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Vaude and Verne Vaude and Verne i(A107981 works by) (Organisation) assertion (a.k.a. Vaude, Charlie; Verne, Bill)
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BiographyHistory

Patterologists, comedians, songwriters.

OVERVIEW

Arguably Australia's most successful patter act of the 1910s and 1920s, Vaude and Verne (aka Charles Rigdway and Will Barrington) were an Australian institution during that period. While their first major contract was in New Zealand with the Fullers, by 1909 they had established themselves on the Tivoli circuit. During their career together, the pair also headlined bills around the country for other leading variety organisations, including Ted Holland, Dix-Baker, and Harry Clay. While they performed mostly original material (jokes, patter, and songs), much of their performance relied on ad libs, with Vaude invariably focusing his sharp wit on current subjects and personalities. Verne's role as the 'feeder' required him to be as up-to-date on topical matter as his partner in order to provide him with impromptu set-ups for whatever jokes Vaude was likely to perpetrate.

Vaude and Verne used the war to their advantage from 1915, by focusing much of their comedy material on Germany and the Kaiser. The two comedians also published a book of jokes under the auspices of the Tivoli Theatre in 1916. In late 1917, the pair returned to the Fullers' Australasian circuit, remaining with the company more or less on a permanent basis over the next decade. When the variety industry began to decline in the late 1920s, both men temporarily established a base of operations in the Queensland coastal city of Rockhampton, with Vaude taking over the lease of several theatres in the city (and also in other nearby centres, including Mount Morgan). Verne is believed to have helped run a School of Dance with his wife, in addition to performing with the various companies that toured through the area. After they ended their partnership around 1929/1930, Vaude turned to radio, where he established himself as a popular personality throughout the 1930s.

BIOGRAPHY

1908-1914: Charles Ridgway (aka Charlie Vaude) and Will Barrington (aka Bill Verne) met in the north-west New South Wales mining town of Broken Hill in 1908. Barrington had already established himself in the town as a 'local favourite' when Ridgway arrived from Perth via Adelaide, having spent the previous couple of years working in Western Australia as an auctioneer and emerging variety performer. After deciding to form a patterology act, the two men realised that they would need a better billing than Ridgway and Barrington, and so (according to Isadore Brodsky, in The Streets of Sydney) they spent most of one evening with friends trying to come up with suitable stage names (p.40). While Vaude indicates in later years that one of the more irritating questions put to him during the height of his career was 'Why didn't they call themselves Vaude and Ville?' (i.e., vaudeville), he nevertheless doesn't appear to have provided a reason.

After completing their debut season in Broken Hill, the pair travelled to Melbourne and shortly afterwards toured regional Victoria (including Ballarat and Bendigo). Around this time, they came to the attention of the Fullers' Collingwood-based agent, and subsequently signed with the company for an initial eight-week tour of New Zealand. The contract with Fullers is believed to have been extended to nine months, after which they toured Tasmania (for a vaudeville manager by the name of Lucas), followed by a sixteen-week season in Brisbane under Ted Holland. It was in 1909 during the latter engagement that their act came to the notice of Harry Rickards's brother/manager Jack C. Leete. He signed the pair to the Tivoli circuit, and it was in association with that organisation that Vaude and Verne became household names throughout Australia and New Zealand over the next few years (Theatre: An Illustrated Monthly, January 1912, p.25).

During their association with the Tivoli circuit, Vaude and Verne appeared on bills with international acts such as Houdini and Julian Rose (both 1910). They also shared top billing with many other leading Australia performers, including Maud Fanning, her husband Arthur Elliott, and their daughter Violet Elliott; Tom Dawson; Fred Bluett; Les Warton; Irving Sayles; Harry and Nellie Quealy; Harry Linden and Ida Berridge; Jack Hagan; Hugh and Edith Huxham; and Bert Desmond.

