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Dornford Yates' Eastward Ho!

Dornford Yates' lost play

Alhambra theatre programmes for Eastward Ho!

Alhambra Theatre Programme for the production of Eastward Ho! by Oscar Asche and Dornford Yates.

There has always seemed to be some mystery about the existence of a musical play by the novelist Dornford Yates (real name Cecil William Mercer) amongst his enthusiastic readers. It remained so until 1982 when his biographer, A. J. Smithers, included it in his list of the works of Dornford Yates. There it is shown as the author's second work, published in 1919 and titled 'Eastward Ho!', a musical comedy, written in conjunction with Oscar Asche.

Some reference sources refer to this play as a revival of the play of the same name by Ben Jonson, George Chapman and John Marston, a Jacobean drama set in 17th Century London that upset King James I. It isn't. This 'Eastward Ho!' is an entirely different and original work.

I think it almost certain that the Yates/Asche play was never published in book form and that it only existed, as do many plays, as working copies for the duration of the theatre production. My hunt for a copy of this allegedly published book has been unsuccessful. The British Library does not have a copy (which they should of every published work) although they do have some of the music, and in every other archive of printed works that I have checked it is similarly absent. I have, however, come across several ephemeral items about the production which have shed some light on the work. In isolation each does not mean a great deal but presented together they help to describe the circumstances of the writing and production.

Amongst those ephemeral items are three different copies of the programme for the performance of the play. All versions of the programme refer to the play as presented by Sir Oswald Stoll (he was the lessee of the Alhambra Theatre at the time), by arrangement with Messrs. George Grossmith and Edward Laurillard, written by Oscar Asche and Dornford Yates, and produced by Oscar Asche. This latter attribute is the most boldly acknowledged of all.

It is worth mentioning some of Mercer's wartime experiences because of the plot of the play which will be seen from the synopses, cast, scenes and musical numbers mentioned later. This is gleaned mainly from A. J. Smithers' biography with some elements expanded from information in the regimental archives at Croydon.

In 1914 Mercer, a barrister, joined his local regiment the 3rd County of London Yeomanry, was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and after basic training went in the summer of 1915 with the 2nd Battalion to Egypt. As well as the usual squadrons of troopers they had a machine gun section equipped with Vicker's Maxims, which will have some theatrical significance later. They arrived at Alexandria and camped for some time in the shadow of the Pyramids. A group including Mercer was sent to Port Mudros as replacements for casualties on the Suvla front at Gallipoli but found that they were not expected. They spent some weeks there and the group returned to Egypt when Suvla was evacuated.

A new battlefront was opened in Macedonia with the landing at Salonika of an Allied force under French command. Mercer’s battalion had become part of the 8th Mounted Brigade and was soon to be sent in support. Appointed to command of the Signal Troop Mercer mastered wireless, Morse and the field telephone. On arrival at Salonika in November 1915 he moved up to Brigade HQ at Irikli and found himself on a somewhat stagnant front in the Struma Valley, cold in winter and mosquito infested in summer. By the summer of 1917, the by now 'Captain' Mercer was clearly unwell and he was sent home to England with severe muscular rheumatism. The War Office did not post him to active service again.

As a cavalry officer returned from the front at a time of war he must have found time lying heavily on his hands. It wasn't as if it was a relief from the worst aspects of war, as it might have been had he returned from the Western Front, and he had left behind his recent service colleagues. No doubt he renewed his friendship with his neighbour and friend from Oxford days, Oscar Asche, but it must have seemed a world away from his recent experiences in the Balkans. Oscar had at the time a highly successful production 'Chu Chin Chow' running in London and Mercer came to know one of the members of the cast, Bettine Edwards, whom he married in October, 1919.

Before the war Mercer had already been a successful short story writer, a regular contributor to the monthly Windsor Magazine and his first collection of short stories, The Brother of Daphne, had been published by Ward Lock in 1914. With his recent experiences in the Middle East and the Balkans he had fresh background material and it is only natural that he should incorporate it into any new writing.

He was released from the army in April 1919 and it was apparently Oscar Asche who suggested that they should collaborate on a new musical play. Oscar's own 'Chu Chin Chow' had opened at 'His Majesty's' on 31st August 1916 and would run for five years until 1921 and another of his productions, the also highly successful 'Maid of the Mountains', opened at 'Daly's' in Leicester Square in February 1917 and would run until 1920. With these two commitments it is likely that the heart of the original 'book' of the new play was the work of Mercer. Oscar, Mercer's senior by some ten years, had vast experience of acting and theatrical production and no doubt contributed but I would think that it was in suggested lines of thought for the development of the play rather than in lines of dialogue.

