Vera and Tex

1939

Fourth Marriage

Out of the blue, and with the case of the alleged assault on the Stage Manager still looming, 'The Sheffield Daily Telegraph' announced that Tex had married Vera Milligen (spelling her name incorrectly as Milligan) at Kingston Registry Office on 25 July 1939, and mentioned that Vera had won many prizes for horse riding. We know, from a later newspaper article, that Vera had been a prize winner in 'dressage and high-school' at the International Horse Show that was held at Olympia 15-24 June 1939.

Poster
Poster from the International Horse Show 1939 [149]

Tex made no secret of his previous marriages and claimed to be on good terms with all his previous wives - although we only have his word for that. Maybe Tex intended to rival King Henry VIII; in any case Vera had become his fourth but, as will be seen, not his final wife. The article included a quote, allegedly from Vera's father John Milligan (Milligen), denying that Vera would sacrifice £60,000 per year - presumably her allowance. We have no idea what John Milligen thought of the marriage, but at least it wasn't a case of 'cradle-snatching', as with the 17-year-old Pauline Crabtree, as Vera was 26.

The marriage had to be held in a Registry Office due to Tex's previous marriages. Even now few churches would conduct a marriage ceremony where one of the parties had been married three times and all the previous spouses were still alive.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Sheffield Daily Telegraph' 16 August 1939 [42]

An article in 'The Daily Record', reveals that they had met whilst horseriding in Richmond Park. The park was a popular area for riding, and remains so, with many livery stables, riding schools and other facilities for horse owners. Vera and Tex gave their address as 53 Ullswater Crescent in nearby Coombe in Surrey.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Daily Record' 16 August 1939 [45]
View
53 Ullswater Crescent in 2021 from Google Street View [2]

On 3 September 1939, as Tex was performing at the Holborn Empire, Britain and France declared war on Germany and WW2 began. The very same day German submarine U-30, commanded by Fritz-Julius Lemp, torpedoed and sank the passenger liner Athenia without warning and killed 95 passengers - including many Americans - and 19 members of the crew. I have documented the story of Athenia HERE.

The government quickly ordered all theatres and cinemas to close, but the policy was soon reversed due to the bad effect this had on public morale.


Tex got some good news in November when the verdict of the assault case was announced. We learn from newspaper reports that the Stage Manager had called Tex a 'baby-snatcher', presumably referring to the 17-year-old chorus girl he wanted to marry, and Tex had called him a 'loud-mouthed bastard'. The judge was satisfied that Tex had not assaulted him, dismissed the case and awarded costs to Tex. Personally I have my doubts about his innocence.

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Cutting from 'The Northants Evening Telegraph' 2 November 1939 [43]

After the court case verdict dealt with above, Tex was straight back onto the theatre circuit with his rope-spinning and patter, which he updated with items about the war and the various personalities involved. Later that month he appeared with George Robey at the Kingston Empire.

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Cutting from 'The Surrey Advertiser' 11 November 1939 [92]

1940-1941

I found the first press cutting showing Tex and Vera performing together in 'The Newcastle Evening Chronicle' in April 1940. The act is shown as 'Tex McLeod with Vera and Sandy' - the last named presumably a dog.

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Cutting from 'The Newcastle Evening Chronicle' 8 April 1940 [44]

Richard Viner, who worked with Vera many years later, said that she had begun her stage career with dalmatian dogs, which she trained to do high-stepping, as she would later train horses.


At the end of April, Tex was performing in Lismore, Australia according to the 'Lismore Morning Star' newspaper. This must have been a very fleeting visit considering his next engagement.


In May and June 1940, as Dunkirk was being evacuated, stage performances continued with Tex, Vera and the dog performing at the Hippodrome, Portsmouth and various other theatres on the circuit. Vera's part in the act was apparently as an accordionist at this time, though I suspect she had trained and was working with the dog.

Man, wife and dog continued on the circuit throughout the rest of 1940 and 1941.

1942-1944

An article in 'The Melbourne Sporting Globe' in March 1942, explains why the British Government changed its mind about Tex working in Britain in 1939. It appears that his Scottish father never took on American citizenship, so Tex was British, even though born in America.