By 1914, Vaude and Verne had firmly entrenched themselves at the top of the Australian variety industry. That same year, however, their reputation in Brisbane was seriously compromised when Vaude was reported to have made some contentious jokes about Ted Holland's recent death during a Perth engagement. The jokes were quickly relayed back to Queensland, with the Truth publishing them in its 11 October edition. The paper proposed that not only were the jokes not funny, but that if Vaude and Verne ever made their way back to Brisbane, audiences would not fail to remember this affront to the city's well-liked former entrepreneur (p.9). In Vaude's defence, the Theatre Magazine published an article in its January 1915 issue, reporting that the whole incident had been misrepresented, and that Vaude and Verne not only had great respect for Holland (for whom they had previously worked), but that the jokes were in fact imaginary patter attributed to them by the Sunday Times (Perth) critic 'Dryblower' Murphy (January 1915, p.46).

1915-1919: The period 1914-1918 provided Vaude and Verne with a seemingly endless supply of war-related material, and indeed they were arguably the most successful comedy tem to focus on the crisis. As the above issue of the Theatre Magazine further notes, 'The stage account to which he has turned the war shows that in the matter of quick, pointed, virile, up-to-date, entertaining patter Mr Vaude really is a genius' (p.45) . Many of Vaude's war jokes and patter subjects were published in industry magazines of the time, particularly the Theatre Magazine. This became an issue for him when he began to realise that his best jokes were known by audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand before he was able to present them himself (Apr. 1915, p.46). Eventually, the Theatre Magazine announced that that it would only publish those jokes submitted for publication by Vaude (ctd. August 1920, p.16). Examples of Vaude's war-time gags and patter include:

    • [Vaude]: 'Every Australian should be sent to the front, even the babies.' [Verne]: 'Babies? What would you do with them?' [Vaude]: 'I would put them in the infant-ry' (Theatre Magazine Nov, 1914, p.36).

    • [Vaude]: 'I don't believe in coming on stage and running down the Kaiser. There's no more harm in the Kaiser than in a dose of strychnine. In fact he's as welcome up at our house as influenza. Everything is getting so bally dear over the war. It cost me 1/6 this week for a newspaper to find out what I knew last week. I smoke cigarettes in honour of the Kaisier.' [Verne] 'In honour of the Kaiser?' [Vaude]: 'Yes; the Kaiser always had his drawbacks. The Kaiser knows very well that he'll be out of work when this war's over. In fact he cabled me and asked me if I could get him a job working 'by the day' or 'by the hour.' [Verne]: 'Why "by the day" or "by the hour?"' [Vaude] : 'Well the Kaiser never was any good at peace-work. They are all going war mad in Sydney. Even Nellie Stewart [in allusion to her return to the stage] has come to the front again. The Kaiser held a march past of all his troops and as they marched past [him] the troops were arrested.' [Verne]: 'Why?' [Vaude]: 'For passing a bad sovereign...' (Theatre Magazine Nov, 1914, p.36).

The fact that Vaude's songs and jokes were so popular, and also readily available though publication, meant that quite a few performers were unscrupulously using them for their own benefit and without acknowledgement. This situation led Australian Variety in early 1915 to suggest that as the originator of the material, Vaude was likely to at least appreciate, and possibly forgive, the appropriation if given the credit (20 January 1915, p.5). The level of the popularity is also seen by their inclusion in the Theatre Magazine's list of local performers who had undertaken longer runs (in one theatre) than any imported acts. Those also mentioned are Tom Armstrong (q.v.) and Mabs Howarth, The Driscoll Brothers, Jack 'Porky' Kearns (q.v.), and Ernest Pitcher. 'It is nothing for some of these to play a fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five weeks' engagement at the one house,' records the magazine. 'Even at the end of such a season they more often than not are going as successfully as many an imported act that happens to be opening in their closing bill' (Sept. 1915, p.49).

In 1916, Vaude and Verne's Tivoli Up-to-Date Joke, Parody and Monologue Album No 1 was published. Although one Theatre Magazine critic suggested that the book did not represent the best of their work, it nevertheless provided 'at a modest 6d a copy... entertainment enough to ensure the first edition having a wide sale with the theatrically interested public' (April 1916, p.34).

