During a performance of Waiting for Godot at London's Theatre Royal, Sir Patrick Stewart came offstage during the interval and told his co-star, Sir Ian McKellen, "I just saw a ghost, on stage, during Act One." Nigel Everett, a director of the theatre, later commented "Patrick was stunned. I would not say frightened, but I would say impressed."
According to Stewart, the apparition was that of a man who was standing in the wings wearing what looked like a beige coat and twill trousers. The consensus among stagehands was that Sir Patrick had seen the ghost of John Baldwin Buckstone (1802-1879), who had a long association with the Theatre Royal in the 19th century, first as a comic actor, then as a playwright and finally as its actor-manager from 1853 to 1877, during which time he staged some 200 productions, pioneered the concept of the afternoon matinee, and transformed the house into the leading comic theatre of the day.
Buckstone was a great friend of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), who once confessed that, as a boy, he had been so moved by Buckstone's performances that he went home to 'dream of his comicalities.' In 1857, Ellen Ternan, the young actress who was said to have been Dickens' mistress, appeared at the theatre in Buckstone's burlesque Atalanta.
Dickens appears to have been instrumental in obtaining this and other roles for her since he wrote to Buckstone, "I shall always regard your remembering her as an act of personal friendship on the termination of the present engagement, I hope you will tell me, before you tell her, what you see for her coming in the future."
Although Buckstone did not die in the building (he died at home in Kent), his ghost made the first of its returns to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket within a year of his death. Since then, several illustrious theatrical figures have seen his spectral form in parts of the building, where he seems to appear whenever comedies are being staged.
Sir Donald Sinden saw him while playing in The Heiress with Ralph Richardson in 1949. As Sir Donald and the actress Gill Cadell were coming down the stairs from their dressing rooms en route to the stage, they passed the solid figure of a man dressed in an old-fashioned dark suit looking out of the window into Suffolk Street, which is located at the back of the theatre. Since this was the floor where Ralph Richardson's dressing room was located, they presumed it was he, bade him "Good evening Ralph," and, on receiving no reply, continued on their way towards the stage. However, having descended one flight, they suddenly realized that Richardson should be on stage at that moment.
Hurrying back up to see why he was not, they were surprised to find the figure had gone. Indeed, there was no sign of the man anywhere.
Buckstone's ghost was also seen by the actress Fiona Fullerton while she was performing in an Oscar Wilde play. People passing what was once the Number One Dressing Room, which had been Buckstones room, but which is now the manager's office; have heard someone rehearsing their lines within, however, when they open the door the room is always found to be empty.