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Royal Performance by Command of His Majesty The King

Palace Theatre

1st July 1912

The Souvenir Programme

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

The text and images on this page, apart from the brief explanatory text here and below, are all from the Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance held at the Palace Theatre, London on the 1st of July 1912. All the text is transcribed below and all the illustrations in the programme are displayed alongside the text. The programme was very kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill for use on this site and is now preserved in the Really Useful Theatre Archive.

The Programme for Arthur's Command performance at the Whitehall Gardens on February the 10th 1868 - Click to enlarge.The programme was produced for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre on the 1st of July 1912, and the production was the first of its kind to be performed by Royal Command. Profits from the show were donated to the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund, now known as the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund (EABF). Since this performance over 80 more have been produced over the years, always attended by a senior member of the Royal Family, and always in aid of EABF. The show is produced in various different Theatres and always televised nowadays and has become known as the Royal Variety Performance.

What is less well known is that Arthur Lloyd was the first music hall artiste to be summoned by royal command, an event which happened on Wednesday February 19th 1868. Also on the Bill that night were A. G. Vance, and (Jolly John) Nash, who along with Arthur Lloyd appeared before the Prince of Wales (later King Edward the V11) at the Whitehall Gardens at a party given by Lord Carrington. More information on this can be found here. Arthur Lloyd went on to perform several more times for Royalty by command, but it wasn't until 1912 that a whole music hall / variety production was staged in the manner we now know as the Royal Variety Performance.

 

A brief explanation of the occasion
From the book 'Carriages at Eleven - The story of the Edwardian Theatre'
by W Macqueen Pope 1947.

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Music Hall was at its very zenith. It deserved Royal recognition which it had never achieved. King Edward had often commanded its stars to appear before him privately at Sandringham and elsewhere, but never had Royalty, in state, graced a variety show. King George V did this gracious thing, and Music Hall thrilled with pride. The Palace - where more suitable? - was chosen as the venue, and the performance took place on 1st July 1912. This event had nearly been given outside London, for Sir Edward Moss, the boss of Moss Empires, in whom the arrangements were vested, decided to hold it at the Empire, Edinburgh, whilst the Court was in Scotland. But that place was burned down and London got the chance. There was incredible difficulty over the selection of the artists, and a revolution was threatened with all the proposed 'rejects' in a bill at a rival house called 'The Popular Demand Performance.' But by dint of hard work and diplomacy, things were smoothed out. Those who could not give a solo turn, by reason of time, all appeared in a scene, staged as a finale, called 'Variety's Garden Party' and joined in singing the National Anthem, led by Harry Claff in his shining armour as 'The White Knight.'

The Palace was transformed into a bower of lovely blooms, things were done in the most lavish manner. Indeed, Their Majesties were almost buried in flowers.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912 The King and Queen brought the Grand Duchess George of Russia and Princess Victoria with them. The whole theatre cheered them, and it was one of those occasions which will never come again,.' For London in those days could do things well and this was one of the occasions when no pains or expense were spared. Austerity was undreamed of, and every attempt was made, and made successfully, to make this as a great occasion.

Although the place glittered and blazed, the same cannot be said of the behaviour of the audience. Nearly everyone was overcome, 'acts' included. Things had been timed to the fraction of a second, everyone was on edge. Also points had to be watched, for nothing the slightest bit vulgar must creep in to shock the Royal ears. So most of the performers were not really at ease. The audience, largely composed of music hall folks and their supporters, were simply bursting with pride, dressed in their best, and on their best behaviour, They were determined to show the world that they knew how to behave as well as the smartest West End playgoer who ordered carriages at eleven. To them, also, the Royal Box and the behaviour of its occupants was of more interest than the traffic on the sage. The consequence was an audience which, after its burst of loyal enthusiasm to welcome the King and Queen, sat frigid and rather reserved, indulging in only polite applause, for fear of seeming ostentatious and free-and-easy. Yet the whole thing was electrical and unforgettable.

The above text is an extract from the book 'Carriages at Eleven - The story of the Edwardian Theatre' by W Macqueen Pope 1947.

