Gilbert Fletcher

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Gilbert Fletcher (b. Melbourne, **/**/1877 – d. Johannesburg, 29/08/1933) was a theatrical agent and theatre manager.

Biography

Gilbert Edwin Fletcher was born in the Melbourne suburb of Flemington, the son of Jacob Fletcher and his wife, Emily Moss. Initially his father was probably a grocery clerk, but in 1888 he and another employee took over the business from the original owner (his uncle) and established Fletcher, Chester & Co, dealing in groceries, wine and spirits. It’s not known what Gilbert did in his early years, but between 1906 and 1909 a G.E. Fletcher was an active member of the Sydney Muffs, a local amateur group. By 1909 Gilbert Fletcher was professionally involved in the theatre world as the touring manager of Edward Branscombe’s Scarlet Troubadours and Fred Graham’s New English Comedy Company in Australia. His duties also took him to New Zealand, which is where, in December 1910, he married Helen (Lella) Williams. The following year he was in Tasmania to pave the way for the band of John Philip Sousa, which was brought out by Branscombe.

Just prior to that Sousa had been in South Africa and Fletcher’s close relationship with Branscombe resulted him in becoming Branscombe’s business manager when that gentleman took over His Majesty’s Theatre in Johannesburg for a season. His first assignment was the management of Henry Herbert and his English Shakespearean Company and he was left in charge of the theatre when Frank Wheeler and H. Barlow Coulthard were away. After that he continued to work as advance and/or touring manager for groups ranging from the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir and the John Ridding Opera Co. to the Ethel Irving Company. In 1914 he was the advance agent of the J.C. Williamson Comedy Company in Cape Town and was even involved in the promotion of the new invention of Kinemacolor. However, by 1915 he had clearly decided that it was time for some permanence in his life and in November he succeeded James Montgomery as manager of the Palladium Theatre.

In 1916 he was the circuit manager of the African Theatre Trust and in 1918 he became the manager of the Empire Palace of Varieties. Throughout his career, he was very involved in the cultural and social life of Johannesburg, making theatres available for charity events and fundraising concerts for the war effort. In October 1922 it was announced that he would be going to Australia for 12 months and, in fact, he accompanied actress Gertrude Elliott (Lady Forbes-Robertson) on her tour of that country. Upon his return he became manager of the large and ornate His Majesty’s Theatre. Popular with both theatregoers and touring companies, he was described as tall, debonair and genial. He and Lella, who had been a member of the Quinlan Opera Company in 1912, were divorced in 1918 and shortly afterwards he married Vera Roche (born Mirls) who had been a witness at his first wedding. Lella subsequently married Richard Norton and her and Gilbert’s daughter, Betty, adopted her stepfather’s surname when she went onto the stage and made some films as Betty Norton. Gilbert and Vera’s marriage didn’t last either and they were divorced in 1923. He died in Johannesburg in 1933.

Trivia: One of the witnesses at Fletcher’s second marriage was Mabel May, who would later become Mrs. I.W. Schlesinger.

Sources

Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, 30 August 1931

Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, 1 September 1931

E-mail correspondence with Ian Fletcher (Melbourne, Australia) - 22 September, 2019 and subsequent dates.

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

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