Harry Rickards 1843-1911

Harry Rickards

Harry Rickards

Harry Rickards’ real name was Benjamin Harry Leete. He was born in modest circumstances in Stratford, East London, on 4 December 1843.

In 1859 he made his first appearance at the Theatre Royal, Runcorn in Rob Roy.

 

The King of Australian Vaudeville

‘To the vaudeville artiste climbing the slippery ladder of fame in my day, the name of
Harry Rickards sounded like magic,’ recalled veteran comedian Charlie Vaude. ‘He was the big man in the theatrical business. His success came about because he regarded himself as the agent of a public for whom he said the best was none too good. If a turn was good enough for Australia he never hesitated to book it if possible. The sky was the limit with the Guv’nor. For some reason he took me under his wing. I could always get him into a good humour. I had only to tell him a story in the cockney twang to get him laughing heartily. He was a cockney and proud of it. Like Bland Holt and J.C. Williamson, Harry Rickards was an artiste. They all understood that the better the artiste the more temperamental they would be. I’ve yet to meet a star who was not a bundle of nerves. Rickards would never argue with his artistes. He left that to his managers.’

Harry Rickards’ real name was Benjamin Harry Leete. He was born in modest circumstances in Stratford, East London, on 4 December 1843. Against his father’s wishes he developed his singing voice and his comedic talents at the local pub. In 1859 he made his first appearance at the Theatre Royal, Runcorn in Rob Roy. In 1864, after much persistence, he obtained an engagement as a comic singer at John Wilton’s music hall in Whitechapel. He had some success with a song called ‘Oxford Joe’, but his big break came when he added ‘Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines’ to his repertoire. This was an early example of the ‘character song’, a new form pioneered by the lion comiques, in which the performer’s persona was at one with his – or very occasionally her – material. The lion comique was typified as a ‘swell’, handsome, fashionably attired, strutting through society with engaging panache. Soon Rickards was appearing at four halls every night.

In 1870 Rickards took over the small Swiss Cottage Music Hall at South Hackney, an enterprise that finished in the Bankruptcy Court. The following year, possibly in an effort to restore his finances, he decided on a trip to the Australian colonies. His partner was John Enderby Jackson, a small-time entrepreneur, and their little company included Rickards’ wife, billed as Carrie Tudor. They made their colonial debut at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne on 2 December 1871, and then hired St George’s Hall in Bourke Street for an extended season.

Media Gallery

Watch this space

Biographical references

Martha Rutledge: ‘Harry Rickards’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 11, Melbourne University Press
Frank Van Straten: ‘Harry Rickards’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Frank Van Straten: Tivoli, Lothian Books, 2003
Charlie Vaude: Reminiscences, Sporting Globe, 24 June 1939