 

A Foreword
by
Malcolm Watson

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912THE whirligig of Time has brought in many revenges and many surprises during the past fifty years. Science, doubtless, holds first place in the allocation of honours, but neither Science, nor Art, nor Literature has benefited exclusively by the rapid march of events. In the world of amusement there has been progress no less pronounced than in the world of serious accomplishment. It may be urged that to insist upon the importance of this truth is to risk a charge of comparing small things with great. Not so, however. When Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun declared that if a man were permitted to make the ballads of a nation he need not care who framed its laws, he gave utterance to a saying that has come to be recognized by posterity as of a particularly wise and true character. And, like most wise and true sayings, it has gained in breadth and significance with the passage of the years. If the grave issues of life still claim pre-eminence, its lighter aspects are every day pressing more urgently upon us. The spirit of Puritanism, intolerant of all kinds of amusement, howsoever innocent, is dead, or only to be found at its last gasp hidden away in some remote corner. Even the narrow limits imposed by the gospel of work have been extended so as to include a large measure of rational and wholesome relaxation.

Is it too much to claim for the Music Hall that it has proved an enormous factor in bringing about this altered and highly salutary state of affairs? To-night's performance, of which this souvenir is an enduring record, offers a conclusive answer to the question. In its amazing growth and development may be traced the growth and development of popular taste. Half a century ago the Music Hall was the Cinderella of the world of entertainment. She hid her diminished head in " Coal Holes, " or in " Caves of Harmony," where, as Thackeray has told in his immortal novel " The Newcomes," the motto "Maxima debetur pueris was, with rare exceptions, " more honour'd in the breach than the observance." To these times might well be applied the cynical gibe " most music hall, most melancholy." To read the doggerel which then passed current for verse is to be lost in amazement at the low rate of intelligence that could for a moment accept such inanity for wit, such puerility—and worse than puerility—for humour. Cinderella had good reason to be ashamed of herself and her patrons. Perhaps it is hardly fair, however, to judge a movement by its early beginnings, As well complain that in point of brilliancy of colouring and of beauty of form the bulb has no relation to the perfect flower. Remember that the " sing-song " of the fifties was in a sense the real and onlie begetter of the variety theatre of to-day. And let us, consequently, be to its faults a little blind—be to its virtues very kind.

It does not enter into the scope of this foreword to trace the origin and growth of the modern Music Hall. That is duly done elsewhere in these pages. But in the most cursory examination of the subject it is impossible not to recognise the almost phenomenal rapidity with which developments have taken place. Happily, with this swift advance has come the fullest appreciation on the part of the public of the endeavour, visible on all sides, to raise the standard of popular entertainment. In the circumstance we have only one among many proofs of the continuous progress made by the Music Hall. It has enlarged the scope of its operations beyond all thinking; it has sent its representatives into the most distant parts of the habitable world in quest of attractions. To-day, apparently, there is nothing too costly or too ambitious for it to undertake. Upon its banners are blazoned the names of the greatest actors, actresses, singers and dancers of our time. It has fought the battle of " free trade in amusement " with an energy and a persistency that have in the end secured for what seemingly was the most hopeless of causes a decisive and unqualified victory. Out of the nettle, danger, it has again and again plucked the flower, safety.

Its reward has been commensurate with the severity of the struggle. It has obtained from the Lord Chamberlain, not without much heart-rending and some little bitterness, the right to meet the public desire, expressed in no uncertain terms, for the production of plays and musical pieces on the variety stage. And as the opportunity for doing well is merely the stepping stone to still greater achievements, it has shown an ever increasing ambition not alone to present these, scenically and sartorially, in the most perfect fashion, but also to engage for their interpretation the best available artistes. In so doing it has given employment to many who otherwise would have looked for work in vain. At the Music Hall a wholehearted welcome awaits talent of all and every description. Sarah Bernhardt, Madame Rejane, Sir Herbert Tree, among players; Sir Edward Elgar, Leoncavallo, Oscar Straus, among composers; J. M. Barrie, Bernard Shaw and Henry Arthur Jones, among dramatists; Anna Pavlova, Maud Allan and Adeline Genee, among dancers, have shed the lustre of their genius upon it. These are but a few of the distinguished names that might be cited; the list is far from exhausted.

