Saturday, September 26, 2015

Funny Fruit in the Family Tree

A recent episode of the celebrity genealogy series "Who Do You Think You Are?" traced the family lineage of choirmaster Gareth Malone to the Edwardian era of musical comedy theatre.  It was in this time and place that Malone's great great grandfather, Edmund Payne, obtained fame and adoration as a comedian. 

The actor, with his diminutive stature, his rotund figure and his pronounced lisp, made a striking comic character.  He further distinguished himself, according to Wikipedia, with his "elastic facial expressions, including his 'pop' eyes."

From 1892 to 1912, Payne was the principal comedian at London's prestigious Gaiety Theatre, which specialized in colorful and lighthearted musical comedies.  In many productions, the actor was aided in his comic turns by George Grossmith, who functioned in their act as a classic straight man.

In 1900, a theatre critic with the Pall Mall Gazette described Payne as "inimitably funny" and said that he "danced as he only can dance."

Here is a scene from the television show.

I found it a pleasant surprise to learn that Payne and Grossmith had starred in a film.

More can be found about Payne at

Digging deeper into his family history, Malone found a second comic singer, Daniel Lowrey.  Lowrey, who was Malone's 4 x great grandfather, went on to become an important impresario in Dublin.

Malone has always recognized an enthusiasm for music and performance in his family.  "In my DNA," he said, "there’s a little switch for singing and it’s on."

As this show demonstrates, film and theatre history is rich with fascinating stories.  It is my unwavering belief that the accomplished men and women who populate these stories are worth our attention.

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