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Bannister, Charles (DNB00)


BANNISTER, CHARLES (1738?–1804), actor and vocalist, whose fame is eclipsed by that of his son John [q. v.], was born in Gloucestershire, according to the ‘Thespian Dictionary,’ no very trustworthy authority, in 1738. Seven years after his birth his father obtained a post in the victualling office at Deptford, to which place the family removed. Bannister appears from an early age to have had the run of the Deptford theatre, in which, before he was eighteen, he played as an amateur Richard III, Romeo, and probably some other characters. An application to Garrick for employment being unsuccessful, he joined the Norwich circuit. His début in London was made in 1762 at the Haymarket, then under the management of Foote. The piece was the ‘Orators,’ a species of comic lecture on oratory, written and spoken by Foote, supported by various pupils placed in the boxes, as though they belonged to the audience. The character assigned to Bannister was Will Tirehack, an Oxford student. Palmer, subsequently his close friend, is said, in the ‘Life of John Bannister’ by Adolphus, to have made his début as Harry Scamper in the same play. The statement is, however, inaccurate, the début of Palmer having taken place a few months earlier at Drury Lane. Bannister's imitations of singers like Tenducci and Champneys were successful, and led to his appearance as a vocalist at Ranelagh and elsewhere. Garrick's attention was now drawn to the young actor, who made his début at Drury Lane in 1767, it is said, as Merlin in Garrick's play of ‘Cymon.’ This is possible. Bensley, however, ‘created’ that character 2 Jan. 1767, and the name of Bannister does not appear in Genest till the following season, 1767–8, when he is found, 23 Oct., playing the Prompter in ‘A Peep behind the Curtain, or the New Rehearsal,’ a farce attributed to Garrick. During many years Bannister acted or sang at the Haymarket, the Royalty, Covent Garden, and Drury Lane. His death took place 26 Oct. 1804 in Suffolk Street. An excellent vocalist, with a deep bass voice and a serviceable falsetto, a fair actor, a clever mimic, smart in rejoinder, good-natured, easy-going, and thoroughly careless in money matters, he obtained remarkable social success, was popularly known as honest Charles Bannister, and was the hero of many anecdotes of questionable authority. In one or two characters he was unrivalled. Of these, Steady, in the ‘Quaker,’ was probably best known. It has been said that no adequate representative of Shakespeare's Caliban has been seen since Bannister's death.

[Adolphus's Memoirs of John Bannister, 2 vols., 1838; Thespian Dictionary, 1805; Genest's Account of the English Stage, 1832; Doran's Their Majesties' Servants, 2 vols., 1864.]

J. K.