Sunday, November 18, 2018


John Gordon Brandon (1879-1941) moved from Australia to London in the early 1900s.  He began his literary career in 1909 as a playwright of short plays for London’s music halls.  During World War One he became a prolific dramatist of one-act plays that portrayed patriotic fervor, strong attacks against German ideals and British fear related to German spies.  These plays were popular pieces that fit well into the programs of the variety theatres throughout England.

For Those in Peril premiered in February, 1916 at Collins Music Hall located in Islington, a district in Greater London. It played for six performances on a bill that included dancers, comediennes and acrobats. This play addressed a concern harbored by many English citizens concerning Germans who had been living in England for years, while secretly serving as German spies.

For Those in Peril takes place in a convent’s reception room. This convent is located on the isolated Highland Coast near Erriboll in northern Scotland, where there is a hidden sea loch. The time is 
nine o’clock on an autumn evening. Mother Mary Theresa is praying when Vargo, who works at the convent, enters. He does not appear to have the ability to speak, but she realizes it is time for her to lock the entry gate. Vargo has been a faithful male servant at the convent for six years.

There is a knock at the locked entry and Lieutenant Graham Winfield arrives.  He is Mother Mary’s brother and he is on a dangerous naval mission. His ship is in this area to guide Irish troops to an English port where they will depart for battle on the Continent. He knows that German submarines are hiding in the area near the convent. They have been using this position to make their deadly strikes against British ships.
After Winfield leaves the Convent, another visitor arrives to speak with Vargo, who only feigns being dumb. He is Captain Von Hoeler of the German Submarine Service.  Vargo has been a spy for Germany during all his years at the Convent and he must help the German Submarine Captain. Will the British navy be able to get the Irish troop ships through this area safely? The answer lies with valiant Mother Mary who is resourceful and devoted to her country.

Even today the plot of For Those in Peril continues to be compelling. It also imparts information that may not be widely known today but were likely news items reported at the time. English audience members would have known about the participation of more than 210,000 Irish soldiers in the British forces, even though they were not conscripted. The drama’s main message for the audiences during the war demonstrated that calculating Germans will always be outwitted by a resolute British male or female.

The role of Mother Mary Theresa was played by Miss Beaumont Collins, who was billed in newspaper ads as “Famous Emotional Actress.” Collins’s professional acting career can be traced back through The Era’s theatre reviews to as early as May, 1890. After For Those in Peril closed in London, she toured with it to many cities in England as well as Belfast, Ireland.

Another one-act melodrama by Brandon is titled The Pacifist or The Peacemonger. It was written in 1918 and approved by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for production on October 22, 1918.  It was produced at the Empress Theatre six days later. This theatre is located in Brixton, a district in South London. The drama illustrates the concern held by many English people regarding fellow citizens who were ardent pacifists.

The setting for this play is Dr. Madge Verrinder’s “cozy sitting room furnished in the best taste.”  Her apartment building is located near East India Docks located in the London district named Poplar. Brandon used the fact that the first German air raids in London happened in this district causing more than 1,400 deaths and significant property damage. The Pacifist is set on a summer evening in 1917.  It is “the night following a very bad Air Raid.”

Richard Brunner, who works with the Port of London Authority, enters Dr. Verrinder’s quiet apartment.  He is the pacifist in the play who strongly desires England to make peace with Germany. He gives the Germans information about transports and he has gone so far as to explode a transport in port.  He believes that his activities will gain traction for his cause—securing peace.

Brunner is Doctor Madge’s fiancĂ© and that is why he has access to her apartment. When she comes home, she sees him talking with a German female who is a spy. Madge realizes that Brunner has gone too far. Then she learns the police have pinpointed her building as a location from which signals were being sent. She fears Brunner will be arrested and put to death.  She hands him a revolver: “I trust you have the courage to do the only possible thing to be done.” He refuses to take her suggestion since he naively claims that he wants to live. To end this dangerous situation, Madge adds poison to Brunner’s cup of coffee and it does the job.

The person in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office who approved the play for production stated in his report: “Brunner is impossible, I hope, and the Play seems unfair to the pacifists.  But I see nothing to object to from the point of view of the Office.” Since this play premiered two weeks prior to the declaration of the armistice, there would have been little reason for it to be presented after its initial production.

I read each script from the following resources:

For Those in Peril:
       Maunder, Andrew, ed. British Literature of World War I, Drama, Vol. 5. New York:
             Routledge, 2011.
The Pacifist:

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