Tex told the reporter that Vera had lost her inheritance as a result of marrying him, which contradicts the report on 16 August 1939 (see the top of this page). I don't know which of these accounts was true but there was a lot of money at stake as Vera's father John McIlwraith Milligen left a large estate when he died in 1948, as noted already.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Melbourne Sporting Globe' 21 March 1942 [88]

By 1942 Tex and Vera were well-enough known for Pathé News to produce a short newsreel item about the pair at their farm in Sussex. The farm was presumably the Lone Star Ranch and Farm at Hailsham in Sussex but I haven't been able to locate it.

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Cutting from 'The Stage' 11 February 1943 [10]


In July 1943 Tex was back in Australia, appearing on a radio show broadcast by the 2LT Radio Station of Lithgow, which is about 60 miles inland from Sydney. The broadcast was advertised as a live show.

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Cutting from 'The Lithgow Mercury' 23 July 1943 [89]

Tex's rope spinning and patter act carried on as the Normandy Landings started on 6 June 1944 and through the rest of that year. Vera's name was not mentioned in press cuttings during 1943 or 1944. Presumably she wasn't on stage during this period as, in the film clip, the narrator says she was looking after the farm while Tex was touring and, in Spring 1944, she gave birth to a son whose birth was registered in Paddington, London.

Newspaper copywriters had long ago given up trying to think of new things to say about Tex's act and just trotted out the same old clichés; journalists remain notoriously lazy to this day.

1945

On 4 January 1945, Tex placed an advertisement in 'The Stage' that gave a new address - Hackhurst and Perryland Farms, Hailsham. I am inclined to think this was a move rather than a renaming of the Lone Star Farm. Hackhurst and Perrylands farms are adjacent and about 2 miles west of Hailsham, as can be seen on the map extract below. The current OS map shows a stud at Hackhurst so this may be a legacy of Tex and Vera's ownership.

Map
Hackhouse and Perryland Farms [46]

'The Evening Dispatch' reported in March that Vera and Tex were appearing in a 'Wild West Show', to be staged as part of the Quinton Horse Show and Gymkhana near Birmingham, with proceeds going to the Prisoners of War Fund. 'The Birmingham Mail' gave a bit more detail and refers to Vera and Tex's 'famous horses'. I presume that at this point the fame was restricted to 'horsy' circles, as there had been no previous mention of them in the press. 'The Evening Dispatch' went one stage further in March by referring to America's famous trio, Vera Milligen, Tex McLeod and Buck Ryan. As we have discovered, Tex was in fact British, although born in Texas, I'm not sure about Buck Ryan, and Vera was as American as jellied eels.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Evening Dispatch' 3 March 1945 [47]
Cutting
Cutting from 'The Birmingham Mail' 8 March 1945 [48]

In April the 'Famous Trio' appeared in a Rodeo at Lichfield, Staffordshire.

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Cutting from 'The Lichfield Mercury' 6 April 1945 [3]

On 15 April, British forces, amongst them my father, liberated the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp with all the horrors that entailed. On 4 May the Germans surrendered, bringing WW2 to an end in Europe. More than a decade of turmoil and hardship was to follow throughout Europe; the Americans fared much better.

A week later McLeod, Milligen and Ryan were performing at Maulden in Bedfordshire. In fact, 1945 seems to have been a turning point for Vera and Tex, with the pair putting an increasing amount of time into riding events. The advertisement below is the first that mentions Vera's horse 'Bracken'. Tex appeared on his own a week later at the Finsbury Empire and then went back on the circuit.

