A Vanished Past – Actors

Valentine Dyall and Charles Dalmon – an excerpt from A Vanished Past Vol. 1

The fact that he was part of a large well-connected family with a wide circle of acquaintances may account for the surprising fact that at some time the Rev. Harold Buxton had in his care at Horley Vicarage (he told us so – though it seems more likely to have been Essex Cottage) the young child Valentine Dyall, with his father Franklin.

Valentine Dyall was to become a well known actor with a famous sepulchral voice. He cornered the market in ghoulish parts intended to create dread and is best known for his narration of the radio horror series Appointment with Fear. He was the English equivalent of the American Vincent Price. Bishop Buxton told us that he bathed Valentine every day in our bathroom. It was hard to imagine a miniature version of the frightening Valentine Dyall slipping around in our old- fashioned bath. Valentine Dyall went on to give his son not only the name Christian, but also the name Jocelyn, which may have been a reference to Harold Jocelyn Buxton.

Valentine Dyall coverIn 2010 the BBC produced an audio CD of the only surviving episodes of Appointment with Fear in the BBC archives: ‘four gripping episodes from the famous 1940s BBC horror series’. They were hugely popular and ran for ten series. Apart from his connection with Horley, and the thrill of the extraordinary rich deep voice of Valentine Dyall, they are wonderful examples of radio drama in the war torn years of the 1940s, and the post-war period.

Bill Griffin (grandson of the Bagnalls of Horley Manor) gave me a copy of Harold Buxton’s four pages of autobiographical notes about coming to Horley. Harold Buxton says:

‘I arrived in Horley with quite a little party. Two special friends, who were glad to be out of London because of the risks [this was during WW1], volunteered to come as ‘paying guests’ to my temporary residence in Essex Cottage. The Vicarage was then occupied by Belgian refugees.

First there was Franklin Dyall, who was a noted person on the stage, mainly in Shakespeare. He was a widower with a small boy of three or four years, Valentine or ‘Val’ Dyall (who himself became an actor and broadcaster in later life). Franklin Dyall was in London during the week but the other friend, Charles Dalmon, the poet, had lived with the Dyalls and was virtually ‘nurse’ to the small boy. Happily Franklin Dyall was with us at the weekends, and always read the lesson at Evensong. His wonderful voice and dramatic reading brought many extra visitors to hear him. Charles Dalmon was known as a modern ‘Herrick’ and came originally from Sussex, the land of poets. He regarded England as the real ‘Arcady’ and I made him poet-laureate of Horley!’

Somebody else also had the laureate idea, and the Horsham Museum and Art Gallery have published a short book, Charles Dalmon, the poet laureate of Sussex by George Cockman. I think Harold Buxton was a romantic. Dalmon was a poet, though not well known and most poems I have found online were written around 1904 (published in The Harper’s Monthly) and discreetly erotic. He was likely gay, and although that is not stated he was a friend of Noel Coward and is reputed to have said ‘my ambition is to be crushed to death between the thighs of a guardsman’! It would be interesting to know if Charles Dalmon wrote any poems when he was in Horley.

Franklin Dyall Although Franklin Dyall was a well-known character actor having 26 films to his credit and many more plays – he was not a Shakespearean actor – I cannot find any Shakespearean play he was in; and he was not widowed as Harold Buxton says – his wife Phyllis Logan had left him. There are some exquisite photographs of her by her future second husband Cavendish Moreton dated 1909 held at the National Portrait Gallery, and which can be viewed on line. They had male twins in 1911. The nice thing for the Horley Church congregation was that they had the pleasure of hearing the pure tones of the man who quite often read the news on the radio, reading the lesson in church.

Harold Buxton’s curacy in Thaxted was at an interesting time. It cannot be co-incidental that his cousin Conrad Roden Noel became Vicar there in 1910, and Harold Buxton became his curate almost immediately. Conrad Noel was known as the ‘Red Vicar’ and was a Christian Socialist. He created a storm of protest by raising the Red Flag and the Sinn Fein flag alongside the flag of St George on the church. Cambridge students attacked the church in what was called the ‘Battle of the Flags’. The matter was only resolved when the Consistory Court forbade the hanging of both the Red Flag and the Sinn Fein flag. Conrad Noel also gathered around him figures from the world of arts: his father was a poet, the composer Gustav Holst was a friend and parishioner, and I believe there were others.

I have wondered whether by sharing his home with the Dyalls and Dalmon, Harold Buxton was hoping to emulate his cousin, or whether the general culture of his family included supporting the liberal arts and artists.

Horley church has a charming watercolour painting by a difficult-to-trace artist Frank W Carter. I believe he was another friend in Harold Buxton’s artistic circle. Weight is lent to this idea because Frank Carter painted a striking portrait of The Red Vicar which now hangs in Thaxted Guildhall. There is also a painting of the interior of Thaxted church on the cover of Conrad Noel’s biography – which has striking similarities to the Horley water colour.

Extract from A Vanished Past Volume 1 £15   Both Volumes and p&p £33. From Clare Marchant, Shaftesbury House, 15 Circus Street, Greenwich, London SE10 8SN or marchantclare@hotmail. Cheques payable to Clare Marchant.

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