Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

This revue consists of a number of entirely irrelevant scenes - as was the case with 'Half past Eight' - little plays or sketches complete in themselves the only connection being the personality of the players; in this case Little Tich has the chief role. The 1st scene, in an hotel, outlines a sort of plot - a racing man planning to win at 100 to 1, the condition on which a woman insists before marrying him - which is abandoned at once, however. The 2nd scene satirizes economy by order of the Government, two people being plundered of their purchases by a sham inspector. The 3rd is a dressing scene at a milliner's. The 4th is more ambitious. It is a trench scene, written by Capt. Bairnsfather showing the humours of soldiers and ending with the commencement of an attack. The authorship is a guarantee of lifelikeness and also, I think, takes away any possible offence there could be in treating trench life lightly. It will be, no doubt, the hit of the piece. The 5th is a burlesque of a cinema murder play. In the 6th Little Tich fools about with a piano, in the 7th he is a matador malgre lui, and in the 8th he flirts with a young lady in the park. I have marked the scenes for convenience. The script is innocuous enough. I have marked in scene 11, p.2, a joke about a soldier being hit, 'not anywhere that really matters' - reminiscent of my uncle toby - which is perhaps too suggestive, and the same may apply to a joke, scene VIII, p.10 (Spanish scene) about the difference of a girl from a man. Scene 111, 'milliner's shop', deserves attention: information might be asked for about the 'dressing business' and a caution given. The songs sent in are inoffensive: I think there must be more to come. Recommended for license. G. S. Street.

Researcher's Summary:

Bruce Bairnsfather, with B. Macdonald Hastings, wrote the sketch 'Bairnsfatherland, or the Johnson 'Ole' for the revue 'Flying Colours' which played at the Hippodrome, London for over 200 performances from 16 September 1916 to 13 January 1917. (A 'Johnson 'Ole' was the crater left by the impact of a particular German artillery shell which British soldiers called a 'Johnson' after the black American world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.) The sketch put on stage characters which Bairnsfather - a Captain in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment - had created in humorous cartoons which were published in The Bystander magazine about life at the front - notably Old Bill who was likened to a sea lion or walrus because of his drooping moustache. The setting was 'Plug Street' wood or trench, adopting the soldiers' rendering of Ploegsteert, the name of a village in the Ypres salient in Flanders. Newspapers reported in advance of the opening night that Bairnsfather had designed the scenery and costumes for the sketch and was to superintend rehearsals while in England on sick leave (Pall Mall Gazette, 5 August 1916; Sunday Mirror and The People, 6 August 1916; The Era, 9 August 1916). Over twenty years later Bairnsfather recalled how he came to write the sketch: 'Albert de Courville was the great producer of large and popular revues at the London Hippodrome during those war years, and it somehow or other came into his head that he would like me to appear personally in one of his shows ... he offered me a three-figure salary if I would appear in his new revue Flying Colours ... I refused his generous offer for two reasons. Firstly, I was nervous at the thought of appearing on the stage and, secondly, I had a sneaking idea that my local General, out in France, would much prefer me to go to a battle or two, in preference to appearing twice daily in London, at the Hippodrome ... but as a substitute I suggested writing a trench sketch, which could be introduced into the revue. To cut a very long and complicated story short, this was done, and with very great success. The writing of this sketch was my first stage effort, and it was nothing to shout about, but Old Bill, supported by his two pals Bert and Alf, easily succeeded in diverting the public’s attention from the dramatic weaknesses. The main point was that Old Bill had triumphantly appeared in living form on the stage'. The Bystander, 11 October 1939. The contents of the sketch - perhaps as it was originally written? - have been described as follows: 'The characters in the Flying Colours revue … were Bill, Bert and ‘Arry. The scene was called “Bairnsfatherland or the Johnson ‘Ole” and lasted about five minutes. Three soldiers are chatting in a trench to the background of gunfire. They are visited by an officer, “a bleeding good feller,” says Bill. They pretend not to be “A” Company when sandbags arrive to be filled but change their minds raucously and rapidly when the Company’s rum ration turns up. The item is simply a series of interpreted cartoons, beginning with *“When the ‘ell is it going to be strawberry”, and short sketches of song' (Tonie and Valmai Holt, 'In Search of the Better ‘Ole. The Life, The Works and The Collectables of Bruce Bairnsfather', Milestone Publications, 1985, pp. 49, 51). (* Bairnsfather’s cartoon in The Bystander, ‘The Eternal Question … “When the ‘ell is it going to be strawberry”‘, showed Old Bill looking wistfully at yet another tin of plum and apple jam.) An early account in the Pall Mall Gazette, 18 September 1916, mentions the jam song but is otherwise less detailed: 'In this little sketch ... three Tommies and an officer ... go through the various Bairnsfather jokes - sing of jam and sergeants, “swear horribly” (by inference on the stage), grumble with breesy frankness over discomfort, and laugh at death ... [Old Bill] and his mates sing and “chip” each other for a time in the dug-outs, and then an attack comes on and they “stand-to.” That is all'. Photographs of actors in character during the original London production were published in the Daily Mirror, 29 September 1916, and The Bystander, 4 October 1916. After the run at the London Hippodrome 'The Johnson 'Ole' (now the preferred title) and the rest of the revue went their separate ways. 'Flying Colours' was taken on a provincial tour. An early review noted that 'numerous alterations have been made in the general construction of the piece' and described several of the sketches, some retained from the London production and some newly added, but not 'The Johnson 'Ole' (The Stage, Thursday 22 March 1917). This would certainly have been mentioned if it was included since it was the most celebrated part of the original version of the revue. The performance history of 'Flying Colours' has not been researched further. 'The Johnson 'Ole' became detached from 'Flying Colours' when the actor Harry Thurston, who had succeeded John Humphries in the part of Old Bill in November 1916, separately acquired exclusive rights to perform it (Sporting Times, 3 March 1917). He performed the sketch as part of a more extensive variety bill. Was the sketch now expanded? Already during the London run the producer Albert de Courville had offered ten guineas for 'the best trench joke, to be introduced into Capt. Bairnsfather’s sketch in “Flying Colours.” Capt. Bairnsfather himself will act as judge' (The People, 29 October 1916). When Thurston took the sketch to Eastbourne in February 1917, the Eastbourne Gazette of 21 February noted, 'The sketch is kept thoroughly up-to-date and all the latest “gags” by Captain Bairnsfather are contributed'. And whereas reviews of the original sketch mention only four characters (Old Bill, his two chums and an officer - Tonie and Valmai Holt above, p. 50), a review of the show at Eastbourne identifies also Sniper, Rum Man, Sandbags and Juggler (Eastbourne Gazette, 28 February 1917). Later reviews of 'The Johnson 'Ole' mention scenes in it which would stretch its length beyond the five minutes estimated by Tonie and Valmai Holt above (Burnley News, 19 September 1917; Derby Daily Telegraph, 19 February 1918; Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 22 and 23 February 1918; Leicester Journal, 31 May 1918; Hull Daily Mail, 15 October 1918). In fact, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph, both 26 July 1918, said the sketch promised thirty minutes of laughter. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 10 March 1917, published a photograph of Harry Thurston as Old Bill from the show at the Palladium, London. It is noticeable that advertisements for the show routinely began with the words 'Captain Bruce Bairnsfather presents ...', to play on the popularity of his cartoons and perhaps also for contractual reasons. Macdonald Hastings was often credited in reviews as co-author. At times in June and August 1917, and again in January and March 1918, Harry Thurston was playing Old Bill in 'The Johnson 'Ole' at two houses in the evening in each of two different theatres in London. Like Music Hall performers of old, he had to travel from one theatre to another and back again, but with scenery, props and supporting cast members, unless he had duplicate sets of each. Great stress was laid on the sketch's realism. It was frequently described as an episode of 'real trench humour'. Towards the end of the war West London newspapers repeated the line, no doubt fed to them by Thurston, that the sketch was absolutely true to life, for every incident in it had happened on the Western front (Acton Gazette, 30 August 1918; Harrow Observer and West London Observer, 30 August 1918; Middlesex County Times and Ealing Gazette and West Middlesex Observer, 31 August 1918; West London Observer, 27 September 1918). Reviews occasionally commented on the characters' less than polite language (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 September 1916; Burnley News, 19 September 1917; Bournemouth Graphic, 12 April 1918; Harrow Observer, 30 August 1918; Evening Despatch and Birmingham Daily Post, both 31 December 1918). The end of the war inevitably made the sketch less topical. Although the Birmingham Daily Gazette, 31 December 1918, felt that ‘The irresistible humour of Old Bill (Harry Thurston) and his fellow warriors in “The Johnson ‘Ole” got right at the audience last night [at the Birmingham Grand], this funny episode of the trenches being all the more appreciated, perhaps, because the scene has now been robbed of its terrors’, a few weeks later the Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 11 February 1919, thought that 'the audience did not seem to respond to the humour of it as they did to the earlier production in war time by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather [of his play "The Better 'Ole"]. Most people wish to forget the war, and so they are not easily interested now by trench episodes on the stage'. By the beginning of June 1919 'The Johnson 'Ole' was dropped and Harry Thurston assumed the part of Old Bill after demobilisation in 'Lucky Old Bill' (Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 3 June 1919).

