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Articles, Images, and Programme for Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre, Brighton

Brighton's Theatres Index

Brighton's original Palace Pier Theatre

Above - Brighton's original Palace Pier Theatre

The Story of the Palace Pier Theatre by W. Everitt, General Manager, The Palace Pier.

From 'Music Hall at the Palace' Programme.

The first pile of the Palace Pier was driven on the 7th November, 1891, by the then Mayoress of Brighton - Mrs. S. H. Soper and the work progressed until the skeleton of the steelwork was completed to a point short of the pierhead. It was then that the promoters fell into difficulties and for several years the structure was left derelict.

An early image of the Palace Pier, Brighton.On Saturday the 20th May, 1899 the pier was opened to the public. In the same year the first pile was driven for the pierhead and this extension was completed together with the theatre. The building was then known as the Pavilion, a very different layout from its present form with seating on the ground floor only and a promenade at the back, while the decorations were in red and gold.

Left - An early image of the Palace Pier, Brighton.

On Wednesday the 3rd April, 1901 the Sacred Harmonic Society (now the Brighton Harmonic Society) with Mr. George Freeman conducting the Pavilion Orchestra gave the first performance before an invited audience and tea was served afterwards to 1,500 guests.

Brighton Palace Pier TheatreIn 1911 the Theatre was entirely remodelled. The circle and Boxes were added and the stage enlarged making it at that time comparable with the average provincial theatre. With these improvements and an increased seating capacity to 1,300, it was possible to present first class touring companies.

Right - Brighton's Original Palace Pier Theatre.

These were the days when Brighton had a "Winter Season" from October to March when to suit the demands of the more leisured winter visitor performances were given every afternoon and evening only on Wednesday and Saturday throughout the winter months.

Programme for 'Music Hall at The palace.' The Programme that the articles and Programme images on this page come from.As time went on and public taste changed, short seasons of Repertory were introduced and from 1933 until the outbreak of war, Jimmy Hunter's famous resident Summer Shows provided ideal light entertainment for holiday-makers and residents alike for a 10 or 12 week season. Several well known entertainment personalities were highlights of Jimmy Hunter's shows, notable Tormny Trinder, misses Betty Driver and Freddie Bamburger.

Left - Programme for 'Music Hall at The palace.' The Programme that the articles and Programme images on this page come from.

The Palace Pier Theatre was also noted for its excellent family pantomime which ran each year for a month. Until the closing of the theatre for the war period, these had been presented for 21 consecutive years.

Sunday Celebrity Concerts were also a feature of the summer attractions and many leading lights of the Variety and Musical world appeared from time to time at these Concerts. In the early day of the Theatre's history, two prime favourites with were Margaret Cooper in her "Songs at the Piano" and Harry Frogson. Famous Bands such as the Southern Syncopated, Debroy Somers and Jack Hylton were always greeted with "House Full" boards.

Programme detail from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier TheatreExcept for seasonal closing the theatre has been open every year apart from the war period. At the time of Dunkirk - Thursday evening, 23rd May, 1940 without any previous warning, the Pier was requisitioned and the theatre closed. When the official order was given, the audience was already assembling for the evening performance of "The First Mrs. Fraser". The admission money had to be returned and the audience filed out of the last performance to be given until after the war.

The Army took possession and a centre portion was immediately blown up. German divebombers made several attempts to destroy the pier but only near misses were registered.

Right - Programme detail from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

Early in 1946 the pier was handed back and after strenuous work it was reopened to the public on the 6th June, 1946.

The Theatre re-opened on 15th July, 1946 for the summer season and the opening attraction was a visit of Phyllis Neilson-Terry in a new play "The Widow of Forty".

Repertory season continued until 1964 and in the following year commencing with Jack Tripp in "Take a Trip", the present run of successful Summer Shows has continued with such Star names as Tommy Trinder, Ronnie Corbett, Dick Emery, Joe Brown, Ted Rogers and the Kaye Sisters. The 1972 show was the controversial "Pyjama Tops".

In his book Seaside Architecture, Kenneth Lindley considers the Palace Pier "one of the finest architectural expressions of the holiday spirit ever produced. It is difficult to believe that this complex of buildings has survived so many decades of battering by the often tempestuous seas of the English Channel".

The Pier is privately owned.

From Dan Leno to Danny La Rue - The Music Hall Story

An open letter to Impresario Arthur Lane from George Wood, O.B.E. known as WEE GEORGIE WOOD - The Last of the Truly Great International Music Hall Stars

Barbara Sumner and Terry Doogan from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.Dear Arthur, this is a Tribute to the Audrey Lupton / Arthur Lane Music Hall presentations - the only shows I am able to accept as Authentic Nostalgia, and I ought to know, having lived through seventy years as an active performer.

