Interview with Bob Pender

Rosie Jones drew my attention to an interview published in The Era on 24th December 1910.

It give some useful insights to both Bob and the troupe.

However, it turns out that it is an extract from a longer interview published in the Pall Mall magazine, and was later reprinted in a Canadian paper.

What I have done here is given the longer version, but added some extra items that were given in The Era.

The Era extras are shown in blue.


The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) 5th Feb 1910

For the fourth consecutive season Mr. Bob Pender will again be the Clown over whose antics the youngsters will soon be laughing so heartily in the Drury Lane annual, and with his clever company of comedians and pantomimists, may be relied upon to supply an harlequinade that is not only brisk, but really humorous, and is sure to contain many surprises.

The Pender Troupe has recently concluded a three months’ most successful engagement at the Olympia, Paris, Mr. Willie Pender making a decided hit as a substitute for Mr. Max Lindor, the French comedian, who was suddenly taken ill. The combination is booked for a big engagement in a new theatre in New York, and have other offers under consideration. The juvenile troupe, Bob Pender’s Little Dandies, including his little daughter Doris, a graceful dancer and pantomimist, have also been making a big hit at the Olympia, Paris, in their speciality entitled “Dances à la Russe”. Doris had the advantage of a splendid training, having been taught by her mother, the accomplished Mrs. Pender, who was for six years under Mme. Katti Lanner. It will be remembered that Mrs. Pender is the Columbine in the Drury Lane harlequinade, and brothers and cousins undertake most of the other parts.

Mr. Pender – whose real name is Lomas – told how his stage career started when he was quite young – as a pantomime monkey, allowing himself to be swung round by his own father, who was a clown before him. When about sixteen years of age he started with the Lomas Brothers in a monkey act called Travels in Monkeyland, in the performance of which he used to climb a rope with bare feet. The act was popular throughout England and the brothers also visited France, Germany, Austria, Holland and many other countries.

The Drury Lane Clown

Oui, mes enfants I am a lucky man, writes H. M. Walbrook in the Pall Mall magazine. I have spent an entire afternoon with the Clown over whose antics at Drury Lane you will be laughing so heartily these holidays – that irresistible creature with the chalk-and-vermillion face, the red-and-white clothes all bagginess and frills, the squeaky voice, the restless mischief and the tireless acrobatic frenzy, whom you all know and love his “ain fireside”, with his family portraits looking down on us from the walls, mantelpiece and piano-lid; and have listened to him and talked with him, and heard something of the story of his life. “A clown’s life! What fun!” I hear you exclaim. “A career of ever-victorious laughter and impudence! Over sublime ‘rag’ from beginning to end!” Well, perhaps it is, and perhaps it is not. Let him speak for himself.

 

On the programme he appears as Bob Pender, but his real name is Lomas. His father was quite a famous Lomas – an actor; his grandfather was another Lomas – also an actor and well known in his day and humble. Indeed, up to five years ago *way, although that way was somewhat Mr. Pender himself played as Bob Lomas, and his troupe was called Lomas’ Troupe, chiefly known in the music hall world. Then came a day when, with the vaulting ambition of a gymnast, he decided to attempt higher things than animal (particular monkey) impersonations; and with this decision came the change of name, and Lomas vanished and Pender reigned in his stead. And there he sits before me in his armchair by the fire, smoking his cigarette, glancing from time to time with approval on his surroundings, and chatting away in a Lancashire dialect about past, present and future.

*This paragraph does, I believe, contain a typesetting error.
The words that I have struck out appear as a single line of text in the original newspaper article and don’t make sense. However, if you remove that line, the rest of the text flows normally.

“Ah yes.” He says, “time were not always as pleasant with me as they are now. I can remember myself as a little boy travelling the country roads with my father and mother and a portable theatre. You don’t remember the old portables, I suppose? No. One doesn’t meet them often nowadays. They were wood-and-canvas theatres that could be put up in half an hour, and taken to bits again after the show and packed up to be carted away to the next town or village. Change of bills? You never saw such changes. Why, my father would be playing Hamlet one night, and giving a turn on stilts the next! And a right good actor he was too – could make you cry one moment and scream laughing the next; a much better actor than I am, though he never had the luck. Yes, and so was my mother a good artiste. Yes, and – bless her! – she’s been a good mother and still is; never hears of my having a pain or an ache without wanting to start straight away from her home in Lancashire and nurse me up.

And the Grimaldi tradition was early followed by young Pender, who has appeared as Clown in all sorts of places, and at the Grand, Fulham, previous to his first Drury Lane engagement.

The Old Clown at the Factory Gate

“But those early days were pretty hard for them both, with their family of little ‘uns. I was only 12 years old when my father died; but I can see him now, in the eye of memory, on a winter afternoon nearly 30 years ago, with snow on the ground, walking up and down outside a Lancashire factory-gate in his thin clown’s garb, giving away circulars of the coming performance. Oh yes he could play clown too, and often did – and played it uncommonly well. Not much fun in that, you see. Poor old dad! If he’d only lived to see this, wouldn’t he be surprised!” And Mr. Bob looked around on his household goods and the portraits of his wife and youthful daughter and all the amenities of his cheery home, and gave a little laugh that had nothing of then clown’s diabolical and noisy malice in it, but was entirely good-natured and pleasant.

