Recruiting in armour: Norman Wrighton

28 Jun

War brought some odd sights to London’s streets. One of these was a Shakespearean actor recruiting in a suit of armour on Charing Cross Road

From Daily Express 18 Dec 1915

From Daily Express 18 Dec 1915

Norman Wrighton was born in Staffordshire and came to London to act in the West End. In the 1911 census, he gave his occupation as ‘Actor, dramatist and poet’ and his employer as Seymour Hicks – a prominent London performer and theatre manager.

Wrighton was keen on making Shakespeare accessible to the public – including through open-air recitals in Hyde Park, and through recitals in the Music Halls (about which he wrote to the Times in 1910). He also wrote invasion plays – a genre designed to alert the British public to the threat of war in Europe and possible invasion of their country. The Stage Yearbook 1910 lists his sketch ‘Wake Up England’ being performed at the Empire in Leeds in February 1909. The previous year, his play Britain’s Awakening (in which he also starred) appeared in the West End in London.

Quite why he felt the need to dress in armour to deliver his recruiting speech in December is not clear, although he undoubtedly attracted greater attention that way (judging by a wider-angled photo of the scene, the crowd were mainly soldiers, though, which may have defeated the point somewhat). The statue in front of which he spoke is of Sir Henry Irving at the bottom of Charing Cross Road, behind the National Portrait Gallery.

Earlier that year, another of his plays ‘Kultur’ was reportedly used by recruiting sergeants in the capital. Perhaps that is was what Wrighton was reciting in front of Irving’s stature, clad in armour.

Daily Mirror 17 July 1915

Daily Mirror 17 July 1915


Posted by on 28 June 2013 in Famous People, Recruitment


3 responses to “Recruiting in armour: Norman Wrighton

  1. SilverTiger

    17 July 2013 at 9:07 pm

    A fine example of British eccentricity put to use in a good cause. I suspect young Wrighton was, consciously or unconsciously, tapping into the British fascination with our historical past and with knights in armour. Most museums I visit seem to have armour on display (sometimes to try on!) and miniature knights in armour on sale in the shop. A couple of years ago, I attended a festival on the Southbank where one of the turns consisted of a man whose hobby was historical re-enactment showing us how to dress in a suit of armour!

    And, of course, we still refer to a man who helps us out in a crisis as “a knight in shining armour”!

  2. Ray Taylor

    14 November 2015 at 6:57 am

    I am interested in making contact with the person who has put this information together on Norman Wrighton as I have a poem which is hand written by him found in the returned effects of one of our village boys killed in action in the First World War.
    I have been researching Norman (stage name) for some time and feel we could help each other for although Norman was not killed in the war he died of the effect of it.


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