Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure 1899 - 1949
Also see Moss Empires in the 50s by Donald Auty
The story of Moss Empires
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
On December 15th, 1899, Moss' Empires Limited was incorporated. The Company was originally formed to amalgamate ten smaller companies, namely The Edinburgh Empire Palace Limited, The Birmingham Empire Palace Limited, The Newcastle Empire Palace Limited, The Sheffield Empire Palace Limited, The Glasgow Empire Palace Limited, The Cardiff, Newport and Swansea Empire Palaces Limited, The Liverpool, Leeds and Hull Empire Palaces Limited, The Nottingham Empire Palace Limited, The London Hippodrome Limited and The London District Empire Palaces Limited.
above companies owned music halls or
variety theatres corresponding
to the company names, with certain additional properties
CERTIFICATE OF INCORPORATION
Given under my hand at Edinburgh this fifteenth day of December One thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine. REGINALD MACLEOD, For Registrar of Joint Stock Companies. L.S. Fees and Deed Stamps, £51, 5s. Stamp Duty on Capital, 0,500.
THE MAN WHO BEGAN IT
Mr. (later Sir Edward) H. E. Moss was the founder of the great chain of theatres that bear his name. Before the inauguration of the Edinburgh Empire Palace, he was for many years the proprietor of the Gaiety Variety Theatre, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. So successful was his policy there that it became necessary for a new and larger theatre to be built, and so the old Edinburgh Empire came into existence, as the first of the Moss' Empires. Sir Edward was created a knight in 1906, and was Chairman of the Company from its inception until his death on November 25th, 1912.
Right - The man who began it all H. E. Moss.
WHERE IT BEGAN
The original "Moss' Empire" at Edinburgh was built on the site of Newsome's Circus in Nicolson Street, which was acquired for this purpose by Mr. Moss in the spring of 1891. The architect was Mr. Frank Matcham, who was responsible for the plans of most of the theatres in the Moss' Empires group.
THE FIRST MOSS' EMPIRE
Above - A sketch of the Edinburgh Empire Palace Theatre
On November 7th, 1892, the Empire Palace Theatre, Edinburgh, was opened to the public. Nicolson Street was thronged with sightseers "gaping at the brilliantly illuminated entrance and dome . . . gazing with envious eyes at the favoured mortals who had gained admission." To a packed auditorium when all the electric lights were put full on just before the performance "the effect was magical. The theatre, with its stately proportions and beautiful decorations, stood revealed in all its grandeur, and the audience, charmed with the brilliant spectacle, broke out into a loud and hearty cheer."
For nearly twenty years, the Empire followed a successful policy of variety (and, incidentally, introduced an item then known as "The American Bioscope" into its programmes . . . the fore-runner of the Hollywood movies) but what had begun so auspiciously was to end in tragedy. On the evening of May 9th, 1911, a disastrous fire broke out backstage during the performance of the Great Lafayette, the world-famous illusionist, in which he and members of his company lost their lives. Although there was a full house, the safety curtain was lowered and the audience left the theatre in an orderly fashion. According to a member of that audience, the last words spoken in public by Lafayette were when he came to the front of the stage just before the curtain was lowered and said, "Keep cool." This request was carried out, with the result that there were no casualities among the audience.
Right - The new Empire Palace Theatre, Edinburgh.
The new Edinburgh Empire was opened on the site of the original Empire Palace Theatre, in October, 1928, since which date it has continued a policy of presenting variety, revue and musical plays with notable success.
GROWTH OF THE MOSS' EMPIRE
Above - A view of the Auditorium, Stage, and Lake at the London Hippodrome on the opening day, January 15th, 1900
The London Hippodrome was the first in the West End, whilst the London District Empire Palaces were the Stratford, New Cross and Holloway Empires. Other music halls taken over from the amalgamated companies included the Metropole Theatre, Glasgow; the Empire Theatre, Bradford; the Theatre Royal, Nottingham; the Panoptican, Cardiff, and the Olympia, Cardiff.
With the lapse of years, many changes have taken place. Some of the theatres became obsolete and were required to be reconstructed (such as the Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool Empires). Others were sold, but the Company has purchased or erected new theatres from time to time.
Right - A copy of the opening night silk programme for the London Hippodrome on January 15th, 1900 for a production of 'Giddy Ostend'.
The London Hippodrome in particular has had an interesting history. It was originally designed to accommodate spectacular water carnivals, made possible by lowering the vast circular arena in front of the proscenium arch to a depth of eight feet.
