On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette. Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.
As a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman.
Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. John has a room along Claverton Street, at number 11.
Tuesday July 14th 1914
Felt much better. what a relief – I was bubbling over with the joy of life. John came in before I had finished dressing but as I had to go out I left him at work on his Typewriter finishing something for the afternoon, and I went off to the Office, taking my dress for the afternoon with me.
Helped arrange things for the afternoon – and John came and he helped. Then when I could get away I changed and he and I went out to lunch and then back at 2.15 for the Summer Sale and Tea at the [ew].C[onstitutional] Hall. His work was to raffle signed photographs and mine to tie up parcels. But I never tied up one – the Palmist failed and I had to Palm – I hated it, but I really had quite a good time. Miss Lena Ashwell opened the Sale and though there did not seem many people we made quite a lot of money.
Mr Grein came straight from the Haymarket Theatre and the first Public Performance of ‘Ghosts’ as it has now been Licensed and had his hand read. But it was really very funny as he seemed to want to talk more about me – told me to go and see him – gave me his card, and said he liked my ‘eye’.
Gladys [Wright] was quite put about, ‘of course you will be leaving us now’ etc. She is quaint. But I do think the vain little man took rather a fancy to me and I imagine he is always on the look out for people likely to do him credit. I played up rather a game with him, but he quite took it all in. John was awfully upset.
John and I had tea together, and I think he enjoyed himself – he wore a new suit which was quite a success. We left soon as we could – rushed home and just tidied ourselves but no time for much – then out – no time for dinner – but straight to the Haymarket Theatre – Balcony stalls to see ‘Driven’. I enjoyed it immensely – beautifully produced and Alexandra Carlisle looking a perfect picture and greatly improved in her art and Owen Nares a fine actor – simply delightful in a most difficult part. Aubrey Smith as usual but good. The last act is idiotic, of course. John and I are certainly leading the gay and reckless life.
To supper at the Corner House. Waited for the last bus, but must just have missed it. Then found we had missed the last to Victoria – so made for the Underground. It had started to pour with rain by then and John in his new suit. We just caught the last train 12.20 and had to walk from Victoria, but fortunately the rain had not reached this district.
The New Constitutional Society’s Hall was close to their Office, inside Park Mansions Arcade in Knightsbridge. This is now the site of the Burberry Menswear Department (see ‘Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Frye and Knightsbridge’ ). Kate had developed her skill as a Palmist in her youth – in lieu of the more conventional accomplishments expected of a young woman – such as piano playing, singing, or reciting. In her early involvement with the women’s suffrage movement she had often, as a volunteer, provided palm-reading entertainment at bazaars and dances. (See ‘Palmist at the Women’s Freedom League Fair).
Lena Ashwell was a leading member of the Actresses’ Franchise League and, over the years had opened many a suffrage bazaar and fair. A month from now she would be the instigator of the Women’s Theatre Camps Entertainments and of the Women’s Emergency Corps.
On Sunday 26 April 1914 Kate had been in charge of the box office at the Court Theatre (later the Royal Court) when J.T. Grein staged a private performance of Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ as a fund-raising event for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. This, of course, was before the Lord Chamberlain had removed his censorship of it by, as Kate explains, granting the play a performance Licence. Dutch-born Grein was a champion of European theatre.
‘Driven’, on the other hand, was a rather English comedy by E. Temple Thurston. The play’s run at the Haymarket came to an abrupt end at the outbreak of war – but in December was staged on Broadway, with Alexandra Carlisle again in the cast. The producer was Charles Frohman, with whose company Kate had had her first professional engagement ten years or so previously.
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