Adelphi Theatre ghost is seen again

According to comedian Jason Mansford, William Terriss, the famous Adelphi Theatre ghost, has utilised 21st century communications technology to make his presence known again.

A fascinating first-hand account of a new sighting of one of London’s best-known ghosts unexpectedly cropped up on a comedy chat show a few weeks ago. Comedian Jason Mansford was one of the guests on Alexander Armstrong’s Big Ask on UK satellite channel Dave. In the middle of the show host Alexander Armstrong asked Mansford: ‘You had some weird experience in your dressing room, though, is this true?’

‘I was in a haunted dressing room, yeah – well, I mean, if you believe in all that,’ Mansford replied and then went on to explain: ‘I was talking to my daughter on Skype, and she’s three, and she was at home. And she just went: “Daddy, what is that man doing behind you?”

‘And I said: ‘What? Wha – what does he look like?” And she said: “He’s a soldier.”

I went: “Hang on now, what’s going on here?” But, um, I spoke to the company manager at the theatre and apparently this guy was stabbed at the stage door in 1897, an actor, by an understudy – you know what they’re like, he wanted the part I presume, and, er, he thought that’s probably the best way, rather than just working harder – but that night he was actually making his debut in a play called “The Secret Service” when he was playing a lieutenant in the American Army. So, weird isn’t it?’

Although the theatre isn’t named by Jason Mansford, this is clearly a reference to the well-known Adelphi Theatre ghost, William Terriss. What Mansford was told about the history of the haunting varies slightly from what I had previously known, certainly in terms of how he is dressed. Here’s my brief account in my new eBook ‘Haunted Sites of London’ (http://tinyurl.com/bsvz4dm):

‘In 1897 Victorian actor William Terriss was murdered by a rival actor who was literally mad with jealousy – after stabbing Terriss through the heart as he arrived at the stage door, the killer was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor. The ghost of Terriss – ‘a handsome old-fashioned figure with a flowing tie and a sombrero hat’ – has been seen in a narrow alleyway (leading to Bull Inn Court) alongside the Adelphi. He has also been witnessed in the theatre itself, walking on the stage. The actor Peter Wyngarde reported strange goings-on in his dressing room some years ago and these were put down to the ghost either of Terriss or of Ivor Novello, who some believe also haunts the Adelphi.’

Terris is also said to haunt nearby Covent Garden Underground Station: ‘The ghost of Victorian actor William Terriss, who was murdered outside the nearby Adelphi Theatre, has been seen on many occasions in this busy Underground station, for reasons which remain obscure. He is described as ‘a tall distinguished-looking spectre … wearing a grey suit, old-fashioned collar and white gloves’. One member of the London Transport staff got the fright of his life when a white-gloved hand reached out of the darkness and touched him with icy fingers. Another staff member, back in the 1970s, claimed to have seen the apparition at least 40 times and said that he had got quite used to it.’

On the face of it, the ghost’s appearance as a soldier fails to tally with previous sightings. A quick check of Wikipedia (yes, yes, I know!) does confirm that Secret Service was indeed the play Terriss was due to star in. It later starred William Gillette – remembered today for being the first man to play Sherlock Holmes (it’s possible he took over the role when Terriss was murdered). The rather wonderful poster reproduced below shows the play’s performance at the Adelphi. The hero, whom Terriss would have been playing, is pictured on the stage pointing dramatically. That army uniform could reasonably be described as ‘a grey suit’, although admittedly he isn’t wearing white gloves.

It’s all very intriguing, though, and reminds me that another famous ghost of London’s West End theatreland was seen a few years ago by Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart. In 2009 Stewart saw the ghost of the Haymarket Theatre while performing in ‘Waiting For Godot’ with Ian McKellen.

‘Haunted Sites of London’: http://tinyurl.com/bsvz4dm

Text © Richard Holland 2013

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