Memories of Hiawatha in the Royal Albert Hall

Two of our readers have recently very generously sent us material relating to the Hiawatha performances at the Royal Albert Hall in years around the 1930s.  We are grateful to George Parnell for this Programme of Hiawatha performances, and to Wendy Breese for sending us her recollections of time in the Royal Choral Society.

It would be interesting to learn if anyone knows the year of the Programme we have; and also to learn whether anyone recalls the performers named on it.  (You will note that amongst them is Chief Os-Ke-Non-Ton.)

Sir Malcom Sergent of course features in both these items of memorabilia.

Wendy Breese recalls her time In the Royal Choral Society:
My mother and grandmother were members of the Royal Choral Society and took part in costumed performances of Hiawatha at The Royal Albert Hall.

They used to tell my sister and me how they had to picnic in Kensington Gardens opposite as the facilities in the hall could not cope with the large numbers of singers. The told us how they ran down the steps to the arena in their squaw costumes, which my sister and I subsequently had in our dressing-up box in the 1940’s. (Sadly I don’t know what happened to them.)

When we were old enough my sister and I also joined the Royal Choral Society, and sang alongside our mother in the altos. Our grandmother had retired from the choir by then so we were never all four together.

We also made a 12″ LP recording of Hiawatha at Maida Vale studios, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent.

About Hilary Burrage Adjunct Professor, Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics, Feinberg School of Medicine Northwestern University, Chicago Global Woman P.E.A.C.E.Foundation #EndFGM Awardee 2016 for authoring two books: * ERADICATING FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (Routledge, 2015) Detailed text/handbook which covers all aspects of FGM eradication, drawing on material from around the globe. * FEMALE MUTILATION (New Holland, 2016) First hand accounts by 70 #EndFGM survivors and activists in 24 countries across 5 continents Plus contributed chapters on FGM to two other books: In the Name of Tradition (Kameel Ahmady, UnCut/Voices Press, 2016) and the International Handbook of Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health (Routledge, October 2019).
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29 Responses to Memories of Hiawatha in the Royal Albert Hall

  1. jean2371 says:

    I was most interested to see the programme of one of the presentations of the dramatised “Hiawatha” at the Royal Albert Hall and to read Wendy Breese’s comment. I have several programmes of “Hiawatha” in which my dear friend and singing teacher, Webster Booth appeared. His first appearance was in July 1937. I also have a photograph of Webster in full costume for his appearance in “Hiawatha”. I will scan the programmes and send them to you in a day or two.

    • Enid Stephenson says:

      I’ve just come across this site. I wonder if you have a programme where my mother, Molly Elvar, who played Minnehaha is listed. Early 30s I suspect. I have a programme but without a cover from the Albert Hall with Sir Malcolm Sargent as musical director, dated 9-21 June but no year. No Webster Booth though, but she did, I think, sing with him. I have a nice pic of her in costume.

      • Jean Collen says:

        I’m afraid I only have one prewar programme of Hiawatha (1937) and I could not find your mother’s name listed there, but I discovered that she sang in Powis Pinder’s Sunshine Concert Party at Shanklin in 1934 along with Webster Booth, his second wife, Paddy Prior, and Arthur Askey. I have a photo of the party on my website and I’d be most interested if your mother appears in this photo. There is also a photograph of Webster Booth in full costume for his appearance in Hiawatha at the same link.

      • jean2371 says:

        My only prewar programme of Hiawatha (1937) does not list your mother, Molly Elvar, but I was interested to discover that she sang in the 1934 summer season of Powis Pinder’s Sunshine Concert Party in Shanklin with Webster Booth, his second wife, Paddy Prior, and Arthur Askey. I have a photograph of this party on my website and would be interested to know whether your mother is in it. The link to the photograph and the photograph of Webster Booth in full costume for his appearance in Hiawatha is:

      • Enid Stephenson says:

        Alas no, not in that picture. She is in the attached pic between Arthur Askey and ANOther chap leaning on the piano. Also in the other attached photo walking with someone with the poster behind advertising the concert parties in 1936. best wishes enid stephenson

      • Mike Denmark says:

        In a pile of old music I have found a programme of Hiawatha, dated June 9th-21st 1930. Molly Elvar is listed as playing Spring on 12th, Minnehaha on 16th, Spring on 20th. Would you be interested in having it?

