Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Gaiety Girls

Gaiety Theatre Strand

Arriving in London to take up a new post as Medical Officer at the St Marylebone Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption, Dr Sutherland lived in Bloomsbury with two showgirls from the Gaiety Theatre and their mother.

My first home in London was with a widow and her two daughters, who lived in a large house in Bloomsbury. I had known the family in Scotland, and in London I stayed as their guest for a month. The two girls—Flora and Violet, aged eighteen and twenty—were on the stage, the chorus at the Gaiety Theatre. They were hard working girls, and spent most of the day practicing dancing, singing and elocution. In disposition they were generous. Their conversation  was mostly of the theatre. At times their language was a trifle lurid, and their sense of humour somewhat boisterous. To stick an unused penny stamp on the pavement and to sit out on the balcony waiting for someone to try to pick it up was our usual Sunday afternoon amusement. And excellent fun it was. The neatly tied parcel lying on the pavement was an improvement on the stamp. When anyone tried to pick it up, it was jerked our of their hands by an attached string worked from the balcony. This was so successful that the police interfered and put an end to our simple pastime.

These girls knew all about sex, and their knowledge was a safeguard. I often went to the theatre to see them home, and around the stage-door was gilded youth and age. The chorus girl had two ambitions—to become a musical comedy star or to contract a brilliant marriage. She also knew that no girl is likely to marry unless she makes marriage her price. Thus sophisticated, the chorus-girl was better able to look after herself than her simpler sister, the shop-girl, exposed to similar temptations. If a married man told a girl that he was misunderstood by his wife—she had often heard that tale before. The simpler shop-girl would often as not believe the story, and think that she was falling into the arms of Romance. Neither of the girls I knew touched wine—they had seen others go that way.

My two friends had several admirers, and one reserved youth, when not in residence at one of the older universities, used to come to Bloomsbury for tea on Sunday afternoons. Then the widow would ask after his mother, whose indisposition had been reported in society columns of the Press, and the young man would answer: “My mother is quite well now, thank you.”

His mother never called at Bloomsbury, and when Flora did visit the young man’s home it was to sing as a professional a few songs at an afternoon reception. I could never determine whether the young man was or was not in love with her. She was a very beautiful girl, and to take an actress out to supper or to a public dance was an essential part of a young man’s education. Even had he been in love with her it would have made no difference. His lady mother and distinguished father had other plans. He is now a member of the peerage and married to a most capable wife, much interested in charities. Neither of the girls married, and some years later they left the stage.

from Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland (1933).

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This entry was posted on 1 October 2018 by in Gaiety Theatre, London, The Arches of the Years.

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