Part of Theatrical Adventures by O.B. Clarence

O.B. Clarence with grandson Christopher Robert

The earliest recollection I have of my father, O. B. Clarence, is holding up my arms to him and saying “Up again”, and of course he would pick me up and hold me aloft.

He was a very loving man. Apart from being a brilliant character actor he was modest, unselfish, a man of integrity. My father loved the Theatre passionately - he loved flowers, gardens, the countryside; he loved animals and especially young children. He always said he wished they wouldn’t grow up.

During the First World War he was a Special Constable and had an allotment the other side of the fence at the bottom of our garden in Golders Green. I used to blow a little trumpet to tell him it was time to come in to lunch when he was working there.

He had been to America two or three times before the first World War, in British companies, playing on Broadway and touring. He told me of a journey he took to the West in one of those quaint old trains such as one sees in the old cowboy films, when he noticed a beautiful flower growing high up on a rock. The driver kindly stopped while he climbed up and collected it. I have a photograph album in a desk drawer where there is a snap of my father actually half-way up the rock, stretching up to pick the flower.

He brought back two large collections of wild flowers he had pressed, which I still have.

After the war, in 1920. he went to New York again, playing in Pietro and Mary Rose. My mother decided to let our house and took me to join him.

We stayed at first in the Albermarle Hotel. I was captivated by a large fountain in the middle of the entrance hall.

Later we rented an apartment which was more convenient. The dining room table had some hard bumps all round under the edge which mystified us until we realised it was old chewing gum! One day a tile came off the kitchen wall so Daddy got us to chew gum. He stuck the tile on with the gum and it worked perfectly.

On the way home with the White Star Line (my father was to tour the States) Mummy was terribly seasick and unable to leave her bunk. Breakfast was brought to me in the cabin and to my horror it was a poached egg, which I loathed. I refused to eat it, left it on the bunk and accidentally sat on it! Here is the drawing Daddy sent of me having sat on the egg!

After that I was allowed to go by myself to the Dining Saloon for breakfast where the stewards were very kind to me. They let me use the carpet sweeper and help them sweep the floor and lay the tables.

At the age of eight I went to St Dunstan’s School and made friends with Marjorie Markham, the same age. We used to sit together in class and often went to one another’s houses.

Daddy rehearsed us in a double-act with which we entertained people in her drawing room. All I can remember now is Marjorie saying, “Say something sweet,” and my replying, “Sugar.” We are still friends as I write. Her brother Michael, who was eight years younger, had fair curly hair and looked like a little cherub. Of course Daddy talked and joked with him and always said to him on parting, “Don’t forget to bring me a pineapple.” I think we didn’t have any in those days.

At eleven we went to different schools in Hampstead. On rounding the corner of our road after school I would invariably see a group of children at the bottom and knew that my father was at our gate. Children were drawn to him. He loved it and would let them climb all over him.

When I was ten Daddy was rehearsing for the part of the Inquisitor in the original production of George Bernard Shaw’s St Joan with Sybil Thorndyke and Lewis Casson. He had a very long and difficult speech to learn lasting eight minutes. I loved hearing him his part and hoped it helped. I enjoyed being allowed to watch from the wings; once with Anne Casson who was about my age and Mary a little older. Jack Hawkins as a boy had a part with one line. He called, “The wind, the wind.”

I saw less of my father when I went to board at St Mary’s School, Calne, but he came and played in the Father’s Cricket Match. Once he sent me this pictorial letter.

Leaping a few years to my engagement to Bob, I was living at home and Bob was staying the week-end. My father had been reading out loud in the drawing room as he used to do every evening. My mother went up to bed at her usual hour, midnight, and my father followed his normal routine and went up at one o’clock. Bob and I were delighted to be left on our own at last but at 2 a.m. thought we had better go to our respective beds.

To our surprise Daddy had locked the drawing-room door from habit. We were still discussing what to do when Mummy started banging on the door and shouting, “Let me in, let me in.” She had discovered that neither of us were in our beds and imagined, I suppose, her daughter being ravaged by this dreadful young man. When eventually we made her understand that she only had to unlock the door she burst in, staggered to the sofa and collapsed.

We were married in December 1937. When war was imminent and Bob was determined to join up, I was pregnant and we were living in a maisonette right on the Thames in Rotherhythe, where the previous tenants had been Jessica Mitford and Esmond Romilly, Chruchill’s nephew. He rushed me back to my parents, which was just as well for there was devastating bombing of the Surrey Docks nearby.

Christoper Robert was born in my parents” house at the end of January 1940 so my father had another playmate.

I must tell you of a song he wrote - a marching song that went with a swing.

Don’t forget to clean the flat out
Or put the cat out while I’m away,
Don’t let the lodger share your half a pound of tea
The war won’t last forever so save half a cup for me, Wow!

Don’t hang the pot plant in your gas mask
Or put your civvy trousers into pawn, but -
Put a few more embers in the old gas fire
I’ll be back before you know Im gone.”

On looking through my mothers things after her funeral I found, among the many fascinating things of my father’s, two typed manuscripts which I thought at first were originals of his Autobiography No Complaints. Instead they were a continuation of his Memoirs, which I here submit for your perusal.

Pamela Hilton, 1996

Three cartoons that O.B. Clarence drew while at medical school