Cairns James

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Cairns James (1866-1946)[1] was a singer, actor, manager, composer and elocution teacher.

Not to be confused with the South African actor and playwright from the late 20th century, James Cairns


Born Lewis Cairns James on 23 September 1866 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

His acting career started in musical comedy, and he performed as principal comic baritone for the D'Oyly Carte B touring company from July 1887 to September 1891. After leaving the D’Oyly Carte, James performed in a variety of roles in musical and legitimate works at various London theatres between 1891 and 1902. He also undertook tours of South Africa and North America.

James ceased performing between 1902 and 1916, in that time being a Professor of Elocution at the Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music, and at his own School of Musical and Dramatic Art in London. In 1916 he returned as a producer at the Shaftesbury, wrote the libretto for his first operatic work, The Critic, with music by Charles Villiers Stanford.

Between 1916 and 1919 he returned to performing and produced opera the Aldwych, Drury Lane, and Covent Garden. His last production in London was Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck) at the Drury Lane theatre (December 1922-January 1923).

In retirement he continued to direct amateur operatic societies. He died on 7 October 1946 in Gloucester.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

James visited South Africa under the management of the Wheeler Theatre Company in 1894, playing the leads for a company popularly known as the Cairns James Company, and said by Boonzaier (1980) to have been the first Gaiety Company to visit South Africa, opening a season of plays in the Good Hope Theatre on 9 June, 1894.

The season began with a fine performance of In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr), in which he played the "Arthur Coddington" in In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr), that opened the season on 9 June 1894. followed by Mam'zelle Nitouche (Meilhac and Millaud), Miss Decima (Burnand), A Gaiety Girl (Hall).


"The James Family", on the The MAN & Other Families-website[2] - Accessed 24 May 2018.

Christopher Gullo. 2004. In All Sincerity, Peter Cushing. Xlibris Corporation: p.27[3]

Colin Chambers (ed). Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre. Bloomsbury: p.221[4]

D.C. Boonzaier, 1980. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

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