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Cutting from 'Bedfordshire Times and Independent' 11 May 1945 [49]

In July they both appeared at the Hastings Horse Show and Gymkhana. The write up (the cutting is too poor to reproduce) included this:

Highlight of the day was the appearance of Vera Milligen with her famous horse Bracken and Tex McLeod, America's champion cowboy, riding a thoroughbred dapple grey Arab stallion. Bracken, a beautiful chestnut high school thoroughbred demonstrated his high intelligence and perfect timing in a series of graceful movements and concluded by bowing to the audience. Tex McLeod gave an expert demonstration of various forms of lassoing and ended by spinning a seven-foot rope while mounted on Bracken.
Cutting
Cutting from 'The Hastings and St Leonards Observer' 14 July 1945 [4]

Vera appeared along with Buck Ryan and Buddy Law at the Wollaton Park Show in Nottingham that August; Tex was not mentioned. It seems that a British 'rodeo circuit' had been established, similar to those operating in America to this day.

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Cutting from 'The Nottingham Evening Post' 7 August 1945 [5]

1946

Thoughout the rest of 1945 and 1946, Tex continued with his stage show and Vera took part in events such as the Horam Horse Show in August 1946. She appeared as 'Mrs. Tex McLeod' on this and several following occasions.

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Cutting from 'The Sussex Agricultural Express' 2 August 1946 [51]
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Cutting from 'The Western Horseman' captioned 'Tex in England roping his fourth wife, Vera, in 1946 [159]

On 16 October 1946 Tex was performing at the Winter Gardens in Morecambe.


1947

Press notices for Tex become rarer in 1947, but he was appearing at the Butlin's Theatre, Skegness in July.

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Cutting from 'The Grantham Journal' 4 July 1947 [52]

In September Tex was back in Australia appearing with 'The Lester Follies' at Inverell, over 200 miles south-west of Brisbane.

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Cutting from 'The Inverell Times' 17 September 1947 [90]

An interesting new business opportunity for Vera appeared at the end of 1947 when a film company expressed an interest in using her dog 'Bracken of Daddystown'. There was a breeder of rough collies that used the name 'Daddystown' back in the 1940s; breed records show that Bracken was born on 28 September 1946 to the breeder's dam 'Lass of Daddystown'. The dog is later referred to on theater billings as 'Son of Lass'. Maybe Vera chose to buy this particular dog because it had the same name as her horse?

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Cutting from 'The Market Harborough Advertiser and Midlands Express' 26 December 1947 [53]

1948

In February 1948 Tex was appearing in a variety show at Torquay; Vera also appeared on stage with her horse.

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Cutting from 'The Torbay Express and South Devon Echo' 17 February 1948 [6]

Later that year the pair appeared at places including Worcester, Trowbridge, Frome, Exeter, Burnley, Nelson and Aberdeen. Vera's act included her Wonder High-school Horse Bracken and Son of Lass the Scotch Collie.

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Cutting from 'The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette' 7 May 1948 [7]
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Cutting from 'The Aberdeen Press and Journal' 12 November 1948 [8]
Cutting
Recent photo of the inside of the Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen [1]

One of the other acts was Hamilton Conrad's Famous Pigeons. I don't think I would have liked to be in the audience while they were circling the theatre! Conrad's real name was Harry Bermand and he had served in the 10th London Regiment in WW1. Pigeons were used extensively for communication during the war so maybe he had become familiar with them whilst in the Army.

Conrad
Photo showing Conrad with some of his pigeons [1]

1949

In January 'The Daily Mirror' had an article on its children's page about Vera's dog Corin becoming a film star and taking part in a film with Petula Clark. Given the age of the dog, it was probably 'Bracken of Daddystown' given a new name for work in films. I am sure the dog didn't mind what he was called as long as he was fussed, fed and given plenty of exercise!

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Daily Mirror' 29 January 1949 [26]
Still
Still from the film "Don't Ever Leave Me" with Corin bottom right [56]

In April Tex was appearing in a show called "Oklahokum" in Bilston. In May both Tex and Vera were appearing in the same show in Weymouth, then Aldershot and Dewsbury. In June Tex was at the New Cross Empire with the renowned harmonica player Larry Adler topping the bill.


July found Tex performing at Eastbourne where he was described as needing no introduction to Eastbourne audiences; for a long time he has operated a farm in Sussex and is no stranger to the town. Next stop was Chatham, then Kingston at the beginning of August.


