In 1776 Foote’s was the most talked-of name in the English-speaking world. By 1777 it was almost unmentionable. Samuel Foote, friend of David Garrick and Dr Johnson, is the greatest lost figure of the eighteenth century; his story defies belief and has only been forgotten for reasons both laughable and shocking.
Foote’s rise to fame was based on three unrelated accidents: his extraordinary gifts as an impressionist, a murder within his family which he turned into a true-crime bestseller, and the loss of his leg after a disastrous practical joke. Out of this was born the most singular career in stage history. He flouted convention in transvestite roles, evaded the censors by selling his scurrilous satires as ‘Tea Parties’, wrote a series of plays for one-legged actors – accordingly not much revived – and established London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Then came two scandalous trials that rocked Georgian high society. Trials of such magnitude they kept America’s Declaration of Independence from the front pages of the London papers.
In a unique conflation of biography and social and medical history, award-winning historian Ian Kelly uncovers the hidden world of ‘the Hogarth of the stage’. From Sheridan to Dickens to Dudley Moore, Foote’s influence continues, but Mr Foote’s Other Leg is not just a tragicomic tale of this Oscar Wilde of the eighteenth century, it is also the story of the first media storm, the first true-crime bestseller, the first victim of celebrity culture, and a joyous hop around the mad theatre of London life – high and low.