The theatre was opened on January 15th, 1900, with a combined variety, circus and water spectacle entitled "Giddy Ostend," of which is reproduced here the original Silk Programme presented to the audience on the opening night.
Above - Caption Reads: - The auditorium of the London Hippodrome as it appears to-day. The alterations were first carried out in 1909, when armchair stall seats were placed in the old arena.
FORMER CHAIRMEN AND MANAGING
Above - Former Chairmen and Managing Directors of the Company; Sir Oswald Stoll, Sir Edward Moss and Richard Thornton, William Houlding, Frank Allen, R. H. Gillespie, Col. J. J. Gillespie, and George Black.
The original Board of Directors of Moss' Empires Ltd., consisted of Messrs. H. E. Moss, Richard Thornton, Oswald Stoll and Frank Allen, with Mr. William Thomson as Secretary.
SIR EDWARD MOSS was Chairman and remained so until his death in November, 1912. He was also joint Managing Director with SIR OSWALD STOLL until January, 1905, when Sir Oswald became sole Managing Director. When he resigned in December, 1910, Sir Edward Moss resumed the double role of Chairman and Managing Director. On the death of Sir Edward Moss, MR. WILLIAM HOULDING became Chairman, which office he held until his death in January, 1930. Under his chairmanship MR. FRANK ALLEN was Managing Director from December, 1912 to December, 1919, when he was succeeded by MR. R. H. GILLESPIE.
Right - The London Palladium, the Prince of Wales Theatre, and the London Hippodrome.
COLONEL J. J. GILLESPIE followed Mr. William Houlding as Chairman in February, 1930, with Mr. R. H. Gillespie as sole Managing Director. February, 1932, saw MR. W. EVANS and MR. CHARLES GULLIVER installed with him as joint Managing Directors until the following November, when they both resigned, leaving Mr. R. H. Gillespie as sole Managing Director once again. In May, 1938, MR. GEORGE BLACK was appointed joint Managing Director with him.
The Chairman, Colonel J. J. Gillespie, died in January, 1942, and Mr. R. H. Gillespie then became Chairman with Mr. George Black as sole Managing Director. Mr. Black held this office until his death in March, 1945, when he was succeeded by the then General Manager, MR. VAL PARNELL, our present Managing Director. Upon the resignation, through ill-health, of Mr. R. H. Gillespie in May, 1947, MR PRINCE LITTLER became Chairman.
It can be stated with pride, that the Company has been a successful one, bringing live entertainment in various forms to most of the large towns and cities of Great Britain, and has been responsible for many notable productions in the metropolis during the Company's first fifty years of existence.
Above - A Few of the Moss' Empires Theatres - The Finsbury Park Empire, London; the Empire, Liverpool; the Theatre Royal, Nottingham; the Hippodrome Theatre, Brighton; the Empire Theatre, Newcastle; the Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; the Empire Theatre, Nottingham; the Empire Theatre, Glasgow; the Theatre Royal, Birmingham; and the Empire Theatre, Swansea.
The average weekly attendance at all Moss' Empires Theatres is about 700,000, giving a total of 36,400,000 attendances per-year. This makes an approximate grand total of 1820 MILLION people who have comprised our total audience in the Fifty Years of our existence. Although this is, of necessity, a very approximate figure it does give some indication of the importance of the Moss' Empires group of theatres in the realm of British entertainment.
The Company's records show that, since the inception of Entertainment Tax in 1916 up to the end of the current year 1949, a total sum of MORE THAN EIGHT MILLION POUNDS will have been paid by the Company in such Tax alone!
Above - The interior of the London Palladium from the stage
THE LONDON PALLADIUM, now firmly established as the World's No. 1 Music Hall, occupies the site of what was originally the town residence of the Duke of Argyll (hence Argyll Street). This mansion was later taken over by the Earl of Aberdeen, and pulled down in 1870, when a hall known as the Corinthian Bazaar was erected, which in turn was later converted into a theatre. After further reconstruction, during the years 1882/4 the building housed the famous Hengler's Circus, and in 1895 it was again converted, this time into an ice-skating rink known as the National Skating Palace.
In 1909, Mr. Walter Gibbons (later Sir), acquired the premises and after further re-building it was opened in December, 1910, as the London Palladium Music Hall. Charles Gulliver took over in the following year, when the theatre was granted a Stage Plays' Licence by the Lord Chamberlain. All the great music hall names of those days played there, and on March 17th, 1914, a Royal Matinee was organised in aid of the re-building of the Chelsea Women's Hospital, which was attended by Their Majesties King George the Fifth and Queen Mary. This was the first visit by Royalty to the London Palladium, which has since been the venue of ten Royal Variety Performances on the following dates: May 22nd, 1930, May 11th, 1931, May 20th, 1932, May 22nd, 1933, May 8th, 1934, October 29th, 1935, November 15th, 1937, November 7th, 1946, November 3rd, 1947 and November 1st, 1948. No Royal Variety Performances were held during the war years.
