Harcourt Collett (1884 – 1953) was a British-born actor and broadcaster.
Born Charles Harcourt Collett in Tottenham, London, on 13 May 1884, the son of a pharmacist. Both his parents died when he was young and at the age of 16 he was working as a stockbroker’s clerk. Not long afterwards he seems to have come to South Africa for the first time and by 1909 he was on the stage in Johannesburg, acting with Katharine Pole for a thirteen weeks season in plays such as Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, Lady Frederick, Candida and Arms and the Man. By 1914 he was back in England, but in 1915 he came out again and until 1922 he appeared in numerous plays, acting with Ethel Irving, the American Dramatic Company, Marie Tempest and Gertrude Elliott (Lady Forbes-Robertson). The plays in which he appeared included The Ware Case, The Misleading Lady, General Post, The Thirteenth Chair, Good Gracious, Annabella!, Penelope, Mrs Dot, Peg o’ My Heart, A Pair of Sixes, Parlour, Bedroom and Bath and The Dawn of a Tomorrow. During this time he also acted in Joseph Albrecht’s film The Voice of the Waters (1918) and had a small role in the same director’s With Edged Tools (1919).
However, in 1933 he was back in Johannesburg, where he joined the South African Broadcasting Corporation, first as radio announcer/actor and later as producer. His early successes included the popular thriller The Mystery of Harlow Manor (1933) and the title role in the serial The Scarlet Pimpernel. He was also the announcer on duty on 3 September 1939, to whom it fell to announce to the nation that a state of war existed between Great Britain and Germany and, subsequently, that South Africa had joined the conflict on the side of the Allies. He retired from the SABC in 1944, but is known to have appeared as Lord Melbourne in the radio play Victoria Regina and as the Duke of York in Richard II in 1950.
His personal life was somewhat complicated. He had been married to Theresa Caroline Levy and was unable to get a divorce when he met and fell in love with Elsie Alice Goodwin Rookledge. She, in turn, had discovered that her previous husband, Harold Rookledge, was already married and was therefore a bigamist. The marriage was declared null and void, though she retained the Rookledge surname. She and Collett had five children together, but she remained behind when he finally settled in South Africa, bringing up four of their five offspring alone, with one daughter, Joy, being put up for adoption. When he died in 1953, Theresa Caroline Collett was identified as his widow. (FO)
Rand Daily Mail, 26 November 1938
The Outspan, 25 August 1944
E-mail correspondence from Ian Harcourt Rookledge, 27/04/2016
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