Licensed On: 14 Sep 1916

License Number: 457

British Library Reference: LCP1916/22

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66143 G

Performances

DateTheatreType
14 Sep 1916 Hippodrome, LondonUnknown Licensed Performance
16 Sep 1916 Hippodrome, LondonProfessional
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'For the choicest episode [in the revue Flying Colours] we have to thank Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather and Macdonald Hastings. They have reproduced on the stage not only “Johnston [sic] ‘Ole,” with its wonderful realisation in humorous lines of a bit of the front; they get the humour of Bairnsfather over the footlights, and with the humour some of the drama, the tenseness of the trenches. We have Old Bill with his walrus moustache (John Humphreys), and we have some of his pals. They sing and they joke just as we know our men sing and joke in the face of death, while we hear the whizz-bangs go by and listen to the crackle of the machine-guns. This was the “clou” of last night’s revue; the audience rejoiced in it’. The People, Sunday 17 September 1916. ‘We have a splendid “show,” beautiful scenes, beautiful dresses, hosts of pretty girls, a company of favourites capable of doing anything that was to be expected of them. But the witlessness! And the waste of good stuff! When it comes summing up such impressions as live, the one thing that survives is the little interpolated “ trench episode” by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather and Mr. B. Macdonald Hastings, an isolated sketch, having nothing whatever to do with the rest of the revue. This “Bairnsfatherland,” as it was called, was a genuine and delightful work of art - experience and thought and sympathy and humour as perfectly conveyed as they could well be. We all of us know the Bairnsfather pictures. In this little sketch we a sort of composite reproduction, with three Tommies and an officer. They go through the various Bairnsfather jokes - sing of jam and sergeants, “swear horribly” (by inference on the stage), grumble with breesy frankness over discomfort, and laugh at death with that triumphant crude Cockney humour whose secret Captain Bairnsfather has unlocked. Chief, of the three is Old Bill, the “Sea Lion,” beautifully played by Mr. John Humphries, just the rough, good-hearted, unshaven Rabelaisian, the Cockney “Old Moustache.” He and his mates sing and “chip” each other for a time in the dug-outs, and then an attack comes on and they “stand-to.” That is all; but there is art in it - something sincere, comic, poignant, memorable, true’. Pall Mall Gazette, 18 September 1916. 'Captain Bairnsfather’s name has occasionally been taken in vain for the reclame of a stage production. Now, for the first time, with the help of Mr. Macdonald Hastings, he avows a stage playlet, which is introduced to “Flying Colours,” and proves to be of a perfectly characteristic pathos and humour. The Hippodrome people, on their part, have provided a picturesque environment, and a rich and rare comedian in Mr. John Humphreys. “Bairnsfatherland; or, the Johnson ‘Ole,” was received with great applause, and deserved it’. The Globe, 18 September 1916. 'Bairnsfatherland is all too short a scene of trench life by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather and Mr Macdonald Hastings. This attempt to depict an actual scene of trench warfare at Christmas-time is a gem. Even in the tragedy of war humour is to be found and our mud-stained Tommies, indifferent to shell, and their peculiar trench language, makes one forget the horror of the tragedy. Old Bill in Johnson ‘Ole is a real Cockney, and Mr John Humphries interprets the character to perfection’. Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 September 1916. 'An early change [of scene] is made to “Bairnsfatherland, or the Johnson ‘Ole,” by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings, in which actuality is given to the “lights and shades of life near Plug-street Wood,” which have become so popular … In the Bairnsfather scene Mr. John Humphries, as the “Sealion” Old Bill, brings the humour of the trenches home to the audience, while Mr. Charles Berkeley and Mr. Edwin Ellis are invaluable auxiliaries in the fun-making’. The Era, 20 September 1916. 'the outstanding feature of the entertainment is the Bairnsfatherland sketch. Countless experts have agreed that in his pictures in The Bystander Captain Bruce Bairnsfather has expressed trench life to a nicety; but in the dramatised version the whole thing assumes a strange and more gripping reality. We see the trench-dwellers doing their work, joking as if there was no such thing in the world as danger, and singing funny parodies to the accompaniment of German shells, so that, judging by their attitude towards life as they find it, we can sympathise with Bert when he explains that he joined the Army because he was “fed up with the War.” Mr. John Humphries takes the part of the familiar walrus-featured out-since-Mons (aged 800 come next Push, as we are told!) - a splendid performance; in the opinion of Captain Bairnsfather, true to the very life. Nobody, young or old, should miss seeing “Bairnsfatherland,” for it is certainly one of the most realistic things in the whole history of stagecraft’. The Graphic, 23 September 1916. 'A dancing carnival provides [a] picturesque spectacle, though for popularity it will be run close by a most humorous and realistic trench sketch, invented by Captain Bairnsfather and Mr. Macdonald Hastings, and produced quite in the spirit of the soldier-artist’s famous drawings’. Illustrated London News, 23 September 1916. ‘“Bairnsfatherland” is alone quite sufficient to draw all London to “Flying Colours.” It is Bruce Bairnsfather types and Rudyard Kipling Tommies in the trenches; as comical as it is realistic, with a full hint of the grim horrors in the sequel. John Humphries, as “Old Bill” in the “Johnson ‘Ole” – “We won’t find a better ‘ole than this, Bert” - kept the house in a roar of laughter and sympathy - a most artistic bit of work’. Sporting Times, 23 September 1916. 'the realistic scene in the trenches, written by Capt. Bairnsfather, ... does great credit to his dramatic intuition. The scene shows the usual parapet of sandbags, and also the “dug-out,” which is also the sleeping apartment of the quartette of heroes. Old Bill (the Walrus), Jack Humphries: Our Bert (Chas. Berkeley), ‘Arry (Edwin Ellis), An Officer (Eric Cowley), one of whom declares if you want to enjoy a real rest you have to “sleep outside.” The four musketeers have but a scant respect for the enemy, yet at the same time a most warlike tendency to other persons. The Walrus, whilst filling up his pipe asks: “What are you going to do after the war, ‘Arry?” “I’m going to be a murderer,” says ‘Arry, in a most vindictive manner. “ First of all I’m going to murder all these ‘ere jam manufacturers.” Then he shows Bill a photo of his wife, whom he has married whilst on leave - the best girl in the world. “She likes ‘em plain,” is Bill’s cynical comment. Bill’s letter home is a gem. “Dear Mother,” he writes, I am surrounded by savage fighting.” (Chorus of corroboration). “Everybody is getting the wind up except me. I am expecting to be made a general, or leastways a company sergeant-major. I can’t write no more because of the horrid smell. - Your loving William.” “What about a P.S.?” suggests ‘Arry. “A blinking letter ain’t no good without a P.S.” “No, of course not,” reflects Bill, so he adds the postscript: “The language here is orful; but it’s all for King and country.” A sympathetic touch is given by Bill’s solicitude for his incautious but gallant young officer. Bill keeps gently moving him from one spot to another as an enemy sniper tries to pick him off. “Just kindly move up a bit more, sir,” he says, “it ain’t quite safe here.”’ The People, 24 September 1916. 'the gem of the entertainment is the sketch, “Bairnsfatherland,” the happy title of a lifelike scene from the trenches which has been prepared by two experts, Captain Bruce Bairnsfather of The Bystander and Lance-Corporal B Macdonald Hastings. Mr. John Humphries (who is the life and soul of the piece) is made up with a happy fidelity to represent the war-worn soldier who looks like a sea-lion, and whose appearance is criticised by his comrades accordingly; while Mr. Charles Berkeley is “Our Bert” to the life. His idea of awakening a sleeping comrade to inform him in confidence that there is a war on, was very happy. The audience, which, by the way, contained quite an unusual proportion of khaki, caught every point immediately, and the sketch went from first to last amid a storm of laughing and cheering that guaranteed its complete success’. The Bystander, 27 September 1916. ‘“Flying Colours” has been so successful that Mr. de Courville is looking for a theatre to which it may be transferred in [February]. We understand that Harry Thurston will shortly play Jack Humphries’ character in the revue’ (The People, 19 November 1916). An advertisement for Flying Colours in The Globe, 21 November 1916, lists Harry Thurston among the cast. ‘Next Saturday (January 13), “Flying Colours” retires from the Hippodrome, and the house will close for the rehearsal of Albert de Courville’s new revue, which has still to acquire a title’. Sporting Times, 6 January 1917.
