Bransby WILLIAMS (1870-1961)
Bransby began his career appearing in working men’s clubs doing impersonations of music hall stars of the day. He developed this skill into a music hall act of his own, impersonating leading actors, and soon became known as ‘The Irving of the Music Halls’.
He became a great success with his monologues and sketches, many of which included characters from the work of Dickens, and formed his own company, as actor-manager, touring his act around the UK as well as overseas.
The Times 4 December 1961
MR BRANSBY WILLIAMS
DICKENS’S CHARACTERS IMPERSONATED
Mr Bransby Williams, actor and music-hall performer, who was especially well known for his impersonations of characters from the novels of Dickens, died yesterday in a nursing home in Streatham, S.W. He was 91.
Bransby Williams was born at Hackney on August 14, 1870. Though he was originally intended for the Church, his early employment was with a firm of tea merchants and in a paper works. He began as a youth to perform in amateur theatricals, and then took small professional engagements performing at Saturday variety shows and working men’s clubs at two shillings or five shillings a night. He then spent some years in stock companies, and on August 26, 1896, made his first regular appearance, at the London, Shoreditch, where he gave imitations of Irving, Tree, Wyndham and other actors. He immediately got a West End engagement at the Tivoli, and in 1897 began his renderings of Dickens characters. These remained for many years his chief stock in trade, and included Micawber, Uriah Heep, Little Nell’s grandfather and many more, all acted with a certain richness and broad sense of character, though without much subtlety. He also had a long repertoire of imitations of performers whom he had known and watched on both the music-hall and legitimate stages. These he sometimes gave in a little sketch of an old stage door keeper remembering the stars of the past. Occasionally he would vary his turn by reciting Shakespearian speeches, and as a reciter, too, he was the first to render Milton Hayes’s famous pieces, “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God”, and “The Whitest Man I Know”.
A well-built, handsome man, with black hair and a square jaw, Williams generally appeared wearing a tail-coat with brass buttons and black knee-breeches and stockings. He did not, however, confine himself to the variety stage and in the twenties acted in a number of plays, sometimes in London but mostly in the provinces. He tackled such theatrically famous things as Irving’s old double part of Lesurques and Dubose in The Lyons Mail, and was not afraid to tackle Hamlet at Birmingham in March 1923. He was a very competent actor, in an extremely old-fashioned way, speaking resonantly and clearly, and making great play of stage business. When in 1922 he doubled the parts of Micawber and Peggotty in David Copperfield at Brixton, it was greeted as a remarkable tour de force, though complaint was made that Williams, for the sake of contrast, took an unjustifiable liberty in rendering Micawber as a drunken buffoon. In recent years he often appeared in television, tackling the new medium with modesty and professional competence. When he was 88 he was the subject of a BBC television programme in the “This Is Your Life” series. In 1959 a committee, of which Lord Birkett was chairman, launched an appeal on his behalf.
His eldest son, a captain in the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in 1918.
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