September brought a slot for both Tex and Vera at the Palace Theatre in Ramsgate, as supporting acts to a live version of a popular radio show called "Radio Forfeits" hosted by Michael Miles, which later developed into a long-running TV show called "Take Your Pick". The advertisement for this show seems to be the first time Vera used the stage name 'Vera Cody'.

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Cutting from 'The Thanet Advertiser' 20 September 1949 [57]

In October they both appeared at Margate in what was described as 'Tex's new show' called "Rhythm on the Range", along with 'The Bunkhouse Boys' and 'Texas Cowgirls' - presumably the regular dance troupe re-badged. In November the show was at Worcester followed by Woolwich, Walthamstow and Portsmouth.

The show went one better on arrival at Cheltenham in December, as another horse act was added to the complement - Norman Harper and his horse Starlight. It progressed next to Windsor and finished the year at Accrington.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 1 December 1949 [10]

1950

The show continued in the new year from Sheerness and went on to Cambridge, Hereford, Wigan, Chesterfield, Rotherham, Sheffield (where one of the company's horses had time off as he was too tall to get into the theatre), Workington, Kings Lynn, Salford, Rochdale, Liverpool, Croydon, Reading, Swindon and West Hartlepool.


In June Vera was appearing with Tex at The Empire, Hartlepool and again used the stage name 'Vera Cody'. Tex slipped into the interview with the local newspaper that he had been a star in one of the first Westerns ever made in Hollywood and that he had been a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody.

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Cuttings from 'The Hartlepool Daily Mail' 6 and 9 June 1950 [9]

A couple of days later they were at the Tivoli in Aberdeen again - still in 'Rhythm on the Range'.

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Cutting from 'The Stage' 8 June 1950 [10]

The show went on to Crewe, Bath, Luton, Newcastle, Northampton, Banbury, Hull (where the reporter was impressed by Tex getting a laugh out of a joke about atom bombs), Aston, Sheerness, York, Wolverhampton, Ramsgate, Crewe again, Bridgend Glamorgan, Darlington, Walthamstow, Brixton, Chelsea and ended at Leeds.


In November 'The Stage' gave a short description of Tex McLeod's touring show.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 30 November 1950 [10]

1951

The new year started with the same show at the famous 'City Varieties Theatre' in Leeds, where it had commenced on Boxing Day.

Later in January, 'The Burnley Express' gave a bit more priority to Vera in its coverage and describes Tex as the 'presenter' with Vera 'stealing the limelight' and entertaining the audience on an accordion as well as the horse and dog parts of the act. In fact Tex had been the presenter at many shows over the years, but I wonder whether something had changed. On an advert for the show in Barnoldswick a couple of days later, Vera is the first named act.

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Cutting from 'The Burnley Express' 10 January 1951 [11]
Cutting
Cutting from 'The Barnoldswick & Earby Times' 12 January 1951 [12]

Tex's advertisement in 'The Stage' on 18 January gave a new address of 26 The Drive, Banstead, Surrey.

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Cutting from 'The Stage' 18 January 1951 [10]
House
26 The Drive, Banstead from Google Street View 2021 [2]

February saw Tex and Vera at the Woolwich Empire after which business seems to have been comparatively quiet.


In March Tex was back in Australia appearing at the Royal Theatre in Brisbane 'with his Hayseeds and baritone David Sterle'.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Brisbane Telegraph' 10 March 1951 [91]

In June Tex was at Morecambe appearing with comedian Bill Waddington, who worked with Sid James until the latter's death in 1976. Waddington appeared in the TV programme Coronation Street as a cantankerous pensioner named Percy Sugden from 1983-1997. I met Bill on the old set of Coronation Street once when they did tours. He was trying to sell his book The Importance of Being Percy and seemed a friendly sort of chap.

Bill Waddington
Photo of Bill Waddington as Percy Sugden [1]

Morecambe seems to be the last time Vera and Tex worked together; I don't know how Tex's personal relationship with Vera broke up but they had certainly separated professionally by the middle of 1951. I imagine it would be related to Tex's infidelity - as we shall shortly see, he married his fifth wife in 1953.


The next page describes Tex's later performances and the rest of his life, as far as I have been able to trace it using Internet sources.