Captain Bernard Alexander Leslie

This Arlington member had a long career behind the scenes in the theatre world, including many years at the Empire Theatre in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.

Newspaper photo of the head in profile of man in evening dress
Bernard A Leslie, 1939

For a man with such an interesting and important job, his life in Glasgow has been hard to trace. From 1931 until September 1944, Bernard Leslie was the General Manager of Glasgow’s Empire Theatre. 

He was a member of the Arlington Baths in March 1941 but because the archive materials are inaccessible at the moment the full dates of his membership are uncertain. 

The only recorded Glasgow address we have found for him is at 20 Woodlands Drive, a short walk from the Club.  

London family life

Bernard Alexander Leslie was born Bernhard Alexander Leslie Rohmann in Hackney, London, in 1885. His father Julius Rohmann was a Wine Merchant. His mother Jessie, née Macbeth, was a bookkeeper. He had two sisters, Dora, born in June 1882, and Margaret, born in December 1886.

By the time of 1891 census Julius and Jessie seem to have separated. Jessie, Dora (8), Margaret (4), as well as six-year-old Bernhard are now living with Jessie’s mother, Flora Phillips, a widow born in Scotland. Also at the address at The Grove, Hammersmith, are Jessie’s brother John Macbeth, a licensed victualler, his wife, Annie and their infant daughter, and two servants. 

Jessie is listed as “married” but in the same census Julius Rohmann is listed as married to Eliza V F Rohmann so has there been a separation and/or divorce? Later in 1891 Julius and Eliza have a son, who they name Cedric Julius.

Jessie died on 7 August 1895 in Twickenham, Middlesex, at the age of 36, when Bernhard was just 10 years old.

Entering the theatrical world

By the time of the 1901 census, 16-year old Bernhard has become Bernard and is a Clerk for the Great Eastern Railways. He is living in Sunningdale Station Rooms in Surrey, and his sister Dora is visiting him at the time of the census. She died later in 1901 and is buried at Saint Mary the Virgin Church in Twickenham.

By April 1910 he has become Bernard Leslie and makes his appearance in the theatre world in an amateur production of A Quiet Family by the East Barnet Amateur Dramatic and Musical Society. In September 1910 The Stage reports his appearance in a professional production at the Garrick Theatre of The Eternal Question by Hall Caine in the role of Clerk of the Court. He is also the Stage Manager.

His father, Julius,  passed away on 20 September 1910 in Dalston, Middlesex, at the age of 57.

In the census for 1911 he is recorded as Bernard Alexander Leslie, Theatrical Manager, boarding with Lilian de Chastelain at 36 Chesilton Road, Fulham, along with his uncle, John Macbeth, who is still described as a Licensed Victualler. The census returns take us no further.

In 1912 on 24 April, Bernard AL Rohmann married Constance E Walter in London.

He next appears in the London Gazette in February 1915 which announces his posting as 2nd Lieutenant in The Prince of Wales Own, North Staffordshire Regiment. According to his medal record he went on to become a Captain in the Royal Lancaster Regiment. He seems to have remained in the army until 1920.

Theatre life in the ‘roaring twenties’!

Throughout the 1920s he appears in a number of reports in The Stage and The Era which record his theatrical career  working with theatrical impresario, CB Cochran, who in the 1920s and 30s produced theatrical revues and spectaculars with stars such as Cole Porter and Noel Coward

He also worked with Archie Pitt who was an actor, writer and theatrical agent who was married to the actress and singer Gracie Fields until they divorced in 1939.

A black and white photo of a middle-aged man and woman on a railway platform with a train behind them.The man wears round glasses, a tweed overcoat and is smoking a cigarette and carrying leather gloves and a tweed cap. The woman is wearing a felt cloche hat, a long fur coat and is carrying a bag, gloves and a big bunch of chrysanthemums. Both are smiling.
Archie Pitt & Dame Gracie Fields by Barratt’s Photo Press Ltd, National Portrait Gallery Photographs Collection. © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

In November 1925 Bernard married Gertrude M Binks in Hammersmith. (We don’t know what happened to Constance). In January 1926, the publication The Era congratulated them on the birth of a son (name unknown). Their daughter, Ann, was born in 1927.

In 1931 The Stage had a long review of Cochran’s 1931 Revue for which Bernard A Leslie is the stage manager.  The show featured American movie star Ada-May and British comic and drag artist Douglas Byng. To see Douglas Byng performing, take a look at these British Pathé films of 1930s London nightclubs:

Noel Coward wrote one of Ada-May’s scenes and a number of other songs in the Revue, and artist Rex Whistler designed one of the back-cloths. Bernard Leslie was clearly associated with the theatrical greats of the day.

Managing the Glasgow Empire

In September 1931 the Glasgow Empire Theatre re-opened after a major refit with Captain Bernard Leslie as the General Manager. 