26 Feb 1917 Royal Hippodrome, EastbourneProfessional
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‘Another mammoth programme is booked for next week [at the Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne], when the chief attraction will be Mr Harry Thurston (the popular London mirth-provoker), who will be presented by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, in “The Johnson ‘Ole” (by Captain Bairnsfather and B. McDonald Bastings) which depicts an episode of real trench life. Mr Thurston will play the part of “Old Bill.” “Bairnsfatherland,” it will be remembered, was played over 200 times at the London Hippodrome during the run of “Flying Colours.” Mr Thurston is bringing the whole of the original London company with him, and should have no difficulty in filling the house at each performance. The sketch is kept thoroughly up-to-date and all the latest “gags” by Captain Bairnsfather are contributed'. Eastbourne Gazette, Wednesday 21 February 1917. ‘Our readers, young and old, are familiar with Captain Bairnsfather’s sketches which appear regularly in the “Bystander.” This week Eastbourne theatregoers will have an opportunity of witnessing some remarkably human episodes of trench life by the same author. “The Johnson ‘Ole” is being presented by Captain Bairnsfather [as one part of the evening’s programme], with Mr. Harry Thurston (the great London laughter-maker) in the role of Old Bill, the Sea Lion. All the little details of a soldier’s life in the trenches are reproduced, giving just that realistic effect which is so necessary. Captain Bairnsfather has succeeded in depicting the lights and shades of life near Plug St. Wood, during one day in the trenches, about Christmas 1914. A fine impersonation of “Old Bill, the Walrus,” is given by Mr. Harry Thurston, who played the part over 200 times during its run in the London Hippodrome revue “Flying Colours.” From the hearty laughter which greets his “gags” one has no hesitation in saying that is a great favourite. He was much appreciated on Monday by the khaki and blue boys, who were very much in evidence. During the week fifty souvenir matchboxes will be given to the audience at each performance. Mr. Thurston is ably supported by a talented company of artistes: - Our Bert, A. Bryon Douglas; Young ‘Arry, Leonard May; Officer, Percy Braithwaite; Sniper, Terry Hooker; Rum Man, C. Bentley; “Sandbags,” George Martin; Juggler, Alfred Cooke’. Eastbourne Gazette, Wednesday 28 February 1917.
5 Mar 1917 Palladium, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 28 February 1917 carried an advertisement for a variety bill the Palladium, London in the week commencing 5 March, including ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather presents “The Johnson ‘Ole”. Harry Thurston as Old Bill the Walrus. Three performances daily of the full variety programme’. ‘An unusually brilliant galaxy of stars is being presented by Mr. Chas. Gulliver at the Palladium this week. The most important novelty is “The Johnson ‘Ole,” presented by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, who shares the authorship with Mr. B. Macdonald Hastings. This snippet of trench life, most realistically produced, serves to introduce us to Old Bill (the Walrus), that delightfully humorous creation who figures so prominently in many of Captain Bairnsfather’s sketches, cleverly portrayed by Mr. Harry Thurston. Needless to say, the episode was rapturously received by the huge audience, khaki and otherwise, on Monday’. The Era, 7 March 1917. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 10 March 1917 published a photograph of ‘Mr. Harry Thurston in the Trench sketch entitled “The Johnson ‘Ole,” now being performed at the Palladium’. ‘That fine episode of trench humour, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” with Harry Thurston as Old Bill, the Walrus, remains a very popular item in the programme’ at the Palladium. The Era, Wednesday 14 March 1917. The show presumably closed at the Palladium on 17 or 24 March sine it opened in Liverpool on 26 March.
26 Mar 1917 Hippodrome, LiverpoolProfessional
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The Liverpool Echo, Monday 26 March 1917 carried an advertisement for the Royal Hippodrome: ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather Presents a Comedy of “Somewhere France,” The Johnson ‘Ole (Direct from the London Hippodrome), An Episode of Real Trench Humour. Harry Thurston as “Old Bill – The Walrus”’, plus other acts. ‘The first Bairnsfather episode to be presented in Liverpool is staged this week at the Hippodrome. The Bairnsfather humour characteristic of his pen sketches is sustained through a realistic scene of trench life as lived about Christmastime, 1914. The central character is Walrus, given to posterity by the “sea lion feeding” query, and played on the stage by Mr. Harry Thurston. No better compliment can be paid this actor than say that Bill (Walrus) of the stage proves as quaint and curious a figure as Bill of pen and pencil creation’. Liverpool Daily Post, 27 March 1917. ‘Harry Thurston in “The Johnson ‘Ole,” an episode founded on one of Captain Bairnsfather’s sketches, is the leading item on the Hippodrome bill, and is highly amusing'. Liverpool Echo, 27 March 1917.
2 Apr 1917 Victoria Palace, LondonProfessional
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The Stage, Thursday 29 March 1917 listed Harry Thurston and company in “The Johnson ‘Ole” at the Victoria Palace, London in Calls for Next Week. Harry Thurston and company in “The Johnson ‘Ole” were advertised as part of the show at the Victoria Palace, London in the Sporting Times, 31 March 1917. The People, Sunday 8 April 1917, advertised ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather presents “The Johnson ‘Ole”’ at the Victoria Palace, which implies that the show continued its run into the week beginning Monday 9 April.
