Play List:

1. The Rath Boys

2. The Witchfinder

3. A Madcap Prince

4. Corinne

5. The Queen of Connaught

6. The Nine Days’ Queen

7. The Mormons

8. The Shadow of the Sword

9. Lucy Brandon

10. Storm-Beaten

11. Lady Clare

[Flowers of the Forest]

12. A Sailor and His Lass

13. Bachelors

14. Constance

15. Lottie

16. Agnes

17. Alone in London

18. Sophia

19. Fascination

20. The Blue Bells of Scotland

21. Partners

22. Joseph’s Sweetheart

23. That Doctor Cupid

24. Angelina!

25. The Old Home

26. A Man’s Shadow

27. Theodora

28. Man and the Woman

29. Clarissa

30. Miss Tomboy

31. The Bride of Love

32. Sweet Nancy

33. The English Rose

34. The Struggle for Life

35. The Sixth Commandment

36. Marmion

37. The Gifted Lady

38. The Trumpet Call

39. Squire Kate

40. The White Rose

41. The Lights of Home

42. The Black Domino

43. The Piper of Hamelin

44. The Charlatan

45. Dick Sheridan

46. A Society Butterfly

47. Lady Gladys

48. The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown

49. The Romance of the Shopwalker

50. The Wanderer from Venus

51. The Mariners of England

52. Two Little Maids from School

53. When Knights Were Bold


Short Plays

Other Plays

Buchanan’s Theatrical Ventures in America

Poetry Readings





The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

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8. When Knights Were Bold - The Musical


The Stage (22 April, 1943 - p.4)

“Kiss the Girls”

     On Monday, at the Royal, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Emile Littler will produce a musical comedy entitled, “Kiss the Girls,” with book by Harriett Jay, Emile Littler, and Thomas Browne; musical score by Harry Parr-Davies, and lyrics by Barbara Gordon and Basil Thomas./ In the cast will be Sonnie Hale, Adele Dixon, Francis Sullivan, June Malo, Guy le Feuvre, Con Kenna, Patrick Colbert, Gerhard Kempinski, April Rose, and Teddy Brogden. The dresses have been designed and made by Norman Hartnell, Doris Zinkelsen, and Physhe. The scenery is by Joseph Carl. The company will visit the Hippodrome, Coventry; Grand, Blackpool; Grand, Leeds; and Royal, Birmingham. The late Harriett Jay was the author of “When Knights were Bold.”



The Stage (6 May, 1943 - p.1)



     Coventry audiences this week are finding excellent entertainment in Emile Littler’s presentation of “Kiss the Girls,” which opened its tour at the Royal, Newcastle, on April 26. The musical comedy is founded upon “When Knights were Bold,” by Charles Marlowe, which was first produced at Wyndhams in 1907, and adheres to the original story. The book is by Harriett Jay (who as Charles Marlowe wrote the original comedy), Emile Littler, and Thos. Browne, and the musical score is by Harry Parr-Davies. The story opens in the baronial hall of Beechwood Castle. The guests are arriving for dinner prior to taking part in the annual regatta. Sir Brian Ballymote arrives with two American guests, Otis B. Lloyd and his daughter Dr. Sue Lloyd, who are anxious to buy the castle, which is already mortgaged up to the hilt. Dean Pottlebury, an uncle of Sir Guy de Vere, owner of the castle, also arrives with his eleven daughters, and is the prime mover in putting the curb on Sir Guy and his neglect of duty and irresponsible outlook on life. Rowena Brown, in love with Sir Guy, does all in her power to point out to Sir Guy his duty to his family name and tradition. Sir Guy, who left early to go on his first attempt at sailing, arrives wet through, after receiving a ducking, and Rowena orders him a hot whisky and a hot mustard bath in his room. Sir Guy then directs the servant to bring the hot mustard bath down to the hall, and after having had a few more drinks than are good for him, and toasting his armoured ancestors, he finally puts his feet in the hot mustard bath, falls asleep and dreams that he is living in the good old medieval days when knights were bold.
     The second act, which consists of three scenes of the fourteenth century battlements, opens in the same flashback period. In this dream Sir Guy is still in modern clothes, but all the characters of the play appear in the costumes of the period, their characters being the medieval counterpart of their present-day characters. In the course of this scene Lady Rowena, as she is now known, urges Sir Guy to meet his rival for her hand—Sir Brian Ballymote—in battle, and his white charger is ordered and they buckle on his armour over his evening dress and he goes out amidst cheers to the lists to face his rival, armed with a large 2-edged sword. A fight to the finish takes place, with Sir Guy as victor.
     The next scene is in the Picture Gallery the following morning, when Sir Guy, still retaining his sword, finds the dream so real that he half believes that he has really fought a duel with Sir Brian. His manservant Wittle informs him that Sir Brian has been making love to Rowena behind his back. So Sir Guy decides to convince them that he is mad, with the idea of frightening Sir Brian away from the castle, thereby disposing of his unwanted attentions upon Rowena and also getting rid of the Lloyds, for Sue has tried to flirt with him and her father is becoming persistent in his wish to acquire the Castle.
     The final scene returns to the castle battlement with the regatta in progress, during which he succeeds in his ruse. This leaves him alone with Rowena, and there is the usual happy ending.
     The piece provides some rich comedy, mainly of the farcical type, together with good singing and dancing ensembles in the midst of elaborate settings. Sonnie Hale is in his element as Sir Guy de Vere, particularly in the flash-back and awakening scenes. Adele Dixon, as Rowena, has some fine numbers, and a part offering scope for a charming personality. Francis Sullivan, as Sir Brian Ballymote, gives an able portrayal, depicting menace with a nice sense of humour. Other well filled rôles are the Dean Pottlebury of Guy le Feuvre, the Otis B. Lloyd of Gerhard Kempinski, and the Sue of June Malo. Con Kenna does all that is required of him as Wittle, and others who appear to advantage are April Ross, Patrick Yardley, and the twelve dancers. Amongst some popular numbers, lyrics for which have been written by Barbara Gordon and Basil Thomas, are “Whoopee Diddlede,” “I Go on my Way, Whistling,” “Half Way to heaven,” “When the Rainbow Ends,” “Who knows,” and “The Good Old Days.” The orchestra is under David Fish; the scenery is by Joseph Carl, and the gowns have been designed by Norman Hartnell and Strassner, assisted by Doris Zinkeison and Physhe.