Vaude and Verne ended their long engagement with the Tivoli circuit in late 1917, taking up a contract with Fullers Theatres. After brief engagements in Adelaide (Majestic Theatre) and Melbourne (Bijou Theatre), the pair were given small roles in the company's 1917-1918 Sydney pantomime, Robinson Crusoe (Grand Opera House). This engagement lasted only two weeks, however, allowing them to return to straight vaudeville. A Green Room critic suggested that their failure to ignite much interest in the pantomime was possibly due to them being forced to subdue their well-known identities. Verne played the part of a pirate. Vaude is said to have made the best of his part, particularly a scene with a goat, which allowed him to score with a number of topical jokes aimed at the Federal Cabinet and Prime Minister Billy Hughes (February 1918, p.2).

1920-1929: Vaude and Verne maintained their hectic touring schedule around Australia and New Zealand throughout the early 1920s. Vaude's wife, Lilas Birt, also often appeared on the same bills, although rarely in the same act with him. As employment opportunities in the Australian vaudeville industry began to slowly decline from the mid-1920s onwards, Vaude and Verne similarly found their prospects limited, despite their high-profile reputations. They continued working for the Fullers, but only on temporary contracts. During this period, they worked for several other variety organisations including Harry Clay's Bridge Theatre Company. They also found engagements on the Tivoli circuit, then being run by Harry Musgrove, and with smaller (B-level) operations such as the 'Classic's Company' (Bohemia Theatre, Brisbane). Around 1924, the Fullers put together a revusical troupe billed as Fullers' Fantastics. The troupe comprised a number of well-known vaudeville and revue performers, notably Vaude and Verne, James Caldwell, Vince Courtney, Lola Hunt, Evelyn Dudley, Nat Hanley, Jack Kearns, and Hazel Fuller. Among the productions staged were two written and directed by Charlie Vaude: Cranking Up and Hold Tight. By 1925, Vaude and Verne were back on the vaudeville circuits doing their well-known patter routines, appearing under the Fullers' banner at the Bijou (Melbourne) early in the year. They are believed to have continued working the industry as a patter act throughout the next few years, before deciding to redirect their careers away from the constant touring and unreliable nature of the variety industry.

Sometime around 1928/1929, both moved to the Queensland coastal city of Rockhampton to set up entrepreneurial operations there. Vaude took up the lease of the Coliseum and Oddfellows' theatres. Under his management (known as Vaude's Theatrical Enterprises), the city was treated to vaudeville and revue by such troupes as the Merrymakers of 1929 (ca. July). The troupe was led by George 'Hermie' Ward (q.v.), with the other performers including Mrs George Ward, Vaude and Verne, and the Le Brun brothers. The Morning Bulletin's review of the opening night records that Vaude (invariably referred to as Chillo Vaude, or just Chillo) had instigated a Thursday night Merrymakers' market, whereby all holders of programmes were able to participate in the purchase of such articles as watches, gramophones, cutlery, thermos flasks, etc. He also held regular 'How Do You Do' competitions at the theatre (26 August 1929, p.3). Vaude also leased the Oddfellows' Theatre in nearby Mount Morgan around this period. While little is known of Verne's extra curricular activities (apart from performing), his wife operated Mrs Billy Verne's School of Dancing in an upstairs studio in Rockhampton's New Theatre. The school catered for adults ballroom dancing, juveniles theatrical and fancy dancing, and private tuition (Morning Bulletin 2 July 1929, p.2).

The Vaude and Verne partnership most likely ended when Charlie Vaude moved to Melbourne in the early 1930s to take up a career in radio. Bill Verne's whereabouts from 1929 onwards have not yet been established.

