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. For the previous few weeks Kate’s fiancé, John Collins, had been renting a room in another house in Claverton Street but he has now left for the West Country, to take up a position with a touring repertory company. Kate is feeling rather bereft.
Friday July 24th 1914 Felt rotten. Up late. Jobs and writing but practically gave myself a holiday. It was a very heavy day. I had ordered a chop to come in so ate my dinner within. Had tea and then out – but rather late as I had waited to see if we were in for thunderstorm. Some supper at Lyons at Charing Cross – then to Covent Garden and up in the gallery to hear Charpentier’s ‘Louise’. It had already commenced but I found a seat near the door- the Russian Opera at Drury Lane must have made a huge difference to Covent Garden. Edvina was singing as Louise. I was disappointed at first but I think it improves immensely as it goes along and the end is fine and so splendidly acted – it made one feel wrought up. It is a very elaborate opera. I heard Ruby Heye [sic – I can’t really make out this name] – Ivan’s friend – in a small part and if she was the girl I picked out she was good. Not in until 12.15.
Louise Edvina was a Canadian soprano, the first to perform in London as ‘Louise’ in Charpentier’s eponymous opera. As Kate hints, the Drury Lane Theatre season of Russian opera and ballet rather eclipsed the Covent Garden Opera House offerings. Among the wonders of the 1914 Russian season were ‘Boris Gudonov’ with Chaliapin, ‘Prince Igor’, ‘Coq-d’Or and ‘Daphnis and Chloe’. ‘Ivan’ was Ivan Phillipowski, a young pianist whom Kate had met when they shared digs in Dover in 1913. Ivan was then in his late teens – very much younger than Kate – but he appears to have been rather smitten with her – or so Kate confided to her diary. Ivan was to have a successful musical career and in the inter-war years Kate occasionally went to his concerts. Or, at least she went when she could do so without her husband knowing. John was clearly rather jealous.