      • enid stephenson says:

        Your note about the programme has just popped up in my inbox though I see once I have gone into the site that it was sent some time ago. Do email me

      • Alex Picker says:

        Hi Enid. I have just seen your comment from last January. I have just recently bought a double mounted display that dates to June 1930 which includes a fully signed programme from the performance of Hiawatha (including your mother) as well as some members of the 1930 touring Australian team (including the great Don Bradman). If you could let me have your email address I could email you some pictures. Kind Regards, Alex

      • enid stephenson says:

        Goodness Alex that is very good of you to email and exciting to read on this wet and windy January day. How very kind of you to say you could send me some pics., love to see them. What a splendid sounding display – Hiawatha and Donald Bradman! You can reach me on very best wishes for 2014 enid

    • Virginia Paget says:

      My father, Robert Cecil Paget, was in several RCS performances of Hiawatha in the RAH in the 30s. At the time he was also a member of an archery club and was able to use his skills with the bow and arrow as one of Hiawatha’s braves, shooting a ‘prop’ deer. Unfortunately at one performance, the antlers of the deer snagged in a cable as it was carried on by fellow braves and caused chaos in the lighting department! After service in the 8th Army, Dad returned and married my mother, Molly Campbell , a soprano in the RCS. I was taken to my first concert in the RAH at the age of three and was delighted to be introduced to Sir Malcolm who complimented me on my singing !

  2. richard6composer says:

    In the 30s the Choral society solo circuit was something of a closed shop, with the same names cropping up again and again in the programmes of the time. Comparing the Hiawatha programme with VW’s line up for Serenade to Music in the famous 1938 recording under Henry Wood, we see that four of the names coincide: Sopranos Lilian Stiles-Allen [how cross she must have been to have her first name left out of the Hiawatha programme!] and Elsie Suddaby, Tenor Frank Titterton and Baritone Harold Williams. These artists were chosen by VW to appear alongside such stars as Isobel Baillie, Eva Turner [later Dame Eva] and Heddle Nash, so they were clearly at the top of their game!
    Richard Gordon-Smith

  3. jean2371 says:

    I was interested to read more comments on this thread and to see that several items were found by readers which featured Enid’s mother, Molly Elvar in performances of “Hiawatha”. I remember that I sent scans of a programme from 1937 and a photograph of Webster Booth in the production, but, so far, these have not appeared here.

    • Tim Boxall says:

      Was a list of RCS singers included on these programmes? I’m looking for a relative called Ethel Hocking who sang for the performances. Would also be interested in any of her sisters who sang too.

      • jean2371 says:

        I have had a look in the two programmes – 1937 and the Jubilee Concert of 1950. Unfortunately, neither programme lists the RCS singers who took part in these performances. What a shame that their names were omitted as they formed such a large part of the work!

  4. Geoff Kirkham says:

    My friend has lent me a copy of the Hiawatha programme dated 8th June but the year is torn away. However inside is a letter from the Secretary of the R.C.S. thanking her grandfather Reginald Corte for his performance and enclosing a cheque. The siganture is W G Rothery? and dated 27th June 1930.
    I am surmising that the programme is 1930. Does anyone know anything about Reginald Corte, and whether performances took place before 1930.

  5. Roger Flury says:

    William Parsons was a very distinguished, but under-recorded, bass-baitone. He created the title role of Pickwick in Albert Coates’ opera, and recorded some Bach with Kathleen Ferrier for Decca. Most exciting of all is his performance in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony under Bruno Walter at the Royal Albert Hall on 13 November 1947. The other soloists Isobel Bailie, Kathleen Ferrier and Heddle Nash. Quite a line-up by any standards. You can still find this recording if you Google carefully. Parsons was my singing teacher at the Guildhall School of Music in the late 1960s, and I can vouch for the fact that he had a better top B Flat than many tenors, even if he went rather red in the face producing it! A lovely man indeed.
    This Hiawatha performance might have been his debut – I’m not sure. However, I do remember him telling me that he had a very small part but, because of all the staging, he failed to make it on stage in time to deliver his line at the first performance.

