Allan Aynesworth

Last updated
Aynesworth circa 1890 Allan-Aynesworth-1890.jpg
Aynesworth circa 1890

Edward Henry Abbot-Anderson (14 April 1864, Sandhurst, Berkshire 22 August 1959, Camberley, Surrey), known professionally as Allan Aynesworth, was an English actor and producer. His career spanned more than six decades, from 1887 to 1949, and included the role of Algernon Moncrieff in the 1895 premiere of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest .


Aynesworth generally appeared in drawing room comedy and contemporary high-society dramas, usually avoiding old classics and modern plays about social problems. He retired from the stage in 1938, and made his final acting appearance in the film The Last Days of Dolwyn in 1949.

Life and career

Early years

Aynesworth was born at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, the third son of Major-General Edward Abbot-Anderson and his first wife, Martha, née Birkett, who died the day after Aynesworth was born. The eldest son, John Henry, followed his father into the army, and rose to be a Brigadier-General; the middle son, William Maurice, entered the medical profession and became physician to the Princess Royal. [1] Aynesworth attended Chatham House Grammar School, and was then sent to France and Germany to complete his education. [1] While in France he became an habitué of the Comédie-Française, where he studied the techniques of French acting. The Times said of this period in his life:

His determination to be first rate, his respect for acting as an art, his insistence on clarity of diction and intimate timing, his reluctance to undertake parts to which he felt he could not do justice, not least his panache – all this could be traced to the influence of the French theatre on him in his formative years. [2]

After returning to England, Aynesworth resolved to pursue a theatrical career, and made his stage debut in April 1887 as an uncredited extra in The Red Lamp by Outram Tristram, produced by and starring Herbert Beerbohm Tree. [1] [3] He then went as a student to Sarah Thorne's theatre at Margate, before returning to London in November 1887, when he played a small role in a blank-verse tragedy, The Witch, at the St James's Theatre. The Standard observed, "Mr. A. E. Aynesworth spoke the few lines allotted to him with distinction". [4] In March 1888 Aynesworth played in a short-lived piece, To the Death, written by and starring Rutland Barrington. [5] before rejoining the company at the St James's the following month, under the management of John Hare and William Kendal; he played General de Pontac in a revival of The Ironmaster by Arthur Pinero. [1] Later that year the Hare and Kendal management ended, and Barrington took over as lessee of the St James's; he cast Aynesworth as Lord Ashwell in The Dean's Daughter. Reviewers thought it a difficult role – "trying", "ungrateful and generally ridiculous" – and singled Aynesworth out for his success in making it work on stage. [6]


Aynesworth, left, with George Alexander in the original production of The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895 Algy-and-Jack-1895.jpg
Aynesworth, left, with George Alexander in the original production of The Importance of Being Earnest , 1895

During 1890–1892 Aynesworth played a series of roles at the Court Theatre: George Liptott in The Weaker Sex; Lord St John Brompton in Aunt Jack; the Hon Brooke Twombley in The Cabinet Minister; the Hon Gilbert Stukeley in The Volcano; and Richard Webb in The Late Lamented. [7]

After appearing at the Avenue, Globe, Criterion, Daly's and Garrick Theatres, during 1883–1884, Aynesworth joined George Alexander's company at the St James's, where he played Algernon Moncrieff in the first production of The Importance of Being Earnest . He recalled that Wilde attended only one rehearsal, and then called the cast together and told them that he had just witnessed "a play that reminded him slightly of one that he'd written", but that the similarity ended there. [8] Despite the author's reservations, the play was enthusiastically received when it opened on 14 February 1895. Looking back in the 1940s, Aynesworth told the journalist and biographer Hesketh Pearson, "In my fifty-three years of acting, I never remember a greater triumph than [that] first night." [9] The role of Algernon brought him to wider public notice than before, [2] and his notices were excellent: "Mr Aynesworth hits off to perfection the bland effrontery of Moncrieff"; [10] "[he] catches the right vein of grave extravagance"; [2] "exactly catches the tone of well-bred insolence which harmonises best with the author's wit". [11]

