News Column

Fangs for the memory of count's night of love

July 8, 2013


IT was love at first bite for the actor playing the role of Dracula the night he went into the audience at the old Nottingham Hippodrome with the intention of scaring people.

But instead of Mabel Smith, from Sneinton.

being frightened, she ended up actually marrying the man with the fangs.

Julie Barks, 52, from Attenborough Village, is bussy trawling through her family history and has become fascinated by the life of that actor - her grandfather Henry (Harry) Kimber.

I was born after he died from a brain tumour in 1948 at the age of around 57, so I didn't know him personally, but he went on to work for one of our most famous playwrights of the age, Hamilton Deane. Mabel lived until 1984 and I just wish now that I'd taken more time to talk to her about Henry.

It turns out that my grandfather was from a very long line of Romany gypsies who spent a lot of time in the Portsmouth area. Really he shouldn't have been referred to as Kimber, though, as the family name was Stanley!

I've documentation to show that the Stanley Romany family can be traced back to up to 1,000 years ago in North West India.

When Henry moved from Malvern to live in Park Street, Lenton, he came across Hamilton Deane, who gave him a job as his chauffeur plus the chance to act as well.

Deane was an Irish actor, playwright and director who went on to make his name through popularising Bram Stoker's Dracula as a stage play and later a film.

He entered the theatre as a young man, first appearing in 1899 with the Henry Irving Company, but even before he formed his own troupe in the early 1920s, Deane had been thinking about bringing Dracula to the stage.

Stoker had attempted this in 1897 but the verdict from Irving consigned it to the wastepaper basket.

Unable to find a scriptwriter to take on the project, Deane wrote the play himself in a four-week period of inactivity while he was suffering from a severe cold.

He then contacted Florence Stoker, Bram's widow, and negotiated a deal for the dramatic rights.

Deane re-imagined Dracula as a more urbane and theatrically acceptable character who could plausibly enter London society. It was his idea that the count should wear evening dress and a flowing cape, with stand-up collar, which concealed Dracula while he slipped through a trap-door in the stage floor, giving the impression that he had disappeared.

Deane also arranged to have a uniformed nurse available at performances, ready to administer smelling salts should anyone faint.

The Dracula play premiered in the Grant Theatre, Derby, in June 1924. Despite critics' misgivings, the audiences loved it. Raymond Huntley was the Count and Deane was Van Helsing - it was a huge success and toured for years.

When the play crossed the Atlantic in 1927, the role of Dracula was taken by the then unknown Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, who later starred in the 1931 film version of the story.

Julie's grandfather travelled all around the country with Deane and appeared alongside him in several productions - as well as playing Dracula himself.

One play from the early 1920s was described as a 'mysterious adventure' by the name of The Watching Eye, in which Henry appeared at Buxton Opera House.

The name of Hamilton Deane is still kept alive by members of The Dracula Society, which presents the Hamilton Deane Award for the best dramatic performance or presentation in the Gothic horror/ supernatural genres for the previous year. Among the winners have been Sir Christopher Lee and Sir Ian McKellan. The society was founded in October 1973 by actors Bernard Davies and Bruce Wightman and proudly proclaims to cater for lovers of the vampire and his kind - were-wolves, reanimated mummies, mad scientists and their creations, and all the other monsters spawned by the Gothic genre. The society maintains a small Dracula/Gothic-related archive to preserve materials associated with these themes.

It includes the complete papers of Hamilton Deane, and a cloak once worn by Sir Christopher Lee in his screen portrayal of the role.

. ? This article, first published in the Nottingham Post in March, has already helped Julie contact a cousin in Barton Green.

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