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Also, in this connection, there is one quite remarkable point to be noted. When it was first announced that Sarah Bernhardt, Leoncavallo and the famous Sicilian, Grasso, had agreed to appear on the London variety stage, the news was received in France and Italy with a fierce outburst of indignation. That artistes of their distinction should condescend to exploit their talents in so ignoble a market was inconceivable, unthinkable! A more eloquent tribute to the vast difference existing between the London Music Hall and the ordinary Cafe chantant, or a graver criticism of the latter, could hardly be imagined. And it was not until this point had been made perfectly clear that the feeling of anger which swept across the Continent yielded to contentment.

To-night sees the coping-stone placed upon the building which has been so industriously and so carefully erected. By his gracious presence at the Palace Theatre this evening His Majesty the King sets the seal of State recognition upon the English variety theatre. It is a circumstance whereof the members of the profession cannot be too proud; the value and the importance of which it would be difficult to over-estimate. The wheel has at last come full circle; the work of many years has yielded a rich and abundant harvest. With so many earnest and tireless labourers in the field, any attempt to apportion the exact measure of credit due to each in achieving such splendid results would be a task as invidious as it would be wellnigh impossible. It is a broader view, however, that must necessarily be taken of so far-reaching and so auspicious an event as this act of graciousness done to the Music Hall by the King himself.

It provides the culminating point of a singularly brilliant chapter in the history of the variety theatre. To that chapter, surely and with perfect appropriateness, may be appended the indelible words FINIS CORONAT OPUS.

MALCOLM WATSON.

"Our true intent is all for your delight,
" The actors are at hand, and, by their show,
" You shall know all that you are like to know."

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.

 

The Story of the Music Hall

by
Henry George Hibbert

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912INNOCENTLY to amuse the imagination, in this dream of life, is happiness." Surely when
Oliver Goldsmith made this phrase, he put before the eyes of the music hall manager an unimprovable ideal!

There has always been a world-hunger for amusement — for sheer amusement; something less solemn than Shakespeare, more material than the musical glasses. And to this the music hall is the minister. They do the variety stage an injustice who would have us believe that it is just a growth from the song and supper room of half a century ago. Why, its foundations are in remote antiquity; and it can marshal a patron saint of the most exemplary character.

The original Impresario was surely Raher, first Prior of Saint Bartholomew's, who would descend upon the fair of his founding, and resume his original character of a jesting-juggler, to replenish the alms-chest of his beneficent order. In the records of the priory, laboriously penned and painted by holy men, are quaint little pictures of acrobats, and educated animals, balancers and boisterous comedians, who flourished under his patronage. Raher knew the desire of the people for frivolous recreation, and wisely reckoned with it. His fair endured seven centuries. At its zenith, Ben Jonson made it the background of a play; its doom was pronounced by an early Victorian Alderman! Among its constituents were the puppet show,
the miniature theatre, the menagerie, and the circus. From all, variety has taken a toll so heavy, that the remnant does not matter now. In like manner it depleted the " talent " of the tea gardens. The song and supper room proved a convenient place for the arrangement and exploitation of the spoil—and thus, the modern music hall acquired its special form and character of entertainment.

Rivals of the early music halls, eventually absorbed, were the " saloon " theatres distinguished from houses with the then significant prefix " legitimate." They made up their liberal programmes of melodrama, musical comedy, and variety. The audience was free to smoke and drink, and ate prodigiously. In time the saloon-theatre was called upon to accept a regular theatrical licence, or to become a music hall. Three famous saloons, the Britannia, the Grecian, and the Effingham became, and long continued, theatres. Others—the Apollo, for instance—disappeared.

Of the song and supper room, the immediate ancestor of the music hall, we have a vivid picture—thanks to Thackeray, whose Back Kitchen and Cave of Harmony have been laboriously identified with the Cider Cellars at the back of the Adelphi, and the Coal Hole, near the site of which Terry's Theatre was built.