Later in 1895 Alexander led the St James's company on tour, and in September they played a command performance of the comedy-drama Liberty Hall for Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. [1] During the rest of the decade Aynesworth appeared at seven London theatres, mostly in society dramas and drawing room comedies, but venturing into Ruritanian romance in an 1896 adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda . [1] Later in his career he returned to this play, no longer in a juvenile role but as the fatherly Colonel Sapt. [1]

1900 to 1920

"Tony", caricature by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1908 Allan Aynesworth, Vanity Fair, 1908-05-20.jpg
"Tony", caricature by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1908

Aynesworth began the 1900s playing Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, David Belasco's play, which was five years away from becoming much better known in Giacomo Puccini's operatic version. [1] In 1903 he made one of his few appearances in a costume drama, playing Sir John Melville in the 18th-century comedy The Clandestine Marriage . [12] From 1903 to 1907 he established a fruitful stage partnership with Marie Tempest in a series of long-running plays, mostly at the Comedy Theatre, but with one excursion to New York to play The Freedom of Suzanne at the Empire Theatre. [1] [13]

At the Duke of York's Theatre in February 1912 Aynesworth appeared as Captain Nicholas Jeyes in Pinero's The "Mind the Paint" Girl , after which he went into management for the first time, presenting and starring in Ready Money at the New Theatre, which ran for more than 200 performances. [1] He continued his career as an actor-manager over the next few years at the Garrick Theatre, and, in partnership with Bronson Albery, the Criterion, and then, with Irving Albery, the Prince of Wales Theatre. [1]

During the First World War theatres were asked to keep open to provide entertainment for troops home on leave. Aynesworth complied, and was in demand as actor, producer and contributor to charity performances. [2]

Later years

With Lottie Venne in The Circle, 1921 Venne-Aynesworth-The-Circle-1921.png
With Lottie Venne in The Circle , 1921

In 1921 Aynesworth had one of his biggest successes, in the role of Lord Porteus in Somerset Maugham's The Circle . The Times said that those who saw him would not forget "the rotund perfection of his performance", and The Play Pictorial commented:

It is Mr Allan Aynesworth's rendering of the part which will cause the play to linger with pleasant memories in my mind. It is one of the most admirable pieces of character-acting that has been seen on the boards of the Haymarket Theatre since the days it was tenanted by the late Sir Herbert Tree. It was worthy of Tree. It was a perfect "make-up", and the manner and mannerisms were inimitable – a genuine example of comedy acting". [14]

The following year Aynesworth had another characteristic success in The Dover Road by A. A. Milne, playing "the tremendous butler, Dominic ... an unbelievably grand creature". [15] The Play Pictorial praised "a masterly study of humorous exposition, and every effect is obtained without apparent effort". [16]

In the 1930s Aynesworth continued to appear in West End plays. His Lord Porteus attracted enthusiastic reviews when The Circle was revived in 1931. [2] He maintained a keen interest on the doings of a new generation of actors. Asked by an interviewer in 1937 who he thought were the "real thing" among the younger actors, he replied, "that young fellow who played Hamlet – Gielgud – yes, he's certainly the real thing; and that other boy ... Laurence Olivier, and the little girl who's played some Shakespeare, Margaretta Scott". [8] When Gielgud produced and starred in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1938 he and his colleagues were delighted and encouraged when Aynesworth came backstage after the first night and told them he found the production delightful, catching the original gaiety and "exactly the right atmosphere". [17]

Aynesworth's last stage role was Lord Conyngham in Laurence Housman's Victoria Regina . The Times commented "it is the wit and authority of Mr Allan Aynesworth's Conyngham that here makes all else seem a trifle amateurish", [18] The play ran for 337 performances, after which Aynesworth retired from theatre performance. [2] His final role was on film, as the elderly Lord Lancaster in The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949). [19] [20] The Times summed up his career:

He acted in 25 London theatres, most frequently at the Haymarket and the St. James's; and he took part in plays written by over 50 contemporary dramatists. He never appeared in anything by Shaw (though for a while he rehearsed a part in You Never Can Tell ) or Granville Barker, for his interest was centred in the comedy of character and he was not sympathetic to the drama of ideas. His favourite part was Charles Surface, which gives a nice indication of his general outlook. He had worked with almost every eminent actor and actress of his day, and appeared before Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, King George V and Queen Mary, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. [2]

Aynesworth died at his home in Camberley at the age of 95. [2]


References and sources

Related Research Articles

<i>The Importance of Being Earnest</i> Literary work by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae to escape burdensome social obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play's major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways. Some contemporary reviews praised the play's humour and the culmination of Wilde's artistic career, while others were cautious about its lack of social messages. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde's most enduringly popular play.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ralph Richardson</span> English actor (1902–1983)

Sir Ralph David Richardson was an English actor who, with John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier, was one of the trinity of male actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. He worked in films throughout most of his career, and played more than sixty cinema roles. From an artistic but not theatrical background, Richardson had no thought of a stage career until a production of Hamlet in Brighton inspired him to become an actor. He learned his craft in the 1920s with a touring company and later the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. In 1931 he joined the Old Vic, playing mostly Shakespearean roles. He led the company the following season, succeeding Gielgud, who had taught him much about stage technique. After he left the company, a series of leading roles took him to stardom in the West End and on Broadway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Gielgud</span> English actor, theatre director (1904–2000)

Sir Arthur John Gielgud, was an English actor and theatre director whose career spanned eight decades. With Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier, he was one of the trinity of actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. A member of the Terry family theatrical dynasty, he gained his first paid acting work as a junior member of his cousin Phyllis Neilson-Terry's company in 1922. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art he worked in repertory theatre and in the West End before establishing himself at the Old Vic as an exponent of Shakespeare in 1929–31.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edith Evans</span> English actress (1888–1976)

Dame Edith Mary Evans, was an English actress. She was best known for her work on the stage, but also appeared in films at the beginning and towards the end of her career. Between 1964 and 1968, she was nominated for three Academy Awards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theatre Royal Haymarket</span> West-End theatre in London, England

The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a West End theatre on Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use. Samuel Foote acquired the lease in 1747, and in 1766 he gained a royal patent to play legitimate drama in the summer months. The original building was a little further north in the same street. It has been at its current location since 1821, when it was redesigned by John Nash. It is a Grade I listed building, with a seating capacity of 888. The freehold of the theatre is owned by the Crown Estate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lewis Waller</span>

William Waller Lewis, known on stage as Lewis Waller, was an English actor and theatre manager, well known on the London stage and in the English provinces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Alexander (actor)</span> English actor (1858–1918)

Sir George Alexander, born George Alexander Gibb Samson, was an English stage actor, theatre producer and theatre manager. After acting on stage as an amateur he turned professional in 1879 and, over the next eleven years, he gained experience with leading producers and actor-managers, including Tom Robertson, Henry Irving and Madge and W. H. Kendal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irene Vanbrugh</span> English actress (1872–1949)

Dame Irene Vanbrugh DBE was an English actress. The daughter of a clergyman, Vanbrugh followed her elder sister Violet into the theatrical profession and sustained a career for more than 50 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Flemyng</span> British actor

Benjamin Arthur Flemyng, known professionally as Robert Flemyng, was a British actor. The son of a doctor, and originally intended for a medical career, Flemyng learned his stagecraft in provincial repertory theatre. In 1935 he appeared in a leading role in the West End, and the following year had his first major success, in Terence Rattigan's comedy French Without Tears. Between then and the Second World War he appeared in London and New York in a succession of comedies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Madge Kendal</span> English actress and theatre manager (1848–1935)

Dame Madge Kendal, was an English actress of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, best known for her roles in Shakespeare and English comedies. Together with her husband, W. H. Kendal , she became an important theatre manager.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Hare (actor)</span> 19th/20th-century English actor

Sir John Hare, born John Joseph Fairs, was an English actor and theatre manager of the later 19th– and early 20th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred Terry</span> 19th/20th-century English actor

Fred Terry was an English actor and theatrical manager. After establishing his reputation in London and in the provinces for a decade, he joined the company of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree where he remained for four years, meeting his future wife, Julia Neilson. With Neilson, he played in London and on tour for 27 further years, becoming famous in sword and cape roles, such as the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