BEHIND THE GAY FACADE
YOU who have seen the show from the front can have little idea of the scene behind. It is another world. You may come from the lonely places of the earth, you may have looked forward to this glittering show for months. You will remember and think of it for months more as a highlight in your life.
Right - The finale of the 1948 Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.
May we hope that you will appreciate it still more for this glimpse behind the scenes, for the knowledge of the daily work of a number of quiet, highly skilled men and women and a great mechanical plant, all working silently to a split-second timing behind the gay façade of what you see.
It was at the Palladiumthe show was due to start in four minutes. The murmur of voices came from the vast auditorium. One glimpsed a sea of faces from behind the curtain, but on the stage nothing was happeningit seemed deserted. In the wings, a man and woman played with a dozen beautiful pekinese dogs. A man climbed an iron ladder and joined a girl on a giant electric switchboard. Another figure could be seen high up among a maze of wire ropes in the flies. Nobody seemed excited or even busy.
At three minutes to the hour, a figure strolled up to the stage-manager's positionthe nerve centre of a Palladium show. He looked at the clock, pressed a button and you heard the orchestra start. He nodded towards the man and woman playing with the dogs, eyed the clock again, another nod, the touch of a leverthe curtain rose, the dogs ran on to the stage followed by the man and the woman. The show was on. Yes, it started like that.
The beautiful figure of a dancer came down from the dressing rooms into the wings. She pirouetted as she waited; then on to the stage behind the turn now ending. The artistes in front of the stage took their curtain and came laughing into the wings. The background of the previous act silently rose, disclosing that lovely, sinuous figure already doing her turn. The act was on before it started for the audience. Scenes changed behind her whirling form, finally bringing her up to the front of the proscenium whilst gauze and scenery slid noiselessly into place behind her.
Instantly the stage behind that cloth became alivea dozen men and women appeared from nowhere, each doing a job, carrying and placing furniture and equipment. Fresh scenery descended from above, and the stage was set for the next act. Down came the appropriate curtain and side pieces and as the gay, beautiful figure on the stage flung her last smile and made her last bow, the background to the final part of her act rose and the act of a troupe of gymnasts was on, with all the shining apparatus that the turn required.
You think it would have taken half an hour to set that stage with all its equipment. It had been done silently and completely in 90 secondsand not a word spoken.
While a man stood on a single unsupported pole, balanced on his partner's raised foot, the next scene was being set. It looked as though it was arranged the wrong way round, but as the gymnasts took their curtain the floor of the stage revolved and round it came to face the audienceand yet another background rose and another fell behind it.
A flight of steps led under the stage where a dozen girls were settling themselves into position for the spectacle that was going to be the next act. Levers were pulled, buttons pressed, and the scenery down belowgirls and allrose up to stage level, taking its place in the centre of scenery that had been brought on a noiselessly-moving wire rope from the roof.
We heard the orchestra and we knew it was the interval, but there was none in the ordered bustle behind the safety curtain which rose and fell. Quiet words of command. Muted bells rang in response to the stage manager's finger. He glanced at the audience from his position; he searched the wings with his eyes. A look, a nod. The music from the orchestra changed; the curtain rose. The spectacle was again in being.
Fresh scenes and effects came and went. It was a wonderful example of split-second timing. That is the impression one gets from behind.
Watching, one does not think about the show as such. It is a matter of the clock, mechanics and a deep understanding of human naturetemperamental and difficult at times, but nothing must affect the show for one momentand nothing did.
"The show's the thing" and even human nature as you find it upon the stage among artistes, great and small, is subordinated to that one sentiment or slogan.
As the last strains of "The King" rose from the orchestra, those stationary figures in various parts of the vast and shadowy stage leaped into movement, and the scenery was being set once again for the first act; for, remember, the Palladium gives two shows each night, and so it was all to happen again in half an hour.
The stage and all behind it was more populous nowartistes on their way to their dressing rooms, others getting ready for the next performance. There was bustle, it was true, but it was ordered bustle; the quiet, silent bustle of a perfectly-trained organisation under ascertained control.
