Frederick Bowman tried his hand at many roles, variously an actor, playwright, journalist, newspaper proprietor and campaigner for a variety of causes. It has to be said that in no single field did his achievements merit especial fame. However, taken collectively alongside a truly eccentric personality and the bequeathing of a highly dubious and bizarre knighthood by a pretender to the throne of Bohemia there is a tale worth recording.
He was born on 25th January 1894, details of his early life being somewhat sparse. Wartime records show that in 1918 he was living at 141 Duke Street L1 and he continued to live there until at least the early 1950’s, together with his mother, Alice Bertha Bowman, until her death in 1940. It seems that their relationship was very close, as during the First World War he reportedly sought exemption from the armed forces on the grounds that he and his mother could not bear to be parted. He ultimately served in the 1st Labour Battalion, Liverpool King’s Regiment and was demobbed in 1919.
By this time had gained theatrical experience both as actor and playwright. His works were short comedies and melodramas most often performed in small local theatres. A typical effort, ‘Her Soldier Boy’, was performed at Kelly’s Theatre in Paradise Street on 12th January 1915. A reviewer at the time described it as “a violent and almost incredibly silly melodrama ridiculous in plot and illiterate in execution… for gross ineptitude this dramatic effort could not easily be surpassed”.
The inter-war years saw him embark upon a host of ventures, invariably doomed to failure. He started a newspaper dealing with film, initially called The Trade Show Critic and later Talking Picture News and Examiner. He developed a penchant for litigation on one occasion suing a printer who, exasperated at Bowman not paying his bill, made derogatory remarks about him in a letter. The case for libel was found in his favour and he was awarded £400 damages, his success being tempered by the fact that the other party failed to pay up. The Liverpool Echo journalist and author Howard Channon was warned about Bowman soon after his arrival in the city: “Be very careful, he’ll sue for libel at the drop of an aitch”. He stood on numerous occasions as an Independent candidate for the city council, on one occasion garnering just 9 votes. For a brief time he became a Muslim, drawn by that faith’s compassion for animals, adopting the name Hameedullah. His business ventures unsuccessful in 1936 he was declared bankrupt, with debts of £2600 and assets of £6. (his liabilities in current terms being about £200,000). Despite not having paid off his debts he was discharged in 1939. He had at some point in his life added the initials ‘H.U.’ to his name, effecting a pen-name. It is not surprising that upon being asked what the initials stood for her replied “hard up”.
A fierce advocate of pacifism the Second World War saw him supporting the Duke of Bedford’s proposals for a negotiated peace with Hitler. In June 1940 he was arrested and charged with being in possession of a document about the nation’s defences, a plan thought to be relevant to the defences of the Mersey Tunnel. Although the charges were dropped he was ordered to be interned and was sent to Brixton prison. Having tried to escape disguised as a clergyman he was put on a bread and water diet and began a hunger strike which saw him forcibly fed. When he was eventually released he sued Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, for what he considered to be an illegal act. He lost the case.
One of the most bizarre episodes of his life came when, in March 1943 in recognition of his “work for peace” he was made a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Thrones. This was bestowed by Count Geoffrey Wladislas Vaile Potocki de Montalk, the self-styled King Wldislav V of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary. Eschewing any challenges to the honour’s validity Bowman thereafter insisted upon being addressed as ‘Sir Frederick’. Montalk, a virulent anti-Semite and paganist, conducted the initiation ceremony which involved recitation from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and a prayer to the god of the sun.
By the 1960’s Bowman had moved to 12 Sandown Lane L15, a fine Georgian terraced home which he named Humanimal House which he populated with an army of stray cats. He fed the cats on a strange home-made fishy concoction the smell of which seemed to permeate his clothes, prompting one acquaintance to offer the advice that it was always best to keep downwind of him. He continued to pursue the cause of animal welfare, petitioned the Home Secretary to reopen the case of Florence Maybrick, and even reappeared on stage in 1960 at the Liverpool Pavilion in his version of East Lynne. In 1969, just a few weeks before his death on 14th March, he was interviewed by Brian Trueman on Granada TV.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that his life was an epic narrative of failed ventures. Some of the views he expressed are hard today to view kindly; he was critical of the number of Jewish MP’s in Parliament, the ‘undignified’ treatment of the Nazis tried at Nuremburg and British hospitality to the displaced Poles at the end of the war. By way of balance, many who knew him attested to his kindness, courage and patriotism. The cliché ‘larger than life’ springs to mind, one comment made of him being “everything he did was in inversion proportion to his size”.
Bowman lived here for many years with his mother Alice.
Bowman's 'Humanimal House' his home in his later years.
There are two interesting biographical accounts to read, one is on the website of The Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, and the other on a site entitled Great War Theatre. There is a page (113) devoted to him in Howard Channon's book Portrait of Liverpool [Robert Hale & Co 1970]. Wikipedia has an article providing background on the Order of Crowns knighthhood.
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