds or light the fire. There was probably a coal strike, so we must not altogether blame the thrifty soul.  Anyway, why should we worry? Orlando Rippit certainly did not. On the contrary, the darling of the Antipodes threw himself into his uneasy chair (of covered wickerwork) and chuckled with sheer delight. “Gawd!” he said again—and aloud because he wanted everybody and everything in the world to feel with him the wonder of it, the ecstasy of it, “I’m home. I’m Home. I’m HOME!” And to this crescendo refrain, until a discreet tapping of the wall reminded him that other people in the house wanted to sleep even if he didn’t, Orlando Rippit went to his English bed happier than he had been for three years. (Well, I told you the whole thing was purely fictitious. Moreover, it’s utterly improbable, and even absurd. Is not it?)


Palace Theatre, Melbourne,


THE STAGE, 3 April 1924, p.19

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Lest he suffer the same fate as his imaginary protagonist due to his absence in Australia likewise rendering him “out of sight, out of mind” amongst the English theatrical agents and managements, Heslop kept the London readers of The Stage fully informed of the success that he was enjoying Downunder with the regular insertion of advertisements in its pages along the following lines: