Seymour Hicks

Last updated


Seymour Hicks
Edward Seymour Hicks

(1871-01-30)30 January 1871
St. Hélier, Jersey, Channel Islands
Died6 April 1949(1949-04-06) (aged 78)
Hampshire, England
  • Actor-manager
  • playwright
Spouse Ellaline Terriss (1893–1949) (his death)

Sir Edward Seymour Hicks (30 January 1871 – 6 April 1949), better known as Seymour Hicks, was a British actor, music hall performer, playwright, actor-manager and producer. He became known, early in his career, for writing, starring in and producing Edwardian musical comedy, often together with his famous wife, Ellaline Terriss. His most famous acting role was that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol .


Making his stage début at the age of nine and performing professionally by sixteen, Hicks joined a theatrical company and toured America before starring in Under the Clock in 1893, the first musical revue ever staged in London. Following this, he starred in a revival of Little Jack Sheppard at the Gaiety Theatre, London which brought him to the attention of impresario George Edwardes. Edwardes cast Hicks in his next show, The Shop Girl , in 1894. Its success led to his participation in two more of Edwardes's hit "girl" musicals, The Circus Girl (1896) and A Runaway Girl (1898), both starring Terriss. He first played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in 1901 and eventually played it thousands of times onstage. Hicks, along with his wife, joined the producer Charles Frohman in his theatre company and wrote and starred in a series of extraordinarily successful musicals, including Bluebell in Fairyland (1901), Quality Street (1902), The Earl and the Girl (1903) and The Catch of the Season (1904).

Hicks used his fortune from these shows to commission the building of the Aldwych Theatre in 1905 and the Hicks Theatre in 1906, opening the latter with a new hit show, The Beauty of Bath . His stage performances were less successful in later years, and he opted instead to star in music hall tours, including Pebbles on the Beach (1912). He continued to write light comedies, the most popular of which was The Happy Day (1916). On film, he first appeared in Scrooge and David Garrick both from 1913. Later notable films included The Lambeth Walk (1939) and Busman's Honeymoon (1940), and his last film was in the year of his death, 1949.

Life and career

Hicks was born in St. Hélier on the island of Jersey. At the age of nine, he appeared as Little Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore at his school in Bath. After that, he was determined to be an actor.

Early career

Hicks in "A Court Scandal", 1899 1917c.jpg
Hicks in "A Court Scandal", 1899

Hicks first appeared professionally on stage at the age of sixteen in a production of In the Ranks at the Grand, Islington. In 1889, he joined the theatrical company of Mr. and Mrs. Kendal for an American tour where they presented a repertory of contemporary plays. Hicks starred as Dr. Watson in the first revue show ever staged in London, Under the Clock (1893), [1] a parody of Sherlock Holmes and Watson written by Hicks with Charles Brookfield (who played Holmes), at the Royal Court Theatre. [2] That same year, he married Ellaline Terriss. [3] After that, he starred in a revival of Little Jack Sheppard at the Gaiety Theatre, London. This brought him to the attention of the impresario George Edwardes. In 1894, Hicks joined his wife in the successful "Fairy pantomime", Cinderella , produced by Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre with music by Oscar Barrett, where she had been playing the title role. He played Thisbe, one of Cinderella's half-sisters who, in this version, were "Girton College girls who can jabber Greek and Latin, read French, play golf, and indulge in manly exercises. Thisbe has an affectation for intellectuality – Ibsen, Spooks, and the new humor." [4]

Edwardes gave Hicks the chance to star in his next show, The Shop Girl (1894), which became a hit at the Gaiety in 1894, playing for 546 performances. Hicks's wife joined Edwardes's company during the run of the show, replacing the star in the title role, and together they made the musical an even bigger hit. The following year, Hicks transferred with the show to Broadway for a short run [5] and then toured in America in 1895 with his wife, where they befriended the American novelist Richard Harding Davis. At the instance of W. S. Gilbert, Hicks wrote a drama called One of the Best, a vehicle for his father-in-law William Terriss at the Adelphi Theatre, based on the famous Dreyfus Trial. The Hickses were frequent guests of Gilbert at his estate in Grim's Dyke. Hicks hurried back from America for the opening in December 1895. It ran for over a year. [6]

