H. Vernon Watson
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H. Vernon Watson (1886–1952), better known as his character Nosmo King, was a popular English variety artist. He was touring the music halls before World War I, but he remained relatively obscure until the 1920s, when he shot to fame as Nosmo King.
Coming from a rural background near Peterborough, Watson showed a leaning towards things theatrical and it was evident that he had a rare talent for mimicry. In 1911, he turned professional, using his real name, doing impressions of the leading comedians of the day.
Then, when Frank Tinney, the American black-faced comedian, came to the UK, Watson added an impression of him to his repertoire. He noticed that this impression gained him great applause, and when Tinney returned to the United States, Watson gave thought to a different style of act based on a black-faced personality.
Opportunity for this came about in the early 1930s in Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, which boasted two variety theatres, run by two rival organisations. The Great Depression was beginning to bite, and on hearing that the rival theatre had lost its comic, he determined to double his income by doing both shows (four performances a night), travelling between the two theatres by taxi, disguising himself by blacking up.
Watson had the black-face study ready, but was stuck for a name. Then inspiration came to his aid. The scene dock doors backstage were partly open and the two halves read "No Smo" & "king". That was it. From then on, the character would be Nosmo King.
Nosmo King became a huge star and a household name. The stage act of Nosmo King & Hubert developed when his son Jack Watson joined him as straight man straight from school. Vernon Watson made his last bow and he was to be Nosmo for good when his speciality became long comic monologues.
During a later interview, he made two remarkable confessions. Someone pointed out that a cigar-smoking figure was hardly compatible with the name and suggested he gave up. This he found remarkably difficult, but he eventually accomplished it with the aid of snuff. The second confession was that he had never at any time set eyes on Frank Tinney.
During World War II, Nosmo King reverted to going solo, the reason being that "Hubert" had joined up.
One of Nosmo's act starters was when a young pageboy would come over to him carrying his luggage. Once he had handed it to Nosmo, Nosmo would say to him "how much do I owe you" and the boy would say "2 nicker" whilst flicking the V at him (meaning to show the 2 fingers), Nosmo took it as an insult and would slap the boy across the face and then the boy would slap across the face back.
- Paul Shannon, a Pittsburgh radio announcer, also used the name 'Nosmo King' for a character.
- Nosmo King was the name of a 1994 album by jazz guitarist John Abercrombie and Andy LaVerne.
- They Made Us Laugh, Geoff J Mellor, 1982, George Kelsall ISBN 0-9505577-4-9
- The Grand Order of Water Rats - a Legacy of Laughter, Charlie Chester, 1984 WH Allen 0491 03251 X (Backstage door story)