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Errol Flynn in Northampton By Bryan Waites • A studio photo sent to the author in the 1940ʼs I


t was another dismal summer’s day in Scarborough writes Bryan Waites. By


the afternoon the rain was monsoon-like and Oliver’s Mount, a mile away, was invisible. I was 13 years old and had gone for a day out with my mother. My father has been in the army in India for two years. World War II was half-way through. All we could do was to head for the nearest cinema to escape the rain. When we were inside, the screen was full of a massacre taking place – the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Custer and the 7th Cavalry were making a last stand. The film ended soon after and we


stayed on to see it through properly. The film was They Died With Their Boots On, starring Errol Flynn. I had never seen or heard of him before but I was riveted by his heroism, sincerity, charm and elan on the screen. I am still a fan even though I came to know about his wasted life and early death. The screen image was all to me.


Subsequently, in the great age of cinema, 40 August 2011


I was to see many of his wonderful films – Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Dawn Patrol, Dodge City, The Sea Hawk, They Died with Their Boots on and Gentleman Jim – all from his glory period between 1935 and 1942. In the dark days of war with its danger, gloom and austerity Errol Flynn was a welcome escape. To a young boy he was an inspiration. Eventually, when I came to live in the Midlands, I discovered that Errol Flynn had been in the Repertory at the Royal Theatre, Northampton, for a short time between late 1933 and 1934. I realised that 1984 was the 50th anniversary and put a letter in the local


newspaper asking for any memories of him. I received some interesting replies which I passed on to Gerry Connelly who was writing a book about Errol Flynn in Northampton. His excellent detective work revealed a great deal about Errol when he was a young man of 24 in this Midland town. Errol Lesile Thomson Flynn was born in one seaport of the British Commonwealth, Hobart, Tasmania on 20th June, 1909, and died in another, Vancouver BC, on 14th October, 1959. His father was an eminent marine biologist, Professor Theodore Thomson Flynn, and his mother Marelle Young, was a descendant of one of the mutineers of HMS Bounty. Errol’s short life of 50 years was full of incident and adventure. He was expelled from several schools both in England and Australia. He had a variety of jobs in New Guinea. On his return to Sydney he was spotted on Bondi Beach by the wife of a film producer and was cast as


Fletcher Christian in a semi-documentary In the Wake of the Bounty (1933). This may have given him a taste for acting. However, he seems to have left Sydney in a hurry and drifted around Queensland then back to New Guinea before embarking for England on 14th April, 1933. His voyage took him to Rabaul, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Penang, Colombo, Madras, Djibouti, Suez, arriving in Marseilles on his birthday 20th June. In his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked


Ways (1959), he devotes 36 pages to his voyage of nine weeks exaggerating it to eight months duration and describing many adventures which seem to be pure invention. He arrived in London via Paris and tried to find work as an actor, again exaggerating his stage experience. For a time he may have worked as an extra but then, late in 1933, he made contact with Northampton Repertory by meeting Robert Young who had just been appointed producer in 1932. The Royal Theatre, Northampton built


in 1887, has one of Britian’s longest running repertory companies. Launched in 1926 its first performance was on 10th January, 1927. The appointment of an energetic business manager in 1933 led to improvements on stage and also for the customers. There were many innovations ahead of the time and publicity was superb – ‘the little theatre with the big shows’ – became an outstanding and well- known provincial theatre. It was this ‘going concern’ that Errol joined in the autumn of 1933. Believing Errol’s publicity, Robert Young hired him for £6 per week. During rehearsals it became evident that Errol was a beginner and his salary was cut to £3 per week. He looked fine, sounded great, had style but knew little about acting. He spoke with an Australian accent, entered ‘like a monkey’ and forgot his lines. However, he was talented and learned quickly. His first play was The Thirteenth Chair which ran for two weeks from 18th December, 1933. He played a murder victim. Next was the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk from 27th December to 6th January. 1934, in which he played Prince Donzil.


Repertory actors had a hard life. They had to learn the lines for the current play, rehearse a future play and do a matinee and evening performance often in the


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