Perceval Leigh contributed to " Punch " an account of this performance, in the way of a parody on Pepys's Diary :-

" To supper at the Cider Cellars, in Maiden Lane
" wherein was much company, great and small ; and
" did call for kidneys and stout, and then a small
" glass of aqua vita and water, and then to a cigar.

" While we supped the singers did entertain us
" with glees, and comical ditties ; but, lack ! to hear
" with what little wit the young sparks are tickled !

" But the thing that did most take me was to see
"and hear one Ross sing the song of Sam Hall, the
" chimney sweep going to be hanged. For he had
" begrimed his muzzle to seem unshaven, and in
" fusty black clothes, with a battered old hat on his
" crown and a short pipe in his mouth, did sit upon
" the platform leaning over the back of a chair so
" making believe that he was on his way to Tyburn.
" And then he did sing to a dismal Psalm tune how
" his name was Sam Hall, and that he had been a
" great thief, and was now about to pay for all with
" his life ; and thereupon he swore an oath which did
" make me somewhat shiver though divers laughed.

" Then, in so many verses how his master had
" badly taught him, and how he must hang for it ;
" how he should ride up Holborn Hill in a cart and
" the Sheriffs would come ; and then the parson and
" preach to him, and after them would come the
" hangman, and at the end of each he did repeat his " oath.

" Last or all how that he should go up to the
" gallows, and desired the prayers of his audience ;
" and ended by cursing them all round.
" Methinks it had been a sermon to a rogue to hear
" him, and I wish it may have done good to some of
" the company ; yet was his cursing very horrible,
" albeit to not a few it seemed a high joke ; but I do
" doubt that they understood the song, and did only
" relish the oaths.

" Strange to think what a hit this song of Sam Hall
" hath made, and how it has taken the town, and how
" popular it is, not only among tavern haunters and
" frequenters of night houses, but also with the gentry
" and aristocracy, who do vote it a thing that ought
" to be heard, though a blackguard ; and a look in
"at the cider cellars by night after dinner at their
" clubs, to hear it sung.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Ross's performance drew crowds, even from the highest ranks; it was often impossible to get a seat to hear him. His old age was wretched; he died, a chorus singer at the Alhambra.

Evans's Supper Rooms, on the outskirts of Covent Garden, long outlived the others. Its site is now occupied by the National Sporting Club. This establishment was founded by W. C. Evans, a chorister of the Opera House ; thereafter conducted by Paddy Green, a great character.

A most popular performer at Evans's was Sam Cowell, an American, who first adventured in England as an opera singer.

An even more popular Irish comedian was Sam Collins, who discoursed of " The Rocky Road to Dublin " and " Limerick Races." Collins, who began life as a chimney sweeper, lived to buy himself the Lansdowne Arms, at Islington, which he turned into Collins's Music Hall, and which his heirs sold for upwards of £50,000.

The Irish comedian of Sam Collins's type—greencoated, breeched, and brogued, crowned with a caubeen, and carrying a shillelagh—has disappeared. So has the " delineator of negro character," to music hall programmes once indispensable.

Among the first, and indisputably the most famous, was E. W. Mackney, who sang times without number a " topical " song with the refrain " For Then You Know, you're bound to go the whole hog or none."

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912A bright page in the early history of the music hall records the career of Harry Clifton, cheery singer of " motto " songs, faulty in form but faultless in sentiment. They are mostly adapted to his friend Charles Coote's waltzes ; " Paddle Your own Canoe," for instance, utilized the melody of "Queen of the Harvest." To the "Innocence Waltz " Harry Clifton sang :-

Then do your best for one another,
Making life a pleasant dream ;
Help a worn and weary brother Pulling hard against the stream.

Another of the genial philosopher's songs was " Wait for the turn of the tide " :-

Then try to be happy and gay my boys ; Remember the world is wide,
And Rome wasn't built in a day my boys ; So wait for the turn of the tide.