Most Referenced Works

Notes

  • 1. VAUDE AND VERNE COMEDY AND PERFORMANCE STYLE:

    1.1. Jokes: The Theatre Magazine's editor X-Ray writes in 1915 about the difference between Vaude and Verne jokes as presented live and when read in print:

    'Of course in printing their gags it is impossible to reproduce the emphasis given to a particular word, the expression or gesture that accompanies the line, or the atmosphere of the thing generally. To that extent, therefore, must the joke suffer when put into print. Still, the examples of their work given herewith may be regarded as in some measure bearing out the estimate of the writer that for quick, clever, diversified, up-to-date, topical patter there are not - nor have there ever been - two performers the equal of Vaude and Verne on the Australian stage' (October 1915, p.34).

    Vaude and Verne were among the leading vaudeville acts to direct much of their material towards the war from 1915 onwards. As the straightman, Verne tended to feed Vaude by way of questions.

      • NB: See The Theatre Magazine October 1915, pp.31 and 34 for numerous examples of their war-related joke craft.

    One of the features of Charlie Vaude's material, and indeed what appears to have set him apart from his contemporaries, was the high proportion of topical matter he presented at each show. The Theatre Magazine noted this fact as early as December 1914, reporting:

    Men like Tom Kelly get together an assortment of jokes - a few of them new, but most of them old - and on these they work year in and year out. As against performers of this order you strike a man like Charlie Vaude, who is responsible for bright, fresh, topical stuff from week to week. Indeed, it's safe to say that Mr Vaude works up and presents every month of his life more original humour than many a man with an English or American reputation contrives to give in the whole course of his career (p.45).

    More than ten years after they first formed their partnership, Vaude and Verne continued receiving glowing tributes from the critics for their topical jokes and local allusions:

    Vaude and Verne work their seemingly inexhaustible topical newspaper jokes with happy results, Vaude aught to be appointed Director-General of Local gags to every Sydney pantomime. In his line he has no equal (Theatre, Society and Home July 1924, p.21).

  • 1.2. Bill Verne: Although Verne appears to have a much lesser part in the act, a number of critics nevertheless noted that without his groundwork, Vaude's delivery would have lacked impact. A Brisbane Courier theatre critic once reported, for example, that Verne's preparation for each show necessitated reading all available newspapers, as much of Vaude's material would be impromptu reflections on what he had himself gleaned from both the local community and from what was happening nationally (21 September 1918, p.12).

    In the 1912 Theatre Magazine interview, Charlie Vaude said of his partner's contribution to their act:

    'Mr Verne has proved an excellent partner. He is always ready to work with me in trying any suggestion I may make. As a straightman he has a position to fulfil that very few straight-men could rise to, for the reason that in our case he has precious little to say, and out of a mere syllable he has often got to make a lot, merely by gesture and facial expression. Talking is much easier. We write all our own songs. Mr Verne has done a good deal in this direction' (January 1912, p.27).

    The Theatre Magazine also records in 1916:

    'Vaude has in Verne a particularly fine feeder. He dresses well, is of good appearance, a fair singer, is a quick yet clear speaker, and yields to Vaude - whichever way he blows - as naturally as the tree-tops bend to the wind. Or, if another simile is permissible, he is to Vaude what the springboard is to the diver' (April 1916, p.34).

  • 1.3. Performance Style:

    The following examples provide some insight into the Vaude and Verne act:

        • 'As to their capability to hold an audience, Vaude and Verne have at times been put to the severest test. In one instance, theirs - a talking act for the most part - had to follow [popular American Hebrew comedian] Julian Rose, who in 'Levinsky at the Wedding' had been speaking for thirty minutes. Vaude and Verne proved quite equal to the occasion. Vaude's first line on entering was : "Now, to continue the conversation, only in English." This immediately secured them the interested ear of the audience. The rest was easy.' (Theatre Magazine October 1915, p.34).

        • When Ada Reeve was played the Tivoli she was always engaged as the headline act, and thus positioned second last on the bill. Her performance also rarely lasted less than forty-five minutes. The problem for the management was to find a final act with the ability to keep the audience in the theatre afterwards. The Theatre Magazine records that after numerous acts had failed to do this, the management engaged Vaude and Verne. The first night they followed Reeve, Vaude dipped his umbrella and hat in the fire-bucket behind the stage, walked out to face the audience and implored them to stay because it was 'raining like the dickens.' The ploy apparently worked because no-one stirred. They subsequently followed Reeve for four weeks with success (Theatre Magazine October 1915, p.34).

