Music, comedy and #murder #EdwardianActress
Probably the most popular type of postcards to be collected in the early 20th century, were those of Edwardian actors and actresses. It was the golden age of British theatre and just like today, everyone wanted to know more gossip about their families.
Ellaline Terriss made her London debut at the Haymarket in 1888, aged 16. She was a talented actress and singer who began her career in musical comedies.
She was the daughter of William Terriss, who after trying the merchant navy, tea planting in India and farming in the Falkland Islands, had become a member of Sir Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum theatre. Besides being a noted Shakespearian actor, he was also known for his swashbuckling roles such as Robin Hood.
A year earlier than Ellaline, Edward Seymour Hicks also began his career on the London stage at the age of 16. As well as becoming a popular actor he soon became a prolific author of light comedies. The public were thrilled in 1893 when he and Ellaline Terriss were married.
In December 1897 tragedy struck. William Terriss, who was known for his kindness, had helped out a young actor, Richard Archer Prince. He gave Prince work but the young man proved to be unstable and drank too much, so he was dismissed. Terriss sent Prince money and the Actor’s Benevolent Society found him another part. However, finding himself unemployed again, Prince blamed all his woes on William Terriss, so one evening he waited outside the stage door of the Royal Adelphi theatre, carrying a knife. When Terriss arrived, Prince stabbed him and he sadly died. The trial was read avidly by the general public and there was a great outpouring of sympathy for Ellaline and Seymour Hicks.
Their popularity was immense. During the following year Seymour Hicks co-authored “A Runaway Girl” in which Ellaline starred at the Gaiety Theatre and the couple also adopted a four year old Irish girl, Mabel Magdalene. In 1914 Seymour Hicks recalled, “My wife saw and fell in love with the sweetest of little Irish girls, and we adopted her, calling her Mabel. To-day she is a sweet and gentle girl of eighteen, and is dearly loved by us."
In 1902 Ellaline and Seymour Hicks appeared together in Quality Street by J M Barrie. They had recently bought a new home called The Old Forge at Merstham in Surrey and their cul-de-sac was renamed Quality Street. Two years later Ellaline gave birth to their baby, Betty.
Edward Seymour Hicks became so successful that in 1905 he built the Aldwych Theatre and in 1906 The Globe, although at that time it was called The Hicks. After 1911 Ellaline appeared mainly in comedy and music hall. During the First World War, the couple gave concerts to the troops at the Front in France and in 1940 they went to the Middle East with ENSA. Having been the first British actor to perform in France during both World War I and World War II, Hicks was awarded the Croix de Guerre twice for his services and he was knighted in 1934.
Ellaline and Edward moved to South Africa after the Second World War but after the death of Seymour Hicks in 1949, Ellaline returned to England where she took up painting and had an exhibition in London. She died in Hampstead in 1971, aged 100.