Obituary: John Morley

John Austin Morley, actor, writer: born Birmingham 13 December 1924; author of The Magic of Houdini 1978, The Performing Arts 1980; died Brighton 16 July 1994.

ONE of the best of all show-business encyclopaedists, John Morley, the light comedy entertainer, was a veritable mine of information regarding pantomimes past and present.

Through careful research and an almost fanatical feeling for this aspect of theatre, Morley could quote at length who was who and when, say, Dan Leno was Buttons at Drury Lane, together with a whole supporting cast: invariably Herbert Campbell was one of Leno's stage partners in a production devised by the eminent Sir 'Gus' Harris, who would be aided by such illustrious designers as Sir FL Burnand, J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins - who was father of that other Collins, Frank, for so long 'lieutenant' in the years that followed of Sir Charles B. Cochran. Such facts poured forth like a Niagara . . .

Although he had started out as a revue artist in his youth, Morley described himself as a 'panto- scriptwriter' who in a lengthy career had more than 250 pantomime scripts to his credit. As historian, archivist and performer all rolled into one, he was faithful to the main 'storylines', his adaptations never departing far from the originals.

Morley was born in Birmingham, the son of a prosperous businessman, in 1924, and spent his childhood immersed in picturebooks; he was taken to his first pantomime in the city, at the old Prince of Wales Theatre. His uncle further whetted his nephew's appetite by purchasing for him a miniature toy stage.

Morley was educated at Uppingham and St John's College, Cambridge. He joined the Cambridge Footlights, where he was spotted by that revue duo the Two Hermiones (Baddeley and Gingold), who encouraged him from the start. During the Second World War he joined the Forces, became a Coldstream Guard in 1943, and got his grounding by writing shows for the troops, scoring a notable double by becoming an officer and having his first panto produced by his regiment at the same time. It was called Dick Whittington and His Kit. All very camp, maybe, but the storyline was observed and adhered to ever after.

Getting back into civvy life in 1946, Morley caught the eye of the experienced Robert Nesbitt who, sensing talent, introduced him to the London Palladium as gagman and co-writer for their panto Puss in Boots. From 1960 he worked for a decade in Scotland with the Howard and Wyndham company, making pantomimes with the choreographer and producer Freddie Carpenter. Back in London Morley wrote on demand to suit the diverse talents of such a mixed batch of artistic talent as Evelyn Laye - as Prince Charming in Cinderella at the Palladium and in other roles - Arthur Askey, Les Dawson and Danny La Rue, to mention a few.

Morley wrote for television, providing gags and scenes for Big Night Out and The Basil Brush Show, but was happier when working at the small Players Theatre, where under the expert guidance of Dominic Le Foe and such trusties as Alan Curtis, a high standard was achieved in over 54 Victorian- style pantomimes. The company was run during this time by first Harold Scott, then Leonard Sachs, and finally, perhaps best of all, by Le Foe, the present impresario in the newly acquired premises off the Strand. Puss in Boots, Dick Whittington, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella were some of Morley's contributions, and such other artists as Ivy St Helier and Clarkson Rose joined the residents from time to time.

As gagman, occasional player himself and nearly always senior panto scriptwriter, Morley lent a presence that was a commanding strength when he was called upon to change and improvise at short notice. He loved pantomime beyond all other forms of entertainment and made a considerable contribution to it in a life which served this stylised area of show business, never forgetting the fairy tales and folklore that are the basic ingredients of true pantomime.

John Morley modernised the gags of 'Baron Hardup', 'Alderman Fitzwarren' and the rest to meet current trends, but was enough of a traditionalist to observe throughout his life that the clock had stopped at midnight before Cinderella had returned from the Ball. Actually, in the early 1900s, before this most devoted of panto-lovers was born.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence