This is the third draft of this post and definitely the last. Researching this subject has taken me through several twists and turns. I’ve gone from happy dancing around the room to slumped over the keyboard with frustration to happy dancing around the room again.
In my post Left Behind, I alluded to a discovery that linked Mary Ann Harman to Australia. It was Passenger Lists that led me to my subject and those same Passenger Lists, have contributed to my despair, leaving me desperately searching for answers.
So far, I have bookmarked close to 100 newspaper articles, watched film archive footage, listened to sound archive footage, read musical scores, and entered a lost world of entertainment, vaudeville. I have gone from the stages of the Bristol Hippodrome to the Melbourne Tivoli, from the BBC to the ABC.
Basically, I could not share this story until I knew the truth.
So without further ado, let me introduce to you the star of the show –
Rupert Alexander Hazell was born in West Ham, London in 1887. He was the son of Charles George Hazell and Harriett Sarah Loats, daughter of Mary Ann Harman, and granddaughter of Byaduk pioneers, Joseph and Sarah Harman. Charles Hazell worked on the wharves and Rupert followed him there to work, first for the Royal Naval Stores and then the Port Authority.
But Rupert’s heart was not in it. He was funny, a born comedian. Despite passing the examinations to enter the Civil Service and delighting his parents, he wanted to share his humour. With that and his musical talent, he said goodbye to the Civil Service.
In 1913, he formed his first partnership, marrying Florence Adele McKnight at Kingston, Surrey. Adele worked as a saleswoman for a costumer and it’s possibly where she met Rupert. Years later, it was revealed Rupert had a great interest in ladies’ stage costumes.
The following year, their son was born and christened with the same name as his father, Rupert Alexander.
Rupert was already treading the boards when he enlisted for WW1 in 1916, listing his occupation as an entertainer. He was an acting sergeant in an English hospital, one that saw ANZAC troops as patients.
It was writing songs for Music Hall star George Robey, that saw his career take off. From there he impressed Wal Pink and vaudeville director Albert De Courville.
Radio came to England in 1920 with Dame Nellie Melba making one of the first broadcasts on Marconi’s test station, 2MT at Essex. Rupert too was one of those early broadcasters, being one of the first comedians signed by the Marconi Company. The Marconi Company evolved into the BBC in 1922, with whom Rupert broadcast for at least the next two decades.
In 1922, Rupert travelled to New York for the Broadway show, Pins and Needles co-written by De Courville and Pink, with lyrics co-written by Rupert. He also appeared in the show for the month of February.
The 1923 Royal Command Performance was Rupert’s next big appearance, before King George V and Queen Mary. After this event, advertising for his shows promoted him as “The Man who Made the King Laugh”.
In 1925, Rupert Hazell hit Australian shores for a tour of the Tivoli circuit. With soprano, Miss Elsie Day (her stage name), they toured Sydney and Melbourne with both critical and popular acclaim.
The visit turned into a four-year stay, with Hazell not returning to London until 1929. During the time, he became a radio star with the ABC with stints in all the Australian capital cities and New Zealand.
Accompanied by Elsie Day, their vaudeville act comprised Rupert’s jokes and Elsie’s songs. Taking on a clown-like appearance, Rupert had wild hair and a funny little hat, while Elsie always dressed in her famous crinoline dresses. Rupert greeted audiences with the familiar opening:
“Hello People. Everybody happy?”
This advertisement for the Tivoli, Melbourne has Rupert and Elsie on the bill with their show “Harmonylarity”
By 1928, Rupert Hazell was well known around Australia thanks to radio broadcasts, vaudeville shows, and speaking engagements with groups such as Rotary. According to The Register (S.A), Rupert and Elsie were the first performers to fly between venues.
Not only was Rupert a comedian, broadcaster, and composer, but in 1925 while in Australia he patented his invention the Cellocordo, an instrument like the Phnofiddle invented by A.T. Howson. Rupert also played the Phonofiddle but also did much to promote his version.
MUSICIAN aka HAZELL AND DAY
It is around this time in Rupert’s life that questions come up. I had read many articles at Trove about the pair’s 1920s visit and a later visit in 1933-34. Frequently, newspapers reported Elsie as Rupert’s wife. If “Miss Elsie Day” was a stage name, was I to assume that her real name was Florence McKnight?
It was a search at the UK National Archives that uncovered a record of divorce served on Rupert Alexander Hazell by Florence Adele McKnight in 1929. The same year, they both supposedly returned from Australia. But why did Rupert continue to perform with Elsie into the 1930s and beyond if she was Florence?
I had to find out the true identity of “Miss Elsie Day”. I went back to the Passenger Lists and once again studied Rupert’s entries. One would expect that Miss Day would travel using her real name.
There was another “Hazell” listed on three occasions. The first was in 1929 on their return to London. Accompanying Rupert on the voyage was Eva Hazell, a vocalist. Very interesting. Also interesting was they each listed a different residence on their return to London, Rupert at 74 Cornhill, London, and “Eva Hazell” at 28 Salmon Road, Kent.
In the later records, 1932 from South Africa and 1934 from Brisbane, Rupert was travelling with Sarah Eva Hazell. Their address was the same, 13 The Fairway, North Wembley. The 1932 record listed Sarah as “wife” and on the 1934 record as “soprano”. On each record, there was a 15-year age difference between Rupert and Eva, while there was only a two-year difference in age between Rupert and Florence.
Eva. That name rang a bell. I had found a marriage record from 1931 listing Rupert Alexander Hazell marrying a woman with the surname Pank. Further investigation revealed her full name was Eva Pank. I had initially assumed this record was for Rupert junior, as I thought Rupert senior was happily married to Florence “Elsie Day” McKnight. I also found the death record for Sarah Eva Hazell from 1988. Things were looking a lot different.
I was now working on the assumption that “Miss Elsie Day” was Sarah Eva Pank. That would mean when Rupert and “Elsie” were in Australia for the first time, they were not married. Then, on their arrival back in England, Florence was waiting with divorce papers. Two years later, in 1931, Rupert finally married his “Miss Elsie Day” and they returned to Australia legally as man and wife. But I could not make such claims without proof.
Back to Trove and I read through articles from the first visit, comparing them to the second. Was there any way reporting on their relationship was different on each visit? I analysed every interview looking for clues. With no paparazzi following the couple, there were no scandalous rumours, but there were some differences.
On the earlier visit, articles mentioned Rupert Hazell appearing with Miss Elsie Day or his partner, Miss Elsie Day. On one occasion, The Register (Adelaide) reported Elsie was Rupert’s wife, and he referred to her as his “little grandmother”.
After the formal reporting on the “relationship” during the 1920s visit, the first article after they stepped off the boat at Perth on their return to Australia was totally different:
I love this article. The couple was certainly living the good life.
Getting copies of divorce papers was a possibility, but a quote of £63 for a digital copy was making it less of an option, although I was getting desperate. I then remembered a comment on a photo on Flickr from the ABC Archive.
The photo is of Rupert and “Elsie” to the right with 3LO Melbourne’s Fred Williams. A comment on the photo from Claire mentioned Elsie Day and Rupert were her gg aunt and uncle. Before I parted with my money for the divorce record, I would contact Claire. A prompt reply came back, giving me cause to happy dance around the room once again. Claire told me Elsie Day’s real name was Eva Pank or Sarah Eva Pank. She was Claire’s gg aunt on her maternal side.
I had noticed advertisements from 1924/5 for the Bristol Hippodrome with Rupert performing his show “Harmonylarity” accompanied by Eva Parke. I now believe that was Sarah Eva Pank, and that was when their relationship began.
I can now move on. There is so much more I could tell you about Rupert Hazell’s life. His philosophies of comedy and the audience, topics he spoke of regularly, offer a fascinating insight into early 20th-century entertainment. I also tried to strip back the grease paint to find the “real” Rupert and revealed a complex, intelligent man not afraid to give his opinion, especially about his own talents.
Determination and hard work took him from the ports of London to the stages of the world. He saw comedy move from vaudevillian performances to radio and in his last years, television, a medium he would have enjoyed being a part of, but I have no evidence of his involvement. Rupert passed away in 1958 at Hampstead, London, aged 71.
When I first discovered Rupert, my only question was if the Harman family in Australia knew of him. I feel they probably did not know their family link, as contact between the Harmans of England and Australia may have ended once Mary Ann passed away in 1873. All the same, it is nice to think Sarah Harman of Flemington, aged in her early 80s by that time, may have tuned her wireless to 3LO and listened to her great-nephew Rupert.
Am I happy? Yes, I am Rupert!
You can watch a performance by Rupert and Elsie from 1935 on this video of footage from the British Pathé. Rupert even plays his Cellocordo.
I must thank Alison Rabinovici who has researched Rupert and his Cellocordo, including for a piece at the Jon Rose Web Project site. She replied to my enquiry promptly and offered many places to look for further information. She has since followed up with more contacts and I thank her for all her help.
I big thank you must go to Claire Hardy, the gg niece of Sarah Eva Pank. Without her, I would still be tearing my hair out, spending every waking moment reading, rereading, and analysing. Thanks to Claire, I can now move on to something else. Some would suggest housework…