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Nora Delany, Irish-born English variety and revue actress and singer and pantomime principal boy

April 5, 2014

Nora Delany (1887-1977), Irish-born English variety and revue actress and singer and pantomime principal boy
(photo: J.P. Bamber, Liverpool, circa 1914)

Nora Delany (Annie Leonora Delany) was the elder daughter of George Delany (1832-1895) and his common-law wife, Alice Ann May (1864-1914). Her first marriage was on 7 October 1911 at St. Saviour’s Church, Paddington, to the theatrical manager, Benjamin Gilles Maclachlan, a widower. Following his death at the age of 38 in 1916, Miss Delany is said to have married the journalist William Maxwell (1862?-1928), who received a knighthood in the New Year’s honours list of 1919. In fact, they were never married and their relationship was over by the time he married his ‘third’ wife in 1924. In 1932 Nora Delany (Mrs Maclachlan) married Prince Littler (1901-1973), the theatrical impresario.

For further information regarding Nora Delany’s father and family, see M.J. Delany, ‘William Delany (1832-1895) of Durrow, Queen’s County,’ Genealogical Society of Ireland, vol. 13, Dublin, 2012, p. 56.

* * * * *

‘A NEW BEAUTY-ACTRESS.
‘Nora Delany, a stately young brunette, with a joyous look in her smiling brown eyes, has arrived her with her friend, Audrey Thacker, in readiness for Saturday afternoon’s production of Babes in the Wood. Therein the new beauty-actress will figure as principal boy. These two artists travelled separately. Otherwise the entire J.C. Williamson Company, which appeared in Adelaide last Saturday, occupied a special train to the number of 82 persons, reaching Sydney at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday.
‘Miss Delany (Lady Maxwell) is the wife of Sir William Maxwell, K.B.E., a journalist who represented the London ”Standard” during the Commonwealth celebrations of 1901, when he was attached to the Duke and Duchess of York’s party. Since then he has become identified with financial affairs in London, where he is the director of several companies. Before he settled in the metropolis, however, Lady Maxwell visited India, China, Japan, Ceylon, Arabia, and the United States with him, and one of her reasons for joining the present theatrical combination was to gratify her love of travelling and to see the country of which her husband so often spoke with enthusiasm.
‘Miss Delany was born at Abbeyleix, Queen’s County, but she left Ireland during her early school days, and lived for eight years in Manchester. She began her state career by joining the chorus of Dick Whittington at the Grand Theatre, Croydon, in 1910 [sic: it was actually Christmas, 1908], and was also in the original production of The Arcadians in London, before realising that she must discover some opportunity for individual action to justify her own faith in herself. The ambitious girl did this by securing a music hall engagement, and in vaudeville quickly made a name as ”The Girl in Uniform,” spirited songs of a more or less martial character roving the source of her first great successes.
”’I studied under Winslow Hall, a singing teacher of distinction in London,” remarked the actress at her Elizabeth Bay flat yesterday, ”and it was a great pleasure to me to meet him and his wife once more in Adelaide, where he is a professor at the Elder Conservatorium. His wife, Georgina Delmar, was principal boy when I made my start at Croydon, was also one of the many Carmens with the Carl Rosa Co., and I hear that she sang Delilah in the first production in Australia of Saint-Saens’ Biblical opera by the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney. Really, I am a trained contralto, but the voice is not much used in these revue pieces, and, in fact, it is almost a special art to do without it whilst articulating distinctly. I am still nominally engaged in vaudeville, as I am under ten years’ contract to Mr. Charles Gulliver, and I am mulcted in a penalty throughout my absence. For this reason I shall sail for home as early as I can in August, after completing the New Zealand tour.”
(The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Thursday, 16 March 1922, p. 6e)

A copy of the contract between J.C. Williamson Ltd and Nora Delany, signed on 26 January 1921, relating to the latter’s engagement to play Principal Boy in pantomime in Australia and New Zealand during the 1921-1922 season, is in the theatre collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, museum number: S1193-2012.

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