Hartlepool “second home” to tragic comedian

The Palace Theatre in Mainsforth Terrace, West Hartlepool.
The Palace Theatre in Mainsforth Terrace, West Hartlepool.

Comedian Mark Sheridan won global fame for his rendition of I do Like to be Beside the Seaside after polishing his craft in Hartlepool – but beneath his sunny exterior lay a troubled soul.

Indeed, despite becoming the darling of Britain’s music halls – with his jokey top hat and bell-bottomed trousers – the star became deeply depressed.

Mark Sheridan.

Mark Sheridan.

Eventually, after less than glowing reviews for a show in Glasgow, he took his own life in 1918 – shooting himself in the head with a Browning automatic.

“Sheridan was blessed with a good ear for a song,” said Richard Anthony Baker, author of the book British Music Hall – an Illustrated History.

“He was one of the most successful comedians of variety – a spirited favourite of the public.”

Sheridan was born Frederick Shaw in Sunderland on September 11, 1864. As a teenager he worked with his father, a sail maker, at the local docks.

From there he moved to work behind the scenes at the Tyne Theatre in 1877 and, after becoming fascinated with performing, opted for a showbiz career.

Stints in variety shows around the North East - including many in Hartlepool - helped him hone his talents.

Indeed, a performance at the town’s Alhambra Theatre in October 1894 won Sheridan glowing reviews from the Hartlepool Mail, as did stints at the Theatre Royal and Gaiety.

Finally, following a tour of Australia with his wife Ethel Davenport, the comedian left friendly Hartlepool behind to become a regular on the London circuit - sharing the bill with music hall legends such as Marie Lloyd, Little Titch and Dan Leno.

But it took until 1909 for his big break to arrive – in the form of I do Like to be Beside the Seaside. Appearances in countless pantomimes followed.

“Sheridan created a furore with that song,” said Richard. “Wearing a battered top hat, ancient frock coat and bell-bottomed trousers, he strutted up and down, swinging his cane and banging the stage to underline each ‘do’ in the lyrics.”

A second hit – Who were You with Last Night? – followed for Sheridan in 1912, while the outbreak of the First World War brought two more – Here We Are! Here We Are! Here We Are! and Belgium put the Kibosh on the Kaiser.

But, when he decided to switch to musical burlesque, Sheridan’s new style proved unpopular with critics and audiences alike. The heckling and lukewarm reviews proved too much, and he died from gunshot wounds in January 1918.

“Since inquests were not held into sudden deaths in Scotland, most people assumed he had killed himself,” said Richard. “In the past few years, it has been suggested he may have been murdered – possibly by someone who resented the success of his two wartime hits. The theory is fanciful.”

** Find out more in British Music Hall – an Illustrated History, by Richard Anthony Baker, published by Pen and Sword at £14.99.