Clowning, circus, theatre
The stars Drury Lane's Harlequinade, 1898-99 season
The stars Drury Lane's Harlequinade
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
Black and white photograph
Whimsical Walker is pictured here in 1899 in the ‘Harlequinade’ of the pantomime The Forty Thieves. The Harlequinade came after the main pantomime, and featured characters derived from Commedia dell’arte. Here, we see Carl Waller (on the right) as Pantaloon, and Tom Cusden (in the centre) as Harlequin, with Whimsical Walker as Clown. Thomas Dawson Walker started performing as a comic tumbler from the age of nine, when he ran away from home to escape a cruel stepmother. He worked in a variety of small street shows before joining Pablo Fanque’s circus where he began to train in earnest, learning to ride, tumble, and perform on the trapeze. Apparently Fanque decided Walker should become a clown because he was so ugly. By the time this picture was taken he was already famous and had worked for some of the most prestigious circuses in the world.
Clown on the Thames, around 1840. Musuem no. RP76/1539
Clown on the Thames
Steel engraving printed on newsprint
Musuem no. RP76/1539
Thomas Barry was a popular circus clown who worked for Astley's in the 1840s and 1850s. As well as sailing down the Thames in a tub, Barry was famous for his imitation of a would-be politician making his campaign speech to the public. He and his fellow clowns performed during the other acts. He also played comic parts in the dramatic productions that were always a part of the evening's schedule. As was traditional, Barry worked with other clowns. His partners at Astley's included Twist, a buffoon, and Signor Felix Carlo, a 'grotesque'. He was a cheerful, friendly man, offstage as well as on, and well liked by his colleagues. He did, however, fall out with Philip Astley, and in 1853 he left Astley's for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Whimsical Walker's costume, late 19th century to early 20th century. Museum no. S.279-1977
Whimsical Walker's costume
Late 19th century to early 20th century
Museum no. S.279-1977
In 1886, the clown, Whimsical Walker, was commanded to perform for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle along with his performing donkey, Tom. He had this wool suit made especially. The frills and baggy trousers resemble the costumes of 19th century Clowns such as Grimaldi, who concealed an extraordinary range of objects (and occasionally live animals) in their vast pockets. On the day, Tom performed the first part of the show beautifully, but then became distracted by the strange smell of the floor, and did nothing but sniff the ground and make faces, much to Whimsical Walker's embarrassment. After the performance, the Queen asked to see Tom outside as she was very fond of animals. She touched Tom's back with a stick and he broke out into a rendition of 'The Conquering Hero Comes'. Fortunately the Queen was not amused by his braying and kicking and ordered him to be taken away.
Clarke's Cirque poster Come and See Us, printed by The Oriental Press of Shanghai, England, around 1916, colour lithograph
Poster, Bureau Le Cirque Sans Bluff Presenté Mylos & Nenderff: Les Fameux Clown et Auguste dans le Répetoire Comique, published by Bedos et Cie, Paris, date unknown
Harry Payne as clown, late 19th century, black and white photograph
The Payne family is one of several 19th-century pantomime dynasties. Harry was the son of W.H. Payne, the classic pantomimist who was a master of 'dumb show' or comic mime, and who invented much of the Harlequinade action. Known as the 'King of Pantomime', he appeared at Covent Garden in the 1820s with Grimaldi and the great Harlequin, Bologna. Harry Payne began his career playing Harlequin at Covent Garden but in 1859 he had to take over as Clown in the middle of a performance when Richard Flexmore collapsed. After this, Payne was Covent Garden's Clown until 1870. After appearing elsewhere, he went to Drury Lane in 1883, where he played Clown for the last 12 years of his life, with his brother Fred as Harlequin.