J.W. Rickaby (1870-1929), English music hall character comedian and singer
(photo: unknown, probably UK, circa 1912)
J.W. Rickaby was born James (Emanuel) Platt in 1870, the son of Adam Platt, sometime colour sergeant in the 7th Lancashire Militia, and his wife, Hannah. He died at his house in Brixton on 1 October 1929, leaving a widow, Margaret Alston (? Martha Ann) Platt, whom he had married about 1891.
‘In answer to a correspondent, Mr. J.W. Rickaby, we believe, claims to be the original singer of “What ho! she bumps.”’
(The Stage, London, Thursday, 25 January 1900, p. 17b)
Tivoli Theatre, Sydney, Australia, Saturday, 31 October 1908
‘At Saturday’s performances at the Tivoli Theatre, Mr. J.W. Rickaby, who arrived lately from London, made his first appearance before Sydney audiences. He is a comedian with a good deal of genuine humor, which he exhibited in amusing burlesques of various types of character, such as a British soldier with a capacity for enjoyment, a sailor, and a policeman. These were hit off in such a manner as to keep the audience laughing heartily during his turns.’
(The Evening News, Sydney, Monday, 2 November 1908, p. 2f)
‘J.W. RICKABY’S START
‘A FAMOUS COMEDIAN AT THE TIVOLI [ADELAIDE] TO-DAY [26 December 1914].
‘J.W. Rickaby, the famous comedian appearing at the New Tivoli Theatre, started his stage career as a baritone.
“’I used to work in the day,” he said, “and do concerts at night, and I got on very well. I used to sing ’Queen of My Heart’ all all songs of that class. But I saw the people wanted to be made to laugh, so I tried a comic song. After that they would not have me in anything else.
‘I shall never forget when my father first heard me. I had gone to Manchester, so he came to the hall. I got on very quickly – at least, I did not exactly got on; I mean I did not earn big money quickly, but I became popular and had a good place on the bill, and felt very satisfied and proud. I saw my father going to the front, so I said, ‘Don’t go out there, dad: stay here and watch me from this corner,’ and I settled him there. Well, I had never seen my father afraid or nervous. He was a soldier, and did not know what fear meant, but that night he was white and shaking with fear and nervousness. I could see him sitting there and twisting his hands and looking so anxious.
”’When I cam off he said, ‘You’ll never be any good at it, Jim; never be able to do anything’ ‘Why not?’ I asked.
“’’Why, boy, they were laughing at you all through those first two songs; you’ll never do anything at it.’’You see, he did not realise I was trying to make them laugh. He was so used to me singing the sentimental songs.
”’that time I was singing two humorous songs, and then a sentimental ballad. I wanted to be versatile. But, strange to say, in England versatility does not succeed. They do not want you to be versatile. At least, it succeeds, but the one who wants to be versatile never gets into the big and secure position. To go on and do a song in a comedian make-up and then appear in evening dress to do a straight song is not what they want; they will not accept you as a sentimental ballad singer, and they try to laugh, thinking it should be funny, so I gave up trying to be versatile.
“’’One of my best turns is a soldier song, and I have all their little ways for it – the way they hold the cigarette, inhale and smoke, then blow it out, and their movements. I meant it to be one of my principal numbers here, but I would not sing it now on principle.
”’For stage purposes one of my brothers is known as Rhodes, and the other as Waite. My own name is Platt – J.W. Platt, an old Lancashire name, and there are a good many Platts there. In fact, I do not know how many nephews and nieces and relatives I have there. I have given up counting them. They have big families in Lancashire. Why, one connection of mine has 17 children. I never know which is which and which is the baby. They are all steps and stairs. As for how many nephews and cousins I have at the war I have not the least idea. Why, there are four nephews out of one family.
“’And if you want to see bonnie, healthy children you cans see them in Lancashire. This connection of mine with the 17, how much do you think he has a week? Between two and three pounds. Yes, he has been able to bring all up healthy and well. They run about barefooted – he cannot run to boots and stockings – but some of them would have clogs for special occasions. You can get them for about eighteen pence per pair. They have fine homemade bread in Lancashire, and good butter, too, and the children live and thrive principally on this. They would have a bowl of stew or soup for their dinner – nothing else. Yet they look well and are as happy as possible, rolling over one another. They are just growing up now, and are beginning to earn money, one or two bringing in 15/- a week, another 10 or 12 shilling, so they are getting quite rich.’
(The Daily Herald, Adelaide, Saturday, 26 December 1914, p. 6f)
‘J.W. Rickaby, who left these shores for Australia last September to fulfil an engagement for Mr. Hugh D. McIntosh with Rickard’s Theatres, arrived in London on Tuesday evening [25 May 1915]. Mr. Rickaby made the return journey per the s.s. ’’Morea,” leaving the boat at Marseilles and travelling overland. He should open in Leeds on Monday, but as all his theatrical luggage and band pats are still on board, and the boat is not expected back in time, he will probably have to postpone his appearance until the following Monday, when he is due at Newcastle.’
(The Stage, London, Thursday, 27 May 1915, p. 14e)
Listen to J.W. Rickaby singing ’I’m Always Thinking of Her,’ recorded for the Edison Bell Winner label (3498) in London in November 1920.