The reason for sending this letter "From Dan Leno, to Danny La Rue" will be understood by you, but perhaps few others outside the Profession.

Both names are in the records of THE GRAND ORDER OF WATER RATS, with pretty well all the famous who have made Golden Years for the Music Hall since Dan Leno was King Rat in 1891.

Right - Barbara Sumner and Terry Doogan from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

The Order was founded in 1889 under the name of the NOBLE ORDER OF THE STAR. At the first meeting a Music Hall "Sketch Acto?' named WAL PINK protested that the word "STAR" seerned too snobbish "Let us reverse the word STAR, we should call ourselves the lowest."

The first money collected by the ORDER was earmarked for what was to be the

Nat Jackley and Leslie Sarony from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

BRINSWORTH HOUSE in Twickenham, Home of the Variety Artistes Benevolent Fund, and Institution, for which the Royal Variety Shows are given each year. We, in the Water Rats, have, as you are aware, Arthur, close ties with the South Coast - our 1973 King, George Elrick, lives in Eastbourne, others in vour midst include Cliff Dee, an artist of note, who retired "to be in reach of Beachy Head" - Norman Meadows, General Manager of the Eastbourne Pier and of course, Sandy Powell.

Right - Nat Jackley and Leslie Sarony from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

You will recall we appeared to pay tribute to Sandy on his Televised "This is your Life". The King Rat then was Frankie Vaughan. At that time he was the youngest, and I was the Elder Statesman of this unique Fellowship. It is a matter of pride that Bob Pearson was our 1971 PRINCE OF THE ORDER, and that he, with Brother Alf, are loyal and admired members -- you see we are three "Geordies", and after all, it was in our native North East that the G.OW.R. started.

Now, let me get to the original purpose I had in mind when I set out to write this letter.

Your Music Hall, Arthur, was born of your love for what Walter Sickert painted as the Traditional Wav of British Life. You have, in the past five years, presented at the Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne, Elsie and Doris Waters, Rawicz and Landauer. Cavan O'Connor and Margery Manners. Together with Nat Jackley (Shown Right), all stars of the British Music Hall that is no more.

All the Professionals, thanks to your encouragement, proved the edict that the late Florenz Zeefeld had hanging over his office door - "There is no short cut to experience".

Ever gratefully, Your "Wee" Friend,

I KNEW BRIGHTON WHEN by DON ROSS

Elder Statesman of the Variety Profession and President of The British Music Hall Society

Wilson, Keppel & Betty, Harry Secombe, and Nellie Wallace from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.Once upon a time there was a quality called Elegance. There is not much of it around now-a-days and some of the younger people may sneer at the mention of it while older people have been heard to sigh for it. Brighton had that quality an elegance and a glamour that shone through the town even on a dull day. A touch of spiciness too - for if a man were to tell his friends he was off "for a week-end at Brighton" they would lift their eyebrows and say "Oh yes?"

It was always a great place for the music hall pros of the period who added their share to this elegance and glamour. Promenading along the front on a bright Sunday morning the toilettes of the music hall ladies bid fair to outshine those of the other promenaders. To drive down to Brighton to spend the day and have a good breath of Doctor Brighton's tonic air plus all the fun of meeting one's friends always was considered a good idea. In those days, too, a week at Brighton Hippodrome, or in it's time at the Alhambra, was looked upon as one of those special and keenly anticipated engagements.

Right - Wilson, Keppel & Betty, Harry Secombe, and Nellie Wallace from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

I remember a notice that hung in every dressing room at the Hippodrome worded to the effect that 'Ladies are requested not to pack their best dresses until they have completed their second house performance on Saturday night as this theatre on a Saturday night contains the best dressed audience to be found anywhere in the world'. Apparently it had been noticed that some of the women artistes had Harry Lauder, Dan Leno, Ella Sheilds, and Florrie Forde from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.packed as soon as they had done their first show on Saturday night in order to get back to London as quickly as possible after they had done their second show and so had taken the liberty of working the second house in virtually the clothes in which they were going to travel in. It is true that the audience, especially at the second house in the stalls, were almost entirely in evening dress, the men suave in their 'tails', the ladies elegant, bejewelled and soignee.

There were some good digs in Brighton, too. I particularly recall the double bow-fronted house (now a restaurant) almost facing the Hippodrome where the tops of the bill usually stayed.

Left - Harry Lauder, Dan Leno, Ella Sheilds, and Florrie Forde from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

With many professionals is was a great thing during a week off to come down to Briphton for a few days. The Ship Hotel was a great venue for music hall people as also was the Royal Albion Hotel, at that time under the direction of the famous Harry Preston.