30 Apr 1917 Grand Theatre, HanleyProfessional
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‘There is no doubt that the huge audience at the Grand Theatre [in Hanley] on Monday night had gathered largely to see the comedy of “Somewhere in France,” by “the soldier who has made the Empire laugh.” Captain Bruce Bairnsfather is now a household word – his “Fragments” have delighted not only the men at the front but the folks at home. - For, as the soldiers know, his pictures are “the real thing” - vitalised and softened by a delightful humour. No one but a man who has “been out” could have depicted trenches and dug-outs, Johnson holes, battered tin pots, derelict buildings, and dead cats, as has the gallant Captain. He was blown up at the second Battle of Ypres, but he can still see the strange grim humour of modern war, and he can compel others to laugh at it. Who doesn’t know the picture of the badly-scared Tommy, flattening himself on the clay of Flanders, in the light of a star shell, and underlined: “O, star of eve, whose tender beam, falls on my spirit’s troubled dream?” - or that of the huddled group beneath a fragile shelter, inquiring: “Where did that one go to?” while the earth heaves around them? They adorn many a dug-out in France, and many a hut in England. For none admires Bairnsfather more than the soldier. His Bills and Berts, and Alfs are drawn from life - and life in a form that no one who has not been there can fully realise - the deadly, harrowing, devitalising, nerve-racking life of the trenches. The little sketch presented at the Grand this week - “The Johnson ‘Ole” - from the London Hippodrome, is a reflection of trench life in the winter of 1914. The little group of Cockney Tommies, whose existence is a struggle with mud, and bullets, and shells, can sing, and chaff, and growl and do heroic deeds amidst the curious whining whistle of the shells, and the patter of the machine-guns. Bill, the Walrus, excellently played by Mr. Harry Thurston, and Bert, and Harry, all there, with their officer, whom Bill, with his solicitous: “I wouldn’t stand there, if were you, sir!” is perpetually edging out of danger. It was followed with rapt interest, and no doubt with many a heartache, as people visualised the little incidents of trench life. The arrival of the post, and Bill’s utter vagueness as to the day, and month, and even year with which to head his letter, were perhaps not so greatly exaggerated in that deadly winter of stagnation, and monotony, and suspense. It is an unusual and attractive turn, and should prove a powerful “draw” throughout the week. There are many other excellent items on the programme’. Staffordshire Sentinel, Tuesday 1 May 1917.
14 May 1917 Hippodrome, BrightonProfessional
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Included in the show at the Hippodrome, Brighton is ‘the “presentation,” by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, of a characteristic sample of his inimitable trench humour in a screamingly funny sketch called “That [sic] Johnson ‘Ole.” Mid Sussex Times, Tuesday 15 May 1917.
21 May 1917 Palace, PlymouthProfessional
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‘Another excellent bill is provided [at the Palace Theatre, Plymouth], headed by “The Johnson ‘Ole” (Captain Bruce Bairnsfather). Harry Thurston appears with success as Old Bill. The sketch, teeming as it does with topical trench episodes, appeals strongly to an audience liberally besprinkled with Service men’. The Stage, 24 May 1917.
28 May 1917 Hippodrome, PortsmouthProfessional
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The Era, 23 May 1917, listed ‘Johnson ‘Ole’ in Next Week’s Calls, Monday 28 May, at the Portsmouth Hippodrome.
4 Jun 1917 Grand Palace, Clapham Junction, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 30 May 1917 carried advertisements for the show at the Lewisham Hippodrome and the Grand Palace, Clapham Junction in the week commencing 4 June, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
4 Jun 1917 Hippodrome, LewishamProfessional
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The Era, 30 May 1917 carried advertisements for the show at the Lewisham Hippodrome and the Grand Palace, Clapham Junction in the week commencing 4 June, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’. The programme at the Lewisham Hippodrome concludes with ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s capital sketch “The Johnson ‘Ole,” in which Harry Thurston as Ole Bill, gives one of the best character studies he has yet attempted’. The Stage, 7 June 1917.
11 Jun 1917 Holborn Empire, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 6 June 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Kilburn Empire and the Holborn Empire in the week commencing 11 June, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
11 Jun 1917 Empire Theatre, Kilburn, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 6 June 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Kilburn Empire and the Holborn Empire in the week commencing 11 June, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
18 Jun 1917 Palace Theatre, Camberwell, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 13 June 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Hammersmith Palace and the Camberwell Palace in the week commencing 18 June, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
18 Jun 1917 Palace, HammersmithProfessional
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The Era, 13 June 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Hammersmith Palace and the Camberwell Palace in the week commencing 18 June, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
6 Aug 1917 Hippodrome, Balham, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 1 August 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Woolwich Hippodrome and the Balham Hippodrome in the week commencing 6 August, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
6 Aug 1917 Hippodrome, WoolwichProfessional
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The Era, 1 August 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Woolwich Hippodrome and the Balham Hippodrome in the week commencing 6 August, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
13 Aug 1917 Olympia Theatre, ShoreditchProfessional
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The Era, 8 August 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Ilford Hippodrome and the Olympia, Shoreditch in the week commencing 13 August, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’. ‘Bruce Bairnsfather’s distinctly amusing episode, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” is causing merriment among excellent audiences at the Olympia, Shoreditch, this week. Bristling with good and lively humour, and affording opportunity for effective character acting, this piece certainly holds its own as one of the best of the numerous sketches that have the lighter side of life in the trenches as their basis. Of the clever performance of Harry Thurston as Old Bill, the Walrus, it is sufficient to say that the popular comedian is seen at his best, and that laughter is much in evidence during the whole time he occupies the stage’. The Stage, 16 August 1917.
13 Aug 1917 Hippodrome, IlfordProfessional
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The Era, 8 August 1917 carried advertisements for shows at the Ilford Hippodrome and the Olympia, Shoreditch in the week commencing 13 August, both including Harry Thurston in Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
3 Sep 1917 Palace Theatre, ManchesterProfessional
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‘The Palace reverts to variety with a very choice bill … there will be a notable Bairnsfather sketch called “The Johnson ‘Ole.”’ Manchester Evening News, Saturday 1 September 1917. Manchester Evening News, Monday 3 September 1917, advertised that day at the Palace Theatre a bill that included Harry Thurston in ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’. ‘Plenty of broad humour is provided [at the Palace Theatre] by Harry Thurston and company in a Bairnsfather sketch, “The Johnson ‘Ole”. Manchester Evening News, 4 September 1917.
10 Sep 1917 Alhambra, GlasgowProfessional
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Daily Record, Friday 7 September 1917, advertised for the following week at the Alhambra, Glasgow a bill that included Harry Thurston as Old Bill, The Walrus, in ‘Captain Bairnsfather’s Episode of Real Trench Humour, “The Johnson ‘Ole.” The First Bairnsfather Playlet seen in Glasgow’. ‘Those who have enjoyed Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s humorous cartoons of trench life should not miss seeing “The Johnson ‘Ole,” which was accorded quite an ovation at the Wellington Street house last night. Harry Thurston is inimitably funny in the role of “Ole Bill, the Walrus,” whose philosophy is much oftener than not a bit muddled’. Daily Record, Tuesday 11 September 1917.
