Published: 21/09/2009
ISBN: 9781848761445
Format: Paperback

"just the sort of book... for a theatre history buff"
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About the Author

An actress and a singer, Ruth Silvestre appeared in three West End Musicals, including the leading role of Dulcinea in Man of La Mancha.... read more

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Final Performance
A true story of Love, Jealousy, Murder and Hypocrisy
by Ruth Silvestre

This true and tragic story which has never been properly told, opens in London on the night of 17th of December 1897.

"House Full" notices are posted outside the Adelphi Theatre where an eager audience waits for the curtain to rise on the popular melodrama, "Secret Service" starring two favourite performers, William Terriss, and Jessie Millward.

Backstage however, the scene is one of horror. A stunned Cast and Company watch helplessly as Jessie cradles her leading man, her lover for the past fifteen years. Terriss has been fatally stabbed, the blood oozes out relentlessly. The performance is cancelled.

News of the murder spread through the city like wild fire, as in New York after the murder of John Lennon. 50.000 people lined the streets for the funeral. Yet today the lovers are largely forgotten.

Will Terriss and Jessie Millward had a long and lasting partnership both on and off the stage. This book traces their early lives in the vivid world of the Victorian Theatre, their enduring love for one another, and the events leading to the murder.

By 1897 Terriss's wife was dying of cancer. It is not unreasonable to suppose that they intended to marry. But it was not to be.

With the murder, Jessie's world fell apart. The person most affected, she was the least considered, as Victorian Society closed ranks, preferring to deny her existence. But she had one champion. On the day of the funeral, after taking the Queen's message of condolence to the widow, with compassion and courage, Sir Henry Irving, newly knighted, gallantly handed down from his carriage the "unmentionable' Miss Millward at Brompton Cemetery. It was Irving who brought them together and Irving who escorted her for their final and most heart- breaking performance.

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Publication of Final Performance is the achievemnt of a long held ambition. After a successful career with leading roles in West End Musical theatre and cabaret, my family and I bought a ruined farm house in S.W. France. I also gradually became a writer, firstly of children's books, then of A House In The Sunflowers, about our French house followed by two others, all published by Allison and Busby. Final Performance was born when my great friend Tony White, in Eatbourne for an extra-mural writing weekend, was required to find some local inspiration for a thousand words! To his delight and relief, the old lifeboat house, then as now, a museum, turned out to be dedicated to the memory of an actor of whom he had never heard, one William Terriss, murdered at the stage door in December 1897. One look at this handsome actor and I joined him in spasmodic but enthusiastic research. We learned of his wayward school career, his early impetuous marriage, sheep farming in the Falklands, horse breaking in Kentucky before becoming one of the most popular actors on the London Stage. But it was at the newspaper archive that I read.....Mr Dr Hayward wishes to deny any mention of Miss Millward's name in connection with the death of William Terriss......!!!

Why? and who was she? And so began my unravelling of the most poignant of love stories with a wealth of theatre history. William Terriss was a big star when he and Jessie met at the rehearsals for Henry Irving's production of Much Ado. Their love was to last for fourteen years before his cruel murder.

I wrote it as play which was selected for a reading at the Theatre Museum Covent Garden, but my friend the late Barry Foster encouraged me use all my research for a book. Publishing being in its present, parlous stae and having just celebrated my eightieth birthday, waiting for a selection of publishers to make up their minds seemed somewhat over optoimistic. I could either afford to have my house painted or self-publish. There was no contest. I so badly wanted to see this story in print. Now comes the selling. Any ideas? At least I have one good and important review...

"What a lovely cocktail of ingredients, carefully mixed to make it very drinkable indeed. Part bodice ripper, part historical essay and part theatrical essay!"
Lucia Stuart
Great, great grand daughter of William Terriss

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(Issue 28)

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