When Knights were Bold

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When Knights were Bold is a comedy by Charles Marlowe (pseudonym of Harriett Jay (1853-1932)[1])

The original text

The play tells of Guy De Vere, a British officer who has returned from service in India after inheriting an estate and a baronetcy in the village of Little Twittering. There he finds a number of eccentrics and his cousin Rowena, who falls in love with him.

Originally written by Robert Buchanan (1841-1901)[] and "Charles Marlowe" (Harriett Jay, )[] circa 1896 and called Good Old Times, the play was not produced until 1906 when done under the title When Knights were Bold and credited to "Charles Marlowe" only. The title Dream of Ye Goode Olde Tymes also appears on occasion, in the productions by the Famous Plays Syndicate of Bromley and David Challenor.

It opened in the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, on 17 September, 1906, featuring James Welch (1865-1917) in the leading role of "Sir Guy de Vere" . It then moved to Wyndham's Theatre, London, on 29 January, 1907 and played till 22 August, 1908 (its 579th performance). Welch in fact obtained the sole rights to the play.

It continued to be revived in London for the next 30 years as well as being produced in the provinces and around the world, including the USA (New York, Garrick Theatre, 20 August to 19 November, 1907), Australia (Sydney, Criterion Theatre, 21 December, 1907), South Africa (Cape Town Opera House, 1909), Norway and Russia.

In 1915 Bromley Challenor (James Bromley-Challenor (1884–1935)[2]), who had been touring with the play for years (playing "Sir Guy de Vere" himself and his wife, Marjorie Bellairs, playing "Rowena"), purchased the rights to the play from Welch, and the company made their first appearance in London at the Kingsway Theatre in 1917.

The play is considered the author's greatest known success and became the one regular and lucrative source of income for both James Welsh and Bromley Challenor, particularly after the latter had purchased the rights to the play outright in 1915. The Challenors performed it throughout the UK and other countries and are claimed to have produced and/or performed in it more than 6000 times over the course of James's lifetime, doing well out of it throughout.

When the play's popularity in London eventually faded, it continued to be performed by repertory companies and amateur groups into the 1950s.

Translations and adaptations

The play was translated into German as Die goldene Ritterzeit (lit "the golden time of knights") performed in Vienna in 1910 and Berlin 1920 respectively); into Dutch as De gulden riddertijd (performed in Amsterdam 1915), and into Norwegian as Blandt bolde riddere (performed in Oslo, 1923).

The play was filmed four times, as a silent British film by Maurice Elvey (1916), an Italian adaptation (Il Cavaliere del Silenzio) by Aquila Films (1916), a third silent film by Tim Whelan (1929) and a sound version by Jack Raymond (1936).

In 1943 a musical version, initially called Kiss the Girls, but renamed The Knight Was Bold, was produced in 1943 but was not a success.

Performance history in South Africa

1908-9: Produced as The Morals of Marcus by Leonard Rayne and his company as part of a repertoire of six plays, opening at the Standard Theatre, Johannesburg, and then touring the various cities, including a performances at the Opera House, Cape Town, during February of 1909. Charles Howitt appeared in the role of "Sir Guy de Vere".

1915/1916(?): Probably performed as an inevitable part of the repertoire of the James Bromley-Challenor company while on a tour of South Africa, the cast naturally including his wife, Marjorie Bellairs and possibly Norah Sturdee.






Obituary, The Argus, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 19 Dec 1935: p.12

J.P. Wearing. 2014. The London Stage 1920-1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield: p.5 [3]

D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "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.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.429, 430

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