17 Sep 1917 Palace & Hippodrome, BurnleyProfessional
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‘The humour of Bairnsfather has been one of the happiest revelations of the war. The work of the great artist officer has enjoyed no keener appreciation and popularity than is evidenced among all classes of the public in Lancashire. The workers are always keen on receiving something good, and perhaps they least expected’ that coming out of the war.. But thanks to Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather, the life of the British Tommy on active service has been shown to have its lighter side, and it very brilliantly portrayed in the satirical and humourous sketches from’ the pencil of this wonderful artist, many examples of which will ever live in the mind of the British public. Burnley is keenly anticipating next week’s leading attraction the Palace and Hippodrome, the enterprising management having been successful in arranging for the presentation by Capt. Bairnsfather, of the London Hippodrome comedian, Harry Thurston in “The Johnson ‘ole,” an episode of real trench humour, written by Capt. Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings. The sketch created a furore on its presentation in London and in the large provincial centres it was similarly successful. Next week Burnley is sure to endorse the popular verdict. The management of the Palace and Hippodrome are be heartily complimented on bringing such an attraction here. The programme also comprises the following excellent turns in vaudeville …’. Burnley News, 15 September 1917. ‘A full “house” [at the Palace, Burnley] on Monday night endorsed the good opinion of London audiences of “The Johnson ‘Ole,” an episode of trench humour, written by Captain Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings. Harry Thurston takes the part of “Old Bill the Walrus.”’ Burnley Express, 19 September 1917. ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather is welcomed by the English speaking world over as one of the cheeriest products of the war, and it is not to be wondered at that in the […] which his forbears have sprung he should be appreciated to the full. We have laughed at the comical drawings that have set the world laughing, little anticipating that we should see a reproduction of some of the […] on the stage. And the reproduction […] funnier. Perhaps to the sensitive […] too lurid as regards the language, for […] suggestive dashes indicative of the […] in adjectival expression, are all filled in [..] what a wealth of humour there is [..] sketch, “The Johnson ‘ole,” which is appearing at the Palace this week, may be best described as a continuous presentation of the artist’s drawings, for one can recall similar incidents as already depicted [….] Press, with an addition too numerous to mention. Suffice it say that the humour […] the house in a rollicking mood, the best situations which arise all being of the robustly quaint type which are associated with the British Tommy in the trenches. […] litter of the trenches, with a Bairnsfather landscape in the background, greet the […] and it is in these surroundings that Old Bill Walrus, as interpreted by Mr. Harry Thurston, launches forth those shafts of [wit?] with which we would willingly keep acquainted. The bemoaning of Bill at the […] of a pal to whom had lent a couple […] the day before, his consternation at the [...] that the war was to be over in […] weeks, when he has just got […] he was to go on leave in three weeks, and […] exciting attitude of the dummy sniper, are a few of the incidents which send the house [into?] screams of laughter. The sketch is as well worth seeing as are the best of Capt. Bairnsfather’s drawings, and is full of fun throughout’. Burnley News, 19 September 1917.
24 Sep 1917 Hippodrome, NottinghamProfessional
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‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s sketch “The Johnson ‘Ole,” is quite the success claimed for it. It is a realistic picture of trench life, and the humour is distinctly crisp. In the original character of Old Bill (the Walrus) Harry Thurston is very amusing indeed, and the whole production is most entertaining’. Nottingham Evening Post, 25 September 1917. ‘Everyone surely has had a laugh, one time or another, at the sardonic humour of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s sketches of trench life, and if one can imagine a whole gallery of those sketches strung together and brought to life, an excellent idea will be gained of what “The Johnson ‘Ole,” as presented at the Hippodrome last night, is like. Mr. Harry Thurston and his comrades have been seen in a similar study before, but while the surroundings remain the same the “book” is entirely new. There is good honest laughter in it from beginning to end, that is except for fleeting moments when one is reminded poignantly that there is another side to the picture; and no topical production yet seen in Nottingham has been more generously appreciated than was “The Johnson ‘Ole” last night’. Nottingham Journal, 25 September 1917.
8 Oct 1917 Palace Theatre, SouthamptonProfessional
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‘Next week [at the Palace, Southampton] Harry Thurston will appear in an episode of trench humour, entitled “The Johnson ‘ole,”’. Hampshire Advertiser, Saturday 6 October 1917. ‘“The Johnson ‘Ole” is an episode of genuine trench humour at the Palace this week. The scene is a muddy trench at the front, and the dialogue is exceedingly funny’. Hampshire Advertiser, Saturday 13 October 1917.
22 Oct 1917 Holborn Empire, LondonProfessional
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The Era, Wednesday 17 October 1917, lists ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’ as On the Road at the Empire, Holborn from 22 October.
29 Oct 1917 Hippodrome, BrightonProfessional
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The Era, 24 October 1917, lists ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’ in Next Week’s Calls, Monday 29 October, at the Brighton Hippodrome. ‘The following are among the amusements in Brighton this week … The Hippodrome. Nightly at 6.35 and 8.55. Harry Thurston in the humorous production “The Johnson ‘Ole”’. Mid Sussex Times, 30 October 1917.
10 Dec 1917 Palladium, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 5 December 1917.advertised ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather presents Harry Thurston & Co. in “The Johnson ‘Ole”’ at the Palladium, London in the week commencing 10 December. ‘Bit of real luck for you - “The Johnson ‘Ole,” one of Bairnsfather and Macdonald Hastings’s best trench episodes, is on this week [at the Palladium]. The scene is laid in a Plug Street trench, and Mr. Harry Thurston plays” Old Bill.” A bit of real trench life is given us, and “Old Bill’s” own indomitable humour is not wanting. Also Bairnsfather’s touch lingers in the scenery to make the whole complete’. Pall Mall Gazette, 12 December 1917. ‘Did you go and see “The Johnson ‘Ole” last week It isn’t a thing you ought to omit if you want to see the way they do in the trenches. Besides, Old Bill will get you every time. By the way, I was talking to him last night: he is Mr. Harry Thurston in private life. “We try,” he told me, “to put the spirit of the humour of Mr. Bairnsfather’s pictures into the sketch, and yet to keep the realism, as far as it is possible.” And as a bit of the audience I think I can vouch that they have succeeded remarkably well. Mr. Thurston told me that Bairnsfather was coming along with some new episodes, which they hoped to produce very shortly. And very soon they hoped to take “Old Bill” into private life. So be on the look out!’. Pall Mall Gazette, 19 December 1917. At The Palladium this week ‘Harry Thurston as “Old Bill, the Walrus,” is fairly in his element in the mirth-provoking trench scene by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings, entitled “The Johnson ‘Ole,” and laughter of the heartiest description greets his excellent performance. Some of the expressions used by Old Bill, by the way, are in need of a little revision’. The Stage, Thursday 20 December 1917. The show presumably closed at the Palladium on Saturday 22 or 29 December since it opened in Bristol on 31 December.
31 Dec 1917 Hippodrome, BristolProfessional
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Western Mail, Monday 31 December 1917, advertised ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather Presents Harry Thurston as “Old Bill” in the “Johnson ‘Ole”’ at the Bristol Hippodrome. ‘The Bairnsfather type on the halls is no longer a novelty, but amongst the earliest to introduce “Old Bill” to the halls was Mr Harry Thurston. He is the [Bristol] Hippodrome this week in a trench scene and it is noteworthy that the comedy of the act does not begin and end with the “make-up” of “The Walrus.” There is good, broad comedy from the start, and, happily, no departure into pathos. The programme, throughout is of exceptional strength …’. Western Daily Press, 1 January 1918.
7 Jan 1918 Empire, Islington, LondonProfessional
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The Era, 2 January 1918, carried advertisements for shows at the Islington Empire and the Poplar Hippodrome in the week commencing 7 January, both including ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather presents “The Johnson ‘Ole”’, with no mention of Harry Thurston.
7 Jan 1918 Hippodrome, PoplarProfessional
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The Era, 2 January 1918, carried advertisements for shows at the Islington Empire and the Poplar Hippodrome in the week commencing 7 January, both including ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather presents “The Johnson ‘Ole”’, with no mention of Harry Thurston.
