Cicely Courtneidge Biography


    Dame Esmerelda Cicely Courtneidge DBE (1 April 1893 – 26 April 1980) was an English actress, comedienne and singer. The daughter of the producer Robert Courtneidge, she was appearing in his productions in the West End, by the age of 16, and was quickly promoted from minor to major roles in his Edwardian musical comedies. After the outbreak of the First World War, her father had a series of failures and temporarily withdrew from production. No other producers offered the young Courtneidge leading roles in musical comedies, and she turned instead to the music hall, learning her craft as a comedienne. In 1916 she married the actor and dancer Jack Hulbert, with whom she formed a professional as well as a private partnership that lasted until his death 62 years later. They acted together on stage and screen, initially in a series of revues, with Hulbert frequently producing as well as performing. Courtneidge appeared in 11 British films in the 1930s, and one in Hollywood, finding this work to be very lucrative. She and Hulbert also recorded for Columbia and HMV, returning to the stage in the late 1930s. During the Second World War, Courtneidge entertained the armed forces and raised funds for the troops. She then had a long run in Under the Counter, a comedy in which she received glowing notices. Notable among her other successes was Courtneidge's performance in Ivor Novello's musical Gay's the Word in 1951–52. During the rest of the decade, she focused on revues and straight plays. After the mid-1960s, Courtneidge concentrated on the non-musical theatre, appearing in the West End and on tour in a range of plays, both serious and comic. While appearing in her last West End run in 1971, she celebrated 70 years on the stage. Afterwards, she continued to work for a further five years before retiring.