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The Palace Theatre of Varieties, Belgrave Gate, Leicester

Leicester Theatres

A postcard depicting the Palace Theatre, Leicester

Above -A postcard depicting the Palace Theatre, Leicester

 

A variety programme for the Palace Theatre, Leicester in 1904 - Courtesy David Garratt.The Palace Theatre of Varieties as it was named in 1901 was built on the site of the former Floral Hall in Belgrave Gate, Leicester, for Oswald Stoll and was designed by the renowned Theatre architect Frank Matcham in an elaborate Moresque style.

The Theatre opened on Monday 17th June 1901 being a three tier Theatre consisting of the Fauteils, stalls and pit on the ground floor, above which were the Grand circle, Upper circle and Gallery. There were three stage boxes each side of the proscenium arch, one at stalls level and two in the dress circle, plus 7 rear circle boxes. The opening capacity was 3,500 people, it being, in 1901, the largest Theatre outside London. Two performances per night were given at 7.00pm and 9.00pm.

Right - A variety programme for the Palace Theatre, Leicester in 1904 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The very large stage measured 54 feet wide by 63 feet deep with a proscenium opening of 33 feet wide by 24 feet high. In the centre of the stage was a large wrought iron animal cage which could be raised and lowered from underneath the stage by hydraulics for wild animal shows. A remarkable feature of the Theatre however, was the crush room (waiting area) being a semi circular area with a glass and iron domed roof being a Winter Garden with rockeries, fountains and dripping wells, all overlooked by a rustic smoking balcony. The rockeries representing Derbyshire and Peak district rock formations designed by Clapham and West of Didsbury.

The Vestibule was furnished with a richly designed Moresque dome and its walls contained panels filled with embossed tiles from Spain, and a terrazzo floor. The auditorium had a sliding roof so that stale air could quickly be changed. The Theatre was fitted with electricity and The American Bioscope which showed early newsreels as part of the Variety performances.

 

An early Postcard showing the Auditorium of the Leicester Palace circa 1901 - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - An early Postcard showing the Auditorium of the Leicester Palace circa 1901 - Courtesy David Garratt who says 'The Postcard shows the Leicester Palace Theatre circa 1901 when it had just opened, with the pit / stalls / fauteuils division walls, the original ornate box drape velvet pelmets, the mirrors on the circle wall, and the promenade at the side of the stalls area.'

An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - Three early photographs of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

 

The auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Leicester - From a variety programme for the Theatre in 1904 - Courtesy David Garratt.The Opening week's show featured 'The Peerless Sandow' strong man and modern athlete top of the bill. Emma Pollack, J. W. Rowley, Duncan's Scotch Collies, Forest and King trio, Ella Dean, Rezene and Robini, Almaio Brothers and Charles Coburn, famous for his song 'The Man who broke the bank at Montecarlo'.

Left - The auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Leicester - From a variety programme for the Theatre in 1904 - Courtesy David Garratt .

The Palace was a number one date and featured many top music hall artistes right from its commencement. Artistes who appeared were, Dan Leno - Marie Lloyd - Little Tich – Chung Ling Soo (magician).

Charlie Chaplain appeared in 'The G.P.O.' a sketch by Fred Karno. W. C. Fields (who in those days was a juggler), John Philip Sousa and his band, Harry Lauder, Fred Ginnet's company in 'Dick Turpin's ride to York' featuring real horses, Florrie Ford, Bransby Williams and his Dickensian Portrayals, and Male Impersonator Vesta Tilley etc.

 

An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

 

A typical Twice Nightly variety programme for the Palace Theatre, Leicester in 1904 - Courtesy David Garratt.Prices were - Private box (four people) 10/6d (52.5p today) - Fautilles ( front 2 rows in the stalls of arm chairs) 2/- (10p) - Stalls 1/- (5p) - Pit 6p (2.5p) - Circle 1/6p (7.5p) - Balcony 4p (2p) - Gallery 3p (1.5p).

Right - A typical Twice Nightly variety programme for the Palace Theatre, Leicester in 1904 - Courtesy David Garratt.

A famous production to play the Palace in 1912 and returning again on the 24th of February 1913 was ' MEXICO'. The action of which was of a kidnapping of a little girl by Mexican bandits who were pursued by Nick Carter a detective high into the Mexican Mountains, to rescue the little girl. Resulting in a spectacular escape as the dam bursts and the refugees on horseback leap down a waterfall into a lake to make their escape.

