Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

'A Man of Many Hobbies ...': Alan Adair and the Concerts of the Adair Wounded Fund

Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

'A Man of Many Hobbies ...': Alan Adair and the Concerts of the Adair Wounded Fund

Article excerpt

Between 1921 and 1938, the Wigmore Hall played host to a unique series of Sunday 'Entertainments' which brought both an entirely different audience, and different set of performers, to a venue which is so often considered the exclusive domain of art music for the upper and middle classes. The new audience consisted of war-wounded veterans; the performers ranged from comedians and banjo players to magicians and ventriloquists. This article is intended as an introduction to the organisation that brought this about, and the man behind the enterprise: Alan Adair, and the Adair Wounded Fund.

When World War I ended in 1918, the Ministry for Pensions was making regular payment to approximately 400,000 ex-servicemen who had been wounded in conflict.* 1 For many of these men, injuries or health conditions did not prevent them from returning home and finding some kind of employment. But by the early 1920s, there was a growing sense in Britain, particularly among the medical community, that not enough was being done to cater for the war veterans who would simply never get better, and remained in hospitals because of major physical or psychological wounds. Estimates of the time put the number of hospital-bound soldiers just in London at 7,000, with around 30,000 men in all across the country. (2) On 24 September 1921, The British Journal of Nursing carried an article deploring the lack of provision for these men:

'It seems almost incredible after all the sacrifice and suffering on behalf of the nation--of the men who fought in the war--that it should be necessary to organise a "Not Forgotten" Association, so that the poor fellows more or less broken and damaged should receive a few sympathetic attentions. What irony, when one recalls all the fussing and fuming to do "our bit," so widely advertised by the now be-ribboned brigade!' (3)

The 'Not Forgotten' Association was founded in 1920, and the British Legion in 1921, in response to these concerns, and are both still in existence. (The latter became the Royal British Legion in 1971.) (4) The Legion's purpose was to provide care and representation to war veterans; whilst the "Not Forgotten" Association, begun by the American soprano Marta Cunningham (1869-1937), was established to provide visitors and company for hospital-bound ex-soldiers, as well as outings and other social recreation. (5)

1921 also saw the creation of a more focussed enterprise at the Wigmore Hall--a series of events of a kind that had never previously been held at the venue. The successful businessman Basil Frederick Leakey (1882-1959), known in the entertainment business as the magician Alan Adair, put together a programme of variety concerts with the intention of entertaining war-wounded soldiers on a Sunday afternoon. The first concert was held at the Wigmore Hall on 18 September 1921, and thirty entertainments were given in that first season, up to May 1922. (6)

Leakey was evidently an astute and well-connected businessman and a talented magician. As a young man he had worked for the Anglo-Egyptian Bank, and was later appointed a director of Rowett, Leakey and Co. Ltd., a successful wine and spirit business. (7) In 1915 he married the young soprano Margaret Godley (1890-1966), who was to become an successful professional singer. (8) Two years prior to his marriage, in 1913, Leakey had joined the Magic Circle under the stage name 'Alan Adair'. His first reported performance in the Magic Circular, the organisation's monthly periodical, was printed in June of that year:

   Mr. Alan Adair, a new comer, gave a varied and amusing series of
   tricks, accompanied by a patter in very French French and quite
   recognisable English. Some productions from a hat came first, then
   a vanishing wand effect, the familiar watch, silk, and glass to hat
   experiment, and thimble manipulation. Other items were a clever
   trick with four billiard balls on a velvet covered stand, the soup
   plate trick, the colour change with knotted handkerchiefs, and, to
   conclude, the passing of two silks from a glass tumbler into the
   performer's pockets, and the filling of the tumbler with port
   wine--an effect produced while the performer's wrists were held by
   two volunteer assistants. … 
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