When faced with thoughts of retirement one third of the professionals thought it would be a good idea 'to get a nice little pub somewhere', quite a lot of others refused to face the thought of retirement and insisted they would 'go on as long as we are wanted'. Many of the remainder plumped for a 'nice little place down at Brighton' and with all their memories of what to them were the Great Days, clinging together like a rather exclusive club, they are still here.

THE STORY OF THE MUSIC HALL by ARTHUR LANE

Marie Lloyd and Albert Whelan from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.The British Music Hall began in the early part of the nineteenth century in the underground night haunts of London described by Thackeray as "Caves of Harmony".

After the "Caves of Harmony- the Music Hall expressed itself in the free and easy entertainments of the tavern supper rooms. At the celebrated 'Evans Supper Rooms' the audiences sat from 10 p.m. until 2 in the morning joining in the choruses of sea songs and rollicking old English ditties ... a truly British beginning.

Then came the first Oxford Music Hall still on tavern-room lines with waiters flitting to and fro among the tables serving refreshments.

Right - Marie Lloyd and Albert Whelan from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

This was the heyday of the Music Hall's original great personalities - Charles Coburn, Dan Leno, Marie Lloyd, Albert Chevalier, Eugene Stratton, Little Tich.

The Music Hall's next development was the modern "Palace of Variety" and my own first memories of the modern music hall were the stars of what I consider the "Golden Years of Music Hall".

G.H. Elliot and Gracie Fields from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.I remember well the beginning of this golden age, Harry Lauder, George Robey, Ada Reeve, Wee Georgie Wood, Harry Welden, Malcolm Scott, Billy Merson, Marie Lloyd, Little Tich - all of whom I saw about the end of World War One. Then, in the Twenties, came the Houston Sisters, Mona Vivian, Gracie Fields, Clarice Mayne, Clapham and Dwyer, Harry Tate.

Left - G.H. Elliot and Gracie Fields from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

Gertie Gitana, Little Tich, Kimmy James, and Max Miller from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.Came the Thirties and Forties which, to my mind, produced a great crop of stars - Sandy Powell, The Western Brothers, Elsie and Doris Waters, Leslie Sarony, Gillie Potter, Rawiez and Landauer, Nat Jackley, Flannagan and Allen, Nervo and Knox and, through five decades, the incomparable Hetty King. It is my proud privilege to have employed all the living stars of the "Golden Years" in our five seasons of THE GOLDEN YEARS OF MUSIC HALL at the Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne and while these few great ones are still hale and hearty it would be a great mistake to conclude that music hall and variety are dead.

Right - Gertie Gitana, Little Tich, Kimmy James, and Max Miller from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre.

They will never die because they are the inheritors of the medieval balladists, the eighteenth century song sheet sellers, the "Caves of Harmony" and the music taverns which begat the modern variety theatre and which is carried on each year with the annual seasons of the Golden Years of Music Hall at the Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne, and Music Hall at the Palace Pier, Brighton.

Programme detail from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre

Above - Programme detail from 'Music Hall at The Palace Pier Theatre

Working at the Palace Pier Theatre by Alan Chudley

The Palace Pier Theatre at Brighton was not an easy date to play from the stage crews point of view, the lorries could not enter the pier and the scenery had to be lugged the length of the pier on what was called a bomb trailer, and the dock doors at the theatre left much to be desired. One delightful thing about this theatre is that for many years after the last war the theatre still had it's original 1902 "Digby" lighting board; in this day and age of computerised lighting control it seems strange that in the days of Water Dimmers ( the Garrick Theatre London used these until 1950 ) the resident electrician did his daily maintenance with a watering can.

During the run of Music Hall at the Palace in 1973, (See above) Arthur Lane also had The Golden Years of Music Hall at the Eastbourne Hippodrome, which opened before the Brighton show, very sadly after the first night at Eastbourne several of the dancing girls in the show went out to a party and were killed in a road accident on the way home, so the girls from Brighton were sent to Eastbourne and new girls had to be recruited for the Brighton show.

The late Arthur Lane was one of life's great characters and those who knew him could dine out for a month on stories about him to which they were an eye witness. In my own case, I went to the Palace Pier Theatre during rehearsals of Music Hall at the Palace-such as they were- to see a friend who was employed by Arthur Lane. Arthur was in the bar over the theatre entrance with the late Sandy Powell, I asked for his carpenter by name; "How dare you dear boy, come in this temple of thespian art and refer to Terence as my carpenter, I have promoted him to Production manager; tell him that he is my carpenter and it will cost this firm another tenner a week" He then ordered a double Brandy all round at my expense. Arthur was a much loved character and I do not expect to see his equal in my lifetime.

Text above kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.

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