Memories of Show Business by Percy G Court, 1953.
This Special Feature is from the memoirs of Percy G. Court, who began his career as a Stage Carpenter in the late 1800s and retired as a well-known theatre and tour manager in the late 1940s.
This fascinating first hand account was originally hand written and has been transcribed from the original diaries and very kindly sent for inclusion on this site by Stephen Wischhusen.
From The Bournemouth Daily Echo of September 13th, 1952.
When young Percy Court left school his parents wanted him to become a coach-builder. But he was "theatre mad" - his father was a theatrical manager.
Percy, however, had his knowledge of coach-building and carpentry to thank for getting his first stage appointment, and four years ago he retired after 55 years in show business.
Right - The cutting which this article comes from and which formed part of Percy's Diary - From The Bournemouth Daily Echo of September 13th, 1952.
To-day, Mr. Court lives in St. Stephen's-road, Bournemouth, and, at 73, has a host of memories of past and present stage personalities.
Born at Woolwich, he was apprenticed to a coach-building firm after leaving school, but he soon found that his comic singing earned him more in one evening that he received for a whole week's work.
Left - A page from Percy's diary which details some highlights from his career.
Mr. Court told me: "I used to sing at clubs in the evenings and went home with a £1 note in my pocket. When I completed my apprenticeship I was earning 18s a week.
The stage manager wanted a boat built, gave Mr. Court a model, and asked him if he could do the job. His work obviously gave satisfaction, for he went on tour with the company at the end of the season.
Right - Percy's well traveled touring case. - Courtesy Joy Cavanagh, Percy's Great Granddaughter.
Mr. Court toured the country with the show and became understudy to a comedian. At Oldham he left the company and went back to Woolwich theatre and appeared in a play as bot, a flunky and process server - for £2 a week.
After further stage experiences, he became homesick, and his opportunity to return came when he was offered a job as stage-manager at the newly opened Grand Theatre, Woolwich. He was there for seven years and then went to Aldershot, for three-and-a-half years.
Left - Caricature of Percy's son Norman, sketched on the back of a BBC press release, Courtesy Joy Cavanagh, Percy's Great Granddaughter and Norman's Granddaughter, who writes: 'Norman had a dog act with Pomeranians. This dog was called Bluebelle I believe or something like that!'
For 39 years Mr. Court was stage manager at the well known Kingston Empire.
In the early years of the war, Mr. Court was stage and front-of-house manager at the Picadilly Theatre, London, for a show called "They Walk Alone," which starred Mary Morris. He told me he left there when he found three stars using his office as a dressing room.
Mr. Court attained high rank in both the Proscenium and Vaudeville Mark Lodges of Freemasons and he is now an honorary member.
He recalls the day when he saw his first motor-car - Harry Lauder was driving it - and the time when 4,000 gallons of water deluged down on the orchestra pit when there was an accident with a tank above the stage.
Right - A Letter from Don Ross Ltd to Percy Court offering him work as stage and front of house manager on the tour of 'Thanks For The Memory' in 1947 - From Percy's Diary.
Mr. Court's job naturally led him to Bournemouth occasionally, and he liked the town so much that he decided to retire there. He is still a keen theatre-goer and often goes back-stage to meet some of his old friends.
London's first theatre of importance was built at Southwark S.E. I.E. The Globe; or Burbage's as it was more familiarly called.
Here a machinist was employed - today his title is "stage carpenter" - his job was to make all scenes and effects; and to supervise the setting and changing of scenes.
From Shakespeare's days to modem times, this procedure is still carried out - history recalls a brilliant stage carpenter, who made the clock in its entirety at Cheapside E. He was at the Haymarket Theatre, W.C. There are many wonderful mechanics, who are worth a niche in our theatrical records. One is Bill Day, of the Comedy Theatre, Manchester. He built the Astoria houseboat at Hampton Court, it was made of teak and mahogany and resembled a galleon which had a wonderful bathroom of glass and Sicilian marble.
The stage carpenter is indispensable to the legitimate theatre, he should be a first class mechanic, with imagination, knowledge of architecture, skilled with ropes and pulleys, versed in practical construction of trick scenery which includes circular stairs - and a leader of men.
This little book, contains basic facts concerning the life, and work connected with the "Stage"; in fact everything relating to show business. Here is a young man who wished to be an actor, that never attained the ambition, after years of struggles with all the jobs which were at the bottom of the ladder he eventually became a well known touring manager embracing the legitimate stage, revues, vaudeville, and the circus: it proves that many profitable jobs can be found in the theatre world: every word in this book is from past recollections - if - "a faux pas" occurs - please forgive me as I have not resorted to a collection of historical accounts, this data is entirely from memory,
C Percy G Court
"I am delighted that you have
added the document about Percy Court to your site. As a young man I
worked for Kingshot Theatres; Percy Court had worked for this firm and
its predecessors for over 40 years, 30 of them as resident stage manager
at Kingston Empire, from where he retired through ill health in 1940.
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