Another early success for the young couple was The Circus Girl (1896). Hicks and Terriss both had a comedy background, and they transformed the "lovers" roles in the new genre of Edwardian musicals from overly sentimental to mischievous and light-hearted characters exchanging witty banter. Hicks then worked as co-author on The Yashmak and then on one of the Gaiety Theatre's most successful shows, A Runaway Girl (1898), in which Terriss played the title role. This was followed by With Flying Colours (1899). Also in 1899, Hicks starred as the Duc De Richelieu in A Court Scandal, a comedy adapted by Aubrey Boucicault and Osmond Shillingford from Les Premières Armes de Richelieu by Dumanoir, at the Court Theatre. [7] The same year, he and Terriss adopted a daughter, Mabel, and Terriss gave birth to their second child, Elizabeth ("Betty), in 1904. [3]

Frohman years

Cover of Vocal Score Cover of the Vocal Score of Seymour Hicks' The Earl and the Girl.jpg
Cover of Vocal Score

In early 1900, the Hickses played in their only Broadway show together, My Daughter-in-law, at the Frohman brothers' old Lyceum Theatre. [8] They then joined forces with producer Charles Frohman and, in his company, over a period of seven years, they played the leads in a series of musicals written by Hicks, including Bluebell in Fairyland (1901 with music by Walter Slaughter and lyrics by Charles Taylor – this Christmas show for children was continually revived for the next four decades) and The Cherry Girl (1902). Hicks and Terriss also starred in Quality Street in 1902. At that time, they moved to a new home, The Old Forge, at Merstham, Surrey. Their cul-de-sac was renamed "Quality Street".

Hicks also wrote the highly successful The Earl and the Girl (1903) and the successful The Catch of the Season (1904 with Herbert Haines and Taylor). Ellaline was pregnant with Betty, and so Zena Dare originated the leading role in The Catch of the Season until Terriss could assume the role. Dare's sister Phyllis Dare left the stage abruptly in 1905 [9] and a Frederick Henry Wolfries spread rumors that she was pregnant by Hicks, and Hicks received written and verbal abuse for his alleged conduct. In November 1906, Wolfries appeared at the Liverpool Assizes accused of libelling Hicks, while passing himself off as Dare's brother. He was found guilty and sentenced to 8 months imprisonment. [10] [11]

Hicks wrote, and Frohman produced, The Talk of the Town (1905 with Haines and Taylor), [12] The Beauty of Bath (1906 with Haines and Taylor; the show included additional lyrics by newcomer P. G. Wodehouse and additional music by Jerome Kern), My Darling (1907 with Haines), [13] and The Gay Gordons (1907). Hicks used some of the fortune he received from these shows to build the Aldwych Theatre in 1905 and the Hicks Theatre in 1906, which was renamed the "Globe Theatre" in 1909 and then the "Gielgud Theatre" in 1994. The Beauty of Bath was the first production at the theatre.

Later stage work

Drawing of Hicks in Quality Street Hicks1.jpg
Drawing of Hicks in Quality Street

In The Dashing Little Duke (1909; with C. Hayden Coffin, Courtice Pounds and Louie Pounds), produced by Hicks at the Hicks Theatre, which was less successful, Hicks' wife played the title role (a woman playing a man). [14] When she missed several performances due to illness, Hicks played the role – possibly the only case in the history of a musical where a husband succeeded to his wife's role. The piece was based on A Court Scandal, in which Hicks had played in 1899. Hicks then wrote and starred in Captain Kidd (1910), an adaptation with music and lyrics by Leslie Stuart and Adrian Ross, of the American farce The Dictator (1904 by Richard Harding Davis). [15] This flopped, bringing an end to the era of supremacy in London's musical theatre of Hicks and Terriss. [16] Hicks appeared in his first Shakespeare play that year, Richard III. The same year, he penned the first of several autobiographies. The following year, he took a company on a tour of South Africa. After the outbreak of World War I, Hicks was the first British actor to bring a tour to France (with Terriss), giving concerts to British troops at the front. Because of this, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. Hicks was briefly declared bankrupt in 1915. [17] [18]

Hicks and Terriss concentrated on comedy roles and music hall tours in later years, including Pebbles on the Beach (1912), singing and dancing 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'. Their one return to musical comedy, Cash on Delivery (1917), confirmed the public's preference for comedy revues and music hall. Hicks continued to write light, escapist comedies, such as The Happy Day (1916), Sleeping Partners (1917) and, after the war, satiric farces, such as Good Luck and Head Over Heels (1923) and adaptations of French farces (The Man in Dress Clothes).

