Tex's Family and Early Life (2)

Tex's First Arrival in the UK

Although I have been unable to find a passenger list showing Tex's first arrival in the UK, he was mentioned in 'The Stage' in June 1919, when he appeared on the bill of the Liverpool Hippodrome with various artists.

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Cutting from 'The Stage' 12 June 1919 [10]

'The Sheffield Evening Telegraph' gave a hint about the content of Tex's act later in June, by describing him as an 'expert rope-thrower'.

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Cutting from 'The Sheffield Evening Telegraph' 27 June 1919 [18]

The Hippodrome and Empire chains of theatres in which Tex appeared were entertainment circuits. A group of acts would take a show around the country. In the first part of the 20th century newspapers rarely gave details of these shows apart from dates and maybe the 'top of the bill' - presumably because impresarios had to pay by the column-inch. We do get a few more words about Tex from the advert for the Nottingham Empire in August 1919. He had clearly started his 'talking while twisting ropes' act right back then.

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Cutting from 'The Nottingham Evening Post' 18 August 1919 [5]

'The Western Mail' noted that Tex 'talks incessantly, just like an American' but the reviewer seemed to like him.

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Cutting from 'The Western Mail' 11 November 1919 [19]

1920

In 1920 Tex is recorded on the US census as living with Emily Stickney and Clyde in the household of Emily's father, Robert Stickney. His occupation was recorded as 'Theatrical Business'. This business took him to various places around the world, including Britain, where he would ultimately settle, and Emily was about to be left behind in more ways than one.

Tex was appearing at the Palace in Leicester in January and a cutting from the local newspaper stated that he had won a number of prizes and awards in America and had toured Australia. These claims were all true.

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Cutting from 'The Leicester Chronicle' 3 January 1920 [21]

The reporter from 'The Globe', in June of the same year, was less taken with Tex's stories .. and (he) never ceases during his performance to tell stories, amusing and otherwise.

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Cutting from 'The Globe' 8 June 1920 [22]

1921

Second Marriage

Tex married Alexandra D. Byron (1903-1974) at St. Martins in London towards the end of 1921 making her wife #2. There were no press announcements about the wedding that I could find, nor any information about Tex's engagements in 1921 and I presume he was working outside the UK - possibly in Australia or South Africa.

After a great deal of digging, I managed to discover more about Alexandra, who had changed her name. Her birth was registered towards the end of 1903 at Lambeth, London as Alexandra Ruby Violet Dawson. At some point she had adopted one of the variations of her father's name.

Her father was a theatrical agent named Roman Victor Jose Byron-Barhydt (also known as Roman Victor José Byron). He had been born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1857 and, in 1904, married Alexandra's mother Mabel Kate Dawson, who was twenty-four years his junior. The marriage was not a success, according to Roman at least and, in the article quoted below from 1922, he said he had been separated from Mabel for sixteen years - suggesting the marriage had only lasted two years.

In 1922, Roman was applying for a renewal of his Theatrical Agency licence from the London County Council. A Miss Laura Law objected to the renewal alleging, amongst other things, that she had been seduced by Roman in his office and he was using it for immoral purposes. Roman denied this and claimed that the lady was obsessed with him, though agreed that he had had 'relations' with her - but at his flat rather than his office. Sir George Bettesworth Piggott KBE, Chairman of the LCC committee, believed Roman and granted the licence. I note that Roman was a member of the Chelsea Lodge of Freemasons and hope this didn't influence matters. After the renewal was approved, Miss Law claimed that she had not been given a proper hearing and I suspect she was quite correct. Unfortunately the cutting below is rather blurred but hopefully you will be able to make out most of it.

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Cutting from 'The Sheffield Daily Independent' 4 February 1922 [108]

Roman's success in the hearing did him little good as he died at the Hotel Splendide, Bucharest in 1923 leaving his wife the princely sum of £81 6s. Mabel and her mother left the UK for Australia in 1925. Mabel married Stipan Klinac in New Zealand in 1926 and the Klinacs returned to England in 1929 and settled here.


I presume that Alexandra's father, being a theatrical agent, introduced her into showbusiness circles at a young age and she probably met Tex backstage at one of the productions. We will see that Alexandra would not be the last teenager to attract Tex's attentions. When Tex and Alexandra married, he was thirty-two and she was just seventeen.

1922

In 1922, 'The Era', a British weekly paper which focused on theatrical events, had short adverts for Tex appearing with first of all a 'Miss Dawson', then a couple of months later a 'Miss Alex. Andra' - in both cases claiming that they had worked together in Johannesburg. Dawson was Alexandra's birth name so she probably adopted it as a stage name for a while.

