The Harbour Watch

(notes by John Walker)


In her Epilogue to Charles Carrington’s biography, Elsie Bambridge wrote, ‘His only attempt at play-writing was in 1913, when he and I together wrote a one-act play called The Harbour Watch, of which Pyecroft was the hero. Vedrenne and Eadie produced it in a series of matinees at the Royalty Theatre, but it was not a great success’. (page 591).

In fact, the play is referred to in Caroline’s diary in July 1908. Elsie would then have been twelve.

Although copyrighted in England and the United States in that year, it was not published in Kipling’s lifetime.

The text from the typed copyright script, held in the British Library, is reproduced in the ORG (Vol 4, pages 1837-1855). There is also a duplicate of the stage manager’s copy, having stage directions and some line changes added. This is held in the Library of Congress. David Richards suggests that these changes were made without reference to Kipling. Another copy of the script is described in the Kipling Journal June 1972 (pages 3-4). This apparently was Vernon’s own copy, and was interleaved with diagrams and notes on plain sheets. The location of this copy is now unknown.

The first English edition of the play appeared in April 1990 (Spearman Books). It was edited with an introduction and notes by John and Janet Brooman.


Caroline Kipling’s diaries reveal that arrangements for the production of the play in April were arranged through a visit from Perceval Landon during their travels through France (March 19th/20th 1913).

On 14th April Carrie’s diary records: ‘Rud to rehearsal of “Harbour Watch”; depressed by the caste [sic]’.

The first production of the play, at the Royalty Theatre, in Dean Street, Soho, opened on 22nd April, 1913, with a series of six Tuesday and Friday afternoon matinees (22nd, 25th and 29th April, 2nd, 6th and 9th May).

Carrie’s diary for April 22nd 1913 reports: ‘Rud, John and I to town. Rud takes John to his first music hall. Rud’s play, curtain raiser The Harbour Watch is produced. Several telegrams to say how excellently it was received.

The cast at that first performance was listed as:

Emmanuel Pyecroft, R.N. Mr Luke Forsters

Edward Glass, R.M.L.I. Mr George Tilley

Albert Blashford, R.N. Mr Lawford Davidson

William Agg Mr Campbell Gulban

Corporal Walters R.M.L.I. Mr W. Lemmon Warde

Jenny Blashford Miss Marjorie Day.

On this occasion, the play was offered as a ‘curtain-raiser’ for the play Thompson,  a comedy in three acts by George Calderon and St John Hankin.

A report in The Times on 23rd April described the plot in some detail. Regarding the dialogue it suggested ‘You cannot choose but believe every word of it’. The report adds that, at the end ‘ there was a hearty call for Mr. Kipling, but he was not in the house’.

On 29th April, Carrie’s diary records: ‘To town with both children … to see The Harbour Watch. Good house and excellently done. Rud comes up in the evening and we all go to a music hall’.

In the obituary notice for Kipling, in The Times (2nd February 1936) it was noted that “his play, The Harbour Watch, was produced at the Royalty Theatre, where the adventure of the drunken maniac [marine?] made everyone laugh”. However, Elsie admitted, in the epilogue mentioned above, that the play ‘was not a great success’. Her part in the writing is not acknowledged in the copyright copies or the playbill, and Harbord suggests that she may simply have advised on dialogue for Jenny Blashford.

Carrie’s diary for May 17th records that [John] ‘Vedrenne calls about plays for the future and other arrangements for The Harbour Watch’.

The play seems to have been offered at the Royalty again in September 1913 (15th September to 13th October inc.), and possibly again in September 1920.

Kipling certainly attended a rehearsal of the play (letter to Mr Nathan, dated 6th May 1913, reported by David Richards) but seems never to have attended a performance.

The Play

Pyecroft is on leave, and staying, as he has done before, with William Agg. Jenny Blashford, a seventeen-year-old girl from the village, tells Pyecroft that her cousin Albert has been at home caring for his mother, but has missed returning to his ship at the end of his leave. Agg is threatening to report the young sailor unless Jenny agrees to his proposal of marriage. Agg is sixty-two. In fact he has enlisted the help of a Marine, but this is Edward Glass, who works with Pyecroft and Jenny to offer Albert the choice of staying in the Navy or buying himself out to marry Jenny.

Sometimes listed as the seventh of the ‘Pyecroft stories’, the text does involve familiar faces. Private Edward Glass is a character from ‘The Bonds of Discipline’. William Agg may be the ‘vindictive character’ from ‘Steam Tactics’, though he seems older compared to Pyecroft in this story. If it is the same character, he also appears in ‘A Tour of Inspection’.


The Saturday Review  (25th April 1913): ‘If Mr Kipling can fill our theatres with the like of Edward Glass, and find actors for their impersonation like Mr Tully, let him by all means wipe away all trivial fond records, and write hard for the theatre during the rest of his writing days’.

The Illustrated London News  (30th April 1913): ‘It was good to meet with real Tommies and Sailormen. Mr Kipling gives us the treat of hearing the sort of talk the service actually employs in all its unwarranted simplicity. Blashford, Pye[croft] and Glass use the idiom of their class, and not the mincing phrases of melodrama’.

 ‘The World’ later suggested that there was some ‘triteness’ but that the dialogue ‘would have proved tame and unstimulating had not Kipling vitalised the old bones with the full-blooded humours of Edward Glass’.




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