Born Henry Benjamin Leete in England on 4 December 1843, he was intended to be an engineer by his father and was forbidden to attend theatres during his apprenticeship by his Puritan parents. However, he developed a talent for comic singing and sang at music halls in Canterbury and Oxford, appearing under the stage name of "Harry Rickards".
Having established a reputation as a singer of comic songs in England, he travelled to Australia, reaching Melbourne on 28 November 1871 and eventually settled there. He travelled on occasion to perform in the colonies (including South Africa), Britain and the USA, but was primarily known in Australia as baritone, comedian and theatre owner.
In Australia he established and built up what was known as the Tivoli circuit, becoming the lessee of theatres in various state capital cities. He visited England annually and would engage distinguished artist, such as artists like Harry Houdini, Marie Lloyd, Peggy Pryde, Paul Cinquevalli, Little Tich, Ada Baker, and many others for the Australian variety stage.
He had married Caroline Hayden on 10 March 1862 at Bromley and later married Kattie "Kate" Roscoe, a trapeze artist, acrobat and performer, and had two daughters. He died suddenly of apoplexy in Croydon, England, on 13 October 1911, and his body was returned to Australia to be buried in Waverley Cemetery.
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
Rickards visited South Africa in 1877 with his company while en route between Australia and England, with a vaudeville-style show billed as The Rickards Combination, appearing under the auspices of Disney Roebuck at the Theatre Royal, in Cape Town from 27 October to 5 November for example.
Rickards (now billed as "the well known music hall artiste"), paid the country a return visit in March 1982, to appear at the Vaudeville Theatre, Cape Town, for a season of five weeks.
The Rickards Combination was apparently a name given to Rickards's company and to the circus-style vaudeville act they presented. The programme consisted of "The Flying Trapeze, Miraculous Dives, Daring Flights" and were presented by the "Great Rickards", Lottie D'Aste, Katrine Angellian and Frank Angellian.
The show was presented from 27 October to 5 November in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, as an after performance to a series of plays, namely Waiting for the Verdict, or Falsely Accused (by Hazlewood, 27 October and 2 November) and The Shaughraun (by Boucicault, 29-31 October and 1 November), The Beggar's Petition, or A Father's Love and a Mother's Care (Pitt, 3 November) and Aurora Floyd (Webster, 5 November).
The name, cast and content of the company/act varied over the years of course, for example in 1873 it was billed as "The Rickards London Star Comique Combination" in the Australian Sydney Herald.
The Sydney Morning Herald (25 August, 1873)
The Age, Melbourne, 8 September, 1900
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