Charles Kenyon - Actor/Manager 1878-1952

Charles Kenyon was born in July 1878 as the second son of a prosperous
woollen textile manufacturer - James - and a German mother - Elise - the
daughter of a wealthy industrialist.

The family business, based in Bury Lancashire, had been established in 1664 and grown up into a substantial organisation through the British Industrial Revolution. It was from this secure background of his father's home, Walshaw Hall nr Bury, that Kenyon was able to view the world as he grew up, with artistic temperament stemming from his mother who was a talented, Berlin Conservatoire trained pianist. Although she never played professionally, she was on first name terms with well known European musical families such as Schumann, Wagner et al.

After schooling at a traditional prep school and Eton, Kenyon progressed a
theatrical career from grassroots acting academy through the ranks of
"amateur dramatics" and more serious professional touring companies,
sometimes financed by himself. He first appeared in London with Sir Charles
Wyndham at the Criterion Theatre in 1909 playing David Cairn in "Mrs
Gorringe's Necklace. From then until 1915 - the First World War - Kenyon was
actively involved either as player or producer - sometimes both at the same
time. Notable successes included: Founding the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in
1911, touring his own company with "The Prisoner of Zenda", assuming
managemnt of the Little Theatre in 1912, a wide variety of parts and
productions (16) at such London theatres as the Vaudeville, the New Theatre,
the Comedy, the Aldwych and the Lyceum.

In 1915 Kenyon was commissioned into the Hampshire Regiment and was on active service till Armistice in 1918. This tour of duty took him overseas and
considerable time was spent in Egypt. He returned to his country home in
Surrey with an "Egyptian Donkey". Felly (named after the "fellah" = peasant)
was a donkey/zebra cross. They had been bred specifically for donkey stamina
and zebra speed, and were used for pulling ammunition tenders and light field
guns. Felly survived into the late 1940s!

January 1919 it was back to the Stage for Kenyon appearing at the New
Theatre, the Duke of York's, the Garrick, touring with his own company and
producing shows. It was with the last, in conjunction with Alban Limpus, a
well-respected impresario, that a play known as The Vortex came to the West
End. The Vortex had been written, produced and starred Noel Coward (with a
certain John Gielguid as an understudy, later to move into the title role)
and this move, on Coward's own admission at the time of his 75 birthday
celebrations in the British media, was his first "big break". The show opened
in December 1924 and ran for a total of 224 West End performances. At the
time of the opening Kenyon was playing in "Blue Peter" at the Prince's
Theatre, again produced by himself in conjunction with Limpus. Before the run
of The Vortex ended Kenyon & Limpus approached Coward for the rights to Hay
Fever as a vehicle for Marie Tempest. She had previousluy turned the role
down, but Kenyon was able to persuade her to re-consider and the play was
produced at the Ambassadors, directed by Coward. Alongside this euphoric two
years as a producer/manager Kenyon kept up West End appearances till his
final professional part in "The Strugglers" in July 1926 at the Scala
Theatre. For the rest of his life Theatre was a serious hobby but never again
did he act on the professional stage.

Charles Kenyon, the second of five children, started with the advantages of
wealth, handsome looks and a fine deeply toned voice. This was particularly
suitable for "gentleman" "ultra English" roles so prevalant at the time. He
married in 1902, Helen Statter, whose father Francis was senior agent for the
Earl of Derby, and they had three sons. After returning from the Great War
however, Kenyon drifted from his family and spent time in several affairs
with prominent female socialite and stage personalities. He was not in step
with the new style of living and morals which was taking over the theatrical
scene in both London and New York. He spent time at the Savage Club, which
still has a serious literary/stage membership, and enjoyed recreations of
foxhunting and tennis. He was always very well turned out for every occasion
and was known as one of the best dressed men in London. First night dinners
at The Caprice were standard fare and his transport included a yellow Buick
which was unusual for the UK. He died in 1952 in Minehead, Somerset soon
after celebrating his Golden Wedding. This was considered strange by some, as he had not actually lived with his wife for some 30 years, although they met,
weekended and corresponded regularly.

Nigel Kenyon, Grandson
November 24th 2001
Ref; "Who was who in the Theatre", "A Talent To Amuse" - Sheridan Morley.

 Copyright - The Noel Coward Society - May 2001