Mr. Rupert D'Oyly Carte saw Nellie Briercliffe playing in a show at the Haymarket Theatre and was much struck by her vivacity. She began her D'Oyly Carte career in October, 1914, at a time when England was at war but had not yet realised the magnitude of the task ahead. So, with no conscription yet, and an "over by Christmas" outlook, many things were still "normal", including entertainment. The reason for her engagement was that Beatrice Boarer, who had been a most successful soubrette with the Company for 5 years, had left. Nellie was asked to sustain eight roles - that is, to be soubrette in all the longer operas played today with the exception of "Ruddigore", which had not yet been revived.
In the summer of 1916, with the war situation getting grimmer but with the Company now led by Henry Lytton and Bertha Lewis, who had rejoined in her new role of principal contralto, succeeding Louie Rene just two months after Nellie's arrival, the new soubrette increased her repertoire to nine parts by playing Constance in "The Sorcerer". But in January 1918 she left the Company to get married. She had, however, established her reputation during those three years, and, although Catherine Ferguson proved to be a most adequate successor, she was relegated to minor roles such as Lady Saphir Leila and Peep-Bo at the start of the famous Prince's season in 1919, when Nellie was eagerly welcomed back as the regular soubrette until the London season was over four months later, at the end of January 1920. During this time, with the war now over, Mr. Rupert D'Oyly Carte gave a London revival to "Princess Ida", which had previously only been played at provincial theatres, and in which Nellie Briercliffe now re-created the part of Melissa.
In 1929 the Company were experiencing some difficulty in filling the leading roles adequately. On the departure of Aileen Davies in 1928 the parts were shared for a brief period, but in October 1929, after Marjorie Eyre had experimented with the transition from soprano parts, Nellie Briercliffe was invited to return for the London season at the Savoy, which was a particularly long one, as the theatre had been rebuilt and D'Oyly Carte had gone there to "christen" it.
This was Nellie's last spell with the Company, and in it she was able to extend her comprehensive repertoire by at last playing Mad Margaret in "Ruddigore" - a part re-created by Catherine Ferguson in the December 1920 revival of that opera.
Nellie was such a brilliant performer that it would perhaps be invidious to suggest that she excelled in any particular part; but she certainly created a lasting impression on a great many people. Strangely, in view of her short career, she recorded all her parts except Pitti-Sing, Tessa, and Constance, for H.M.V.
Her popularity was immense, and many still think that she was the most enchanting soubrette the Company ever had. Miss Briercliffe died on 12th December 1966.
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