14 Jan 1918 Grand Theatre, BirminghamProfessional
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‘Those who appreciate the humour of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather will flock to the Grand Theatre to see his trench episode, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” in which Harry Thurston will appear as “Old Bill” (The Walrus). This sketch, in which Mr. Macdonald Hastings has collaborated, was the forerunner of these episodes, and it has been played over 200 times at the London Hippodrome’. Birmingham Mail, Friday 11 January 1918. ‘“Old Bill” (the Walrus) met a hearty reception at the Grand Theatre last evening. It is fortunate that laughter is not yet a controlled commodity. “The Johnson ‘Ole,” by Captain Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings, is a genuine bit of trench humour, free from artificiality, and well suited the taste of last night’s audiences. Mr. Harry Thurston is exceedingly popular as the now familiar Old Bill, and he is well supported by the other members of the company’. Birmingham Daily Post, 15 January 1918.
21 Jan 1918 Chelsea Palace, LondonProfessional
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The Chelsea News and General Advertiser, 18 January 1918, advertised at the Chelsea Palace from Monday 21 January ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather presents Harry Thurston in his original character of “Old Bill” the Walrus, in “The Johnson ‘Ole”’.
21 Jan 1918 Metropolitan Theatre, LondonProfessional
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The Kensington Post, Friday 18 January 1918, advertised at the Metropolitan, Edgware Road, London from 21 January ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather presents Harry Thurston in “The Johnson ‘Ole”’. Similarly the Harrow Observer of the same date.
28 Jan 1918 Empire, StratfordProfessional
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‘The programme at Stratford Empire is topped by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s sketch, “The Johnson ‘Ole.” Harry Thurston will appear in it in his original part of “Old Bill”’. The People, Sunday 27 January 1918.
4 Feb 1918 Olympia, LiverpoolProfessional
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The Liverpool Echo, Monday 4 February 1918, advertised ‘a superb vaudeville programme’ including ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather Presents Harry Thurston, The London Hippodrome comedian, in “The Johnson ‘Ole”’ at the Olympia. At the Olympia ‘“The Johnson ‘Ole,” with Harry Thurston as “Old Bill,” was extremely laughable’. Liverpool Echo, 5 February 1918.
11 Feb 1918 Empire, GlasgowProfessional
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‘Glasgow. In “The Johnson ‘Qle,” which takes the lead at the Empire Theatre this week, there are further glimpses of the trench life which Capt. Bairnsfather has made familiar. In his original part of Old Bill, Mr Harry Thurston gives a characterisation which immediately wins the appreciation of the audience’. The Scotsman, 12 February 1918. ‘Variety of pronounced excellence is the outstanding feature of the programme at the Empire, where the famous Bairnsfather sketch, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” occupies pride of place. The piece is one of the funniest of all trench episodes, and in his original character of Old Bill, “The Walrus,” Harry Thurston keeps the house in screams of laughter, ably assisted in his efforts by a powerful little cast’. Daily Record, 12 February 1918.
18 Feb 1918 Hippodrome, DerbyProfessional
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‘A Bairnsfather sketch is the principal item in the programme at the Hippodrome this week, and is full of the most characteristic touches that have made this great war humorist famous. It had an exceptionally successful run at the London Hippodrome. Entitled “The Johnson ‘Ole,” it introduces several familiar characters, and notably Old Bill, whom Capt. Bairnsfather has created as a type of soldier with a fund of dry humour that we have come to know and appreciate so well. The scene is a trench in the firing line, and most of the incidents are such as might reasonably happen, whilst the jokes are all fresh and hearty, treating the dangers of the situation in that happy and careless fashion so characteristic of the British Tommy. The crowning incident is Old Bill’s adventure his search of a German sniper, and he returns with nothing better than a dummy. The principal part is admirably played by Mr. Harry Thurston, who has the real Bairnsfather vein of fun, and whose make-up is true to the well-known cartoons. He is supported by a thoroughly capable company’. Derby Daily Telegraph, 19 February 1918. ‘A capital programme was presented at the Hippodrome on Monday, when there were two bumper houses. The top of the hill was occupied by London’s greatest laughter-maker, namely Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s episode of trench humour, entitled “The Johnson ‘Ole,” featuring Harry Thurston as “Old Bill the Walrus.” The sketch, which is by Capt. Bairnsfather and E. [sic] Macdonald Hastings, has been successfully produced at the London Hippodrome. The piece is amusing all through, but particularly so in that part where old Bill receives a letter from his old woman describing the new baby. The scene is typical of life at the front, and a capital idea is given of a dugout’. Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 22 and 23 February 1918.
25 Feb 1918 Hippodrome, ManchesterProfessional
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At the Manchester Hippodrome ‘That exceeding likeable character, immortalised by Captain Bairnsfather as “Old Bill,” is portrayed with penetrative zest by Mr. Harry Thurston, and the sketch is a most enjoyable one’. Manchester Evening News, 26 February 1918.
11 Mar 1918 Hippodrome, LewishamProfessional
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The Era, Wednesday 6 March 1918 carried advertisements for shows at the Lewisham Hippodrome and the Camberwell Palace for the week commencing 11 March, both including Harry Thurston & Co. in “The Johnson ‘Ole”.
11 Mar 1918 Palace Theatre, CamberwellProfessional
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The Era, Wednesday 6 March 1918 carried advertisements for shows at the Lewisham Hippodrome and the Camberwell Palace for the week commencing 11 March, both including Harry Thurston & Co. in “The Johnson ‘Ole”.
1 Apr 1918 Empire Theatre, CardiffProfessional
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tHE Western Mail, Monday 1 April 1918, advertised that night at the Cardiff Empire ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather presents Harry Thurston in an Episode of Real Trench Humour, The Johnson ‘Ole’.
8 Apr 1918 Hippodrome, BoscombeProfessional
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‘Both life and language in the trenches, it would appear, are fully illustrated in a typical war sketch, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” appearing at Boscombe Hippodrome this week. This is one of the many humorous productions by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather and Macdonald Hastings; and is certainly a most laughable production. The programme states that the authors have endeavoured to truthfully depict life in the trenches about Christmas, 1914, therefore, the audience, it is hoped, will make allowance for the remarkable flow of adjectives that emanate from behind the “Walrus” barrage moustachios of “Old Bill.” This character is left in the hands of Harry Thurston, a part played by him with great success at the London Hippodrome. Practically the whole episode is centered around the doings of “Old Bill,” and as played by Harry Thurston there are certainly few dull moments. A fine variety bill supports “The Johnson ‘Ole”’. Bournemouth Graphic, Friday 12 April 1918.
22 Apr 1918 Empire, NewportProfessional
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The Western Mail, Wednesday 24 April 1918, advertised ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather Presents The Johnson ‘Ole, Harry Thurston as Old Bill “The Walrus”’ at the Newport Empire.
13 May 1918 Hippodrome, CoventryProfessional
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‘There is no need to refer at any length to the humorous cartoons of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather. They have been seen on every screen at every picture palace, and have brought the artist renown. Most people should, therefore, be well-acquainted with the Captain’s original character “ Old Bill.’’ If there are any who are not they should visit the Hippodrome this week and see Harry Thurston in that role. Harry Thurston is, course, a born humorist, but he excels as “Old Bill,” who at one time is half inclined to “slaughter” the rest of his battalion and finish the “on his own!” The production is entitled “The Johnson ‘Ole “ (by Captain Bairnsfather and B. MacDonald [sic]), and the scene is “Plug Street Trench,” with the time about Christmas, 1914. As an episode of real trench humour the “Johnson ‘Ole” is splendid: and Harry Thurston is well backed by the other members of the company’. Coventry Evening Telegraph, 14 May 1918.
20 May 1918 Hippodrome, BrightonProfessional
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The Mid Sussex Times, Tuesday 21 May 1918, advertised, ‘The big holiday feature [at the Hippodrome, Brighton] is Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s famous trench comedy, “The Johnson ‘Ole”’.
