Millie Vere Bin: Tracking an Original Gilbert and Sullivan Player
Guest Post by Kurt Gänzl (SUNY Press Author)
Every chap needs a hobby. But, then, sometimes that hobby takes over and becomes a profession ... I suppose that was what happened to me. My first books were theatre history: Facts. Figures. Recording. Chronicling. Assembling. No secondary sources. In pre-internet days, digging up those facts and figures meant a lot of travelling the world—libraries, theatres, junk shops—to investigate the who-was-who behind those names. Quite difficult sometimes, for theatricals have an annoying habit of taking on pseudonyms.
For my book, Gilbert and Sullivan: The Players and the Plays, I began researching some of the lesser-known performers in the original Gilbert and Sullivan touring companies. I was searching for real names, birthdates, whatever-happened-tos ... I wanted to find them all! I didn't do badly, but there are some dead vocalists who just refuse to render up their truths.
One of the hardest nuts to crack was contralto Millie Vere Bin. My search began in April 2019, but she kept throwing up HINTS of her identity, and I investigated each one until each ended in a brick wall. Surely, sometime in her long career, someone must have said something ...
But first, that career. My first sighting of “Milly” or “Millie” is in 1874, when she joined P. E. van Noorden's ladies' minstrel group, the Blondinette Minstrels, as pianist. Another member of the group was harpist Annie Wade, and Annie and Millie could be seen appearing together until 1878. Both girls appeared with Paganini Redivivus's concert party (“a contralto voice both sweet and pleasing”) before Annie disappears. Millie’s sister, I wondered? Mother, even? I wasted an hour, at least, tracking the name “Wade” to no avail.
At Christmas 1878 Millie played Polly Larboard in Charles Bernard's Robinson Crusoe at Newcastle and Sunderland (“splendid voice ... repeatedly encored”), but soon she joined the D'Oyly Carte HMS Pinafore tour, initially as Hebe. She appeared in several other productions before returning to Carte in 1880 and then again in 1883 for an extended period during which she featured as Iolanthe and Katisha, and, in an emergency, as the conductor.
During this tour, a provincial critic mentioned that she was “Mrs. Wallace.” Clue number two. It was fairly clear who “Wallace” was: She was seen for some time thereafter in concerts with another ex-Cartesian who went by the name of Welbye Wallace (image below). He had previously been billed as Mr. W. Harrington Mitchell. Whether that was his real name, I knew not, but under that name he had sung in amateur concerts in Cheshire and Hull in the early 1870s. He had made a big effort to establish himself “after his return from Italy” as a tenor, concert giver, lecturer, manager, musical you-name-it in the 1870s, but without real success. So, he ended up as singer-staff with Carte between 1882-85. And, apparently, married or “married” Millie.
After leaving the Carte company, Millie was seen in concerts (Crystal Palace, etc.), took part in the Drury Lane
panto of 1887 (Puss in Boots) and then she appeared in other touring productions, and in 1891 she sang in 1892 in a concert of mainly old Cartesians, playing “her original part” (it wasn't) in Quits, before getting a job in the West End playing in The Wooden Spoon as a forepiece to The Wedding Eve. Thereafter, I spot her in a couple of one-off performances. By now, Millie was what she needed to be: a character lady, and the stage jobs began flowing. The last time I found her mentioned in the papers was 1913. So she should be in five or six censuses, but I couldn't find her (or “Welbye”) in any of them. And I tried. Wade, Wallace, Mitchell ... oh, one provincial paper billed her as “Clara Millie Vere,” so I looked there too ...
Over a year later, I finally was able to untangle her tale. First discovery: Mr. W. Chandler [H] Mitchell “actor” had a daughter. Daisie Marie Wade Mitchell ... yes, it's the soubrette Daisy Wallace!! But WADE! Daisy married another actor, William Willoughby West ... Amelia Annie Mitchell was a witness … MILLIE ... She died, Amelia Ann Mitchell of 13 Drakefield Road, Balham, Widow, on 5 July 1931 ... administration Daisie Marie Wade West (1882-1952). Oh, Millie. Her estate was ℒ8 4s 6d.
I continued my search... and there we are! Mrs Amelia Annie Mitchell aged 45, born Bloomsbury, married, with her sister, Emily McGee, in the 1901 census in Streatham and 1911; in 1891, William, Millie, daughter Daisie, two servants, were residing in Reigate. Wait a minute, her unmarried sister is named McGee? What happened to Wade? In the 1861 census, John McGee, 48, boardinghouse keeper, 5 Montague Street; wife Alice née Gillett, daughter Amelia born 21 January 1855. So that's Millie!
But who is Annie Wade? And why did Millie give the name “Wade” to her daughter? Well, I'm skipping this one. All I know is that the Wade connection led to Millie's disrobing! The rest can wait.
Kurt Gänzl, an award-winning authority on musical theater, is a former opera singer, theatrical agent, casting director, and theater and opera critic. He is the author of numerous books, including Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, The British Musical Theatre, Victorian Vocalists, and Gänzl's Book of the Broadway Musical.