16th August 1912

Charlie Chaplin played in St Peter Port

It’s perhaps logical that August should see the biggest names in show business putting on performances in Guernsey. It is the summer season, after all, during which they’ll be able to play to the largest crowds of visitors.

As well as the Beatles playing in August 1963 and the Rolling Stones in August 1964, Charlie Chaplin chose August for his visit to St Peter Port of 1912. The star of the silent screen was unfortunately still relatively unknown when he appeared on the island as part of Fred Karno’s Comedy Company. If not, his visit might have been better remembered. He didn’t find true fame until he achieved cinematic success in the 1920s and 1930s.

Karno’s travelling show

Fred Karno (born Frederick Westcott) was a music hall impresario. He is credited with coming up with the joke of throwing a custard pie into someone’s face. As well as giving Charlie Chaplin his break, he introduced the world to the man who would later become Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame.

Chaplin became one of Karno’s notable stars. He appeared on notices as Chas Chaplin, and naturally his act involved the spoken word. This was in stark contrast to the silent films for which he later became known.

The Priaulx Library republished a letter from the Guernsey Press of 1939 in which the correspondent recalls seeing Chaplin at St Julian’s Theatre. Although he got his year wrong (he said it had been 1911), he did remember clearly that Chaplin’s act didn’t go do as well as the pie-throwing slapstick that appeared elsewhere on the bill. Karno apparently consoled him, telling Chaplin that the people of Guernsey were “half French” and thus didn’t understand his comedy.

Chaplin was apparently convinced that this is where the problem lay. He therefore mimed his next three performances, all of which were much better received. Could it be thanks to those Guernsey audiences that, when the talking pictures hit cinemas in the 1930s, Chaplin was so reluctant to adopt the new technology – and persevered with silent films?


FREE Guernsey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Guernsey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want. We'll also keep you up to date with our latest book releases and early-bird discounts.


Other events that occured in August

The Saumarez Memorial foundation stone was laid 1st
Guernsey won double-silver at the Commonwealth Games 2nd
Earl Grey was appointed Governor of Guernsey 3rd
A boy scout fell 250ft over a Torteval Cliff 4th
Jethou tenant was rescued from an up-turned boat 5th
A tomato ship and a tanker collided 6th
Human remains were found on Lihou 7th
The Beatles played at Candie Gardens 8th
The RAF bombed Guernsey Airport 9th
Guernesiais linguist Marie de Garis died 10th
Alderney experienced a total eclipse of the sun 11th
A minister was found dead at Icart Point 12th
Guernsey steam tramway is granted its concession 13th
Police found a bomb in Bluebell Wood 14th
Hanois Lighthouse’s foundation stone was laid 15th
Charlie Chaplin played in St Peter Port 16th
St Peter Port inundated with fish 17th
A royal visit… of sorts
The Rolling Stones played St Peter Port 18th
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published 19th
Archaeologist Crystal Bennet was born 20th
Mapmaking geologist John MacCulloch died 21st
St Sampson pensioner was buried in a landslide 22nd
Trident VI ran aground on its return from Herm 23rd
Queen Victoria visited Guernsey 24th
The post-Occupation military government was disbanded 25th
Wesleyans celebrated 100 years on Guernsey 26th
Oliver Reed was jailed in Guernsey 27th
Guernsey’s Reform Law was enacted 28th
Winston Churchill visited Guernsey with his wife 29th
Philip de Saumarez was discharged as a Jurat 30th
Jersey swimmers set a round-Guernsey record 31st