The joint venture, Eastward Ho! did not have an easy birth. First announced on 31st July 1919 in The Times as a New Revue at the 'Alhambra' in Leicester Square, the first night was postponed twice from 27th and then 28th August. The delay was attributed 'to the heavy nature of the production' and no further bookings were taken until 3rd September, when the re-arranged opening night of 9th September was announced.

Picture postcard of Leicester Square with Alhambra Theatre in the background

The Alhambra, Leicester Square to the right with Charing Cross Road in the left corner.

The 'Alhambra' was one of the largest theatres in London (part of the site was re-developed in the 1930's as the Odeon), with a long frontage to Leicester Square. After a major fire in 1882 it had been rebuilt and opened in 1884, and was extended in 1897 to provide a secondary frontage in Charing Cross Road. Further improved in 1912 it had Stalls, Royal Circle, Upper Circle and Gallery as well as 4 and 6 person private boxes, with a seating capacity of approximately 1650. From 1916 it had been the venue for a series of revues starting with 'The Bing Boys are Here', said to be one of the three most important hits of the London stage in World War 1 (the other two both being Oscar Asche's, 'Chu Chin Chow' and 'Maid of the Mountains'!). The stars of the Bing Boys had been George Robey and Violet Loraine and their duet from the show, 'If You were the Only Girl in the World', survives to this day.

It must have been quite an achievement to secure the popular Violet Loraine for 'Eastward Ho!' With her was Ralph Lynn, who had made his West End debut across Leicester Square at the Empire in late 1914 in 'By Jingo if we do...!'. After 'Eastward Ho!' he went on to become a regular performer in Ben Travers' farces at the Aldwych Theatre and appeared in a number of films in the 1930's as a 'monocled silly-ass'. The other principal members of the cast included Tom Payne, Veronica Brady and Peggy Kurton.

There are a couple of interesting features in the Programmes that prompt further enquiry. First, while some twenty-five members of the cast are listed by name in the programme there is no mention of any chorus or supporting cast, nor even of any orchestra. There is, however, an acknowledgement to Miss Italia Conti for training the children but no indication about what part the children might have played in the production. Miss Conti founded Britain's oldest theatre arts training school, The Italia Conti Academy, which boasts many well-known actors amongst its former pupils. Second, the first issue of the Programme includes an acknowledgement to Messrs. Gilbert Campling as the suppliers of an ABC Scootamota, which was a 125cc motorised scooter first produced in 1919. It appears to have been a casualty of the later changes to the production but its initial inclusion may have been an early example of 'product placement'! (You can view an image of a Scootamota at the Science and Society Picture Library but they tell me that if I reproduce a thumbnail image here would cost me a licence fee of £50.00, so I haven't).

The opening night was reported in The Times of 10th September. The review is not overwhelming and Dornford Yates name is not mentioned, for which, in view of the comments about 'the poorness of the material at the command of the artists', he was probably grateful. The review praises Oscar Asche for the staging of the production, in particular a scene of the temple in ruins described as 'one of the most effective scenes that has been seen on the London stage for a long time'. The 'book' is described as being 'extraordinarily weak' but a final comment is 'now that Mr. Asche has finally succeeded in launching the production he will doubtless take the book in hand'.

After the opening night the performance was advertised to start at 8.15pm. A short while later, only a matter of days, this was brought forward to 8.00pm, probably because the original play was found to be running for too long. As suggested in The Times' review, the 'book' was taken in hand. From three different versions of the programme it can be seen that over a relatively short period after the play first opened two scenes were cut from Act 1, six of the musical numbers were dropped, the order of the numbers was re-arranged, a new number was brought in and the finale was re-arranged. The reasonably detailed synopsis in each programme is also in two versions to accommodate the changes to the production.

The play was by no means a flop although it was not the resounding success of some of Oscar Asche's other productions. WW1 had seen a great demand for the type of light, frivolous entertainment that Eastward Ho! provided but it was probably too late for that market. The many servicemen on leave from the Western Front who had been demanding such entertainment had been demobilised by this time and those other productions had probably built up a momentum of their own to be able to run on into the 1920's.

Eastward Ho! ran for 124 performances which, with a theatre the size of The Alhambra, would still probably have meant that some tens of thousands people had paid to see it. A theatre of that size would also have had considerable overheads and if a production had not been paying its way it would have closed very quickly. Even 'The Bing Boys...', already quoted as being one the 'three most important hits...' of the recent war had only had 378 performances. The Stage Yearbook for 1920 records the final performance as on 13th December.

