Today is Robert Walpole's birthday! He would be 342 years old! As a major player in The Art of Success, the first play in our upcoming double bill of comedies Hogarth's Progress, we delve deep to find out more about the 'Screen-Master General'.
You may recognise Mark as pushy journalist Robert Walsh in BBC mini-series Collateral, appearing alongside Carey Mulligan.
As well as his screen work he is a revered stage star and has appeared in the West End multiple times including the critically acclaimed production of Sondheim's musical Merrily We Roll Along at the Harold Pinter Theatre. He also played love interest to the eponymous Sweet Charity at the Menier Chocolate Factory's production which transferred to Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2010. Playing two characters in Hogarth's Progress should be easy for him... Let's take a look at his first part: Robert Walpole.
- As a member of the Whig political party, at the age of 25 Walpole became MP for Castle Rising in Norfolk - position previously held by his father.
- He rose through the ranks rapidly but in 1712 rival party the Tories accused him of corruption in the matter of two forage contracts for Scotland and he was pronounced 'guilty of a high breach of trust and notorious corruption'. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for six months.
- In 1714, Queen Anne died with no direct heir and as her second cousin (and her closest non-Roman Catholic relative), George I ascended to the throne. He believed the Tories didn't support his claim to the throne and subsequently the Whigs assumed power, remining in power for the next 50 years.
- In 1720, the British government were embroiled in the South Sea Bubble Scandal. The government made a deal whereby the South Sea Trading company assumed the national debt of Great Britain in return for lucrative bonds. It was assumed the company would reap a huge profit from this exchange and shares in the company soared. Walpole himself sold his shares for a 1000% profit. However, eventually the company collapsed and shares plummeted.
- After a number of the cabinet were imprisoned or died in disgrace for causing this financial crisis, as the most senior figure left in the party, Walpole was appointed First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. During his tenure he played an important role in restoring the damage caused by the financial crisis. He is now considered to be the first de facto Prime Minister of Great Britain and the longest serving, remaining in the position for over 20 years.
- George II gifted Walpole 10 Downing Street in 1735, but Walpole decided the building should be the residence of the First Lord of the Treasury rather than his own.
- Walpole was nicknamed 'Screen-Master General' for his ability to masterfully pull political strings.
Quotes from Robert Walpole
'Let sleeping dogs lie'
'All those men have their price'
'Oh do not read history, for that I know must be false'
Mark Umbers will also play Prime Minister David Garrick in the second play of the double The Taste of the Town.
Both plays together form double bill Hogarth's Progress which runs at the Rose from Thu 13 Sep - Sun 21 Oct. Each play can be seen as a single performance or enjoyed together, either over different days or as a thrilling all-day theatrical experience. To find out more click here.
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