Henry B. Irving


Henry Brodribb Irving was the first son of Sir Henry Irving; he used the stage name “H. B.” to distinguish himself from his illustrious father. In 1894, the same year he was called to the Bar, Inner Temple, he chose the theater as a profession and was continuously employed from then on as an actor. He acted in his father’s company, and served several times as an actor-manager in the London theaters. For a short period, he took over managing the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival while Sir Frank Benson visited the US. During World War I, however, he retired from acting to pursue a successful career in law and an interest in writing about criminals. His well-known book, A Book of Remarkable Criminals, was published in 1918. He founded, with Arthur Conan Doyle and others, Our Society, a club which continues to meet regularly for dinner to discuss murders and other crimes.

Over time, Irving played in many of the same Shakespeare roles as his father—Iago, Hamlet, Romeo, etc. However, he could never fully break free of his father’s immense shadow. He played Hamlet for the first time in 1904, just a year before his father’s death. This successful production at the Adelphi Theatre included Oscar Asche as Claudius, Lily Brayton as Ophelia, and Walter Hampden as Laertes. Some of the cards here are of this production.

H. B. married Dorothea Baird (1875-1833), a friend and actress who first appeared with him in several Oxford Union Dramatic Society performances while he was a student at New College. Known at the time as the best actress in Britain, she went on in her professional career to play many Shakespeare roles in the companies of Ben Greet, Beerbohm Tree, and her father-in-law, Henry Irving. In 1900, they both appeared in Tree’s hugely popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which ran for 153 shows at Her Majesty’s Theatre. They went on to tour most of the provincial British cities, like his father had done, as well as the United States, Australia, and South Africa. With her, Irving had two children, Laurence and Elizabeth.