T.E. Dunville was one of the leading eccentric comedians on the music-hall stage. He was born in Coventry on 29 July 1867, the son of a tailor, and his real name wasn't Dunville, but Thomas Edward Wallen. Nearly everyone called him Tommy, though he liked to be called Teddie by his friends. He adopted the stage name 'Dunville' from the whisky firm of that name.
He built up a successful reputation in the north before coming to London in 1890, where he first appeared at the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane, Gatti's Charing Cross, and Foresters', Mile End. He was an immediate success with his main song being 'Lively on, lively off' by Charles Osborne. Acrobatics and legmania were a feature of his act, and he was billed as an 'eccentric comedian and contortionist'. He had a game arm, though no-one noticed it when he was at work. Off stage, however, it was useless to him.
'Mr T.E. Dunville's drollery is as effective as ever, and he has added a ditty of the most absurd sort to his list. He assumes the attire of a Highlander, and, with his tall figure and long legs, his appearance is alone sufficient to create hearty laughter. He tells, in patter and song, of his adventures in the ranks, and, extravagant as some of his fun is, it seems not a whit too eccentric for the patrons of the Alhambra who reward Mr Dunville with a very hearty round of applause at the conclusion of his popular turn. He is certainly both original and innately comical.' (Alhambra report, in 'Era', 6 April 1895)
His last appearance was at the Grand, Clapham, on 20 March 1924. The following day he disappeared, and on 22 March his body was found in the Thames at Caversham Lock near Reading.
His autobiography 'The Autobiography of an Eccentric Comedian' was published by Everett & Co in about 1911.
He made five commercial recordings for the phonograph, five Edison cylinders:
|Enquire within||Edison cylinder 13023|
|Nine gallant highlanders||Edison cylinder 13024|
|Scoot||Edison cylinder 13025|
|The volunteer fireman||Edison cylinder 13036|
|The 3 stages of women||Edison cylinder 13037|
Tony Barker adds a footnote to his biographical article:
'There is now a very real danger that T.E. Dunville's cylinders no longer exist - if any of them do turn up they should be committed to tape or microgroove as soon as possible, the fragility of wax cylinders making such a step particularly necessary. Should they have parted company with their original boxes, the only identification on the cylinders themselves may well be the Edison serial number ... would anyone knowing of the existence of any Dunville cylinders please arrange for them to be transferred electrically to a more permanent 'record'. How tragic it would be if the voice of one of the premier examples of the 'eccentric comedian' were allowed to slip into oblivion.'
This information is from a biographical article by Tony Barker, published in 'Music Hall Records No. 8, August 1979'.
P.G. Wodehouse refers to T.E. Dunville in Part Two Chapter Four of his book 'The Swoop!' (1909):
CLARENCE HEARS IMPORTANT NEWS
It was Clarence's custom to leave the office of his newspaper at one o'clock each day, and lunch at a neighbouring Aerated Bread shop. He did this on the day following the first appearance of the two generals at their respective halls. He had brought an early edition of the paper with him, and in the intervals of dealing with his glass of milk and scone and butter, he read the report of the performances.
Both, it seemed, had met with flattering receptions, though they had appeared nervous. The Russian general especially, whose style, said the critic, was somewhat reminiscent of Mr. T.E. Dunville, had made himself a great favourite with the gallery. The report concluded by calling attention once more to the fact that the salaries paid to the two - eight hundred and seventy-five pounds a week each - established a record in music-hall history on this side of the Atlantic.
(This is not one of P.G. Wodehouse's more entertaining pieces of writing.)