(1887 - 1931)

by Derek Oldham

When I first became a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in September 1919 for the season at the Princes Theatre, now called the Shaftesbury, there was no question who were the stars of the operas Sir Henry Lytton was King and Bertha Lewis was Queen. Principal sopranos and soubrettes had their status, but the undisputed leading lady was Bertha Lewis! I do not mean this in any arrogant way, but her dignity, her command of the stage. her presence and, above all. her following with an affectionate public automatically gave her this position. She had a personality (as the Cockney said about Marie Lloyd's heart) as big as Waterloo Station. What a voice! And what diction was there! No microphones were needed for Bertha, and at every performance she gave l00 per cent. To my mind there never has been and never will he anyone quite like her. She was so handsome too. In 1920 Mr. Rupert D'Oyly Carte even considered broadening the policy of the Company to admit other operas because the overall Musical Director, Mr. Geoffrey Toye, was so enthusiastic to see Bertha play Carmen.

Whenever I think of her and I'm saying this with affection, for it is only when you are fond of people that you can laugh affectionately at their little follies, I see that smaller-than-small stage of the old theatre at Cambridge, and Bertha making her entrance on the Monday night as Katisha with a great gesture, sweeping us all into the wings, and under her breath saying 'There's no room, there's no room!" We gave her the "room", for we didn't exist; "When Bertha came on", we joked, "the opera's commenced."

An era ended when Bertha Lewis tragically died, on 8th May 1931, as a result of a motoring accident. She was travelling from Manchester to Cambridge in a car driven by Henry Lytton when it overturned shortly before reaching their destination on May 3rd. She received severe injuries and died in hospital on May 18th. When she lay dying, Queen Mary made personal enquiries and for three days the newspapers and the B.B.C. gave out news of her, while all England waited and prayed. Yes, she was a Queen all right . . . and only 43.

Bertha Lewis, born in London on 12th May 1887, was with the company from 1906 to 1910 and from 1914 to 1931. She played the parts of Bridesmaid, Lady Sangazure, Buttercup, Kate (Pirates), Ruth (Pirates), Lady Saphir, Lady Jane, Fairy Queen, Ada, Blanche, Katisha, Dame Hannah, Dame Carruthers, Vittoria, Inez and Duchess of Plaza Toro.

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