The success of the Canterbury induced the establishment of the Royal, Holborn—originally Weston's. Here Stead, the " Perfect Cure," became famous with the song from which he took his name, its performance being more remarkable for innumerable pirouettes than for the tune, which was borrowed, or the words, which were nonsense.

Mr. Morton came over the water, too, and built the Oxford Music Hall, again on the site of an historic inn. He tried to include Sims Reeves in his first programme—largely formed of operatic selections ; he succeeded in engaging Charles Santley. And the Oxford led to the improvement of the London Pavilion, where once the small sum paid for admission was balanced by a free drink !

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912For a time, Charles Morton ran the Oxford in conjunction with the Canterbury, on the " turn " system, sometimes described as a modern innovation. His ambitious efforts in operetta and extravaganza at the latter house attracted the jealous notice of the theatrical managers. He was prosecuted and fined for producing an " entertainment of the stage." And for half a century music hall enterprise remained subject to such irritating attentions.

At length the Canterbury was handed over to William Holland, loving to style himself the " People's Caterer," who gave a broader style to its entertainment. His bright particular star was George Leybourne, destined to become the Horace of Cockaigne. Leybourne was engaged at the then stupendous salary of £20 a week, with the use of a fur coat, a carriage and four horses. Another performer promptly took to the town with a cart drawn by four donkeys ! Leybourne's name is inseparable from his song " Champagne Charlie."

Vance, Leybourne's life-long rival, both preceded and succeeded him. Vance, whose real name was Alfred Peck Stevens, was originally an actor in the provinces. He claimed to be the first music hall singer to wear unexceptional clothes, and especially a fair wig. His predecessors had been given to eccentric and slovenly attire. " Slap Bang " was Vance's diploma song.

" Act on the Square," a " motto " song, was another of his successes, and " Old Brown's Daughter." Vance's death, which took place a few days after Christmas, 1888, was one of the most tragic incidents in the history of the stage. His health was impaired, his popularity waning. He was singing at the Sun, Knightsbridge, a song with the refrain, " Are You Guilty ?" when he fell, apparently in a faint. Other artistes stepped to the front over his prostrate body, a scene was lowered between them. The show went on. But Vance was dead !

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Women, naturally, took no part in the entertainments at the song and supper rooms. Their first employment on the music hall stage was in operatic selections, done by the necessary complement of vocalists standing in a row, in evening dress. Miss Clara Russell was distinguished among them, and Miss Fitzhenry, destined to be better known as Emily Soldene.

An early " semi-comic " singer was Mrs. Caulfield. Somewhat shadowy are the forms of the vocalists who charmed in succession to Mrs. Caulfield—the Louie Sherringtons, the Georgina Smithsons. But at any rate the genius of Jenny Hill is vivid in the memory still, her quick wit, her pathos, her voice that could sweetly attune itself to a ballad, and reproduce the raucous plaint of a coster girl.

If the Canterbury epitomised the history of the music hall at large, the London Pavilion even more completely summarises its story in respect of the West End ; and remains, to-day, typical of the music hall, as in contrast with the theatre of varieties.

The popularity of the house was built up by an old-time comic singer, Arthur Lloyd, a stock actor from Edinburgh, with an extraordinary facility for composing songs. Of hundreds, the most famous is " Not for Joe." The phrase became a part of the language. The song was the first to be put on the market at a popular price, and to sell extensively.

Throughout its history the Pavilion has been associated with a comic singer—with Charles Coborn and " Two Lovely Black Eyes," with the " Great " Macdermott and " We don't Want to Fight," with Dan Leno and his wonderful characterisations.

Macdermott cannot be dismissed in a few words. A naval gunner, he became an actor at the East End. With a song entitled " The Scamp," scarifying this public character and the other—written for him casually by Henry Pettitt, the dramatist—he accepted a summer-holiday engagement at the London Pavilion and stayed in the music halls to become world-famous as the voice of a determined people in a political crisis.

We don't want to fight—
But by Jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men, We've got the money too !
We've fought the Bear before,
And while Britons shall be true
The Russian shall not have Constantinople !

