Epilogue

Acknowledgements and Observations

I wouldn't have produced this material had I not been contacted by Margot Blackah (née Rodda), as mentioned in the introduction. Since then, Margot has provided input on many topics - particularly regarding the horses that featured so much in the lives of both Tex and Vera. My own experiences of the creatures is limited to being allowed to ride the milkman's horse back to the depot on Saturday mornings when I was a kid, and getting a sore bum on the couple of times I attempted pony-trekking with my late wife. Apart from the 'horsy' input, I am grateful to Margot for reviewing my drafts, supplying me with large numbers of missing commas and making me wish I had studied Lynn Truss's book 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' more thoroughly.

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I was expecting to write a short account of the life of Vera, similar to the one I produced about her brother George, but much to my surprise, I ended up writing a proper biography - as it turns out a double biography. The work is obviously limited by the resources available to me - information in books and on the Internet. I have spent hundreds of hours trawling the British Newspaper Archive and archives of newspapers around the world and am truly astonished at how much information came to light.

I am aware that Vera and Tex both have living relatives and have deliberately avoided mentioning them by name. Maybe one day I will get to meet some of them and they would like to add to the story - I hope so. It is even possible that Vera and/or Tex left diaries or accounts of their lives.

Despite these limitations, I believe that something of the characters of Vera and Tex comes across. In doing the research I discovered a fascinating story about two people from very different worlds who, between them, worked with just about every famous UK stage and TV star of the period in which I grew up. I have included information about many of the stars together with my personal memories of those times, and have probably over-indulged my interests in ships, genealogy, old maps and aerial photographs.

My starting point with Tex was that I didn't think much of him - particularly his womanising and apparent exaggeration. Infidelity seems to have been common with showbusiness folk back then - and indeed still is. I began to warm to him on reading some of the funnier stories, and found that most of his accounts of past events were confirmed - more or less - by independent accounts and other evidence. He must have had a great deal of personal charm; not only with the ladies, but with audiences and representatives of the press. He also had a sharp wit and was not afraid to speak out. We don't know the full facts about his last years but, at face value, he seems to have been trying to do something to help the unfortunate - and paid a heavy price.

Vera is more inscrutable as I haven't seen any quotes from her and, when it comes down to it, all I really know about her is that she was very good with animals and was kind to an unknown girl who knocked on her door.

Maybe more information about Vera and Tex will come to light some day.

Observations on Tex's Act

Tex continued with his 'twirling ropes and accompanying patter' throughout his long working life. He regularly updated the act with the current political gossip and apparently spent a lot of time scanning newspapers for scandal and fresh material. Most of the reviews he got were kind, though of course his act wasn't to everyone's taste. For example, he upset the reviewer from 'The Stage' in January 1931. He thought Tex's swipes at Charles Lindbergh and the Prince of Wales - later Britain's shortest reigning monarch Edward VIII - should be dropped from the act. In later years both gentlemen would become controversial and were accused of having Nazi sympathies - probably true in both cases although they always denied it. Tex seems to have been ahead of public opinion and went up in my estimation when I read this!

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 8 January 1931 [10]

There are a number of short videos on YouTube showing Tex performing in the early 1930s for anyone interested. Tex was just one of many 'rope twirling' acts, and certainly one of the best. He seems to have been unique in combining this with his commentaries on people and life. Rope twirling remained popular for a long time and I can recall seeing such acts in variety shows as late as the 1970s. Personally I have never understood the appeal despite the skill involved.

During his career Tex worked with literally hundreds of acts - some good and some undoubtedly awful. Looking through the theatre notices, some of those that most people of my generation would be familiar with were: Max Wall, 'Two-ton' Tessie O'Shea, Ambrose and his Orchestra, Will Fyffe, Will Hay, Nervo and Knox, Geraldo and his Orchestra, Eddie Gray (who later assumed the stage name 'Monsewer Eddie Gray'), Elsie and Doris Waters, Flanagan and Allen, George Formby, George Robey, Ted Ray, Hutch (Leslie A. Hutchinson), Carroll Levis - a pioneer of talent shows, Vera Lynn, Fats Waller, Betty Driver (whose amazingly long career included playing Betty Williams in Coronation Street for 42 years), the hilarious Wilson, Keppel and Betty with their sand-dancing act, Peter Brough - who I can assure you, having seen him in a live performance, was the worst ventriloquist to set foot on a stage - and Stéphane Grappelli. Tex also appeared in many radio programmes - presumably sans ropes.