Theatres were also suffering from the new form of entertainment, what is described by The Stage Year Book as 'The Kinema'. This is apparent from the next booking to follow 'Eastward Ho!' at The Alhambra, which was a double bill of silent feature films 'Tarzan of the Apes', with Elmo Lincoln in the title role and 'Daddy-Long-Legs', starring Mary Pickford, with the full theatre orchestra!

By the time the production closed the recently married Mercer was by no means idle as two further collections of short stories would be published in 1920, 'The Courts of Idleness' and 'Berry & Co.', and his first full length novel, 'Anthony Lyveden', would appear in 1921. He would go on to become one of the most popular novelists of the 1920's and 30's but as far as is known, Eastward Ho! was his one and only attempt at writing for the stage.

 

View of seven principals from the cast of Eastward Ho! on the SS Osterley set, from The Stage Year Book 1920

From The Stage Year Book 1920

 

Synopses

First Version Programme

Later Version Programme

By the will of their late uncle, the cousins Marmalade Ball and Aurora Smart become possessed of the clue to a treasure, hidden in a ruined temple in the Desert of Sin. Each is unaware of the other's legacy, and both, unknown to one another, decide to sail for Egypt without delay.

Marmalade engages the Honourable John Merrily as secretary, while Busta Neath, unable longer to endure the misery of living with her uncle and aunt, Sir Porter and Lady Blogg-Blogg, serves as companion to Aurora.

John and Busta are secretly engaged to one another.

Being weary of bad weather at home, Sir Porter and Lady Blogg- Blogg are persuaded to visit 'Cairo. They take tickets accordingly. Marmalade and John arrive to do likewise and encounter Aurora and Busta who have come to Cook's with the same object. While Marmalade and Aurora quarrel, .Busta and John compare notes, and are overheard by Herr Bolsch and Cough, two alien rogues, who severally determine to shadow the parties in the hope of discovering the treasure for themselves. Busta encounters Sir Porter Blogg-Blogg, who endeavours to induce her to accompany him and Lady Blogg-Blogg to Cairo.

On board the liner, s.s. OSTERLEY, Sir Porter and Lady Blogg-Blogg find difficulty in adapting themselves to life on board ship.

Once afloat, the cousins meet again, and soon discover that they are both engaged upon the same quest. They determine to prosecute the search together, and to share the spoil. In the same way, "Bolsch" and "Cough" decide to join forces.

Lady Blogg-Blogg is flattered by the attention paid her by "Cough," who is attracted by her jewellery.

"Cough" endeavours to' steal Marmalade's map by means of a ruse; but is prevented by Busta.

The last night on board is celebrated by a Fancy Dress Ball, during which Aurora and Marmalade become reconciled, Sir Potter incensed, and Busta and her uncle and aunt more estranged than ever.

Having arrived in Egypt, the cousins and their companions seize the opportunity of spending a few days at Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, decide to travel by air to the spot where the treasure is hidden. Their proposals are overheard by "Cough," and "Bolsch", who determine to obtain an aeroplane and follow their lead.

Engine trouble compels the cousins to land in a desolate spot. While they are wondering what to do, they observe that another aeroplane is approaching. They realise that they are being followed, and prepare to hoist their pursuers with their own petard.

Fortune favours their plans. They obtain possession of "Bolsch's" aeroplane and continue their flight to The Temple of Ashtoreth.

Scarcely have the four entered the ruins, when they fall under the spell of the Temple and are overcome with sleep. They dream of the long-dead glories of the strange place. They dream that the ruins are restored and peopled with priests and worshippers with whom Busta and Marmalade have strange encounters. So vivid are their dreams that, when the spell is broken and they awake to see the Temple ruined and desolate as before, they are frightened and dazed. They discover the treasure and make haste to leave the haunted place.

Back in London, some months later, "Bolsch" and "Cough" encounter Sir Porter and Lady Blogg-Blogg, whose limousine has broken down.

"Bolsch" declares his Bolshevist programme, and is arrested.

The return of Marmalade and Aurora to London is celebrated by a visit to a night club, where a Dazzle Ball is in progress, and their adventures terminate in a scene of sparkling merriment.

By the will of their late uncle, the cousins Marmalade Ball and Aurora Smart become possessed of the clue to a treasure, hidden in a ruined temple in the Desert of Sin. Each is unaware of the other's legacy, and both, unknown to one another, decide to sail for Egypt without delay.

Marmalade engages the Honourable John Merrily as secretary, while Busta Neath, unable longer to endure the misery of living with her uncle and aunt, Sir Porter and Lady Blogg-Blogg, serves as companion to Aurora.