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Cutting from 'The Era' 26 April 1922 [23]
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Cutting from 'The Era' 21 June 1922 [23]

1923

I have found no information about Tex's engagements in 1923.

1924

On 27 May 1924 Tex and Alexandra arrived in Sydney on the old Oceanic Steamship Company liner Sonoma for another Australian tour on the 'Tivoli Circuit' - Australia's equivalent to the variety circuits in Britain.

Sonoma
Photo of S.S. Sonoma [1]

In July Tex was performing in Australia and was interviewed by a reporter from 'The Sydney Country Life Stock and Station Journal'. His banter was in full swing and he hinted to the reporter that he might stay in Australia. Whether he was seriously considering it I have no idea. Some of the claims he made to the reporter seem rather doubtful but the reporter clearly liked his down to earth approach.

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Cutting from 'The Country Life Stock and Station Journal' (Sydney) 25 July 1924 [84]

1925

In May 'The Era' had a photo of Tex after a return from working in Chicago so presumably he had been on tour in the US.

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Cutting from The Era 9 May 1925 [23]

I was very surprised to locate an interview with him in 'The Era' later in May. It is reproduced below but the image quality is poor. Most of the article is about his stage experiences in Australia and South Africa but I transcribed the extract below as it was more interesting. Tex and Alexandra had travelled to New York from Southampton 2nd Class on the Cunard Liner Berengaria in April. Tex mentions having a ranch back in America. I wonder whether this was true or just talk?

... While in the United States I took my wife - who by the way is an English girl - on a visit to my people at Texas. We spent a couple of weeks on a ranch I have there. We met a great number of British and Australian artists and were glad to learn that they were doing well. We prepared to San Francisco and back and I have brought the car back with me to London. I may add that my wife will shortly appear with another lady artist in an act on the English Vaudeville Stage.
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Cutting from 'The Era' 23 May 1925 [23]

I don't know how long Tex and Alexandra were together, but she gets no more mentions in the press, and in 1933 she re-married. Her second husband Edward Chiverton lived in Paddington, and by 1939 they were living in Alton, Hampshire. Chiverton was the son of an Isle of Wight grocer, and was recorded as a 'Grocer - Master' on the 1939 Register. It must have been a big change for Alexandra to become the wife of a shopkeeper after working in showbusiness; perhaps she just wanted stability and a quiet life. She died in Alton in 1974; Chiverton outlived her and died in 1981 back on the Isle of Wight.

1926

I could find no press cuttings for 1926 and presume that Tex was touring outside the UK.

1927

In the article about Tex by Willard Porter, on the previous page, Willard said "In 1927, Tex appeared with Maurice Chevalier in 'Whitebirds' in London, where he got rave press." I presume the source of this was Tex himself, and am inclined to think his description was an example of his sarcastic wit, as the show came close to being a total disaster. The correct title was 'White Birds' - it was a revue produced by Lew Leslie, whose previous successful show was called 'Blackbirds' - which included the well known song 'I can't give you anything but love Baby'. The fact that 'White Birds' is not even mentioned in Leslie's Wikipedia entry speaks volumes.

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Portrait of Lew Leslie from 'The Graphic' 23 July 1927 [71]

The show opened at Her Majesty's Theatre on 31 May and ran until 30 July. The opening night had been put back four times and, when the show finally started seventy-five minutes late, the audience had become hostile and belligerent and the opening was jeered [160].

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Cutting from 'The Daily Mirror' 14 july 1927 [26]

'The Daily Herald' gave an incisive review of the shambolic first night and noted that it over-ran as well as starting late. Only Maurice Chevalier came out of it well.

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Cutting from 'The Daily Herald' 1 June 1927 [162]

'The Westminster Gazette' wasn't kind either in noting that the show had been 'Booed'. The reviewer gave up and left before the rambling programme had finished.

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Cutting from 'The Westminster Gazette' 1 June 1927 [161]

The show was revamped and limped along until the end of July. 'The Daily Herald' gave a better review on 18 June and mentioned the appearance of Tex who was considered one of the better parts of the show.

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Cutting from 'The Daily Herald' 18 June 1927 [71]

'The Weekly Dispatch' printed an 'obituary' for the show on 31 July and that was the last that was heard of it.

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Cutting from 'The Weekly Dispatch' 31 July 1927 [9]

In December 'The Era' mentioned that a Marjorie Tiller was supporting Tex's act in a show at the London Coliseum. She didn't know it at the time, but she was destined to become wife #3.

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Cutting from 'The Era' 7 December 1927 [23]

1928

In February Tex was working in New York with Marjorie Tiller, who got a pretty large billing.