27 May 1918 Palace, LeicesterProfessional
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‘Once again the programme presented at the Leicester Palace Theatre is of the best, and patrons are assured of a splendid evening’s entertainment, with laughter the dominating note. The star turn is a very funny trench episode, “The Johnson ‘ole,” by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings, in which Mr. Harry Thurston appears in his original character of “Old Bill.” Whatever else may be said about this sketch it is a mirth provoker of the first water, and the audience is almost helpless with laughter during the reading of a letter from “Old Bill’s” wife, while Bill’s comments on things in general, and his “advice” to his pals are highly amusing although perhaps more expressive than polite’. Leicester Journal, Friday 31 May 1918.
10 Jun 1918 Empire Theatre, BirminghamProfessional
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‘Novel and varied in character, the turns at the Empire Theatre this week constitute an interesting and enjoyable entertainment … The sketch, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” by Captain Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings, in which Harry Thurston appears with marked success in his original character as Old Bill the Walrus,” is deserving of its description as an episode of real trench humour’. Birmingham Daily Post, 11 June 1918.
17 Jun 1918 Empire, WolverhamptonProfessional
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The Stage, Thursday 13 June 1918 listed Harry Thurston and company in Calls for Next Week at the Wolverhampton Empire.
24 Jun 1918 Hippodrome, NottinghamProfessional
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‘Typical trench humour is the feature of “The Johnson ‘Ole” at the Hippodrome, and Harry Thurston as “the walrus” creates uproarious merriment’. Nottingham Evening Post, 25 June 1918. ‘Laughter, loud and well sustained, with now and again a characteristic touch of pathos, is very much in evidence in Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s appealing wartime study “The Johnson ‘Ole,” presented last night at the Nottingham Hippodrome. Harry Thurston imparts to Old Bill “The Walrus" the requisite touch of reality, and two large audiences thoroughly appreciated his efforts, as well as those of his capable assistants’. Nottingham Journal, 25 June 1918.
24 Jun 1918 Hippodrome, NottinghamProfessional
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‘Typical trench humour is the feature of “The Johnson ‘Ole” at the Hippodrome, and Harry Thurston as “the walrus” creates uproarious merriment’. Nottingham Evening Post, 25 June 1918. ‘Laughter, loud and well sustained, with now and again a characteristic touch of pathos, is very much in evidence in Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s appealing wartime study “The Johnson ‘Ole,” presented last night at the Nottingham Hippodrome. Harry Thurston imparts to Old Bill “The Walrus" the requisite touch of reality, and two large audiences thoroughly appreciated his efforts, as well as those of his capable assistants’. Nottingham Journal, 25 June 1918.
1 Jul 1918 Alhambra, BradfordProfessional
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‘Another Captain Bairnsfather sketch, written round Old Bill, is given at the Bradford Alhambra, but is hardly to be compared with “The Better ‘Ole,” though Mr. Harry Thurston is good as Bill’. Yorkshire Evening Post, 2 July 1918.
8 Jul 1918 Coliseum, GlasgowProfessional
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The Daily Record, Thursday 4 July 1918, advertised for the following week at the Coliseum Harry Thurston in “The Johnson ‘Ole”.
15 Jul 1918 Empire, New Cross, LondonProfessional
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‘The People, Sunday 14 July 1918 advertised Harry Thurston in “The Johnson ‘Ole” at the Empire, New Cross. ‘Hy. Thurston is presenting impersonations of “Old Bill” at the New Cross Theatre in “The Johnson ‘Ole.” The People, Sunday 14 July 1918.
22 Jul 1918 Empire, LiverpoolProfessional
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‘Trench humour is irresistible, and when it is the creation of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather it is doubly so, for then is of the best brand. “The Johnson ‘Ole,” produced in Liverpool for the first time last evening at the Empire Theatre, introduces us to a fresh episode in the career of Old Bill the Walrus. “The Johnson ‘Ole,” whilst quite a good vehicle for the exploitation of the true spirit of trench hilarity, lacks the finer human touches which invested “The Better ‘Ole” with its unfading charm. The new “Ole” is, in fact, designed to give “Old Bill,” “Bert,” and “‘Arry” in merry mood minus the pathos of the other “‘Ole.” Taken on that basis, frankly it is acceptable. The portrayal of the Walrus by Mr. Harry Thurston was praiseworthy work by this popular comedian, who had worthy allies in Messrs. W. P. Sheen and Leonard May’. Liverpool Daily Post, 23 July 1918.
29 Jul 1918 Empire, SheffieldProfessional
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‘“The Johnson ‘Ole,” another Bairnsfather play which is calculated to keep any audience laughing for thirty minutes continuously, is booked for the Empire [next week]. It will be supported variety bill which includes Dan Rolyat’. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Friday 26 July 1918. ‘Another Bairnsfather play, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” is booked for the Empire [next week], and those who see it are assured of thirty minutes continuous laughter’. Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Friday 26 July 1918. ‘At the Empire [next week] Harry Thurston will appear as “Old Bill” in the “Johnson ‘Ole,” which is perhaps the funniest of the Bairnsfather trench episodes. No other “Old Bill” is quite like that of this famous comedian’. Sheffield Independent, Saturday 27 July 1918. ‘The star turn at the Empire is another Bairnsfather sketch - “The Johnson ‘Ole.” It is a sequel to “The Better ‘Ole,” and gives a funny episode in the life “Ole Bill” and his pal Bert. Harry Thurston, whose laughter-provoking capabilities are well-known, fills the leading role; and, backed by able pals, he keeps the audience rippling with merriment’. Sheffield Independent, Tuesday 30 July 1918.
5 Aug 1918 Empire, ManchesterProfessional
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At the Empire ‘“The Johnson ‘Ole,” with Harry Thurston as “Old Bill,” is a bracing sketch, brim full of khaki humour’. Manchester Evening News, 6 August 1918.
19 Aug 1918 Empress, BrixtonProfessional
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The Era, 14 August 1918, listed Harry Thurston and Co. in “The Johnson ‘Ole” among calls for Monday 19 August at the Empress, Brixton.
2 Sep 1918 Empire, ChiswickProfessional
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‘“Old Bill” and his companions are to appear at Chiswick Empire next week in the trench episode, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” the joint production of Capt. Brace Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings. It is an amusing sketch, and Mr. Harry Thurston, the London Hippodrome comedian, who impersonates “Old Bill,” explains that it is absolutely true to life, for every incident in it has happened on the Western front’. Acton Gazette, Friday 30 August 1918. ‘“Old Bill” and his companions are to appear [at the Chiswick Empire] in the trench episode, “The. Johnson ‘Ole,” the joint product of Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather and B. Macdonald Hastings. Life in the trenches is not the kind of life you would expect in a drawing room or your best parlour. Mr. Harry Thurston, the London Hippodrome comedian, who impersonates “Old Bill,” explains that “The Johnson ‘Ole” is absolutely true to life, for every incident in it has happened on the Western Front’. Harrow Observer, Friday 30 August 1918. Similarly the West London Observer of the same date, and the Middlesex County Times and the Ealing Gazette and West Middlesex Observer of Saturday 31 August 1918. The Acton Gazette of Friday 6 September 1918 advertised for Saturday 7 September the last two performances of ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’.
9 Sep 1918 Finsbury Park Empire, Finsbury Park, LondonProfessional
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‘“The Johnson ‘Ole” heads the bill at the Finsbury Park Empire, Harry Thurston appearing in his original part of “Old Bill”’. The People, Sunday 8 September 1918.
23 Sep 1918 King's Theatre, PortsmouthProfessional
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‘The funniest of all the funny Bairnsfather trench episodes will be shown next week at the King’s Theatre [Portsmouth], when the famous Hippodrome comedian Harry Thurston will take the part of “Ole Bill” (The Walrus) in “The Johnson ‘Ole.” He has played it over 200 times in “Flying Colour” at the London Hippodrome, and has made the part entirely his own, standing out in stage annals as a unique piece of characterisation’. Hampshire Telegraph, Friday 20 September 1918.
