Thursday, 3 December 2009

Saville Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue WC2 (now Odeon Covent Garden)

The Twentieth Century is represented by a group that already seemed to my postwar generation to be from some ancient epoch. The chorus girls with their ostrich-feather headdresses doing the Charleston look as historical as the Bacchantes in the Roman section, as does the gentleman on the right in evening dress, his hair brilliantined and holding an opera hat.
Again, I am sure he and the girl he is holding in a reassuring hug are portraits of actors in role. In fact, I think I have identified the pipe-smoking figure to the left. The character is obviously Sherlock Holmes, and the actor is probably Tod Slaughter, famous for playing villainous villains in melodramas at the Elephant and Castle. Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was created by him.
In the 1920s, however, he played heroes, one of which was the great detective.
Come to think of it, is the cloaked assassin in the same play with Holmes? Which of the stories features a shooting?
Back in the late 1960s when I started work, I knew a bloke called Michael Slaughter, who was always known as Tod. Neither he nor any of us knew why - it was just the nickname every Slaughter was given, like 'Chalky' for anyone called White or Miller. How quickly fame evaporates....


Howard Ostrom said...

I love your blog article. In trying to identify if and when Tod Slaughter played Sherlock Holmes on stage, for my A-Z Index of Sherlock Holmes Performers, in which he was already entered for his radio performances of the 1930's, I had contacted Roger Johnson of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. He indicated to me the following: "An unlikely identification, I think. Holmes and (I'm pretty sure) Moriarty are at the beginning of the 20th century, so if the figures represent real actors, Holmes is more likely to be H A Saintsbury or even William Gillette. I hadn't encountered that interesting blog when I photographed that section of the frieze and wrote the attached for the Winter 2010 Sherlock Holmes Journal. (You'll note that I miscalculated. The sculpture is now over 80 years old rather than 70.)" Roger also attached me his journal article. Hypothetically speaking, if I had to pick that statue out of a line-up, I'd say it was H A Saintsbury, yet logically speaking, William Gillette would be the best choice.

You can view my A-Z Index of Sherlock Holmes Performers (a work in progress, with 2,200 performers & 3,600 photos at this time) at:

Howard Ostrom said...

My friend Ray Wilcockson pointed out to me that Mark Campbell in his book "Sherlock Holmes" lists Tod Slaughter as Sherlock Holmes in the 1928 touring production of Norwood's "Return of Sherlock Holmes".

re: the frieze - He remains unconvinced too that Tod Slaughter is the Sherlock Holmes depicted, He was more struck by the fact he was even thought of, given far more obvious candidates.