Film career, Scrooge and later years

Hicks with Terriss and their daughter Betty Mr&Mrs Semour Hicks.jpg
Hicks with Terriss and their daughter Betty

Hicks appeared in three early silent films: Scrooge and David Garrick in 1913, and A Prehistoric Love Story in 1915, all directed by Leedham Bantock. [19] He decided in 1923 to produce his own films. His first film, in which he starred, was Always Tell Your Wife , which was based on one of his plays. While making that film, Hicks fired the director and hired an unknown young director to make his debut: Alfred Hitchcock. [20] Hicks directed Sleeping Partners (1930) and Glamour (1931). In addition, over a dozen films were made either from his plays or his scripts, and he starred in about twenty films, many with his wife. One of his early films was Money for Nothing (1932) [19]

In 1931, he was awarded the Legion of Honour for his promotion of French drama on the English stage. Hicks was knighted in 1935. [21] In 1934, he had taken over Daly's Theatre in London, where he produced and appeared in a series of successful plays including Vintage Wine that he and Ashley Dukes adapted from a novel.[ citation needed ] He also directed and appeared in The Miracle Man at the Victoria Palace Theatre. [21]

Hicks's most famous role was that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol . He first played this role in 1901 and eventually played it thousands of times onstage, often at benefits, and twice on film: the 1913 silent film Scrooge and the 1935 film Scrooge , produced in England. In 1926, Pathé Pictures released the 1913 film in America under the title Old Scrooge. This 1926 print has been released on DVD. The 1935 Scrooge was the first feature-length film version of the story with sound. The film has been praised for its vivid atmosphere, but most of the ghosts in the film are not seen on screen, except for the Ghost of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche). Donald Calthrop portrays Bob Cratchit, and Maurice Evans has a bit part as one of Scrooge's debtors. Most prints in circulation are of the abridged, six-reel (hour-long) version. The film was seldom seen due to the popularity of the 1938 and the 1951 film versions of Dickens's novel. Poor-quality prints were shown on television in the 1980s, but in 2002 the film was restored to its original eight-reel length and issued on DVD. In 2007 the hour-long version was issued in a colourised edition.

Among his other film appearances, Hicks starred in the film version of his show Vintage Wine (1935) and as Sir John Tremayne in The Lambeth Walk (1939), the film version of the stage musical Me and My Girl , Young Man's Fancy (1939), Pastor Hall (1940) and Busman's Honeymoon (1940). [19] Hicks wrote for films until 1941 (Kisses for Breakfast, in which he starred, based on the French play The Matrimonial Bed by André Mouëzy-Éon and Yves Mirande). When World War II began, he acted, on 12 November 1939, as the master of ceremonies at the first concert given in France by the newly formed ENSA (Entertainment National Service Association). For this action, Hicks was awarded his second Croix de Guerre.[ citation needed ] Later films included Fame is the Spur (1947) and Silent Dust (1949). [19]

He continued appearing on stage and in films until a year before his death in Hampshire, England, at the age of 78.


