Sunday, April 10, 2016


Prior to Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956) becoming the noted author of two Winnie–the-Pooh books (1926-1928) he was a soldier in Britain’s Royal Warwick Regiment during World War One. Writing plays was his distraction from the business of war and it was in 1916-17 that he wrote his third play titled The Boy Comes Home.  It is a comedy in one act and his first related to World War One. Obviously written before the actual end of the war, Milne envisioned the dilemma many young soldiers could face when they returned home following their service. The older males, who stayed at home, had been raised according to strict Victorian values. The problem was these older men believed they ruled the household and everyone within it as well as the returning young men. 

Philip, a soldier, returned from his service in Europe to his Uncle’s home. Uncle James is the executor of Philip’s father’s trust. Philip will inherit the trust when he is twenty-five years old. The play begins “the day after the War.” It is quickly obvious that Philip, now twenty-three years of age, and his Uncle James are locked in the conflict between the experiences of post-war youths and the behavioral expectations of the Victorian generation.  

The playwright did not separate the play into designated scenes, since he wanted the action to flow continuously. However, The Boy Comes Home has three distinct segments.  During the first segment of the play, Philip asks to have his breakfast served.  Since it is ten o'clock, he is informed that Uncle James established that breakfast is only served at eight o'clock. Philip handles this situation with diplomacy and authority proving he is no longer the boy that left home four years ago. The first segment ends as Uncle James is reading the newspaper while he waits for Phillip to finish breakfast. 

The second segment commences as Uncle James dozes and envisions his conversation with Philip about the young man’s future. This pivotal segment of the play is Uncle James's dream. It demonstrates how Philip proves to his uncle that he is an adult with experiences of leadership and bravery gained during the battle on the Somme.

The beginning of the third segment repeats the first moments of the previous scene. Uncle James is dozing when Philip enters the morning-room. Uncle James handles the conversation in a manner different from his previous approach.  The topic is Philip’s future, but the dream serves to guide Uncle James’s tactics and thoughts. This final segment of the play illustrates that there can be a meeting of the minds when the situation is adeptly handled. This story does not sound like a comedy, but it is skillfully constructed to play humorously upon Uncle James’s and Philip’s varying views of life.

The action of this play is continuous and the three segments strike me as movements in a musical composition.  They are not separate scenes, but each one illustrates a different view of the same theme. However, each segment is dependent on the one that proceeded it and builds on that action with clarity, humor and thought.   

The Boy Comes Home was produced by Owen Nares (1888-1943), an actor, at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre during September, 1918. This theatre presented mainly a variety of acts and short plays.  It was a good venue for Nares to present The Boy Comes Home. Nares was a popular matinée idol and the role of Philip was perfect for him so he was assured an audience for this timely, entertaining play.

The play eventually moved to the Palace Theatre where it was incorporated into an entertainment titled Hallo, America!  In April of 1919, The Boy Comes Home opened at the London Coliseum, it was one of London’s largest family variety theatres.  The role of Philip was played by another young, established actor named Godfrey Tearle (1884-1953). The role was significant enough for two young, but established actors to enjoy the challenge and delight of playing Philip.

The Boy Comes Home was first published September, 1919 by Chatto and Windus of London. The book is titled First Plays and it contains the first five plays written by Milne plus his introduction to the volume.  This publication was very successful and it had six editions, the final one being released in April, 1924. Another volume that contains this play was published in 1934 under the title of Fifty One-Act Plays. It contains a wide variety of plays from many countries.

The Boy Comes Home quickly became popular throughout Great Britain where it was performed by dramatic societies, university players and also presented as readings.  There are brief newspaper articles starting in 1920 either announcing or commenting on performances.  These stories continue throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.  I was surprised to find a performance presented in 1946.

On April 12, 1928, The Boy Comes Home was broadcast on the radio.   The Times of London announced Milne’s play was going to be transmitted from Nottingham at 8:30 PM.  The Boy Comes Home was also popular across the United States, Canada and Australia throughout the 1920s and 30s. It was ideal for community theatres, readings and play competitions. 

This one act play has a special quality of delight coupled with a serious issue.  It is a problem that every former soldier encounters, in one way or another, as he/she leaves military service and re-enters civilian life. The Boy Comes Home is an enjoyable read and the script is available on-line.

1 comment:

  1. This is such wonderfully penned down information. Thanks for sharing!