Home Places Theatres Wombwell Theatre Manager’s Career – Trained Performing Fleas – Found “Doug.” Wakefield (video)

Wombwell Theatre Manager’s Career – Trained Performing Fleas – Found “Doug.” Wakefield (video)

May 1939

Mexborough and Swinton Times, May 5, 1939

Found “Doug.” Wakefield
Wombwell Theatre Manager’s Career
Trained Performing Fleas

A man with a unique record in the sphere of theatricals and public entertainment, Mr. Hubert J. Butler, has just vacated the position of manager of the Pavilion Theatre, Wombwell, to be succeeded by Mr. G. Williams, lately manager of a picture theatre at Lundwood, Barnsley, under the same company.

Mr. Butler came to Wombwell eight years ago as a comparatively young man with an amazing career behind him. Born to the theatre of a family which had been closely connected with the stage for three or four generations, he has been associated with practically every tube of variety entertainment.

Appeared With Royalty.

He has appeared with royalty, sung in the streets, managed at least a score of theatres in England and Canada, produced pantomime, and even trained performing fleas. One of his happiest recollections perhaps is that he “discovered” the popular comedian, Douglas Wakefield, who once his chocolate boy at Bridlington is now married to a sister of Gracie Fields, and one of the highest paid entertainers in the land.

Mr. Butler was born in London, and made his first appearance on the stage at the age of four with Wilson Barrett, the well-known actor. At a time when there was nothing to prevent children staying on the stage until midnight without licence, he played juvenile parts with most of the leading actors of the day, including Barrie Sullivan, the great tragedian, Henry Irving and Mrs. Bannerman Palmer. These were mostly stock companies.

His father who had given up a commission in the Royal Engineers to follow his grandfather into the theatre business, was then manager of the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool. At the age of 19 Mr. Butler became manager of the first picture theatre at Scarborough and while there staged a picture display at the first opening of the marine drive. From there he went to open a picture theatre in the old Winter Gardens at Bridlington and remained there for two years as manager of pictures and variety entertainment.

Going on tour he produced a “Jack Horner” pantomime for Joe Waldon at the Hippodrome,Sheffield, where in a fortnight he broke all records. At that time he had his own troupe of juvenile dancers among them being his son. “Jack Herbert.” who later became well-known as a comedian, Duggie Wakefield, and many others who became stars on the stage.

Settled Down.

After a lapse of years Mr. Butler decided to settle down again, and went to Malton, Yorkshire, to open a picture house (the first in that town) for his brother, Mr. Harry T Butler, who had produced pantomimes for ten years for Francis Laidler, From there he went to the Rock Theatre, Mansfield, at which place he lost his first wife.

The war claimed most of Mr. Butler’s juveniles and in 1914 he again went on tour, this time in drama as stage and business manager with Will Glase. Eighteen months of this experience brought a desire for another change, and he became manager of two theatres at Worksop, one pictures and the other variety. He also controlled at the same time a cinema at the military camp nearby. His next move was to the new Picture Theatre, Stocksbridge, Sheffield and eighteen months later he returned to Worksop as manager of the Victoria Palace. Reviving his juvenile troup, several of whom had come back from the war fronts, he again went on tour, finally to “fetch up” at Wombwell eight years ago.

Could Not Stand Cold.

While travelling with a troupe of juveniles, Mr. Butler acted also as a variety agent, booking variety acts as he went from town to town. For two years he was manager of a theatre at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, but returned because he could not stand the cold winters. That was the first time picture shows had been presented in that part of the Empire. He also opened the first picture theatre in Maidstone, Kent.

The roaming instinct inseparable from the stage has been the strongest element in his nature, and the eight years he has spent in Wombwell is the longest period he has ever remained in one place. While at Worksop, Mr. Butler married as his second wife Miss Winifred Latham, whose family are well-known in that district.

Mr. Butler’s grandfather (Mr. Harry Butler) was manager of one of the oldest musical halls in London, and one of the most interesting of his souvenirs is a show-bill with his grandfather’s name on it.

Practically all his relatives, including two brothers and three sisters, are in the show business, and all his children but one are on or connected with the stage.

A “Working Lad.”

The fact that he was instrumental in Duggie Wakefield getting his foot on to the first rung of the ladder of stage fame is one of Mr. Butler’s proudest recollections. He told the story thus: “I was then manager of a new picture theatre at Bridlington, and Albine Wakefield (that is Duggie’s proper name), was one of my chocolate boys. His father was in a drapery shop at Bridlington and Duggie first started as an errand boy for my brother who was also in drapery business at Bridlington. One day Duggie came up to me and told me very confidentially that he would like to go on the stage. I said ‘What can you do. Albine?’ and in his quaint inimitable, way he replied lifting his eloquent eyebrows and shrugging his shoulders like a shy boy. ‘I can sing.’ I said ‘Let me tear you sing,’ and without the slightest hesitation he struck up one of Florrie Ford’s old numbers, ‘They are singing Home Sweet Home.’ I realised immediately that the lad was unusual and had something in him. His mother came to see me a few days later to ask if I could help her boy in his ambition, and. I promised to do all I could. I put him in my juvenile troupe known as ‘The Four Herberts,’ and he was an immediate hit. Duggie remained with me until he got too long in the leg for a ‘juvenile, and then I got him into an older troupe. From that he never looked back.

Duggie Wakefield has never lost touch with Mr. Butler or ceased to appreciate the help Mr. Butler gave him.

Perhaps the most extraordinary “joint” Mr. Butler was ever associated with was his “performing flea” racket. He admits it was a great gag, but will not let out the secret. A flea’s instinct is to jump, and one of the first jobs of the trainer was to make them walk or run. This was done by hitching a flea by an infinitesimal small “chain” to a contraption like a dog kennel.    Every

time the flea tried to jump he was jerked violently back, bruising himself so severely that at last he gave it up and practised walking for a change. It was then possible to harness the flea to a “four-in-hand” with another flea on the box holding a diminutive whip. With those tiny entertainers he gave amusement to thousands of people in the Aquarium at Scarborough.

Wombwell people will be pleased to learn that for the present at any rate Mr. and Mrs. Butler intend to remain in Wombwell.


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