 

“And afterwards, when I went on the stage, it wasn’t all beer and skittles for me, I can assure you. I remember a provincial touring pantomime company which I and my troupe of five, as it was then, joined. We were to have toured for 12 weeks.  At the end of the first week there was no salary to come to us, because we had borrowed it all in advance during the three weeks of rehearsal. At the end of the second there was a little money – but only a little, because it was a bad pantomime, and people wouldn’t flock, One night there was 5s. 6d. in the house! At the end of the third week we told the manager that if we didn’t get our salaries we wouldn’t act; and as a result some £3 was scraped together for the six of us. After that we sent one of men round to the front of the house, by way of a check, to watch the paying-in of the coppers and threepenny bits. At the end of the fourth week the management couldn’t pay for any of the printing. All the salaries were going on railway fares, and the chorus  were looking half-starved. Bye the way, you should have seen the chorus-girls’ dresses – a few yards of cheap muslin that made you feel cold merely to look at. On the fifth Saturday the managers had words, but again a part of what was due to us was got together somehow or other. We had once more told them we wouldn’t act if we weren’t paid, and they almost went on their knees to us. Hitherto we had hoped the tour would go on, but on the sixth Saturday we hoped it wouldn’t. We had had enough. On the seventh the scene painters, who had never been paid, seized the scenery, and that finished us! You laugh at the story, sir. So do I now, but really it’s a good deal easier to laugh back on it than while one is going through it. Still, we all kept our spirits up fairly well – even the poor things in the cheap muslin.

 

“Does that sort of thing happen often nowadays?” I asked.

“Not very often.” Replied Mr. Pender slowly. “And those particular managers are dead.”

 

A Monkey for 15 Years

“Well,” he continued, “I went on doing all sorts of work, particularly impersonating a monkey. Off and on, I was a monkey for 15 years. Then we formed the Lomas Troupe, with our big Giant Act – a row of ten, ranging from a little man three feet high to a Goliath reaching 18 feet towards the painted clouds. The giants, of course, were all on stilts, which were hidden in trousers or frocks. I was the 18-footer. One night at Hanley, one of my stilts skidded on a bit of stage that had been made slippery by some knock-about comedians playing around with a soda-water syphon, and down I came – such a smack! Fortunately I fell on the stage, but a foot or two more and I’d have been pitched across the footlights and probably killed. Even as it was, my wrists were bad for three months after. You see, it’s rather a risky entertainment, owing to one’s feet being strapped and shut in, but we are all very careful, and now we never have an accident. It was that Giant Act that got us to Drury Lane. Mr. Arthur Collins saw it three years ago at Liverpool, and engaged us straight away for the next pantomime – and perhaps you remember what a hit our giants made?”

For five years the troupe were with Messrs. Howard and Wyndham in pantomime in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds and Liverpool. 

Giants in the Pantomime

“I do – perfectly. They were very amusing. Particularly when the 18-footer dropped his cap and couldn’t reach down to it and at last the three footer picked it up, passed it on to the next, who handed it on to his neighbour who was taller still, and so it went on until it reached the hands and head of its lawful owner. By the way, are there many of your own relations in the Pender Troupe?”

“There’s my wife, to begin with. She’s Columbine in the Drury Lane Harlequinade. Then there’s one brother who plays Pantaloon, and another who plays Policeman, and a cousin who plays Harlequin. Then there’s another who plays second Policeman. And it must be remembered, my policemen are performers! They are not like the old-fashioned Harlequinade bobby, who used to come on stage, get clumped over the head and go off again. Oh dear no. My policemen have to follow me everywhere – up trap-doors, through windows, over roofs – anywhere, everywhere – quick as lightning – bic! – bang! Like that! See?”

 

Mr. Pender became excited for a moment, and I thought he was going to “bic” out of the chair; but the impulse soon passed, and he settled back in his seat again and resumed his story with comparative calm.

 

“Ginger all the way”

“Do you know my motto on stage? It’s only one word – Ginger! Yes sir, I’m Ginger all the ay and all the while. Sometimes I get so exhausted rushing about, jumping through star-traps high into the air, falling down, diving through windows and down chimneys, and generally keeping the pot a-boiling – I so exhausted that sometimes I almost feel like being carried to my dressing-room. But of were only on during part of the show. At other times we are very comfortable, for we have fine dressing-room of our own, and I’ve got my own billiard table installed in it, so we have plenty of fun. Mr. Collins doesn’t mind what he spends. He gives me everything I ask, and would let me have a band if I wanted it. And I rather fancy I’ve got some funny scenes for him, and for the youngsters, in this year’s Harlequinade. There’s a railway station scene, in which a train gets blow up; and a Turkish bath scene, in which I – in which we – Ah, but wait till you see it.”

 

Mr. Pender was not going to give too much away “before the night,” though he was bursting to tell me. As a matter of fact, he did eventually tell me the idea of this particular scene, but I promised him I wouldn’t reveal it – and a promise is a promise. When the season is over at Drury Lane, he intends taking his whole Harlequinade for a tour around the Halls – a fairly good proof of his confidence in it.

 At the conclusion of the pantomime the Pender Troupe go on the Stoll and Gibbons tours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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