All contents are Copyright © John M. Blundall and Stephen Foster or are part of The John M Blundall Collection, unless stated otherwise.
During dialogues with puppeteers it is often interesting to note how many are not familiar with the names of the personalities and founders of The Guild, let alone what they actually did. It is not just a question of talking history, it is important to understand their motivation and their passion for what they did in practical terms and why.
There are two key personalities that inspired the formation of The Guild, Harry W. Whanslaw, and Gerald Morice.
One of the most enthusiastic individuals was Gerald Morice, often referred to by Whanny as ‘the lad, ‘Gerrymiya’. Gerald was from an aristocratic family related to the Butlin family, of holiday camp fame. As a young man he loved spending his time with a very elaborate model theatre, he also collected the sets of sheets for plays and pantomimes published by the popular publishers of this special art.
Gerald’s enthusiasm for the toy theatre led him to write to Whanny suggesting the
possibility of meeting to discus the gathering of friends of the toy theatre. Gerald
borrowed the half-
Gerald Morice was an extraordinary character in so many ways. Journalist, theatre
Besides his love of the juvenile drama, and puppet theatre, he was passionate about the history and development of the popular theatres and music halls of London. He collected matchbox labels, and other paper ephemera, he had extensive collections of Easter and Valentine cards, and was a major authority on these subjects, frequently giving talks on radio and television on the subject. He spoke French and an aristocratic form of ‘high German’, that baffled the Germans who could never understand how he learned it. He was a journalist and theatre critic, here and abroad, and during the Second World War was the BBC Correspondent in Vienna. He was also one of leading authorities on the productions of the Vienna State Opera; particularly the operettas.
For many years he wrote two weekly newspaper columns about the puppet theatre; one in the ‘Worlds Fair’, the showman’s journal, with the title ‘Punch and Puppetry Pars’, by Gerald Morice. The other in ‘The Stage’, under the name Charles Trentham, his middle names. Not only did he write about the British puppetry scene, he also wrote extensively about Eastern and Central European puppets, ancient and modern. He was the first correspondent into Czechoslovakia after the war, where he continued his friendship with Jan Malik, and was involved with him in reforming UNIMA. He was also involved with the establishment of the Puppet Theatre Museum in Munich, with his friend Ludwig Krafft. Gerald translated the Museum catalogue into English; it is one of the best books on museum collections.The Salzburg Marionette Theatre undertook a number of tours in the UK performing in many major theatres, and Gerald worked as a ‘PRO’ and interpreter for the company; he also translated all of the texts of the productions that were seen during the tours.
Gerald’s love of popular theatre and the family marionette theatres of the 19th century led him to be offered the Tillers Clowes Marionette Troupe. Due to his Wartime commitments, his close friend, George Speight, went to view the marionettes, and ultimately rescued them, and later restored the figures, and undertook the presentation of them in The Festival of Britain Celebrations in London, with the title ‘The Old Time Marionettes’, George Speaight continued to perform with half of the troupe for many years. The other half languished in a damp old potting shed at the bottom of his vegetable garden in Malvern until I rediscovered them, and removed them from piles of earth and old plant pots. Not only were there the marionettes, but also props, tricks, and stage wings and back cloths; sadly beyond restoration. They were later left to me by Gerald, with a vast number of rare books, including one of what he always referred to as his ‘pregnant books’.
Few people remember Gerald Morice, and his extraordinary generosity, knowledge and intellect. It was he who taught me how to ‘sniff out the books‘, as he used to say. Few also recognise his influence on puppet and toy theatre in the UK and abroad. He also became something of mentor to Jane Phillips and I, and gave us both a great deal of support and encouragement to develop new and interesting ideas.
John M. Blundall