Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Curate in the Limelight

The Rev Frederic Forshall held numerous curacies around the Home Counties - but with a wife and four children to support - he found he could not live on his salary of £140. He said a man cannot live as a gentleman and maintain "one of the most prominent and important positions in the parish" on £2, 13s, 10d a week. A chance meeting with a young playwright, Fred Scudamore, gave Forshall the idea in 1896 to abandon the church for the theatre - taking the stage name "Leighton Leigh." The Daily Mail called it "the first instance on record.” The Era, the leading theatrical paper, declared Leigh to be more than a competent actor and hoped that he might serve to be a “strong link between Church and stage.” In late 1898, Forshall/Leigh starred in Scudamore's "A Dangerous Woman" opposite an actress named Neville Francius. He played the romantic hero, "Ronald Courtenay, a young millionaire," in a typically melodramatic plot. Mrs. Forshall and the children, meanwhile, were residing in Brockley Rise, South London. In early 1899, Mrs. Forshall received the following note: 
“Prepare yourself for a shock. Have some brandy near you if you get ill. Go and get the brandy before you turn over this page. When you get this, I shall be on my way to America … Miss Francius has stuck to me and given up everything for my sake and is with me. [She] has been mine in every sense of the word since last October." 
During the inevitable divorce proceedings, it was noted with disgust that an erstwhile clergyman of the Church of England could form an adulterous intimacy with an actress, then flee the country, leaving his wife and children dependent upon "the charity of friends.” Neither "Leighton Leigh" nor his paramour prospered on the boards. As for Scudamore, his daughter married an actor named Roy Redgrave and that line has been, of course, among the most celebrated in the annals of British theatre.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 is now available. The E-book is only $5.49 US and £3.86 UK.

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