40 Panto Years as a Cat!
ANOTHER MYSTERY TO SOLVE!
Regular readers of IBY will know that we like nothing better than to solve pantomime mysteries! Not why Jack went up the Beanstalk, although that's a thought, but putting history behind pictures and memorabilia discoveries! We've even managed to unite distant relatives - who said Pantomime was just for the Christmas period!
This mystery starts with an autograph book, which belonged to the performer Harry Gilmore, turning up with Pantomime enthusiast David Hartshorne - a regular IBY reader! He started to piece some history together and discovered that Harry started his career at the Alhambra Theatre, Plymouth on the 24th December 1906, thus began his career as Thomas The Cat until his last recorded pantomime in 1939. But did it end there - we hope to fill in some of the blanks. He died in the 1960's but his family were unaware of the pantomime feline legacy that he left behind.
David has managed to piece together the last 25 years of Harry's recorded pantomime appearances in Dick Whittington:-
Alexandra Theatre Birmingham (12 week run)
Leon Salberg's Whittington
Stoll Empires Tour - NOTE A
Moss Empires Tour - NOTE B
Gaiety Theatre Dublin - NOTE C
Fred Warden's (sic)
Artillery Theatre Woolwich
Theatre Royal Portsmouth
Grand Theatre Swansea
Alexandra Theatre Toronto & Canadian Tour
Alexandra Theatre Birmingham
Moss (?) Theatre Stratford London
Garrick Theatre London
same Panto with Dorothy Dickson
Artillery Theatre Woolwich
Portsmouth & Brighton
Alexandra Theatre Birmingham
Empire Edinburgh & Empire Glasgow
Toronto Canada & USA
Playing both Wishee Washee and Widow Twankey's Cat
Geo. Black's Panto
Empire Finsbury Park
Geo. Black's Panto
Richmond Theatre Richmond London
NOTE A - Empire Chatham, Empire Wood Green, Empire Hackney, Empire Chiswick, Hippodrome Birkenhead, Hippodrome Manchester, Palace Leicester, One Week Out, Return Hippodrome Manchester
NOTE B - Hippodrome Southend, Empire Finsbury Park, Hippodrome Leeds, Hippodrome Sheffield, Palace Hull, Hippodrome Newcastle
NOTE C - There was also a 5 week run at the Repertory Theatre, Nottingham
Was this the pantomime from 1924/5 at the Royal Artillery Theatre in Woolwich (run by the Littlers) which Harry appeared in?
The following picture is taken from the Clarkson Rose's book of the last pantomime at the Old Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham - it is from the 1934/5 season and featured Jack Williams as Dame, as well as Clarkson as Alderman Fitzwarren plus, of course, Harry as Thomas The Cat.
We are very grateful to Stella Dennant for supplying us with this obituary from March 20th 1959.
We have received some new information from Kathy and Colin Gilmore, including a number of fantastic pictures/scans which we use with permission.
They have advised us that Harry was the very first pantomime cat to appear on television in 1936, although our own television panto list shows the first to be Fred Douglas in 1932 - but this is unconfirmed.
They have also supplied us with a cutting from the 1934/35 Salberg production in Birmingham
As well as a selection of photos of Harry in various productions and situations
BLOXWICH MAN'S 33 YEARS AS PANTO CAT
Fifty-two years of age, played 'The Cat' in Dick Whittington for 33 years, and living in hope of playing it for many more years yet.
That is the remarkable record of Mr Harry Gilmore of 8, Wolverhampton Road, Bloxwich. Fit as the proverbial fiddle, he is this year again playing the old role in the forthcoming Dick Whittington production at the Royal, Portsmouth.
He is remembered among the three oldest 'cat' players in the country, others being Johnny Fuller and Freddy Whitaker. His three brothers also played 'the cat', but have now retired.
He has travelled the world several times and has played all over the British Isles, in Canada, United States, South Africa and Australia.
'There's no fun like work and I hope I shall die working', he told the Express and Star.
Born in the profession, the son of Tom Nerney, the old Irish Comedian, who may be remembered by the older generation of stage followers, Mr Gilmore has had a variety of interesting experiences.
When young he was 'left behind' with a family at Liverpool. The songs in this family were ships' stewards and it was natural therefore that young Gilmore should become a ship's steward also.
During the South African war he served on a troopship, and afterwards on the old Lusitania (not the ship sunk during the war), which was engaged in taking emigrants to Canada.
'I made an attempt to get to Canada, but never arrived,' he said. 'The Lusitania hit Beal Cove off Cape Race in a fog and blizzard.
'We lost no lives, but there was a fight among the emigrants and we had to climb across the cliffs at St. John's/ We were sent home in the liner Carthaginia.'
When the crew arrived home they received two months money for bravery 'I don't know what I did for it' he added with a smile.
Mr Gilmore next had a spell with the Orient-Pacific Line and made trips to Valparalso (?), and subsequently spent four years with the Cunard Line doing voyagers with the ??, ??, ??, ??
'I finished my sea career with the Mauretania' he said, 'I arrived on her during her speed trials from Wallsend and on her maiden trip, and if I had known she was to become the wonder ship of the world I might not have left her,' he said.
Drifting back to the profession in which he was born, Mr Gilmore appeared in revues and pantomimes, 'the smallest and the biggest,' and between times became a scenic artist. This year he has done work for Sir Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth (?), Jack Hylton, Sandy Powell, the radio comedian. and others.
Talking about his stage experiences Mr Gilmore referred to an incident in a Devonshire theatre. 'I was performing some capers in front of the stage when suddenly I received a severe kick which landed me over the footlights on to the top of the big drum in the orchestra.
'On looking up I found that the iron curtain had been lowered by mistake and on reaching the dressing room discovered that the terrible but friendly kick by a fellow performer had lifted me out of danger and probably saved my life.'
Mr Gilmore has managed picture houses and concert parties. In the summer of 1914 he ran a concert party in the old Darwall-street skating rink at Walsall and just when they were preparing to leave, fire broke out and the premises were burnt down.
'We lost everything - new scenery and dresses - and the wife and I were left in lodgings,' said Mr Gilmore.
At the invitation of Mr T R Wood, of Bilston, he took over the management of a Bloxwich picture house and subsequently managed similar houses.
ARMY CONCERT PARTIES
In 1936 he joined the Army, the 5th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. He ran concert parties and raised some thousands of pounds for the troops and Red Cross funds, and after demobilisation took to concert part and pantomime work again.
Leon Salberg, of the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, engaged him for the 1920 pantomime, with Miss Victoria Carmen (?) and since then he has had nine seasons, two in Birmingham, and including an appearance two years ago at the Garrick Theatre London, with Dorothy Dickson, of Peter Pan fame, and a Canadian tour in 1927-8.
'I am now under contract with Mr Prince Littler of 'White Horse Inn' fame - and i'm still living in hopes,' Mr Gilmore added.
Although not retired from the profession - he makes an annual bow in Dick Whittington productions - Mr Gilmore is taking things quietly and is now proprietor of a fish and chip restaurant at.......... (alas the end of the sentence is unreadable)
Royal Woolwich 1932/3 and Harry with Sandy Powell
If you have any information or pictures about Harry Gilmore, please email us at IBY and we will continue to build the profile of Harry Gilmore - the veteran Pantomime Cat!
This page was last updated 23rd July 2011