  6. Valerie Carr says:

    I just found this discussion of the Hiawatha performances at Royal Albert Hall. My grandmother sang in the June 1930 performances and I have a copy of the program. It doesn’t indicate which part she sang and I would like to find out any more information on her time with the show. She also sang at Queen’s Hall with the League of British Artists on 20 June 1924. Valerie Carr

  7. Maria Ray says:

    Hello, am interested to hear your grandmother sang in it in 1930, Valerie. I shall search the programme as I believe mine did too (Ellen aka Nelly, Parsons and her brother William Parsons) Thank you to Jean and Roger thus far with help, but anyone familiar with them or remembers them, I would be most grateful to hear from you. Maria 🙂

    • Valerie Carr says:

      Maria, So sorry I just realized that I didn’t give you my grandmother’s stage name. She went by Lois Benson and the program that I have shows the dates June 9th to 21st inclusive. Her name is listed near the top of the list of cast , after Agnes Amos and Elisabeth Aveling. My father told me that she sang the part of Hiawatha, but I’m not sure if that is true. I don’t see Nelly or William Parsons listed on my copy of the program. Can you tell me how long Hiawatha run at RHA? I live in the US and would like to visit RAH next time I visit England. Do they offer tours? Valerie.

      • Maria says:

        Hello Valerie, thank you for that! Well, I assumed they sang in it as she had some envelopes and stamps with Haiwatha and Malcolm Sargeant and was in the Royal Choral Society. I think she’d have sung in the chorus and her brother was a bass-baritone. However, I could be wrong as they may not have been in London until 1931…. So I am no expert on Haiwatha except what I have read here, but like you am trying tofind out more about my ancestors. The RAH has concerts regularly but have little knowledge. The last night of the Proms was the highlight for my grandmother at the RAH. Thank you and all the best with searching further. BW Maria 🙂

  8. Holly says:

    So pleased to have found this forum. My daughters’ great grandmother danced in Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall. Her name would have been Marjorie Saunders at the time (perhaps in 1926 but i am not sure). I wonder if anyone has her name in their programme? Many thanks!

  9. Wendy says:

    My mother Olivia Cooper performed as a dancer in the Hiawatha series of concerts at the Albert Hall. I would love to see any photos of the dancers as well as learn more about their roles in the performances.

  10. Maria Ray says:

    That’s an interesting account of Haiwatha and the overspill picnics! I am guessing (Wendy Breese) that you were in the RCS in the 1950s? I don’t suppose you ever came across Ellen Parsons (she lived in Sudbury) and was very committed to the Royal Choral Society most of her life. Her brother (my great uncle) was William Parsons (the bass) in the cast list. Ellen was my granny but I never met her but have found some interesting insights (and people … Jean 🙂 and Roger 🙂 …) Best wishes

  11. Christopher Barry says:

    Hello, interesting to follow this conversation. I have some old programmes and trying to find if anyone would like them. One is the Haiwatha programme from 1929. A similar copy is on ebay but mine is free if anyone would like it. They used to belong to a cello player Thelma Dandridge who is an old family friend (was born about 1900), and might have played in the show, but that is speculation. Anway, if anyone would like the programme (or several others I have, please email be on It would be a shame if they were simply disposed of whilst someone would like them. Rgds, Christopher Barry

  12. Patrica White (nee Drury). says:

    I remember going to a performance of Hiawatha in the Royal Albert Hall as one of the most exciting school excursions I was privileged to enjoy. The conductor was Sir Malcolm Sargent and it would have been in the 1950s. ( maybe it was the Julbiee event but I don’t remember that).as I was attending Maidstone Girls Grammar School as a teenager..

  13. Colleen Ortzen says:

    I remember going to the Royal Albert Hall to see Heddle Nash in Hiawatha. It would have been about 1938 when l was 11yrs old. I remember the stalls had been removed and watching Heddle Nash in a canoe crossing the width and singing.beautifully. Sadly l cannot remember anything more.

    Apart from this in 1936, 37 and 38 my mother took me to the Last Night of the Proms which were then held in the Queens Hall next to the BBC in Upper Regent Street. Sir Henry Wood was conducting. After the first time we went round to the Stage Door where Lady Wood was waiting in the Rolls with their Scottie dog. Sir Henry received a great ovation once again.
    The Queens Hall was destroyed by bombs meant for the BBC and the concerts were transferred to the Royal Albert Hall.

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