The Birmingham Post (25 May, 1943 - p.4)



     At the Theatre Royal this week, Mr. Emile Littler has called in a thirty-five-year-old farce to pipe a merry modern tune. Presumably, as bait to the frivolous, he has called it “Kiss the Girls”; but beyond the fact that Sonnie Hale has a good song of this name early in the proceedings there is no apparent reason why this excellent adaptation of “When Knights Were Bold” should hide its brightly twinkling light under so trivial a title. Those who remember James Welch in the original production need not fear that violent hands have been laid on this near-classic of the early 1900’s. Mr. Littler, apparently, knows a good script when he sees it, and, wisely, has been content to let the original lines speak for themselves. The consequence is a centre-piece of substantial dialogue, with liberal lashings of music by Harry Parr-Davies. And very good music of its kind it is. The catchy tunes and lyrics slip easily into place without that jerky reluctance that attends the unsuitable song at the unsuitable moment.
     Harriett Jay’s original play is a gift to the producer prepared to spend his clothing coupons with discrimination. When Sir Guy de Vere, transported from the modern Beechwood Hall to the medieval fortress, rallies his retainers, the crested helm, the snowy kirtle and the velvet tabard make a brave show on the castle battlements. All is set for the round dance “with a hey nonny-no,” and Mr. Littler’s brightly-decked chorus of revellers rises to the occasion with much lighter foot and in more tuneful voice than is usual in musical comedy.
     Yet the weight of the play falls upon Sir Guy, and Sonnie Hale shoulders it with tremendous zest and enthusiasm. Not only has he a neat way with his several dancing measures and songs, but his pointing of the dialogue, with appropriate stress on the comic, is also an achievement of quality. On finding himself back in the fourteenth century, amazement does not sit upon him; it swamps him. His voice rises in arpeggios of astonishment; his boggling at the barbarism of the “age of chivalry” is the quintessence of shocked surprise. Mr. Hales’s attack on the part is irresistible, and last night he carried both play and audience with him. Adele Dixon, as the fair Rowena, was very much at home in her quite charming songs, and made great play with the violent rhetoric of the Plantaganet lady. As that bounder, Sir Brian, Francis L. Sullivan was more suave than offensive; and Con Kenna deprived Wittle of the dignity due to his station. These shortcomings were of little account, however, in a production of all-round merit.
                                                                                                                                                   T. C. K.