  1. Alexis Barquin (ed.). "Under the Clock". The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  2. Special Collections: K Plays, University of Minnesota, 8 April 2005, accessed 18 November 2009
  3. 1 2 Taylor, C.M.P. Terriss, Ellaline. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 7 January 2012
  4. Peck, Russel A. "Pantomime, Burlesque, and Children's Drama", University of Rochester (1995), accessed 2 April 2021
  5. Green, Stanley (1991). Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press. p. 378. ISBN   978-0-306-80113-6.
  6. Stedman, pp. 307–08
  7. A Court Scandal Archived 10 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  8. My Daughter-in-law, IBDB, accessed 11 April 2012
  9. Triesman, Susan. Dare, Phyllis, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 20 November 2011
  10. Gardner, Viv (2019). Gale, Maggie B. (ed.). Women performers and the law in the long Edwardian Period. Stage Women 1900 - 1950, Female theatre workers and professional practice. Manchester University Press.
  11. Oates, Phil. "Phyllis Dare libelled in Liverpool". Liverpool Miscellany. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  12. Moss, Simon. Programme and description of The Talk of the Town, Gilbert & Sullivan, a selling exhibition of memorabilia, Archive: Other items
  13. My Darling, the Guide to Musical Theatre, accessed 25 February 2010
  14. Johnson, Colin. Information about, and MIDI files for, The Dashing Little Duke, 2003, The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 31 March 2018
  15. Lamb, p. 206
  16. Seymour Hicks, British Musical Theatre, 31 August 2004 Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 2 February 2012
  17. "Mr. Seymour Hicks", Western Times, 3 December 1915, p. 10
  18. "Mr Seymour Hicks and his Creditors", The Glasgow Herald, 19 October 1915, p. 9
  19. 1 2 3 4 "Hicks, Seymour", British Film Institute, accessed 1 April 2012
  20. Always Tell Your Wife, British Film Institute, accessed 1 April 2012
  21. 1 2 "Veteran Actor of British Stage", The Queenslander, June 27, 1935 (reprinting a London dispatch of June 8, 1935), p. 4

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gielgud Theatre</span> Theatre in Londons West End since 1906

The Gielgud Theatre is a West End theatre, located on Shaftesbury Avenue, at the corner of Rupert Street, in the City of Westminster, London. The house currently has 986 seats on three levels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vaudeville Theatre</span> Theatre in London

The Vaudeville Theatre is a West End theatre on the Strand in the City of Westminster. As the name suggests, the theatre held mostly vaudeville shows and musical revues in its early days. It opened in 1870 and was rebuilt twice, although each new building retained elements of the previous structure. The current building opened in 1926, and the capacity is now 690 seats. Rare thunder drum and lightning sheets, together with other early stage mechanisms, survive in the theatre.

<i>The Shop Girl</i> Musical comedy by Ivan Caryll and H. J. W. Dam

The Shop Girl was a musical comedy in two acts written by H. J. W. Dam, with Lyrics by Dam and Adrian Ross and music by Ivan Caryll, and additional numbers by Lionel Monckton and Ross. It premiered at the Gaiety Theatre in London in 1894 and ran for an extremely successful 546 performances. Its cast included Seymour Hicks, George Grossmith, Jr., Arthur Williams, Edmund Payne, and Ellaline Terriss. It soon played in New York and was successfully revived in London in 1920.

<i>The Circus Girl</i>

The Circus Girl is a musical comedy in two acts by James T. Tanner and Walter Apllant (Palings), with lyrics by Harry Greenbank and Adrian Ross, music by Ivan Caryll, and additional music by Lionel Monckton.

<i>Quality Street</i> (play) 1901 comedy play by Scottish writer J. M. Barrie

Quality Street is a comedy in four acts by J. M. Barrie, written before his more famous work Peter Pan. The story is about two sisters who start a school "for genteel children".

<i>The Catch of the Season</i> Musical by Seymour Hicks and others

The Catch of the Season is an Edwardian musical comedy by Seymour Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton, with music by Herbert Haines and Evelyn Baker and lyrics by Charles H. Taylor, based on the fairy tale Cinderella. A debutante is engaged to a young aristocrat but loves a page.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ellaline Terriss</span> English actress and singer (1871–1971)

Mary Ellaline Terriss, Lady Hicks, known professionally as Ellaline Terriss, was a popular British actress and singer, best known for her performances in Edwardian musical comedies. She met and married the actor-producer Seymour Hicks in 1893, and the two collaborated on many projects for the stage and screen.