(There are some scenes from 'Mexico' displayed on the Olympia, Liverpool page M.L.)

During the Saturday evening's performance the week prior to 'MEXICO's' arrival, workmen were working on the platform holding one of the 2,500 gallon water tanks 20 feet up at the back of the stage, when the platform suddenly gave way. The tanks tipped forwards and sent their contents rushing across the stage and into the orchestra pit almost drowning the orchestra and the audience in the first row of the stalls. The act on stage, Fred Durant and his brother, were performing their 'Everything' sketch and calmed the crowded house. The orchestra were sent home to dry out as were the front row of the audience, and the performance continued with the conductor Mr Lowe playing the piano on stage. A team of 60 men were employed to clean up the mess and ensure 'MEXICO' could open on time the next week.

 

An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - An early photograph of the Leicester Palace auditorium by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

 

A poster for an Xmas 1929 variety show at the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt.The Palace played variety throughout the first world war, however the shows began to turn into Revues featuring variety artistes with dancing girls, these were bright and cheerful to lift the spirits of the times.

Left - A poster for an Xmas 1929 variety show at the Palace Theatre, Leicester entitled 'Harry Hilling Presents Laughter Unlimited! - Courtesy David Garratt. On the Bill were Bennie Loban and his 9 Music Weavers assisted by Lucy Lope, Vine & Russell, Bert & Betty Errol, Jack & Sylvia Kellaway, Jessie Ruddock's Empire Girls, Ryan & Burke, Jock McKay, and British Movietone News.

A programme for the Ice Show 'St. Moritz' at the Palace Theatre, Leicester in 1937 - Courtesy David Garratt. On the 15th December 1937 'ST. MORITZ' arrived at the Palace. This was an ice show on a circular ice rink on top of a revolving stage. It featured 70 artists and the revolving stage was fitted into the Palace stage especially to accommodate this production. It featured Colin Ford who was a skater covered in gold paint (rather like Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger).

Right - A programme for the Ice Show 'St. Moritz' at the Palace Theatre, Leicester in 1937 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Catchers were employed in the wings to catch the skaters as they came off the ice, as they were traveling at such speeds as they skated round the revolving rink.

This production was followed by another ice skating presentation called 'The Merry Doll', but it seems the revolving stage was never used again although it remained in place until the demolition of the Theatre.

The Palace went over to showing films from 1931 till 1937, and again from June 1938 till 1946. Returning then again to variety shows. A lot of these shows were war time shows such as 'Splinters', 'Wot No Uniforms' and 'We were in the Forces' in which all the girls were played by boys.

Billy Cotton and his Band show, Ivy Benson and her all girl band, Geraldo, Max Miller, Ted Ray, Primo Scala and his accordion band, Robb Wilton, Phyllis Dixie, John Hanson, Joan Regan, all played the Palace at this time.

 

Poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt Poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - Two posters for the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt - The first one featuring Max Miller, Mundy and Earle, Roy Stevens, Linda and Lana, Martin Crosbie & Thelma, the Three Karloffs, Moxham Bros, and Nancy Carol - And the second one featuring a show entitled 'Soldiers in Skirts' Played by an all male cast featuring Roy Lester, Eric Lloyd, Kenne Luca, Les Deux Tonelys, Roy Walker, Max Carole, and many more.

 

Poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt A Poster for 'A Night With The Naughtiest Girls - Courtesy Kenny Cantor.

Above Left - A variety poster for a show entitled 'Chocolate and Cream' at the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt, on the bill were G. H. Elliot, Jack Tripp, the Sherman-Fisher Girls, Helga Barry, The Chikolas, Sereno and Joy, Arthur Scott, Leslie Welch, and Robert Harbin. - Above Right - A Poster for 'A Night With The Naughtiest Girls - Courtesy Kenny Cantor.

A Poster for Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane at the Leicester Palace Theatre in 1949 - Courtesy Robert Kenny

A Leicester Mercury clipping for 'Old Mother Riley' at the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy Robert Kenny.

Above - A Poster for 'Old Mother Riley' with Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane at the Leicester Palace Theatre in 1949 - Courtesy Robert Kenny who says:- 'Lucan and McShane were regulars at this huge Leicester Theatre. The Leicester Mercury clipping (also shown above) reveals that their Saturday performances were already sold out a week ahead!'