Like most comedy, Tex's spiel has not stood the test of time as I am sure you will agree if you check out the videos on YouTube. Generally, comedy is 'of its time' so this shouldn't be held against him. Most radio and TV shows enjoyed in my younger days seem awful now; just a few, like 'Fawlty Towers' have lasting appeal - so far anyway.

Tex's Multiple Marriages

Tex McLeod married at least five times. I have found evidence of these marriages but none for divorces. However, discovering evidence of a divorce is more difficult than for a birth, death or marriage for a number of reasons:

  • Records of many - possibly most - divorces are not available online from services like Ancestry.com
  • To trace original records, you need a lot of information before you even know where to look
  • Some divorce records are 'sealed' - see below
  • Some people claimed to be single when a later marriage took place even though they were not divorced - therefore committing the offence of bigamy

I don't know whether any of Tex's marriages were bigamous. It would surely have been risky for someone in the public eye but some people thrive on risk-taking, and I suppose he could always have 'done a runner' to America or one of the countries he had worked in if found out. I explored the possibility of tracing any UK divorces with the public authorities but the cost of searches would be prohibitive so I have not progressed it.

The next paragraphs give some insights into divorce and bigamy in the 20th Century.

Divorce in the UK

The history of divorce since 1900 is summed up nicely in this extract from 'Olympic Britain' from the House of Commons Library [111]

Before 1914 divorce was rare; it was considered a scandal, confined by expense to the rich, and by legal restrictions requiring proof of adultery or violence to the truly desperate. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was just one divorce for every 450 marriages.

As it did in other areas of social policy, WWI led to reforms of divorce law that put men and women on a more equal footing. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1923, introduced as a Private Member’s Bill, enabled either partner to petition for divorce on the basis of their spouse’s adultery (previously, only the man had been able to do this). A further Act in 1937 offered additional grounds for divorce: cruelty, desertion and incurable insanity. Though it was becoming more widespread, divorce remained uncommon enough to be a potential source of shame throughout the first half of the 20th century. As late as 1955, the Tory cabinet minister Lord Salisbury threatened to resign if a bill were passed to allow Princess Margaret to marry Peter Townsend, the innocent party in a divorce case.

Both World Wars caused a spike in divorces, but it was not until the Divorce Reform Act 1969 that they reached the level we are familiar with today. This legislation marked an important shift not merely because it added further grounds for divorce, on the basis of two years’ separation with the other party’s consent, or five years’ without, but because it removed the concept of ‘matrimonial offences’ and hence the idea of divorce as a remedy for the innocent against the guilty.

The impact of the changes in legislation can be seen from the graph below. Divorce rates were very low prior to WW2, and seem to have peaked in the 1990s.

Graph
Graph showing number of UK Marriages and Divorces [111]

Although divorce records can be 'sealed', this has to be requested by one or both parties and approved by the court. The most common reasons for court approval are listed below but it is at the discretion of the court. The existence of a decree absolute itself is still a matter of public record - it is the details that are sealed.

  • The need to protect children from identification in divorce records
  • The need to protect victims of domestic violence
  • The need to keep sensitive information such as social security numbers and bank account numbers private
  • The need to protect proprietary business information

Bigamy in the UK

So if divorce was difficult and expensive, what did those who could not afford it do if their marriage had broken down? Dr. Nick Barratt, formerly of the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) had this to say: [112]

Until the introduction of the civil Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes in 1858, church courts heard any disputes between husband and wife, and a legal separation was the best outcome.

Divorce as such could only be achieved through a private bill in the House of Lords, a prohibitively expensive procedure, and although some couples came to a private agreement, the reality was that legal divorce was out of the reach of most people.

The new court from 1858 did at least offer a route for civil divorce, but the proceedings took place in London and still proved too costly for most people to use. Although the system underwent several changes, particularly in the 20th century, it was only the extension of legal aid and the spread of local divorce registries that opened the floodgates, particularly after World War Two.

Consequently, many couples who separated but did not divorce underwent subsequent, bigamous second marriages. Tell-tale signs include stating on the marriage certificate that they were a bachelor or spinster when you know they had been married, or that they were widowed, when you can find no evidence of the death of their spouse. Alternatively, they may have moved quietly to another part of the country and reappeared on census returns with a new family.

Of course, bigamy was a felony and prosecutions did occur, and many cases are reported in local and national newspapers.

So how common was bigamy in reality? That question is impossible to answer, but we do know how many people were prosecuted for it, and this is summarised in the graph below. Apart from peaks during WW1 and WW2, there were very few prosecutions, which suggests that the likelihood of getting caught was relatively low.

Graph
Graph showing number of prosecutions for bigamy from 1850 to 1950 [113]