<i>The Beauty of Bath</i> Musical by Seymour Hicks and others

The Beauty of Bath is a musical comedy with a book by Seymour Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton, lyrics by C. H. Taylor and music by Herbert Haines; additional songs were provided by Jerome Kern, F. Clifford Harris (lyrics) and P. G. Wodehouse (lyrics). Based loosely on the play David Garrick, the story concerns a young woman from a noble family, who falls in love with an actor. She then meets a sailor who appears identical to the actor and mistakes him for the latter. Her father objects to a marriage with the actor, but when it turns out that she really loves the sailor, all objections fall away.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edwardian musical comedy</span> Form of British musical theatre

Edwardian musical comedy was a form of British musical theatre that extended beyond the reign of King Edward VII in both directions, beginning in the early 1890s, when the Gilbert and Sullivan operas' dominance had ended, until the rise of the American musicals by Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, George Gershwin and Cole Porter following the First World War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ada Reeve</span> English stage and film actress

Ada Reeve was an English actress of both stage and film. Reeve began to perform in pantomime and music hall as a child. She gained fame in Edwardian musical comedies in the 1890s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phyllis Dare</span> English actress and singer (1890–1975)

Phyllis Dare was an English singer and actress, famous for her performances in Edwardian musical comedy and other musical theatre in the first half of the 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zena Dare</span> English actress and singer (1887–1975)

Zena Dare was an English singer and actress who was famous for her performances in Edwardian musical comedy and other musical theatre and comedic plays in the first half of the 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Willie Warde</span> English actor-dancer

Willie Warde was an English actor, dancer, singer and choreographer. The son of a dancer, his first theatre work was with a dance company. He was engaged to arrange dances for London productions and was later cast as a comic actor in musical theatre. He was associated for over two decades with the Gaiety and Daly's theatres under the management of George Edwardes, playing in and choreographing burlesques and, later, Edwardian musical comedies. In later years he played character roles in West End comic plays.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Lugg</span> English actor and singer (1852–1939)

William Lugg was an English actor and singer of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. He had a long stage career beginning with roles in several Gilbert and Sullivan operas and continuing for over four decades in drama, comedy and musical theatre. Later in his career, he appeared in nine silent films in the early years of British cinema.

<i>Bluebell in Fairyland</i>

Bluebell in Fairyland is a Christmas-season children's entertainment described as "a musical dream play", in two acts, with a book by Seymour Hicks, lyrics by Aubrey Hopwood and Charles H. Taylor, and music by Walter Slaughter. It was produced by Charles Frohman. The creators sought to distinguish the work from a Christmas pantomime. The story concerns a flower girl, Bluebell, who on Christmas Eve goes to fairyland in search of the "Sleeping King", seeking to restore him to his throne, which has been usurped by the "Reigning King".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tom Terriss</span> British actor and screenwriter (1872–1964)

Thomas Herbert F. Lewin, known professionally as Tom Terriss, was a British actor, screenwriter, and film director. After trying various occupations, he became an actor playing a variety of roles, beginning in 1890, in plays, pantomime and Edwardian musical comedy. After the First World War, he left the stage and pursued a decade-long film career. He was the brother of the musical comedy star Ellaline Terriss and son of leading man actor William Terriss.

Sir Edward Seymour Hicks, better known as Seymour Hicks, was a British actor, music hall performer, playwright, screenwriter, theatre manager and producer. He became well known for writing, starring in and producing Edwardian musical comedy. Beginning in 1913, however, he had a significant film career. Hicks began in film during the silent era and continued to act in sound films.

<i>The Gay Gordons</i> (musical)

The Gay Gordons is a 1907 Edwardian musical comedy with a book by Seymour Hicks, music by Guy Jones and lyrics by Arthur Wimperis, C. H. Bovill, Henry Hamilton and P. G. Wodehouse, who wrote the lyrics to "Now That My Ship's Come Home" and "You, You, You". The title refers to both the Clan Gordon and the famed Scottish regiment the Gordon Highlanders as the plot involves the heir to the clan and a soldier from the regiment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leedham Bantock</span> British screenwriter and actor (1870–1928)

Leedham Bantock was a British singer, Edwardian musical comedy actor, early film director, dramatist and screenwriter. In 1912 he became the first actor to portray Father Christmas in film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aubrey Hopwood</span>

Aubrey Hopwood was a British lyricist of Edwardian musical comedy and a novelist and author of nonsense books for children. He co-wrote the lyrics for the musicals Alice in Wonderland (1886), A Runaway Girl (1898) and The Lucky Star (1899), among others.