Saturday, 21 November 2015

Neil Power - Cornelius McBride's Scottish Comedy duo (Music Hall story part 2 )

Cornelius McBride  k/a Neil Power (photo courtesy collinsvariety.co.uk)
Cornelius McBride was the oldest of the McBride clan. He was born in Glasgow in 1887. .At the time of 1911 census  he was listed as an unemployed 25-year-old living at home with mum, Elizabeth (Lizzy), dad. Cornelius (Neil) and the family.

Such was the fortunes of this ex spirit merchant salesman/ performer who chased openings on the Scottish theatre circuit. He performed under the stage name of Neil Power and worked with Hillier and Hayes. He  was also the long-time partner of Bert Benton in the comedy duo Power and Benton.

 His comedy act with Bert Benton was a “nationwide bill topper” in the days when variety was hard-working and sincere. Neil married Louisa Stout of Lambeth in 1923. It is quite possible he met her through the theatre as music hall artists Mary and Ernest Silly were boarding with her mother at the time of the 1911 Census.  They are both described as “Artistes” in their travel documentation.  There is a record of Louisa and Cornelius travelling back from New York in 1924 and back from South Africa in 1928.

In 1925 Neil Power and Bert Benton, performing at the Hippodrome in Leeds received high praise as “a couple of talented laughter makers” in a review entitled “Star Struck”. This seems to be where they introduced their famous skit  “Mend the Door”. Bert’s catch phrase of “I’m only an apprentice!” made thousands laugh. (I can hear him saying it with all the gravity and timing it required for the effect.) The skit goes along the lines of attempting to mend some sort of door. They performed this act regularly amongst much audience mirth and laughter. It was described in the Variety Stage on 11 August 1921 as “admirably conceived and played in capital fashion by the artists concerned”.

The production, which had opened to acclaim, had had a large amount of money spent on the staging. It was said to have “a considerable amount of brainwork, much time and pain, good taste and a flair for heating the public fancy”. Although it had no semblance of a story Power and Benton and their fellow artists contributed to the general scheme of things doing several skits.

The review opens with Power and Benton doing a Railway Station Scene followed later by a Hospital Scene with Power and Benton as the doctor and patient and Carrie Kasric as a nurse. The scene goes along these lines. The patient is recalling stories of the instruments left in bodies after a procedure when the absent-minded doctor returns and asks for his misplaced umbrella. It was described as “cleverly done and highly amusing”.

This was followed by a Waxworks Exhibition Scene and a Recording Room Scene has Power and Benton giving an old and new version of “Annie Lawrie”  to much laughter. The scenes are interspersed by dancing and singing acts so the boys were pretty busy on stage.  On another occasion at the Bedford, Camden Town they play a great part of the 14 scene revue called “Show Life”. One scene has them as a couple of gas fitters in a Factory Scene but other humerous  scenes include  a Customs Office Scene and  a Rich Aunt sketch set in  a bullfight !



In 1927 they were the principal comedians in “Yes Yes Princess” at the Hippodrome, Brighton.  “The Romance of the Navy “ played all over the UK and was described as “an enormous success” in the trade journal “The Stage”.  In 1929 they announced their new routine which was described as “as good as anything they have ever done, packed with good fun on beginning to end”. By 1931 they were still playing together at Sheffield Empire in a lively sparkling show called “Good Bye Blues”.


The partnership ended. Bert went on to work with Billy Hayes as residents of the Edinburgh Palladium. Billy Hayes was the brother of Mary Oliver  (Margaret Kerr) who had married Neil’s brother, Michael.

A short  2 minute silent film on SCRAN  can be found at  http://scotlandonscreen.org.uk/database/record.php
(Search Power and Bendon)

This clip called “Buying a Horse” is a silent film black and white comedy sketch of the two music hall comedians where they go to buy a horse  out of a line up they decide upon a pantomine horse who creates mischief.

The website http://collinsvariety.co.uk/fred/  has details, scripts  and photos of Power and Bendon from their Mother Goose Days.
Neil Power and his comedy partner Bert Bendon (photo courtesy of  collinsvariety.co.uk)



After the death of Bendon in 1964 it was reported that Power was also deceased. However, this was retracted when he let journalists know  that he was alive and living in 14 Clenerow Road Clapham, London at age 78. “I’m living here in happy retirement in Clapham” he told Gordon Irving of The Stage.

Electoral records show that Neil and Louisa had left Glasgow quite early on  and based themselves around London. Neil died in 1967 in Lambeth Surrey 8 years after Louisa’s death.




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