The Arthur Lloyd website provides comprehensive information about the theatre, which was situated on the corner of Sauchiehall Street and West Nile Street. Originally the Empire Palace Theatre – a four-storey red sandstone building with a central dome and minarets designed by renowned theatre designer Frank Matcham for Moss Empires – it had opened in 1895.    

Following the 1931 refurbishment, the dome and the minarets were gone and the interior was swish and modern, drawing inspiration from art deco design, as described in the publicity brochure issued to celebrate the re-fit:

“…the motive of the colour scheme is scrumbled ivory, with sub-themes of plum and silver. The drapes and upholstery generally are in Rose du Barry with silver satin appliqué work.

“The auditorium is greatly enlarged, with a dado of cork panelling running right round. This is part of a special scheme to provide perfect acoustics in our New Empire. The roof of the theatre, and the walls, have been lined with a special material which aids sound-reproduction.”

Arthur Lloyd website
View across the upper circle in a 1930s theatre auditorium
The new Empire Theatre auditorium in the Moss Empires Ltd publicity brochure, 1931. Wikimedia Commons

In the announcement for the re-opening of the Theatre in 1931 we are told:

Moss Empires supervisor Mr Harry Benn will ensure that full advantage is taken of the magnificent stage equipment and settings, so necessary for the new variety – high speed turns with no waits. Last but by no means least there is Captain Bernard A Leslie, who will manage the New Empire.”

Arthur Lloyd website

The Empire Theatre had seating for more than 2,000 people and presented a varied programme, from the London Philharmonic under Sir Malcolm Sargent to jazz – including Duke Ellington in 1933 – revues, ice shows and theatrical spectaculars. 

But the trail of stories about Bernard Leslie’s career dries up at this point.

There is one photograph of him, at a party to celebrate a year since the opening of the Dennistoun Palais in 1939, the biggest dance hall in Glasgow.

A newspaper clipping printed with the text 'Daily Record and Mail, Friday , February 17, 1939 ---- 9' and a photo of four men in white tie dinner suits chatting and laughing at a party. Two of the men are wearing monocles.
Bernard Leslie (far right) at a party to celebrate the 1st birthday of the Denniston Palais in 1939.

Then the next mention we find is The Stage announcing in August 1944 that he is leaving the Empire Theatre to run a hotel in St Andrews. The following month in the same publication was the following announcement:

Bernard A Leslie

Sir Harry Lauder writes us of the testimonial to Bernard A Leslie for 14 years the manager of the Empire Glasgow. Subscriptions are invited to 1 guinea and should be sent to  Fred A Ferne, general manager, Alhambra Glasgow.

A new career as a hotelier

The trail revives again at this point. Leslie had purchased the Links Hotel St Andrews. On the 21 October a report appeared in the Citizen newspaper of his application to the Borough Licensing Court for an Inn and Hotel licence. The report reads as follows:

“The applicant was the Manager of the Empire Theatre, Glasgow, and the Chief Constable said in his report that the applicant was of good character and had ample knowledge of the Licensing Trade, his parents having been in this line of business. Mr W Wilson WS Cupar appearing on behalf of Mr Leslie stated that had to submit two of the best testimonials that had ever been presented to the Court. One was from the Chief Constable of Glasgow who stated that he had known the applicant since he took over the managership of one of the biggest theatres in Glasgow which had 4 large bars. He always conducted the business to the satisfaction of the police. The other was from Lord Inverclyde who in remarking on the Captain’s fitness to hold a licence noted that the discipline he acquired in the army added to that fitness. The application was granted unanimously. “

His association with the police continues as the local press regularly reported that he provided the wet bar for the Annual Police Ball.

In 1949 the St Andrew’s Citizen reports that his daughter, Ann, plays the leading role in the play Miranda, staged by the St Andrews Amateur Dramatic Society, about a mermaid who pays a visit to London’s smart set. The following year she appeared in a play at the Byre Theatre and is reported to be turning professional. We haven’t been able to trace what happened to her thereafter. Nor have we been able to find out any more about his son, whose name we don’t know.

On 24 July 1950 there was bad news, when a report appeared in the Evening Telegraph that an unemployed seaman, Ronald McLean, had been fined £2 or 14 days for assaulting Mr Leslie by striking him with a blow to the head at 10.55 on the previous evening at the Links Hotel.  

His wife, Gertrude, died of cancer in 1947. In 1953, Bernard Leslie was married for the third time to Barbara Armstrong Wells Scott-Robertson. He died on 8 January 1954 of carcinoma of the lung, at the age of 69 years. In March 1954, Barbara, as his executor, applied to the licensing court for the transfer of the license into her name.

The Glasgow Empire closed its doors in March 1963. It was replaced by a block of shops and offices but the theatre lives on in the building’s name – Empire House.

Researcher: Eunice Crook and Will Jess

Sources

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

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