FRED KARNO COMPANY
On the 25th September 2010, seventeen good people and true assembled at a private house in South London, to celebrate the Centenary of a troupe of comedy actors who sailed to America in September 1910. The address of house and adjoining properties were formerly Nos. 22, 23, 26, 28 and 28a Vaughn Road, and were known collectively as:
FRED KARNO'S FUN FACTORY
Most of those assembled at the Karno House were direct descendants of the original fifteen members of the Karno Company, who left that very premises on the 22nd September 1910, to travel to Southampton and board the ship "Cairnrona," on their journey to America. They were Messrs. Stanley Jefferson (later - Stan Laurel), Charles Chaplin, Alfred Reeves, Amy Minister, Albert Austin, Bert Williams, George Henry Seaman, Emily Seaman, Frank Melroyd, Fred Westcott (aka: Fred Karno Jnr.), Arthur Dandoe, Fred Palmer, Muriel Palmer, Mike Asher, and Charlie Griffiths, most of whom are pictured below.
The day started at 11.30, with guests arriving at the Karno House from such far away places as Kent, Hertfordshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, and Cornwall. The only link uniting the guests was was that each one of them was related to one of the above. Apart from that, they were perfect strangers.
Over the next two hours, they were integrated by some stunning slide-show presentations by Kate Guyonvarch (official archivist for the Chaplin Archives) who had come specially from Paris to be there; David Robinson (noted Chaplin authority and official biographer); and yours truly "A.J" Marriot (author of "LAUREL & HARDY - The British Tours," and "CHAPLIN - Stage by Stage").
With the Karno members having been seen in 2-D imagery, it was time to flesh them out as real people, by having their relatives stand up and talk about them. It was amazing to hear stories of the Karno members' exploits and misdeeds, which had been handed down through successive generations of their family. Many a gasp was heard, as tales of infidelity, adultery, bigamy, and illegtimacy were revelealed which, at times, sounded like a prequel to "Peyton Place." Again some astounding photographs of the Karno members were revealed, having been hidden away from public gaze in private family archives for the last one-hundred years.
Among the 1910 Karno members represented were relatives of Bert Williams, Fred Westcott (aka: Fred Karno Jnr.), Arthur Dandoe, Fred Palmer, Muriel Palmer, and Mike Asher. The man himself, Fred Karno, was also represented, in the form of his granddaughter, Louise Murchison, who was able to recount many insider stories of this private man. The other descendants were: Jo Sexton (Fred Karno Jnr's step-daughter); Norman Bush and Jackie (Fred Palmer relative) Roger and Chris (Bert Williams relative); June Russell (Arthur Dando relative); Viv Drewett (Arthur Dando relative); and Shorn Rah (Mike Asher relative).
Apologies were given for the absence of Christopher Chaplin (son of the great Charlie Chaplin) and Spencer Chaplin (grandson) who would have attended, but had had to go to Sweden for another event. Bert Williams' son Albert desperately wished to be there but, at the eleventh hour, had to pull out due to ill health. Having to travel from Paignton to London is a daunting task for anyone, but it was even more so for Albert as he is NINETY-SEVEN. An even sadder absence was that of Stan Laurel's nephew, Huntley Jefferson Woods, who passed away in August, just five weeks short of making it. A moving tribute was shown, and the guests paid appropriate respect.
Next on the day's agenda came a recreation of the classic 1910 Karno Company photo, taken on board the "Cairnrona." But this was to be no ordinary recreation, for many of the stand-ins for the original company were actual blood-relatives. And the effect was enhanced by the use of a painted backcloth, plus our subjects dressing up in similar clothing, kindly and thoughtfully supplied by Karno researcher Dave Crump - all at his own time, trouble and expense. We have a lot to thank him for.
Having concentrated on the link to the boat company, it was time to check out the link of the Fun Factory buildings, which all of the original company would have visited many times during their UK employment with Karno. Negotiations had been made with the owners of the properties adjacent to the Karno House, with the result that we were given unprecedented and privileged access to every room.
Using "Then and Now" photographs, our guide gave us a room-by-room, wall-by-wall, window-by-window, brick-by-brick, detailed account of the alterations which had been made since Karno acquired the premises circa 1901. Considering the number of years the buildings have been standing, and the number of times they have changed usage, the alterations are very minimal, and so the whole premises is a true time capsule.
Having spent several hours together, our guests had now become well and truly integrated. So much so, that the conversation ran on well past the scheduled break-off point. However, there were no tears and farewells as, the following day, the newly formed 2010 Karno Company were themselves about to board a boat.
CAN YOU HELP?
Are you related to anyone who was in the Fred Karno Company of Comedians between the years 1908-1914, or do you know someone who is? If so, please contact me. You can email me at: A.J Marriot