Daily Record (Glasgow) (8 June, 1943 - pp.7,8)


Smart New Musical

IF Glasgow’s advance approval is any criterion the new musical comedy, “Kiss the Girls,” is assured of success when it reaches London.
     It was difficult to believe that last night’s show at the Theatre Royal was a first night, for it went without the slightest suspicion of those hitches which are always excused on such occasions.
     It is true the first act dragged a bit and many of the jokes and “business” need brightening up, but after that the show never looked back—except to the Middle Ages, to which the plot switches in a dream sequence in the second act.
     The fun then starts in earnest, with Sonnie Hale in a “when knights were bold” situation, complicated by the fact that he is still in his dress suit.
     Sonnie works far harder than any knight of old to put the show over, and he was ably assisted by Adele Dixon, June Malo, Guy le Feuvre, Francis L. Sullivan, Con Kenna and Gerhard Kempinski, among others.
     The show is magnificently dressed and staged and there are many popular numbers.
                                                                                                                                                       F. R. S.


There’s also a photo of Adele Dixon and Claud Allister in the roles of Rowena Brown and Wittle the butler, at Getty Images.



The Times (2 July, 1943 - p.6)



     It would be wise not to bring to this musical version of When Knights Were Bold any hopes of knowing again the old helpless laughter of years ago. Decked out with a dozen dancers, the daughters of the Dean, and more than a dozen songs, of which “Whoopsy Diddly Dum de Dee” is incomparably the best, the fable is no longer capable of creating the cumulative fun of first-rate farce. But it makes a pleasant musical comedy.
     Mr. Sonnie Hale is Sir Guy de Vere, and no comedian has ever worked harder. Once he has dreamed himself back into the Middle Ages he leaves the stage only once or twice, and seldom drops into a walk. He succeeds in making the mock heroic amusing. Miss Adèle Dixon lends her charming dignity to the bloodthirsty Lady Rowena and produces her voice as conscientiously and as pleasantly as ever. Miss Enid Stamp-Taylor puts on the tuft-hunting American lady the same bold Edwardian sparkle that he put on a similar character in The Belle of New York. The butler is played uncommonly well by Mr. Claud Allister. Mr. Davies has written some catchy music; the spectacle is well devised; and the evening passes cheerfully.



Daily Express (2 July, 1943 - p.3)


SAID perspiring Sonnie Hale, after appearing in “The Knight Was Bold,” at the Piccadilly Theatre last night, “If you want to take off a few pounds in weight, try playing my part for a night!”
     Mr. Hale perspired with reason (writes Ernest Betts), for this musical adaptation of the play in which Bromley Challenor appeared thousands of times is by now 99 per cent. perspiration and one per cent. inspiration.
     But Sonnie got a great reception—and it is about time London gave him one, after all he has given to London.
     He is one of the ablest and most neglected of war-time comedians, and his Sir Guy Vere de Vere, clanking in armour and swanking in evening dress, was a full-blooded piece of clowning which rejoiced playgoers who like to see a piece of absolute nonsense and charming people making fools of themselves.


[Advert for The Knight Was Bold from The Times (5 July, 1943 - p.8).]



Variety (7 July, 1943 - p.19)


The Stage (8 July, 1943 - p.4)



     On Thursday, July 1, Emile Littler presented here the musical piece by Harriett Jay, Emile Littler, and Thomas Browne, music by Harry Parr Davies, lyrics by Barbara Gordon and Basil Thomas, staged by Emile Littler and Maxwell Wray, dances devised and arranged by Philip Buchel, entitled

“The Knight was Bold.”