John and Busta are secretly engaged to one another.

Being weary of bad weather at home, Sir Porter and Lady Blagg-Blagg are persuaded to to visit Cairo. They take tickets accordingly. Marmalade and John arrive to do likewise, and encounter Aurora and Busta who have come to Cook's with the same object. While Marmalade and Aurora quarrel, Busta and John compare notes, and are overheard by Herr Bolsch and Cough, two alien rogues, who severally determine to shadow the parties in the hope of discovering the treasure for themselves. Busta encounters Sir Porter Blogg-Blogg, who endeavours to induce her to accompany him and Lady Blagg-Blagg to Cairo.

On board the liner s.s. OSTERLEY the cousins meet again, and soon discover that they are both engaged upon the same quest. They determine to prosecute the search together, and to share the spoil.

"Cough" endeavours to steal Marmalade's map by means of a ruse; but is prevented by Busta.

Aurora and Marmalade encounter one another on deck and become reconciled. In the evening there is a Fancy Dress Ball, during which Sir Porter becomes jealous, and Busta and her uncle and aunt more estranged than ever.

Having arrived in Egypt, the cousins and their companions seize a (sic) opportunity of spending a few days at Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, decide to travel by air to the spot where the treasure is hidden. Their proposals are overheard by "Cough," and"Bolsch," who determine to obtain an aeroplane and follow their lead.

Engine trouble compels the cousins to land in a desolate spot. While they are wondering what to do, they observe that another aeroplane is approaching. They realise that they are being followed, and prepare to hoist their pursuers with their own petard.

Fortune favours their plans. They obtain possesion of "Bolsch's" aeroplane and continue their flight to The Temple of Ashtoreth.

Scarcely have the four entered the ruins, when they fall under the spell of the Temple and are overcome with sleep. They dream of the long-dead glories of the strange place. They dream that the ruins are restored and peopled with priests and worshippers with whom Busta and Marmalade have strange encounters. So vivid are their dreams that, when the spell is broken and they awake to see the Temple ruined and desolate as before, they are frightened and dazed. They discover the treasure and make haste to leave the haunted place.

The cousins reach London to find a dense fog prevailing, traffic is suspended, and they are reduced to walking home. Undismayed, they celebrate their return by a visit to a night club, where a Dazzle Ball is in progress and their adventures terminate in a scene of sparkling merriment.

 

Actors listed in order of appearance

Actor

Principal role

Additional role(s)

Ambrose Manning

Sir Porter Blogg-Blogg, a Portly Profiteer

 

Veronica Brady

Lady Blogg-Blogg, a Portly Profiteer

 

Frank Leslie

First clerk at Cook's

Policeman (added to the later production)

Alice Knibbs

A Spinster

A Lady Passenger

Leonard Calvert

A Clergyman

A Coffee-stall Keeper
An Old Gentleman (added to the later production)

Doris Champion

A Widow

1st Priestess

Betty Lucile

A Masculine Female

 

Tom Payne

Herr Bolsch, of uncertain nationality

Private

Arthur Lowrie

Second clerk at Cook's

 

Andrew Higginson

The Hon. John Merrily

A Corporal

Ralph Lynn

Marmalade Ball

Private

Joe Spree

Mr. Cough, a Turkish Rogue

Private
Sailor (added to the later production)

Katie Snow

A Messenger Boy

Patrol Leader of Boy Scouts

Peggy Kurton

Aurora Smart

 

Violet Loraine

Busta Neath

A Subaltern

Bert Rolfe

First Steward

2nd Priest

Ryal Lade

Ship's Officer

1st Priest

Arthur Finn

An Egyptian

A Phoenician Youth

Alfred Cunningham

King of the Cocktails, becomes A Bar Tender in the later production

Head waiter (dropped from the later production)

Yettmah

A Native Conjuror

 

Stiles-Allen

The High Priestess

 

Kitty Fielder

2nd Priestess

 

Coral Aster

A Temple Dancer

 

Decima McLean and Eddie Mclean

Dancers

 

 

Signed promotional postcard photo portrait of Violet Loraine

Signed promotional postcard photo portrait of Ralph Lynn

Violet Loraine

Ralph Lynn

 

Scenes

 

First Version Programme

Later Version Programme

Act One
Scene 1: Cook's Tourists' Bureau, Piccadilly
Scene 2: Sir Porter's State Cabin aboard S. S. Osterley
Scene 3: Main Deck S.S. Osterley
Scene 4: Marmalade's Cabin Aboard S.S. Osterley
Scene 5: An Interlude - The American Bar at Vicker's Club
Scene 6: Main Deck of S.S. Osterley (evening)
Act Two
Scene 1: The Terrace, Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo
Scene 2: The Desert of Sin
Scene 3: A Ruined Phoenician Temple
Scene 4: A London Street
Scene 5: Vicker's Club

