An Actor in uniform
(1875-1945) was a well-known actor in his day and here he appears as a
Royal Navy lieutenant wearing war chevrons and the ribbon of the Victoria
Cross. Percy did not earn a VC but he had been in uniform during the Great
War - he was appointed a temporary sub-lieutenant in the RNVR with
seniority from 1 October 1918. His war therefore seems to have been very
short. His service papers, held at The National Archives, show him at
PRESIDENT V for service with No 20 Armoured Car Squadron until he was
demobbed in January 1919.
The Royal Naval
Armoured Car Division of the RNAS was disbanded in 1915 when it was based
mainly was at the Clement-Talbot Motor Works in Barlby Road, Notting Hill.
No 20 Squadron stayed there doing experimental work, mostly on the
development of the tank. By the time he joined up Percy was in his early
40s and one wonders what his duties might have been. Whatever they were,
he would hardly have had time to get his feet under the table before the
war was over.
The postcard shows
Percy as Lieut Clive Stanton VC in the stage version of The Luck of the
Navy, by Mrs Clifford Mills. It was turned into a silent movie in 1927
with Henry Victor in the Stanton role. The plotline concerns the efforts
of a foreign spy to steal valuable war plans and place the blame on the
hero - just so the bad guy can win the hand of the heroine. The hero
manages to deliver the plans to the girl by transcribing them on the back
of a photograph. The enemy agents capture the girl, whereupon the Royal
Navy comes to the rescue. Anticipating Hitchcock's Notorious nearly twenty
years, the film's interesting wrinkle is that the leader of the spies is
the villain's mother.
In 1919 Percy, who
was also a director and a producer, took the play to America and in
October that year the Washington Post wrote, obviously not entirely
correctly: "In The Luck of the Navy Mr Hutchison appears as a young
sub-lieutenant of the British royal navy, and by special permission of the
British Admiralty he is permitted to wear the correct uniform, for the
reason that in private life he holds a commission of similar rank in the
British royal naval reserves. The Luck of the Navy is a stirring romance
of the closing days of the war, and is a tribute not only to the British
navy, but to the American navy, 'the comrades of the mist', who so ably
did their share to preserve the blockade and maintain the supremacy of the
seas for the allies."
Other characters in
the play included Sub-Lieut Louis Peel, Eng Commander Perrin, Midshipman
Eden and Admiral Maybridge. Had they all been naval officers - or were
they wearing stage uniforms without so-called Admiralty approval?
Percy was paying his
first visit to America and in a preamble, the Post said: "It is
interesting to note that Mr Hutchison is a nephew of the late Bronson
Howard, one of the greatest of American playwrights, whose Shenandoah was
the great drama which followed the Civil War, just as Mr Hutchison's
production, The Luck of the Navy, follows the European war."
Percy was also the
nephew of Sir Charles Wyndham, one of England's foremost actor-managers,
who died in January 1919. He was born Charles Culverwell (Percy's middle
name) in Liverpool, the son of a doctor, but he later changed his surname.
He trained as a doctor himself but preferred the stage and early in 1862
he made his first professional appearance in London, performing with Ellen
Terry. But then, as he could not find stage work, he went back to being a
doctor There was a shortage of surgeons in America, which was in the
throes of civil war, so he volunteered to become a brigade surgeon with
the Union army. Percy, Wyndham's one-time assistant, recorded: "My uncle
went through the Red River campaign, and served in the 19th Army Corps
under General Ulysses Grant, being present at the battles of
Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg."
Wyndham's career as
an army surgeon had been broken by a brief and unsuccessful appearance on
the stage in New York, in a company which included John Wilkes Booth, who
later assassinated President Lincoln.