FRANKLIN SPENCE a bit of history.

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FRANKLIN SPENCE a bit of history.

Postby lesclarke » 15 Nov 2012, 19:55

This is also topical in so much as the most active posts recently have been discussing making one's own figures, and modelling in papier mache has rightly been put forward as an alternative to carving in wood.
Franklin (Frank) Spence , of Lowestowft, Suffolk, is known as having produced (.. and 'sold all around the world") many distinctively styled sets in very sturdy papier mache, also I believe he was mentor to Brian Clarke.

When I started out, I put together a set from mainly wooden figures, but included two Franklin Spence figures, a Ghost and a Doctor. I chose them because they appealed to me, quite simply, they each have loads of character. The Doctor is 'resting' but the Ghost is still being used.

Pat Plant of Framlingham got into Punch by first learning to swazzle, and then put a set of puppets together using Spence figures, and since retiring(from the real world,) has started performing. He thoroughly renovated the figures, and with the help and advice of Brian Clarke I believe a Spence style Punch & Judy were added. (Apologies if this is not completely accurate Pat.) ..anyway, he is enjoying the challenge, "and keeping the puppets working in their birthplace!"

Knowing I had several Spence figures, Pat recently sent me some info and a really good photo he discovered on show when by chance he popped into Lowestoft Library. It shows Franklin Spence looking rather dapper seated by a table, there are half-a-dozen figures, and he has a paintbrush in his hand.

It is dated at November 1957.

Pat believes that this picture may not have been widely seen before, and has also passed copies to Brian Clarke, and Geoff Felix for his archive.

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Last edited by lesclarke on 16 Nov 2012, 01:16, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: FRANKLIN SPENCE a bit of history.

Postby Richard Coombs » 15 Nov 2012, 22:45

Smashing stuff Les , thanks for sharing .
Do you have any photos of your Doctor and Ghost that you mentioned >
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Re: FRANKLIN SPENCE a bit of history.

Postby lesclarke » 16 Nov 2012, 00:11

Hi Richard, it was good of Pat to pass it on, it's great to put a face to the name, Frank Spence looks a character.

My Ghost is basically identical to the one pictured, I love the inane wide grinning mouth, when repainting it I painted the eye sockets bigger, it's on a pole as it basically just pops up and down. I feel that the fact that it's appearance is sort of 'silly' makes more of the joke that Punch is afraid of it.

The Doctor is a favorite of mine, lying there lifeless it's not at all pretty, no 'exhibition piece' but when it's 'on the hand' and ask the question 'Right, who are you then?' it comes to life as a bumbling, Scottish Doctor with an obvious liking for 'a drink or two.' A proper Character Actor.

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Re: FRANKLIN SPENCE a bit of history.

Postby martin@no10 » 17 Nov 2012, 20:22

Interesting to read of Franklin Spence. There is a set of his figures in the Collection of the Scottish Mask & Puppet Centre in Glasgow - they were previously used by Harry Bell, who performed under the stage name of Harry Vernon. It is a different Harry Vernon than the one who was based for a time in the Bath area, although they were active around the same time and both involved with magic and various puppets. I think the "Vernon" name might be a nod of some sort to a famous American magician, but I am uncertain of that. Anyway, Harry Bell/Vernon was born in Greenock in 1887, and by the 1920s was a stage ventriloquist and conjurer who was resident in Glasgow for many years. By the 1940s (and possibly earlier) he also performed Punch & Judy, and appears to have acquired his figures from Franklin Spence. Spence advertised his figures for sale in the World's Fair, and by the late 1940s had Scott Lyon of Glasgow as his Agent in Scotland - so he may well have sold quite a number of sets of figures in Scotland. The figures were donated to SMPC by Harry's grandson, who didn't know who had made tham. However, on one of the occasions when Bryan Clarke was appearing with magic and Punch at the Centre, Malcolm Knight showed him the figures and Brian recognised them as the work of Franklin Spence. I believe those figures are currently in the Centre's touring exhibition, "The Magic of Masks and Puppets." Harry Bell/Vernon died in 1973.

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Re: FRANKLIN SPENCE a bit of history.

Postby Chris » 18 Nov 2012, 19:15

I don't know of any American magician (of any note) with the name Vernon. There was a famous Canadian magician David Verner who did become very famous as Dai Vernon (The Professor) (1894 to 1992) but I wonder if he was the inspiration for the name since was he really known in this country until the 1950s when Harry Stanley brought him over here for a lecture tour and promoted his name and writings. His nickname, The Professor, arose from his unrivalled knowledge of sleight of hand, so it would be a curious coincidence if his name had truly been adopted by two Punch Profs!
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