Act One
Scene 1: Cook's Tourists' Bureau, Piccadilly
Scene 2: Marmalade's State Cabin aboard S. S. Osterley
Scene 3: An interlude - The American Bar at Vicker's Club
Scene 4: Main Deck of S.S. Osterley
Act Two
Scene 1: The Terrace, Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo
Scene 2: The Desert of Sin
Scene 3: A Ruined Phoenician Temple
Scene 4: A London Street
Scene 5: Vicker's Club

 

Selection of music from Eastward Ho! published by Feldman

Feldman's Selection of Music from Eastward Ho! (no lyrics)

 

Musical Numbers (all lyrics Dornford Yates unless otherwise specified, music by Grace Torrens and John Ansell)

First Version Programme

Later Version Programme

Act One
Scene 1: Opening Chorus
Scene 1: They always find room for me
Seene 1: Runaway Heart
Scene 1: Finale

Scene 2: It cramps my style

Scene 3: Opening chorus
Scene 3: The Burning Question
Scene 3: I don't know why, do you?
(lyrics Oscar Asche)
Scene 3: Dreams

Scene 4: No musical numbers

Scene 5: The Cocktail King

Scene 6: Wireless
Scene 6: Flirtation Duet
Scene 6: The Wight and the Dairymaid

Act Two
Scene 1: Cheops Built the Pyramids
Scene 1: The Study of Flora and Fauna
Scene 1: The Innocent Ass
Scene 1: If I had known what I know now
(lyrics Oscar Asche)

Scene 2: The Army of Martyrs

Scene 3: Time
Scene 3: Wedding Chant
Scene 3: Dance of the High Priestess

Scene 4: A Hell upon Earth

Scene 5: Vickers Maxims

Act One
Scene 1: Opening Chorus
Seene 1: Runaway Heart
Scene 1: Finale

Scene 2: The Burning Question

Scene 3: The Cocktail King

Scene 4: Opening chorus
Scene 4: Wireless
Scene 4: Dreams
Scene 4: The Study of Flora and Fauna
Scene 4: The Wight and the Dairymaid
Scene 4: Finale

Act Two
Scene 1: Cheops Built the Pyramids
Scene 1: The Innocent Ass
Scene 1: If I had known what I know now
(lyrics Oscar Asche)

Scene 2: The Army of Martyrs

Scene 3: Time
Scene 3: Wedding Chant
Scene 3: Dance of the High Priestess

Scene 4: You can't keep a good man down
(lyrics and music W. Hargreaves)

Scene 5: Speciality Dance
Scene 5: Finale

 

Pinao Player roll of 'Dreams', one of the songs from Eastward Ho!

Song 'Dreams' player piano roll - Click image for detail
The Lyrics are printed alongside the punched holes


'Dreams' : music by Grace Torrens
lyrics by Dornford Yates:

When all the world is sleeping
And the night is very still
Then the dreams steal out of hiding
And they wander where they will

They rise from ev’ry valley
And they start from ev’ry hill
Just when all the world is sleeping
And the night is very still

Sleep in his arms shall fold you, fold you
Love in his hands hold you, hold you
Love is a dream that turns to gold
All that the sleeper’s eyes behold

So to love yourself surrender
Trust to his hands to tender, tender
All that you see is gleaming, gleaming
Oft as your heart is dreaming, dreaming

Though all the world is sleeping
Yet there’s music in the air
It’s the dreams that make the music
As they wander here and there

And whene’er your heart is dancing
With a joy beyond compare
Oh be sure the dreams are making
Precious music in the air

Sleep in his arms shall fold you, fold you
Love in his hands shall hold you, hold you
Love is a dream that turns to gold
All that the sleeper’s eyes behold

So to love yourself surrender
Trust to his hands so tender, tender
All that you see is gleaming, gleaming
Oft as your heart is dreaming, dreaming

 

 

Sources:
A. J. Smithers: Dornford Yates - A Biography
Oscar Asche: Oscar Asche - His Life
3rd County of London Yeomanry Museum
The Times, of London, 1919
The Stage Year Book 1920
Who's Who in the Theatre
Dictionary of National Biography
Three versions of programmes for Eastward Ho!
Selection from Eastward Ho! (music)
Piano Player roll for the song 'Dreams'

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