<i>The Importance of Being Earnest</i> (1952 film) 1952 film by Anthony Asquith

The Importance of Being Earnest is a 1952 British comedy-drama film adaptation of the 1895 play by Oscar Wilde. It was directed by Anthony Asquith, who also adapted the screenplay, and was produced by Anthony Asquith, Teddy Baird, and Earl St. John.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Franklin Dyall</span> English actor

Frank Poole Dyall, professionally known as Franklin Dyall, was an English actor. In his early years he was a member of the companies of the actor-managers George Alexander, Ben Greet, John Martin-Harvey and Johnston Forbes-Robertson. During a 50-year stage career he played a wide range of parts in plays from Shakespeare to modern comedy, grand guignol, swashbuckling costume drama and the works of Ibsen. He broadcast on radio and television and made more than 20 films. He was the father of the actor Valentine Dyall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Cecil</span>

Arthur Cecil Blunt, better known as Arthur Cecil, was an English actor, comedian, playwright and theatre manager. He is probably best remembered for playing the role of Box in the long-running production of Cox and Box, by Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand, at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mabel Terry-Lewis</span> English actress (1872–1957)

Mabel Gwynedd Terry-Lewis was an English actress and a member of the Terry-Gielgud dynasty of actors of the 19th and 20th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ellis Jeffreys</span> British actress

Minnie Gertrude Ellis Jeffreys was an English actress, best known for her comedy roles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kinsey Peile</span> Writer, actor

Frederick Kinsey Oman Peile, known professionally as F. Kinsey Peile or Kinsey Peile, was a British actor and playwright. During a forty-year stage career he created roles in plays by Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward, starred in others by Henrik Ibsen and Somerset Maugham, wrote ten plays for the West End and appeared in several films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Farren Soutar</span> English actor and singer

Farren Soutar, was an English actor and singer who became known for his performances in Edwardian Musical Comedies in the West End and on Broadway. Later he acted in some serious plays. His mother was Nellie Farren, the famous principal boy in Victorian burlesque.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cosmo Gordon-Lennox</span>

Cosmo Charles Gordon-Lennox, whose stage name was Cosmo Stuart, was a British actor and playwright of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. He became known as an actor in the 1890s, but by the turn of the century he had begun to concentrate on writing, usually under his real name. He specialised in adapting French comedies for the British stage, but also wrote original works, often as vehicles for his wife, the actress Marie Tempest.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Parker, pp. 38–39
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Mr Allan Aynesworth – Accomplished Playing of High Comedy", The Times, 25 August 1959, p. 10
  3. "The London Theatres", The Era, 23 April 1887, p. 14
  4. "St. James's Theatre", The Standard, 7 November 1887, p. 2
  5. "Olympic Theatre", The Morning Post, 24 March 1888, p. 5
  6. "Last Night's Theatricals" , Reynolds's Newspaper, 14 October 1888, p. 8; and "The Theatres", The Daily News, 1 October 1888, p. 3
  7. "Mr. E. Allan Aynesworth", The Era Almanack, January 1896, p. 32
  8. 1 2 "Fifty Years in the Theatre: Mr Aynesworth's Jubilee", The Observer, 6 June 1937, p. 13
  9. Pearson, p. 257
  10. "St. James's Theatre", The Standard, 15 February 1895, p. 3
  11. "At the Play", The Observer, 17 February 1895, p. 6
  12. "'The Clandestine Marriage' at the Haymarket Theatre", The Manchester Guardian, 18 March 1903, p. 6
  13. "The Freedom of Suzanne", Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 13 March 2019
  14. "Plays of the Month", Play Pictorial, March 1921, pp. 74–75
  15. Ervine, St John. "The Dover Road", The Observer, 11 June 1922, p. 11
  16. "Plays of the Month", The Play Pictorial, June 1922, p. 27
  17. Croall, p. 255
  18. "Lyric Theatre", The Times, 22 June 1937, p. 14
  19. "The First Stage Production of 'The Importance of Being Earnest', 1895".
  20. "Allan Aynesworth".