Sir Charles Wyndham was an actor, impresario and the founding president of the Society of West End Theatre (now the Society of London Theatre).
Born in Liverpool in 1837 to Major Richard Culverwell, Wyndham (an assumed name) initially seemed destined to follow his father into the medical profession. He had qualified and started practicing as a surgeon before his hankerings for the theatre overwhelmed him. He made his professional stage debut at the Royalty Theatre in 1862. This initial venture into theatre was not a great success and Wyndham spent the next two years working as a surgeon during the Civil War in America.
In 1864 Wyndham returned to England to once again pursue his acting career. After appearing in his own adaptation of the novel Lady Lee’s Widowhood, Wyndham confirmed his West End credentials with appearances alongside Henry Irving (in Idalia) and Ellen Terry (in Double Marriage and Still Waters Run Deep) at the St James’ Theatre. Over the subsequent decade Wyndham established himself as one of the country’s leading actors, becoming better known for his roles in popular comedies and melodramas than for his occasional forays into Shakespeare.
In 1876 Wyndham completed his transformation into West End bastion when he took over the running of the Criterion. Over the next 23 years he oversaw a long succession of plays at the theatre, unabashedly casting himself as the lead in many of them. Successful plays during this period included The Liars, The Case Of Rebellious Susan and David Garrick, the play which earned Wyndham his greatest acclaim as an actor. David Garrick also starred Mary Moore, who from 1885 onwards was Wyndham’s leading lady and business partner.
In 1899 Wyndham and Moore left the Criterion to open the new Wyndham’s theatre. After opening with a revival David Garrick, the Wyndham’s soon forged its own reputation with Mrs Dane’s Defence (also starring Wyndham and Moore), which ran for 209 performances.
By now Wyndham had developed a taste for opening new theatres and in 1903 he and Mary Moore opened the New theatre (now the Noël Coward theatre). For the next decade the two of them were to star in numerous productions at the venue until, with Wyndham’s memory failing rapidly and Moore suffering ill-health, they retired within a year of each other. It was during this final period of Wyndham’s career that he became the inaugural President of the Society of West End Theatre when it was founded in 1908.
In 1916 Charles Wyndham married Mary Moore and the pair retired to York Terrace overlooking Hyde Park, taking props and furniture from the set of David Garrick to their new home. Charles Wyndham died in 1919 at the age of 81.