In less than half an hour, the pekinese were playing again in the wings, and once again the stage manager moved into position, as the next house waited expectantly. (Part of an article reprinted from " Rope Talks," by special permission of British Ropes Limited.)
Chairman of the Board of Directors since 1947, is also Chairman and Managing Director of the Stoll Theatres Corporation Ltd.
He is a member of the Council of Management of the Theatrical Managers' Association, of the Executive Committee of the Society of West End Theatre Managers, and of the Executive Committee of the Entertainments Protection Association. He is President of the Denville Home for Aged Actors, and President of the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund.
Right - Prince Littler.
Apart from his managerial associations, the name of Prince Littler is indelibly connected with the production of Pantomime and Musical Plays. His principal hobbies are farming and breeding of pedigree Guernsey and Jersey cattle.
Managing Director of Moss' Empires Ltd. since March, 1945, is the son of Thos. Frederick Parnell, O.B.E., professionally known as Fred Russell, the famous ventriloquist and doyen of British music-hall artistes.
Since 1928, when he was booking manager for the General Theatre Corporation, Mr. Parnell has been responsible for the booking of all the shows and artistes at the London Palladium. He was appointed General Manager of Moss' Empires Ltd., in 1931, and later joined the Board of Directors.
Left - Val Parnell.
He is, like the Chairman, a member of the Council of Management of the Theatrical Managers' Association, of the Executive Committee of the Society of West End Theatre Managers, the Theatres National Committee and of the Executive Committee of the Entertainments Protection Association. To the theatre-going public, his name is chiefly associated with the successful series of Variety Seasons at the London Palladium and the production of spectacular revues and pantomimes.
THE PRESENT DIRECTORATE
Chairman: PRINCE LITTLER - Managing Director: VAL PARNELL
T. FLEMING BIRCH, F.C.A. . . . Is on the Board of Directors of numerous companies concerned with theatrical management, catering, theatre properties, the brewing trade, and publicity. Is a Member of the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
REGINALD C. BROMHEAD . Has interests in both the Cinema and Theatre worlds. Is President of the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund, and founder-chairman since its inception in 1924; Chairman of the Army Kinematograph Corporation, and a Director of Variety Theatres Consolidated.
STEWART CRUIKSHANK .. Son of the late A. Stewart Cruikshank. Is a Director and London Representative of Howard and Wyndham Ltd., and is personally responsible for the booking of over twenty-five Provincial Theatres. Is a member of the Council of the Theatrical Managers' Association, and a member of the Society of West End Theatre Managers.
CHARLES GULLIVER .. One of the pioneers of Variety management. Was Managing Director of the London Theatres of Varieties in 1911, Managing Director of the London Palladium from 1912 to 1927, Managing Director of the Variety Theatres Controlling Company, and a past Director of the Syndicate Halls.
EMILE LITTLER . . . Younger brother of Prince Littler . . . is well known for his modern Pantomimes and mammoth Musical Shows. His current successes are "Annie Get Your Gun," "Song o f Norway " and "Lilac Time." He is Chairman of the Palace Theatre, London, and a Governor of the Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon.
S. H. NEWSOME, J.P. . . Managing Director of a group of companies which include the Coventry Hippodrome, one of the finest Theatres in the Provinces. Is a Director of some fifteen Theatre Managements and is also interested in the Motor Industry through his own Company, S. H. Newsome and Co. Ltd.
DAVID SIMPSON, S.S.C. . . . Secretary of the Company since 1927. He is senior partner of the firm of Allan, Dawson, Simpson & Hampton, Writers to the Signet, who are the Company's solicitors. He joined the Board of Directors in 1941, and is also a Director of eight other companies.
At this time, the Directors would like to pay tribute to two late members of the Board, Mr. Walter Payne, O.B.E., who passed away on October 30th, 1949, and Mr. A. Stewart Cruikshank, who was killed in tragic circumstances on December 8th, 1949. Their experience and wise counsel will be greatly missed by their colleagues and by the Company, and they will long be remembered with affection and high esteem.
MOSS' EMPIRES LTD.
Administrative Offices: CRANBOURN MANSIONS, CRANBOURN
STREET, LONDON, W.C.2
Artistes Booking Control Miss Cissie Williams
Theatres owned by the Company:
THE LONDON PALLADIUM
*These Theatres were seriously damaged by enemy action during the 1939 War. They have not yet been restored.
Owned by Subsidiary Companies:
Also in conjunction:
The articles and all the accompanying images on this page are from the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949 and may not be reproduced without explicit permission from myself. Matthew Lloyd 2013.
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