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Cutting from 'The Era' 12 September 1928 [23]

1929

1929 found Tex performing with another young lady named Anne Howe; he continued to appear with her through 1930 and 1931, with spells in America.

In April he was at the Holborn Empire on the same bill as Will Hay who would become a very popular UK film actor. In 1929 he had yet to start his film career but, by 1938, Hay was ranked third highest British Box Office star after George Formby and Gracie Fields. He often played incompetent, and slightly dishonest, authority figures and is credited as being Jimmy Perry's inspiration for the character of Captain Mainwaring in the TV programme 'Dad's Army'.

Photo
Will Hay in the 1937 film 'Oh, Mr Porter' [164]

The Tiller Girls were also on this bill. Perhaps Marjorie Tiller was checking up on him? There was certainly no mention of Anne Howe in that show. Marjorie appears with Tex on a film clip which you can see on YouTube - she had what we would nowadays call a 'cut glass' accent [55].

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Cutting from 'The Daily Mirror' 15 April 1929 [26]
Photo
The Tiller Girls posing on a ship in the mid-to-late 1920s [97]

1930

I could find no press cuttings for 1930 and presume that Tex was touring outside the UK again. There is nothing about him performing in either Britain or Australia, although the Australian press carried a number of articles announcing his return in 1931.

1931

Tex and Marjorie Tiller were aboard the P&O liner Mooltan as she left Tilbury for Brisbane on 29 May 1931. They appear on different sections of the passenger list as Marjorie was British and Tex was American. Both are described as 'Artists'. Note the correction on the passenger list - Tex's name was originally next to that of Marjorie as a Brit but deleted. They were touring Australia together on the Tivoli Circuit.

Passenger List Passenger List
Mooltan Passenger List 29 May 1931 [24]

Marjorie was related to John Tiller - the founder of The Tiller Girls. Her name appeared with many other dancers on a passenger list from 16 August 1924 when she travelled from Southampton to New York on the liner Aquitania as part of a party led by Mary Read as explained by this quote from the Tiller Girls website [25]:

John Tiller opened a dance school at 226 West 72nd Street, New York, with offices and a training studio run by Mary Read; a Head Tiller Girl from England who had been one of the 1916 Sunshine Girls in America. She trained American pupils as well as the girls from the United Kingdom.

She was a hard taskmaster, but a good business woman who had John Tiller’s full support in everything she did. The girls always called her Miss Read. In the 1920s, John Tiller was regularly crossing the world to finalise contracts. He always made sure his trip ended up in New York so he could meet Mary.

Trawling through hundreds of old newspapers can be pretty boring but, just occasionally, you find a gem like the cutting below from 'The Liverpool Echo' of 15 September 1931 describing an 'incident' at a show in Melbourne, Australia which makes it all worthwhile.

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Cutting from 'The Liverpool Echo' 15 September 1931 [27]

According to Willard Porter, the drunken official got his revenge by using his influence to get Tex's engagement cut short.

1932

By 1932, the Great Depression was in full swing; within a year Britain's world trade had about halved, the output of heavy industry had fallen by a third and there were 3.5 million people registered unemployed.

Tex got a shock in January on being told by the Ministry of Labour that, as a foreign performer, he could no longer work in Britain.

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Cutting from 'The Shields Daily News' 9 January 1932 [28]

Tex and Marjorie Tiller hoped to get work in America and are shown in the photo below at Paddington Station on the way to Plymouth to catch the Cie Generale Transatlantique (CGT) liner Paris leaving on 3 February 1932 and arriving at New York on 9 February, travelling via Le Havre. Tex was on the passenger list but not Marjorie; she presumaby returned to London by train.

Tex and Marjorie
Photo taken 3 February 1932. [68]

Paris suffered a sad ending. In 1939 she was moored at Le Havre being loaded with works of art for the New York World's Fair when a fire broke out in the ship's bakery. Firemen sprayed water from one side of the ship only causing her to capsize. The works of art were lost and the vessel broken up at the end of WW2.

CGT Paris
Photo of CGT passenger liner Paris [1]

The ban on foreign performers had been introduced by the National Government - a mainly Conservative and Liberal coalition with the Labour Party's Ramsay MacDonald, considered a 'traitor' by much of the Labour movement, as Prime Minister. The National Government was pursuing 'Protectionist' policies - 'British jobs for British people'. This kind of policy gets trotted out repeatedly over the generations and is still familiar in the 21st Century!

Rightly fearing reciprocal policies from foreign governments, the policy was opposed by the Actors' Union 'Equity', and they protested to Government.

