Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lowther of the "Lambs" - Part 2.

In the second and final part of the Eastbourne Gazette article published in 1914 on Mr. Claude Lowther, it goes into his military career, political life and some “amusing” stories of his wicked sense of humour.

It all paints an elaborate picture of the new Colonel of the South Downs battalions.


The Southdown Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment have as their colonel no tyro in the art of war. The command has been given to a man who served with more than ordinary distinction in the South African War. He was A.D.C to Sir Charles Warren and for one act of valour was recommended for the Victoria Cross. From South Africa he went straight into politics.

The constituency he had to woo (this was in 1900) was an old Liberal stronghold and I have wondered how a man of his disposition and temperament managed to gain the affections of the aloof, unimaginative, dour Northern farmers. Yet I am told he carried them by storm. His success in the House of Commons was just as surprising. Beyond his brief electoral campaign he had no oratorical experience before he took his seat; and yet upon his maiden speech Sir William Harcourt congratulated him and he quickly caught the eye of Mr. Chamberlain. He had become an adherent of the latter immediately upon entering into politics and he remained his staunch follower.

Politicians say that one important way to gain the attention of the House is to be yourself as a critic upon some prominent member of the other side. Mr. Claude Lowther fastened himself on to Mr. Winston Churchill. Upon Mr. Churchill’s vitriolic attacks on Mr. Balfour or Mr. Chamberlain he would follow with equally sarcastic comments. At a time when discussion ranged round the “beri-beri” disease one of the symptoms of which was said to be a swelled head. Mr. Lowther accused Mr. Churchill of being a victim of the complaint. The two are personal friends and when they met at a dinner party a night or two after, the First Lord remarked, “You are wrong Claude, about beri-beri. It doesn’t cause a swelled head but swelled feet.” “Oh,” came the apt retort, “then I should have said, ‘you were too big for your boots!’”


Undoubtedly, had his own health and his party’s fortunes gone differently, M. Lowther might by now be a widely known politician. Had he kept his seat in 1906 (he lost it by a small majority) he would have had a splendid chance among the little ban of Unionists in the 1906-1910 Parliament; for he has the real Parliamentary manner and that saving grace of humour which the House loves. A Tariff Reform Government would certainly have seen him in some post (he was one of the select few permitted to visit Mr. Chamberlain after his breakdown compelled the retirement to Highbury) and when the Unionists expected to win in 1910 he was “tipped” as a possible Under Secretary for the Colonies. His health, however, has sadly interfered with his political activities of late years; he regained his seat in December, 1910 but has rarely sat in the present House, although he has concentrated a good deal of interest upon the anti-Socialist movement.

His antipathy to Socialists once took an amusing turn. He was watching a mob orator in Hyde Park and had with him, Norman Forbes, the actor. Now Norman Forbes was abnormally thin; so thin that when his brother, Sir J. Forbes Robertson, was producing “Hamlet” and wanted a role for Norman, somebody suggested that he should be cast for the part of the skull in the graveyard scene. To divert the attention of the crowd, Claude Lowther began to refer to the man beside him as the celebrated fasting man. “Saccho” or “Zaccho” who was then startling London. Before long the whole crowd were staring at the man and the orator was wasting his eloquence on the park trees.


I have reason to know that M. Lowther dearly loves a joke – even a practical joke. The editor of a certain newspaper tells a story to this effect. He once applied to Mr. Lowther for a portrait of himself which was to be given to the editor’s newspaper. As he knew that Mr. Lowther had an objection to have his portrait in the public press, he had little hope of his request being granted. However, to the editor’s surprise, a portrait was sent and was published in due course. Only then did the editor (who had never seen Mr. Lowther) find that the photograph that had been sent to him and inserted in his paper was that of quite another man.

Claude Lowther once wrote a play. It was called “The Gordian Knot.” And his friend, Sir H. Beerbohm, produced it. Tree engaged Olga Nethersole, then a big London star, at a handsome salary, to play the chief role. All the M.P.’s came down from Westminster to His Majesty’s for the first night and most I am told dozed in the stalls long before it was over. Anyhow, the play ran only about six nights. The smartest thing said about it was that its title should have been “The Claudian Rot.” The author, I believe, came to the conclusion that the British public did not want serious drama. I fancy he has never though much of the dramatic critics from that day to this. As for Mr. Beerbohm Tree, he went back to Shakespeare.


Although he failed as a dramatist there can be no doubt that Mr. Claude Lowther would have found an excellent career, had he needed it, as an actor. He has the very style for drawing-room comedy. I can imagine his treading the stage of the St. James quite attractively as Sir George Alexander. His sister, Miss Aimee Lowther, is, of course, well known in society as an amateur actress and has even essayed the role of Romeo. Nearly all the Lowthers, indeed, have a penchant for theatricals. Once the subject of this sketch played the part of a curate. But that was at a country house and for a joke. The deception was carried out most successfully.

For, as I have said, he is an enormous practical joker. The Drury Lane conductor, Mr. Jimmy Glover, known to us in Sussex, for his association with the public life of Bexhill, narrates one of his most daring exploits in his pleasant book of theatrical gossip. “Claude Lowther,” he writes, “once got himself into trouble for an innocent piece of carnavalian humour at Covent Garden. He dressed up a dummy of poor Gus Harris (Sir Augustus Harris, the famous impresario) Inverness cape and all, and worked it in an imitation of making a speech from a private box, to all but an unsympathetic and humourless officer in blue, who promptly carted the offending one off to Bow Street.”

Jimmy Glover’s book also contains the following – “Few people who know that charming lady, delightful sportswomen and excellent actress, Lady de Bathe, will appreciate what a good-natured humanist she is in the cause of charity, She once, with Claude Lowther, M.P. disguised herself as a flower girl and sold flowers in Haymarket outside the clubs to such a state of realism that Lord Brabazon did not recognise her and made an appointment with her the next day to further patronise her floral wares.”

I am sure that “Lowthers Lambs” will all become as much attached to their colonel as his men were in South Africa and his political supporters were in Cumberland. And I am sure that their colonel will find fighting this war an even more congenial task that fighting the Boers. For he will know that while fighting for the British, whose possessions have always made him the most intense of Imperialists, for whose sturdiness and love of fair play he has so much admiration, he is also fighting for “La Belle France,” whose spirit he understands and enters into as can few Englishmen. And he will be fighting the Germans. I can imagine few things about the Germans which would not strike him with a cold shudder.

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