     This “musical adventure” recalls some, though not all, of the happy memories associated with that thirty-six-year-old farce, “When Knights were Bold,” which brought such good fortune in turn to the late James Welch and Bromley Challoner, and gave such simple but genuine pleasure to large numbers of British playgoers. It is true that the central theme—the transference of modern people in a dream to ancient times—has lost a good deal of its freshness since the early years of the century. The films have frequently exploited it, and only recently the musical comedy, “Du Barry was a Lady,” found its inspiration in a flash-back to France in the days of the Grand Monarch. Still, the idea remains a good one, and “The Knight was Bold” is at its best when Sir Guy de Vere finds himself transported in slumber to medieval England when life generally made severe demands on the fortitude and endurance of men and women alike. In this piece, naturally, no one is expected to take these conditions seriously, and there is some genuine gaiety, as there was in the old farce, in the adventures of Sir Guy amongst his remote fourteenth century ancestors. “St. George for England,” sonorously declaims the Medieval Herald. To which the irreverent modern knight very naturally replies, “St. Pancras for Scotland.” Was this jest in the original? One forgets. Anyhow, it is a tolerable gag. So is Sir Guy’s description of the old drink, sack, as “gin and moat,” and there is an inevitable reference to “registering for the Crusades.” These lines can be quoted as fairly typical of the spirit in which the whole scene is contrived.
     The first act, providing the build-up for the medieval episode, is less satisfactory. One remembers the original farce as rattling along from the beginning at a brave pace, whereas this part of the modern version is too often slow. Some of the changes made in the story are also hardly to the good. Why, for example, should the parson now be saddled with twelve dancing daughters, all apparently of the same age? It is more understandable that the Jew, who was an unsympathetic figure in the farce, should have disappeared as such. He is replaced by an American financier with a go-getting daughter. This is all very well, but the change cuts away the real reason for the racial antipathy to which the pair are subjected in the flash-back scene.
     However, there is no need to subject this generally pleasant entertainment to any severe analysis. It reaches the West End after a tour of about eight weeks, and during this preliminary canter the principals, Sonnie Hale and Adele Dixon, seem to have lavished a good deal of care to the development of their parts to the last degree of efficiency. Never, surely, has an artist given a more exuberant performance than Mr. Hale, and last Thursday’s London audience must have felt sorry for him when towards the end of the evening, he had to wage a vigorous stage-fight while encased in some kind of ersatz but obviously heat-generating armour. This is a very likeable, cheerful, good-humored impersonation, and it should enhance the actor’s reputation. Incidentally he has (with the chorus) the best of several good or goodish musical numbers. The number in question has the engaging title of “Whoopsy Diddly Dum de Dee,” and an extremely merry lilt. Miss Dixon, as Rowena Brown (Lady Rowena in the flash-back), brings to the part of that sympathetic young woman a charming sincerity that is uncommon on the lighter musical stage, and her singing is also admirable, especially in the pretty duet with Guy, “Where the Rainbow Ends.” As the American girl, Enid Stamp Taylor, a new-comer to the company since the provincial tour, is quite first-rate. She romps and rampages through the part, and her high spirits are irresistible. She, too, has a good (and fairly highly spiced) song, “Mother Nature.” Claude Allister acts extremely well as Wittle, the butler; Fred Kitchen junr. and Gerhard Kempinski do what is possible with indifferent parts as Sir Brian Ballymore and the American financier; and if Robert McLachlan plays the part of the Dean on strictly conventional lines that is doubtless not his fault. April Ross gives an amusingly pert performance as Alice, the maid, and other smaller parts are taken by Patrick Colbert, Teddy Brogden, and Peter Yardley. The chorus, including the “Dean’s Daughters,” is energetic and intelligent.
     The production is attractively dressed by Hartnell, Rahirs, Zinkeisen, and Physhe (an unusually strong team), the scenery by Joseph Carl and Physhe is gay, and the music is pleasantly orchestrated by Phil Green, who also conducts.



The musical version of When Knights Were Bold was not a success. According to the page on Harry Parr Davies on the Robert Farnon Society website:

“In 1943 although The Knight was Bold had Sonnie Hale as the titled aristocrat dreaming he was back in the Middle Ages, after successfully touring the provinces under the title Kiss the Girls, it became a West End flop and left the Piccadilly Theatre after only 10 performances.”

As well as writing several considerably more successful musicals, Harry Parr Davies also wrote songs for Gracie Fields (including “Sing As We Go” and “Wish Me Luck as you wave me goodbye”) and George Formby - so the man has a lot to answer for.


The Knight Was Bold - Programme



I also came across the following review of another musical version of the play from 1954:


The Guardian (23 December, 1954 - p.3)


Manchester Playhouse

     Having already given us, in the recent season, a menu of good plays unusually well acted, the Salisbury Arts Theatre company at the Playhouse have given way to the heavy compulsion of the Christmas spirit with that hugely facetious old thing “When Knights Were Bold” by Charles Marlowe. It was first produced in 1906 and it combines those twin delights of that artistically sterile period, evening dress and medieval costume (Avaunt there, Sir Guy!)—into a mixture which has the sort of flavour of fizzy lemonade, certainly no stronger vintage. The company, with their usual versatility, manage the music and lyrics which they have added to it very well; they give it a choral harmony and a certain charm. They cannot do very much with the old-fashioned farce which includes too many weak-kneed verbal puns and rather a surfeit of comic business. Given a larger and more responsive audience than last night, they might warm it into life. But it is a good case in point for anyone who wants to question this Christmas convention. It is rather over the heads of the children, and a little too fizzy for those grown-ups who prefer the Playhouse’s higher quality theatre.
                                                                                                                                                               R. P.



9. When Knights Were Bold - Miscellanea

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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