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Irving, Henry

Irving, Henry (1838–1905). Actor and theatre manager. Born John Henry Brodribb, but abandoning a merchant's clerkship for ten years' apprenticeship with theatrical stock companies in the provinces, Irving emerged as a leading actor, with a gift for the macabre, in 1871. On becoming lessee and manager of the Lyceum theatre (London), he mounted elaborate, sumptuous productions, paying much attention to detail and hiring leading designers and composers; the company made several successful American tours, and he became the first actor to be knighted (1895). Though a charismatic ‘intellectual’ rather than ‘emotional’ actor, described by Ellen Terry (his professional partner for 24 years) as ‘an egotist of the great type’, but criticized for mannerisms in delivery and gait, Irving ignored new drama from Shaw and Ibsen. After heavy losses in a fire and serious illness (1898), the struggle to maintain the Lyceum company ended in 1902.

A. S. Hargreaves

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