the Bancrofts



  • The English actor-manager Sir Squire Bancroft (1841 - 1926)and his actress-manager wife, the former Marie Effie Wilton (1839 - 1921).While managing the Prince of Wales' Theatre and the Haymarket, London,they introduced the dramatists Tom Robertson, A. W. Pinero, and TomTaylor to play-goers. They initiated the vogue for cup-and-saucerdrama and drawing-room drama and promoted realisticscenery and more naturalistic styles of acting. The Bancrofts alsoraised the financial standing of actors, paying the highest salariesin London and providing their actresses with personal wardrobes.

    Marie Wilton came from a family of actors and firstappeared on stage at the age of six, playing the Emperor of Lilliputin the pantomime Gulliver's Travels. She specialized in maleroles in burlesque pieces, notably at the Strand Theatrewhere Charles Dickens called her "the cleverest girl I haveever seen on the stage in my time". Unable to escape being typecast,she borrowed £100 and persuaded the dramatist Henry J. Byron tojoin her in leasing the tatty Queen's Theatre (known as the DustHole). She redecorated the venue and renamed it the Prince ofWales' Theatre, opening in 1865.

    Squire Bancroft was educated privately until hisfather's early death forced him to earn a living. He joined the TheatreRoyal, Birmingham in 1861 and met his future wife in repertory inLiverpool. He played 346 different parts during his four years withstock companies before joining her company at the Prince of Wales'for the opening.

    Squire became joint manager when Byron left and the venuedeveloped into London's leading house for comedy. The Bancrofts, whomarried in 1867, set a new fashion by presenting only one play inan evening. In 1869, when all seats to a revival of Sheridan's TheSchool For Scandal were booked, they presented one of London'sfirst matinees.

    When the venue became too small, the Bancrofts moved to theHaymarket in 1880. There was a near riot, however, because they hadswitched the cheap seats from the pit to the second circle and replacedthem with expensive stalls. The howls of protest and cries of 'Where'sthe pit?' lasted for more than 20 minutes.

    The Bancrofts retired in 1885, but Squire returned in 1889to appear opposite Irving at the Lyceum. In 1893 Marie joined himin Diplomacy at the Garrick Theatre, and Queen Victoria commandedthem to perform the play at Balmoral that same year. Squire, who receiveda knighthood in 1897, was later president of the Royal Academy ofDramatic Art (see RADA), where he is now honouredby the presentation of the Bancroft Gold Medal.