The True Ghost Stories That Have Plagued The Theatres Of The United Kingdom
A collection of ghost stories told by famous actors and actresses from around the United Kingdom with their first hand accounts.
All the world's a stage for the haunting performances of ghosts, but they seem particularly fond of theatres. Often they are connected with real dramas as strange as any fictional play.
William Terriss was a colourful adventurer-turned actor. In December 1897, he was playing the lead in a thriller called Secret Service at the Adelphi Theatre in The Strand. One night, as he left the stage door, he was stabbed to death, and ever since his restless spirit has been blamed for a series of inexplicable happenings.
Actors have heard curious tapping and the sound of footsteps. Mechanical lifts have been moved by invisible forces and lights mysteriously switched on and off. In 1928, a comedy actress felt the couch in her dressing room lurch under her, as if someone was trying to move it. Then her arm was seized leaving a bruise. The startled woman had not heard of the ghost until her dresser arrived, and explained that she was using the dressing room which belonged to Terriss.
The phantom star's strangest performance came in 1955. Jack Hayden, foreman ticket collector at Covent Garden Tube station, noticed a distinguished figure in a grey suit and white gloves who looked as if he was lost. But when Hayden asked if he could help, the man vanished into thin air. Four days later, the same figure returned and put his hands on the head of 19-year-old porter Victor Locker.
Pictures of Terriss were shown to both men, and they instantly recognised him as their ghost. Both also asked to be transferred. Other London Transport staff on the Piccadilly Line have spoken of a strange presence at Covent Garden and in 1972 a station-master, signalman, and engineer all reported seeing the man in grey.
More than 50 cleaners at Londons Drury Lane theatre claim to have seen a phantom wandering the dress circle in a long grey coat. The 18th century dandy in a powdered wig has also been spotted from the stage during rehearsals, and actors regarded the sightings as a good omen - they usually herald a successful run for a play. The eerie visitor could be linked with a macabre discovery by workmen in 1860. Inside a hollow brick wall, they found a skeleton with a dagger between its ribs.
A publicity gimmick that backfired introduced actress Judy Carne to the ghost of the Theatre Royal, Bath. A mock seance was arranged to promote her appearance in a production of the Noel Coward play, Blithe Spirit. But the light-hearted stunt became very serious when the medium hired to host the proceedings started to receive real messages.
Judy, the "sock-it-to-me" star of the TV Laugh-In show, said: "We were all absolutely spellbound, including two cynical newspaper reporters. The voice of a woman told us she had been an actress who had starred in the theatre. She had been married but had fallen in love with someone else.
"Her husband and lover fought a duel, and her lover was killed. Heartbroken, she hanged herself in the dressing room. As I listened, I became very emotional and felt real pain. I tried to talk to her, and ask if she was still unhappy, but the table we were sitting around rattled, and I heard weeping. I often went back to the theatre to try to contact her again, but she never reappeared."
Could the heartbroken 18th-century actress be the phantom lady in grey who haunts the theatre and the buildings on either side of it? She has often been seen by actors, sitting alone in a box. She was there on August 23, 1975, when the curtain went up on a performance of The Dame Of Sark, starring Dame Anna Neagle. Theatre staff have also noticed a strong smell of jasmine whenever she is near - a scent also familiar to a succession of landlords at the Garrick's Head public house next door.
Bill Loud, Peter Welch, and Peter Smith all sniffed it in the cellar during their tenancies, and all also reported tricks by unseen hands - phantom tapping on doors, cuff-links, and pound notes disappearing, only to turn up later in rooms where nobody had been for days, candles flying across the bar, cupboard doors rattling, and a fridge being mysteriously switched off.
On the other side of the Theatre Royal is the house once occupied by Regency buck Beau Nash and his last mistress, Juliana Popjoy. Most recently it was a restaurant called Popjoy's. One would-be diner got more than he bargained for when he called just before Christmas 1975.
He ordered his meal, then went upstairs to the bar while the dishes were being prepared. As he sat on a green settee, enjoying an aperitif, a lady in old-fashioned clothes approached, sat down beside him, and vanished. The terrified man rushed downstairs, blurted his story to a waiter, and fled, still hungry, into the night.
The jasmine lady may have been responsible for an unexpected drama on the Theatre Royal stage in June 1963. One of the props for production was a clock. When its hands reached 12.30, it chimed loudly three times. But stagehands had removed the chime mechanism before the performance began.
A lady in grey also haunts the Theatre Royal in York. Actress Julie Dawn Cole, best known as a nurse in the long-running British TV series Angels, is one of many who claim to have seen her. Julie said, "We were rehearsing on stage one Christmas when I saw her wearing a cloak and a hood. Her outline was iridescent, like gossamer, but I was left with a warm, happy feeling. I consider myself lucky to have seen her."
British actress Thora Hird does not have such fond memories of her brush with the supernatural. The popular TV comedy star was appearing on stage in London on a play set in Victorian times. She found a bolero-type jacket in a trunk of theatrical jumble, and at first, it seemed ideal for her role, fitting her perfectly, but at each subsequent performance, it grew tighter, until it had to be let out.
Thora said, "One day, my understudy had to wear the jacket. That night at home after the show, she saw the ghost of a young Victorian woman wearing the same jacket. Later, the wife of the director of the play tried the jacket on and felt nothing. But when she took it off there were red weals on her throat as if someone had tried to strangle her. We decided to get rid of the jacket.
"A few days after we did, three mediums held a seance on the stage of the theatre. One had a vision of a young girl struggling violently with a man who was tearing at her clothes."
The site of a former theatre in Yorkshire is haunted by a woman who did not really exist. Old Mother Riley was a comedy favourite with British film, radio, and music hall fans in the Forties and Fifties. She was the creation of comedian Arthur Lucan, who died in his dressing room at the old Tivoli Theatre, Hull, in 1966, a week before he was due to attend a meeting with local tax inspectors.
Ironically, when the theatre was demolished, a tax office was built in its place, and Lucan may be having the last laugh on the staff. An Island Revenue official said, "We do not like to say much about what Old Mother Riley is up to in Hull, but people do stay away from a storeroom on the second floor. There is a strange atmosphere and it is said that the ghost of Mother Riley has been seen." Now you have read about the hauntings in theatres across the UK, make sure you read about the ghosts that have plagued the British Royal Family for generations.