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Cutting from 'The Daily Mirror' 16 February 1932 [26]

The American government did indeed reciprocate. The British government quickly realised they had scored an 'own goal' and that the policy would result in large numbers of British artists working in America being sent home to swell the numbers of UK unemployed. They had started to backtrack on the policy by March.

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Cutting from 'The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette' 23 March 1932 [29]

In July 'The Era' reported that Tex, who was still persona non grata as a performer in the UK and working in America, was coming to Britain to get married to Marjorie Tiller. His name would be back on the bill of the London Palladium by the end of the month.

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Cutting from 'The Era' 13 July 1932 [23]

'The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News' had a photo of the couple in August.

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Cutting from 'The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News' 6 August 1932 [30]

Later in August, in what must surely have been a publicity stunt, Tex and Marjorie turned up at The Smithy at Gretna Green and asked to be married but were turned down as they had not been resident in Scotland for the required 21 days.

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Cutting from 'The Birmingham Daily Gazette' 18 August 1932 [31]

Third Marriage

Tex and Marjorie finally married in November at the Henrietta Street Registry Office in London, with Gracie Fields as one of the witnesses and crowds of onlookers outside, making Marjorie wife #3. 'The Western Daily Press' couldn't resist mentioning the 20 years age difference between the couple - but at least she had reached her majority - unlike wife #2.

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Cutting from 'The Western Daily Press' 26 November 1932 [32]
Marriage
Registry Office wedding of Tex McLeod and Majorie Tiller 25 November 1932 - Gracie Fields to left of couple. The writing on the image is confusing but I think it must have been on the negative so is reversed [68]

'The Mirror' newspaper (Perth, Australia) had carried a story in September that Tex wanted to be married on horseback but that was probably just more showmanship.

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Cutting from 'The Mirror' 10 September 1932 [83]

1933

I could find no information about Tex's performances in 1933.

1934

In 1934 Tex was on a further tour in Australia with Sole Brothers Circus and Wild Animal Zoo.

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Cutting from 'Eyre's Peninsula Tribune' [94]

1935

In January 'The Daily Mirror' included a photo of Marjorie with her and Tex's son James who had been born in 1934.

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Cutting from 'The Daily Mirror' 24 January 1935 [26]

The photo below shows Marjorie, Jamie and Tex at around the same time. It was included in the article by Willard Porter on the previous page.

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Photo of Marjorie, Jamie and Tex [158]

That would be Marjorie's last mention in the UK press. Within a few years, she moved to British Columbia, Canada with James and married Harry Elliott Fairley; I have been unable to find out anything conclusive about Fairley. James assumed the name of his step-father. Marjorie died in the Vancouver area in 1993 at the age of 85, and James died there in 2000. Marjorie's headstone inscription is interesting and makes me wonder whether she carried on dancing after leaving Tex - but it could just be a reference to the Tiller family business.

Gravestone
Photo of Marjorie's gravestone [115]

In March many newspapers carried an account of Tex being taken to court in Liverpool For using improper language to the annoyance of the residents. Two police officers had been instructed to sit in the audience noting down his jokes and, when the case was heard, read out the jokes in court. I am sure this was the highlight of the day for the Magistrate, and light relief from the litany of assaults, thefts, drunkenness and prostitution that made up a normal session. The Magistrate ruled that only four of the jokes were indecent and fined Tex £5. Tex went up another notch in my estimation when I read about this.

The cutting from 'The Daily Herald' below quotes the Magistrate: - The jokes about Hitler and his followers, the honeymoon couple at Blackpool, the wedding in the nudist colony and the one about Mae West and the Invisible Man did offend against the recognised standards of public morality. The story got reported as far away as Australia.

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Cutting from 'The Daily Herald' 1 March 1935 [71]
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Cutting from 'Trove' for 1935 (original source unknown) [74]

Another of his regular quips, not obscene, but objected to by some Australians in the UK, was One good thing about Australia is that plenty of boats leave there.

In April the Home Office declined to allow Tex to stay in England and he returned to America. Whether the decision was influenced by the court case I don't know, but the ban was short-lived as he arrived back at Southampton from New York on the Cunard White Star liner Berengaria on 1 August and was soon appearing at the Brighton Hippodrome. The reason for letting Tex return is explained on the next page.

Passenger List
Extract from passenger list [24]
Berengaria
Old postcard showing Cunard White Star Line's Berengaria [93]

Tex's address on the passenger list was 19 Arundel Road, Kingston.

House
19 Arundel Road, Kingston from Google Street View [2]

1936

In January 'The Era' reported that Tex had 'a beautiful new partner', who is not named but may well have been Margaret Turner.