        • '[Charles Vaude] has an amazing range of talk, and it is seldom that his act is the same as the preceding performance. Verne is never sure what his nimble-witted partner is going to say, and makes it a practice to studiously read his daily newspaper half an hour before they go on the stage so as to have some knowledge of the events which Vaude is likely to satirise' (Brisbane Courier 21 September 1918, p.12).

        • 'The remainder of the programme contained several good things, chief among which were the interminable and racy witticisms of Vaude and Verne, whose song and satire afforded some smart comments on current events and personalities' (Brisbane Courier 24 October 1921, p.9).

        • 'Mr Charles Vaude lectured "Mr Oxley." This excurson into the realm of history rather upset [fellow performer] Mr Charles Albert, whose studies had led him to find inaccuracies in some of the "facts" related by Mr Vaude' (Brisbane Courier 8 Dec. 1923, p.10).

  • 2. HISTORICAL NOTES AND CORRECTIONS:

    2.1. Bill Verne's real name has been referred to as 'Partington' (Isadore Brodsky, The Streets of Sydney, p.40) and 'Bartington' (David Dunstan, Dictionary of Australian Biography, p.312). According to several reports published during their career, however, Verne's birth name was Will Barrington.

        • See, for example, Theatre Magazine January 1912, p.25 ; October 1915, p.34 ; and April 1916, p.34.

    2.2. Australian Variety reported in its 10 November 1915 issue that Vaude and Jim White ('a Hawklet scribe') were about to form a partnership as 'song and sketch writers, revue specialists, and caterers to all vaudeville material' (n. pag.). No evidence of this collaboration having come to fruition has yet been located. James H. White was later associated with Harry Clay in running the Australian Theatrical Bureau [see Clay Djubal, 'Harry Clay and Clay's Vaudeville Company,' Appendix E, for details on his career].

    2.3. A 13 February 1897 advertisement for Melbourne's People's Concerts features a double song and dance act by the name of Verne and Colligan. It is unclear if there is any relationship between this Verne and Will Barrington. Interestingly, the same bill advertises a a 'charming serio comic' by the name of Lily Burt. It is similarly unclear if there is any relationship between this person and Charles Vaude's first wife, Lilas Birt [see Lilas Birt section in Charles Vaude's entry - 'Historical Notes'].

  • FURTHER REFERENCE:

    The following list comprises articles, paragraphs, and reports relating to Charlie Vaude that are not given individual entries in this database.

    Entries with an asterisk (*) beside them indicate that the source is an advertisement.

      • The Age: 9 February 1925, p.12.

      • Australian Variety and Show World: 19 September 1917, p.3 [re: Fullers' engagements] / 25 January 1919, n. pag.

      • Brisbane Courier: 21 September 1918, p.12 / 24 October 1921, p.9 / 21 November 1921, p.4 / 8 Dec. 1923, p.10.

      • Everyone's: 28 December 1921, n. pag.

      • Green Room: February 1918, p.2.

      • Sporting Globe: 10, 17, and 24 June 1939, n. pags.

      • Sun News Pictorial: 30 October 1942, n. pag.

      • Table Talk: 21 August 1930, n. pag.

      • Theatre Magazine: December 1912, p.33 [re. why Vaude and Verne and not Vaude and Ville] / October 1913, p.33 [Vaude talks about comedian Tom Dawson] / January 1915, p.46 [re. Ted Holland jokes] / September 1915, p.49 [re. Australian acts with a history of long engagements] / January 1917, p.52 [re. The Passing Show] / February 1917, p.32 / January 1918, p.38 / February 1918, p.32 / December 1918, p.32 / February 1922, p.21.

      • Truth [Brisbane]: 11 October 1914, p.9.
  • Entries connected with this record have been sourced from on-going historical research into Australian popular theatre being conducted by Dr Clay Djubal.
Last amended 19 Jun 2017 11:04:08
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