30 Sep 1918 Empire, Shepherd's Bush, LondonProfessional
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‘After you have been to Shepherd’s Bush Empire next week, you will have laughed a lot at the broad humour of “Old Bill” and his companions, who are to appear in the trench episode, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” the joint product of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather and B Macdonald Hastings. Mr. Harry Thurston, the London Hippodrome comedian, who impersonates “Old Bill,” explains that “The Johnson ‘Ole” is absolutely true to life, for every incident in it has happened on the Western Front. Harry Thurston is a Londoner by birth and has been associated with the stage for the best part of his life’. West London Observer, Friday 27 September 1918.
14 Oct 1918 Palace Theatre, HullProfessional
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‘The Palace is likely to be filled all this week, for Hull people will be anxious to have more of Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather’s humour and see the presentation of the famous London Hippodrome comedian, Mr Harry Thurston, as Old Bill in “The Johnson Ole.” An episode in Plug-street Trench is depicted, and the time is about Christmas, 1914. There is a blending of humour and pathos in the little sketch, which makes a direct appeal, and amongst other witty tit bits is the information by “Our ‘Arry,” who tells his comrades-in-arms that he had heard the General say the war would be over in a fortnight. Old Bill is out of luck this time, for his leave is not due till three weeks’. Hull Daily Mail, Tuesday 15 October 1918.
28 Oct 1918 Hippodrome, Hulme, ManchesterProfessional
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The Manchester Evening News, Monday 28 October 1918, advertised ‘Captain Bruce Bairnsfather presents “The Johnson ‘Ole”. Harry Thurston as “Old Bill”’ at the Hippodrome, Hulme. ‘At the Hulme Hippodrome the wartime sketch “The Johnson ‘Ole,” with Harry Thurston as “Old Bill,’’ continues its successful run’. Manchester Evening News, Tuesday 29 October 1918.
4 Nov 1918 Empire, MansfieldProfessional
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‘The great attraction at the Empire this week is the “Johnson ‘Ole,” with Harry Thurston in his original character as Old Bill. the “Walrus.” This is the best of Bairnsfather’s sketches, and full of wit and humour, with touches of pathos intermingled. Harry Thurston’s portrayal of “Old Bill” is a masterpiece, and he is ably supported by a strong cast. The “Plug Street Trench,” is a realistic. piece of scenery, by Bruce Smith, Drury Lane Theatre, London’. Mansfield Reporter, 8 November 1918.
25 Nov 1918 Empire Theatre, SunderlandProfessional
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The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, Thursday 21 November 1918, advertised for the following week at the Sunderland Empire ‘Captain Bairnsfather will present “The Johnson ‘Ole,” Supported by strong variety company’. ‘Next week [at the Empire] ... Harry Thurston will appear in “The Johnson ‘Ole,” which is said to be the best of Bairnsfather’s’. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, Saturday 23 November 1918.
30 Dec 1918 Grand Theatre, BirminghamProfessional
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‘Captain Bairnsfather’s sketch, “The Johnson ‘Ole,” is an episode of real trench humour, and the audience is held in a constant state of laughter. The scene is laid in “ Plug-street Trench,” and the lending characters are Old Bill (the Walrus) and Our Bert. The former part is taken by Harry Thurston and the latter by W. P. Sheen. Even if the imagination has been stretched in some respects, the language of the different characters has not been, for it is typical of the London soldier’. Evening Despatch, Tuesday 31 December 1918. ‘The tabloid form of the play associated with the name of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather makes very good entertainment for music-hall audiences. “The Johnson ‘Ole” is “The Better ‘Ole” in name only. A trench episode has been selected with the object of focussing attention entirely on the purely humorous side of Old Bill’s character. With the aid of Mr. B. Macdonald Hastings incidents and dialogue have been created and built up which reveal the central figure in a funnier light than we know him in the original form, without regard to whether or no he thereby becomes more remote from truth and probability. In one respect, and that only, the sketch is a more faithful reflection of trench life, and that is in the language put into the mouths of Old Bill Bert, and ‘Arry. It has all the directness and wit of the Cockney Tommy, and last night achieved the result aimed at in keeping the audience in constant state of laughter. Mr. Harry Thurston, of course, is playing Old Bill - his original character. It was an excellent piece of work’. Birmingham Daily Post, Tuesday 31 December 1918. ‘The irresistible humour of Old Bill (Harry Thurston) and his fellow warriors in “The Johnson ‘Ole” got right at the audience last night [at the Birmingham Grand], this funny episode of the trenches being all the more appreciated, perhaps, because the scene has now been robbed of its terrors’. Birmingham Daily Gazette, Tuesday 31 December 1918.
6 Jan 1919 Hippodrome, AldershotProfessional
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The Era, Wednesday 1 January 1919, and The Stage, Thursday 2 January 1919, both listed Harry Thurston and company in The Johnson ‘Ole in calls for the following week, Monday 6 January, at the Aldershot Hippodrome.
13 Jan 1919 Empire, KingstonProfessional
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The Stage, Thursday 9 January 1919, listed Harry Thurston’s The Johnson ‘Ole in Calls for Next Week at the Kingston Empire.
27 Jan 1919 Empire Theatre, CardiffProfessional
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The Era, 22 January 1919, listed ‘The Johnson ‘Ole’ in calls for next week, Monday, 27 January 1919, at the Cardiff Empire. The Western Mail, Friday 31 January 1919, advertised that night ‘Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather Presents Harry Thurston in The Johnson ‘Ole’ at the Cardiff Empire.
10 Feb 1919 Empire, NewcastleProfessional
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‘After a run of pantomime and revue, a variety programme is presented this week at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle. There is a fresh introduction to “Old Bill” of “The Better ‘Ole” fame in a one-act sketch entitled “The Johnson ‘Ole”; but the audience did not seem to respond to the humour of it as they did to the earlier production in war time by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather. Most people wish to forget the war, and so they are not easily interested now by trench episodes on the stage. Mr. Harry Thurston plays his original part of Old Bill’. Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 11 February 1919.
17 Feb 1919 Olympia, LiverpoolProfessional
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The Stage, 20 February 1919, reported that ‘Harry Thurston appears as Old Bill in The Johnson ‘Ole’ at the Olympia, Liverpool.
24 Feb 1919 Empire Theate, MiddlesbroughProfessional
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‘Harry Thurston in The Johnson ‘Ole heads the bill’ at the Empire, Middlesbrough. The Stage, 27 February 1919.
10 Mar 1919 Empire, PengeProfessional
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The Era, Wednesday 5 March 1919, listed Harry Thurston and company in “The Johnson ‘Ole” in Calls for Next Week, Monday 10 March, at the Penge Empire. Also advertised in the Norwood News, 7 March 1919.
31 Mar 1919 Empire, BristolProfessional
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‘The Empire. Revue makes way at the Old Market Street House this week for a series of most attractive variety turns. That delightful and, quaint trench episode by Captain Bairnsfather, “The Johnson ‘Ole” has a leading place in the programme and it went very well with last night’s full houses. As Old Bill (the Walrus) Harry Thurston makes the business in “Plug Street Trench” brimful of droll and laughable events, added to which his facial expressions are so finely adapted to the part he plays. He had a hearty reception when the curtain fell on the funny finale. He has able allies in W. P. Sheen (“our Bert”), Leonard May (“our ‘Arry”), George D. Daiper (“The Officer”), Terry Hooker (“Alf”), and Albert Norville (Fatigue Man)’. Western Daily Press, Tuesday 1 April 1919.