Actually, it would be a darn sight quicker to say Jack Robinson with only four syllables than the eleven syllables in the name Matilda Martha Caroline Robinson – the stem of this blog post. Daughter of William Thomas Robinson and Elizabeth Robinson, nee Peters, a successful petition to present Matilda to the School was made in 1839. She became a pupil in October of that year. Her father met the criterion for indigence as his profession ebbed and flowed. He is variously described as a wine cooper, gentleman, inn porter, wine merchant and a waiter. Whether his occupation varied quite as much as this or if what he did depended on who was describing him, the sub-text perhaps suggests a precarious income. This would have left his family – 4 children and a wife – never knowing whether they were in penury or clover.
Of Matilda’s time at school there are no extant records other than her arrival there, her presence in the 1841 census return at the School and her departure on 17 April 1845, delivered to her father. Six years later, we find her living with her brother Charles @ 18 Great Bland Street, Newington and earning a living as a dressmaker. This street is now called Burge St.
In 1859, Matilda married Edwin Charles Frederick Hare who was in the Royal Marines band as a drummer but by 1871 was a ‘Professor of Musick’ in Lambeth.
Matilda’s life as mapped out in census returns showed that she lived her entire life in London, south of the river. These also showed that her maths wasn’t very good as she was 20 in 1851, 26 in 1861, 33 in 1871, 43 in 1881 and 61 in 1891, the year she died. Of these, only the last is correct! Together Matilda and Edwin gave rise to a showbiz family spanning two generations. And even the next generation but one down has been involved – briefly – in the film industry. In 1973 Matilda and Edwin’s great-great grandchildren, whilst watching their grandmother film On the Buses, had small parts as extras. (Information from http://onthebusesfanclub.com/id20.html) And also as a by the bye, Matilda’s great-niece, descended from her brother Charles, was also an actor – Muriel George (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_George) so there is clearly a strong thespian streak running in the genes.
But let’s try and put this is a sensible order. Matilda and Edwin’s son Herbert Hare married Kate Tansley in 1892 and they ran a travelling theatre company. In 1901 they were in Eglwysilan, Glamorgan in a caravan on the recreation ground with two daughters.
The theatre company seemingly comprised three caravans with the Hare family in one, the Orton family in another and the Tansleys in a third, Edward & Emma Tansley being Kate Hare’s parents. Frustratingly, even though John Orton was described as a travelling photographer, it has proved impossible to find any images of the caravan or the company but presumably they were horse drawn caravans similar to a Romany vardo. The Hares performed under the name of the Alexander Portable Theatre but the Ortons were part of the People’s Theatre which
‘toured the Monmouthshire area with their portable theatre from 1883 for about twenty years.’ (http://www.overthefootlights.co.uk/Entertaining%20South%20Wales%20A-B.pdf).
Bargoed was evidently a little hot spot for performing as there were five portable theatres and two cinemas listed at the beginning of the C20th. In addition, there was a 1500 seat playhouse, the New Hall Playhouse, ‘built in 1907 as part of a High Street complex which included a ballroom and a café.’ (ibid).
With Kate Hare also coming from an acting family – her father’s profession in 1892 is comedian and he is part of the company in 1901- it hardly comes a surprise to find that four of Herbert and Kate’s five children also joined the acting world: Bertie Hare, Doris Hare, Betty Hare and Winifred Hare, who used the stage name Winifred Braemar.
Bertie Hare was born in 1907 in Bargoed, Wales as Herbert Edwin Hare. Sadly, and unexpectedly, his father died just two months later after an emergency operation for a throat complaint (ibid). Bertie’s notable achievements – at least those noted on IMDb – appear to have come late in life: Hancock’s Half Hour in 1956 and Summer Camp Councillor in 1977. This last, originally entitled Confessions from a holiday camp, actually had all four of the Hare family in it but only Doris was a named character. Bertie died in 1991 in Camden.
Betty was born Bessie Maud Hare in Treharris in 1898. Her filmography on IMDb lists eighteen appearances from 1952 onwards although her appearance in Annie get your gun at the London Coliseum in 1948 is also noted. It seems likely, given the family heritage, that she had appeared on the stage before this time but IMDb does not reference it being primarily concerned with film and TV. The earliest in her filmography is Tread Softly (1952) which was made at Marylebone Studios and at the Granville Theatre in Fulham. described as a crime film with music. The last was Summer Camp Councillor and then, presumably, she retired. She died in Chichester just four years later. Like her sister Winifred, Betty had a part in For the Love of Ada also in 1977. In fact many of her later credits also appeared on her siblings’ credits. Perhaps it was a case of ‘you get me, you get them: you get them, you get me.’
Winifred and Betty were the two girls listed in the 1901 census with their parents. Winifred was born Winifred Emma Kate Hare in 1896 in Tonypandy. Like her brother, she had minor roles in a number of films late in life such as For the Love of Ada and Work is a 4 Letter word (1968)
She died in 1979 in Chichester so For the Love of Ada may well have been her last screen appearance. Earlier, she played the part of Winnie in On the Buses, a television series from 1969 to 1973 but still shown today on various channels (and with its own fan club). And also in this series was one Doris Hare as Mrs Butler, in 67 episodes (as opposed to Winifred’s three),
Doris was nine years younger than Betty, being born in 1905 in Bargoed, Monmouthshire. She made her stage debut aged 3 in her parents’ travelling theatre, the Alexander Portable Theatre, in their production of Current Cash. She worked the music halls and then had her West End debut at The Palace in The Scarlet Clue in 1916.
Her first West End hit came at the Adelphi Theatre in 1932, when she was 27, with John Mills in Noel Coward’s revue Words and Music. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/770685.stm
She was still working in 1994 when she was in the film Second Best. Described in IMDb as a ‘popular comedienne of stage and screen’, to call Doris a jobbing actress would be to mislead but as she seemingly put it herself:
I’ll do anything, dear, as long as they pay me.
She had West End success in 1936 in a revue called Lights Up! and, during the war, she had radio work such as Shipmates Ashore for the Merchant Navy which earned her an MBE in the King’s birthday honours in 1946. In 1963, she joined the Royal Shakespeare company and, in 1965, the National Theatre at the Old Vic. She won a Variety Club of Great Britain Special Award for her contributions to show business in 1982 and made her final stage appearance, aged 87, at the London Palladium alongside John Mills in a tribute to Evelyn Laye. A role that she turned down was that of Ena Sharples in Coronation Street. She may never have been the star, but an acting career spanning 84 years is worth a credit or two.
The website http://onthebusesfanclub.com/id142.html has a photograph of the three Hare sisters taken whilst they were filming a Christmas Special in 1972. From left to right, Betty, Doris & Winifred.
Doris died in Denville Hall, a retirement home for actors in Northwood, in 2000. The list of former residents of this home reads like a Who’s Who of the great and good in the acting world.
The phrase ‘before you can say Jack Robinson’ with which we started is one that has been in use since at least the eighteenth century. The phrase originated
“… from a very volatile gentleman of that appellation, who would call on his neighbours, and be gone before his name could be announced.” Grose’s 1811 edition of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/jack-robinson.html)
Well Jack Robinson may have had little sticking power but the same is not true of the Hare acting dynasty. The little girl who was Matilda Martha Caroline Robinson, and a pupil between 1839 and 1845, may have been very surprised to learn that her descendants were definitely not gone before their names could be announced.
My thanks to SuBa for much of the initial research into this family.