 

An early photograph of the Leicester Palace Theatre's auditorium ceiling by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - An early photograph of the Leicester Palace Theatre's auditorium ceiling by T. Buckridge - Courtesy David Garratt

 

A poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt By the 1950's stars such as Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, Terry Thomas, Michael Bentine Jimmy Young, Jimmy James and Company, Gladys Morgan and Company, Frank Randle, Norman Evans, Jewel and Warriss, and Shirley Bassey were playing the Palace In 1951, Hollywood actor Buster Keaton appeared in person, as did Bela Lugosi in 'Dracula'.

Right - A poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt - On the bill were Bonar Colleano, Paula Coutts, Bunty St. Clair, Two Angelos, and Dr. Crook and his Crackpots.

A poster for 'Piccadilly Peep Show' at the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt.By the late 1950's the Palace like many other Theatres was fighting for its existence against television, and the quality of entertainment fell. Striptease shows were being presented with the mixture of occasional variety bills and plays. 'Striporama' – 'Grin and Bare it' – 'Abreast of the times' to name a few. The writing was on the wall.

Left - A poster for 'Piccadilly Peep Show' at the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt.

A poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester featuring Skiffle Music, Calypso Music, and Jazz Music, with Johnny Duncan and his Bluegrass Band, Frank Holder, Alex Welsh and his band, amongst others - Courtesy David Garratt.The Pantomime 'Cinderella' starring Freddie Sales, Jean Anderson, Seth Jee and Joy Jackley, and the Patton Brothers, was presented Christmas 1958.

Right - A poster for the Palace Theatre, Leicester featuring Skiffle Music, Calypso Music, and Jazz Music, with Johnny Duncan and his Bluegrass Band, Frank Holder, Alex Welsh and his band, amongst others - Courtesy David Garratt.

In February 1959 'She Strips to Conquer' played and it was announced that the Theatre would close in a fortnight after Leicester Operatic Ensembles' production of 'The King and I'.

And so the final curtain fell on the 21st of February 1959. The Theatre had been sold to Sketchleys Ltd., and demolition quickly followed.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2010. The article and most of its accompanying images are © David Garratt 2010.

 

The row of uninspiring 1960's shops which have replaced Matcham's Palace Theatre, Leicester frontage. It is actually bang opposite the Haymarket Theatre - Courtesy David Garratt.

Above - The row of uninspiring 1960's shops which have replaced Matcham's Palace Theatre, Leicester frontage. It is actually bang opposite the Haymarket Theatre - Courtesy David Garratt.

The car park which is at the rear of the shops on Belgrave gate which replaced the Palace Theatre, Leicester and show the unused land that the Theatre stood on. It also shows just how large the Palace was, together with the Floral Hall cinema, which was at the rear of the Palace - Courtesy David Garratt.

Above - The car park which is at the rear of the shops on Belgrave gate which replaced the Palace Theatre, Leicester and show the unused land that the Theatre stood on. It also shows just how large the Palace was, together with the Floral Hall cinema, which was at the rear of the Palace - Courtesy David Garratt.

 

Some photographs of Artistes who played the Palace Theatre, Leicester over the years, some of them signed by the artistes.

Noni and his band

Above - Noni and his band - Courtesy David Garratt

Chaffer's Wonder Midgets

Above - Chaffer's Wonder Midgets - Courtesy David Garratt

Billy Judge and Partner Jackie The Se alion Comedian

Above - Billy Judge and Partner Jackie The Se alion Comedian - Courtesy David Garratt

Bransby Williams Will Hay

Above - Bransby Williams and Will Hay - Courtesy David Garratt

Joy Ricketts Gertie Gitana

Above - Joy Ricketts (skater) Star of St Moritz and Gertie Gitana, (famous song 'Nellie Dean' married to Leicester Agent and producer Don Ross. They both lived in my village, Wigston Magna, and Gertie Gitana is buried in the local Wigston Cemetary on the edge of Leicester) - Courtesy David Garratt

Jack LaVier and Ruthie Morgan Muriel George

Above - Jack LaVier and Ruthie Morgan and Muriel George - Courtesy David Garratt

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2010. The article and most of its accompanying images are © David Garratt 2010.

 

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