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Cutting from 'The Era' 8 January 1936 [23]

In April he was once more on tour in Australia and had included bowie knife throwing in his act.

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Cutting from 'The Barrier Miner' 23 April 1936 [87]

In July 'The Western Morning News' reported that Tex had gone to Plymouth to meet Clyde McLeod, his son from his first wife Emily Stickney, who had come to Britain - presumably for a brief visit. He gave Tex's address as his destination on the travel documents.

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Cutting from 'The Western Morning News' 3 July 1936 [34]

It emerged in a newspaper article in 1954 that Tex and his horse Arabia had taken part in an early BBC Television outside broadcast at Alexandra Palace on 7 December 1936. This would have been a very early experiment, as television had only been launched on 2 November of that year. Cecil Lewis, the head of outside broadcasting, explained that they were limited by the fact that cameras could only be taken a short distance from the studio as they had to be 'connected by a cable as thick as my arm' [62].

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Cutting from 'The Hampshire Telegraph' 12 November 1954 [63]

1937

A brief note in 'The Stage' in March noted that Tex was touring in South Africa, but performances in Britain resumed later in the year. In July 'The Era' had a notice showing that Tex had a yet another new partner - Ima Zigfield.

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Cutting from 'The Era' 8 July 1937 [23]
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Ima Zigfield - publicity photo [1]

In December, Tex and his 'beautiful assistant Ima', were involved in a road crash but escaped uninjured.

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Cutting from 'The Chelmsford Chronicle' 31 December 1937 [35]

1938

This cutting from 'The West London Star' says Tex was performing with his unnamed 'girl friend' - presumably Ima - which suggests that he had 'moved on' from his third wife Marjorie in more than a professional sense. Ima continued to appear with Tex through to at least June 1939.

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Cutting from 'The West London Star' 4 February 1938 [36]

I was surprised to see from the advertisement above that they were performing at a theatre called the Kilburn Empire that I had never heard of, despite knowing the area well since a child. On investigation, I found that it had been a rather attractive building erected in 1906 at the Maida Vale end of Kilburn High Road. It was finally demolished in 1994 and the site is now occupied by the Marriott Hotel - a place I have often stayed when working in London.

Kilburn Empire
Old postcard showing the Kilburn Empire Theatre [165]

Later in 1938 Tex was back performing in Brisbane, Australia.


We see the first hint of a change in direction for Tex's performances with a notification that 'Tex McLeod and his Arabian Horses Rodeo' would be appearing as one of the acts in the Grand Ice Circus, to be held at the Empress Hall at Earl's Court on 26 and 27 December 1938.

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Cutting from 'The West London Observer' 16 December 1938 [37]
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Cutting from 'The Acton Gazette' 16 December 1938 [37]

1939

January brought a resumption of touring and a search for a new wife, with Marjorie out of the picture. I should note in passing, that Tex appeared at various charity fund-raising events over the years, including one for the Bearsted Memorial Hospital held at the Prince of Wales Theatre.


'The Weekly Dispatch' reported in February that Tex, who would be 50 years old in November, planned to marry a chorus girl in his show - 17-year old ex-convent girl Pauline Crabtree.

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Cutting from 'The Weekly Dispatch' 19 February 1939 [38]

'The Sunday Pictorial', always keen on reporting scandals, gave more details, mentioning that the couple had only met 10 days previously. As a point of law, marriages in 1939 were subject to the Age of Marriage Act 1929 which had increased the age of marriage to sixteen with consent of parents or guardians, and 21 without that consent. As Pauline was only 17 she could not marry without parental consent and, unsurprisingly, her parents were against the wedding and things went quiet.

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Cutting from 'The Sunday Pictorial' 19 February 1939 [39]

Newspaper reports on Tex's movements in 1939 are very confusing. On 2 March he was reported as performing at the Rex Theatre in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia but an article in the Melbourne Sporting Globe in 1942 said his Australian trip had been cancelled.

Also in March 'The London Daily News' reported an altercation between Tex and Frederick Owen Grey, the Stage Manager of the Prince of Wales Theatre, who alleged that Tex had knocked seven of his teeth out. The day before the alleged assault, Tex was in his dressing room with some friends and Ima Zigfield was playing her accordion. Grey objected due to the noise and told her to leave. When Ima returned the following day, she was stopped at the stage door and 'words were exchanged' - as will be explained in the report of the court hearing. Tex denied assault.

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Cutting from 'The London Daily News' 30 March 1939 [40]

The next two pages are about Vera's ancestors and early life. We will learn about the outcome of the court case when we look at Tex's marriage to Vera and their time together.