“Oh no he isn’t, oh yes he is”. Sorry but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to slip in a pantomime reference considering the time of year. Afraid this might be lost on anyone outside of the UK. Took some American cousins to a pantomime a few years ago and to begin with they were totally baffled but by the interval they’d worked it out and were participating with the rest of the audience like seasoned pantomime goers.
William Terriss (The Hero, Hooray!)
William Terriss was a Victorian English actor, known for his swashbuckling hero roles, such as Robin Hood, as well as parts in classic dramas and comedies. He was also a notable Shakespearean performer. He made his first stage appearance in 1868 and quickly established himself as one of Britain’s most popular actors. In 1880, he joined Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum Theatre.
Terriss with Jessie Milward
In 1885, he met 24-year-old Jessie Millward, with whom he starred in The Harbour Lights. The pair established themselves as romantic leads together and presumably became lovers. In 1887 Terriss and Millward were engaged at the Adelphi in its melodramas, with Terriss in the hero parts. He excited the audience at the Adelphi in both passionate love scenes and in fighting scenes. For the next six years, he rejoined Irving at the Lyceum, where his most acclaimed roles included the title role in Henry VIII.
Richard Prince (The Villain Boooo!)
During the run of The Harbour Lights, Terriss worked with a young actor named Richard Prince. Terriss took an interest in Prince’s career and help the struggling actor out with advice and monetarily. It appears that Prince who at the time was drinking heavily made a disparaging remark about Terriss, who when it was relayed to him had Prince sacked from the role, however it is documented that Terriss still continued to support Prince with small donations of money and continued to try to find him acting work .
Princes drinking increased and his career plummeted downhill. Towards the end of 1897, Prince was destitute and desperate for work, but he had become unemployable. On 13 December 1897 Prince was forcibly ejected from the foyer of the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand, and he and Terriss were seen to argue the next night in Terriss’s dressing room in the nearby Adelphi Theatre.
The next evening Prince presented himself at the offices of the Actors Benevolent Fund (ABF) which was across the road from the Adelphi asking for a handout, but was told that no payments could be made at that time. After a heated argument Prince left, crossing the Strand and heading through Bull Inn Court to emerge into Maiden Lane where he waited in a doorway opposite the Adelphi stage door.
Soon Terriss arrived for the evenings performance of Secret Service. As he approached the door Prince sprang from his hiding place and stabbed Terriss to death. The murder became a sensation in the London press. At his trial Prince was found guilty but insane and sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he died in 1937. His relatively mild sentence was met with anger by the theatrical community, and Sir Henry Irving was quoted before the trial as saying that “Terriss was an actor, so his murderer will not be executed“.
Whilst not a household name today, William Terriss is remembered in a plaque that was placed at the site of his murder in Maiden Lane.