The chorus was shouted from end to end of the kingdom ; was quoted in Parliament, and reprinted in every language known to typography.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912The Pavilion is regarded as the first West End hall to adopt a style and circumstance then regarded as extravagantly luxurious. And later, although it was not the first music hall to be run as a joint stock enterprise—that distinction belongs to the Alhambra—it was the first which made an appeal to the imagination of the investing public ; and so introduced the music hall to a new world of speculative finance, where much has happened.

A fierce competition in structural improvement followed the re-opening of the London Pavilion in 1885. But the decay of an important official set in. From the outset, the revels of the variety stage had a lord—a person of much dignity and importance, known as " the chairman," who sat on a dais with a well-furnished table in front of him, asserted his authority with the sharp blows of an ivory hammer, announced the performers and expatiated upon their worth, employing the intervals in affable conversation with his entourage of habitual patrons. " The chairman " needed to be an artiste too—capable of taking to the stage and replacing any deficient performer. But the good fellow has been consigned to limbo now.

All the pleasure palaces of Leicester Square are overtopped by two vast variety theatres. First, the Alhambra, which lately recorded its half-century—it had a music hall licence several years earlier than some slipshod historians seem to know of, and, indeed, runs the Canterbury very close in respect of seniority. Projected as the Panopticon, in more or less friendly rivalry with the Polytechnic, it was incorporated by Royal Charter, and opened with prayer. " While the eye is gratified with an exhibition of every startling novelty which science and the fine arts can produce, and the ear enchanted with delectable and soul-stirring music, the mind," said the Council, " shall have food of the most invigorating character."

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Alas ! the Panopticon soon found its way into bankruptcy. Its scientific toys were dissipated in an auction room, and the enterprising E. T. Smith turned the splendid Moorish structure into a music hall.

E. T. Smith was probably the most remarkable showman London has produced. Originally a policeman, he ran every important opera house, theatre, music hall, circus, and tea garden in the city, from Vauxhall to Cremorne, from Astley's to Drury Lane—not forgetting a newspaper and a loan office. Some idea of his methods may be gathered from his engagement of Sayers and Heenan, the prize fighters, to bow from a box in an interval of Italian opera. He was with difficulty persuaded to transfer this stupendous attraction to the Alhambra.

Smith opened the Alhambra under a music and dancing licence, but soon retired.

A Mr. Wylder ran the Alhambra, indiscriminately as a music hall and a circus. Under this management Leotard, the famous aerial performer, made his first appearance in London at a record salary of £18o a week, in 1861. Then Frederick Strange invested in the Alhambra a fortune made as a refreshment caterer at the Crystal Palace. He was disposed to make ballet, neglected at the opera, of which it was formerly an important factor, a popular feature of the Alhambra programme, and this speedily involved him in a quarrel with the theatrical managers, who vainly sought to get his first spectacular production, "L'Enfant Prodigue," founded on Auber's opera, condemned as a stage play. Strange turned his enterprise into a limited liability company—the first in the history of popular entertainment.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912The prosperity of the house was checked by the loss of its music hall licence in 1870. This was not restored till 1884. Meanwhile the directorate exploited a theatrical entertainment—comic opera with incidental ballets, of which the late M. Jacobi supplied more than a hundred during his reign as chef d'orchestre.

If the music hall had no other claim to the notice of the connoisseur, the fact that for nearly half a century it was the sole asylum the rare and beautiful art of dancing might serve. Poor Terpsichore was starved out of the opera houses. But at the Alhambra, at the Canterbury, at the Metropolitan, eventually at the Empire, dancing schools were maintained and ballets were produced which made the great revival of academic dancing to-day a possibility.

Saville House, actually at the time the Eldorado Music Hall, was burned down in 1865. For years a disreputable ruin marred the site of the historic structure. Then a French firm projected one more cyclorama, depicting the Battle of Balaclava. It was not a success, and the building was eventually transformed into a theatre. But the outline of the cyclorama was retained, and was clearly apparent until the last process of reconstruction. The " Alcazar " was the name selected by the first abortive schemers; next the " Pandora " was considered. The " Empire " was the happy inspiration of H. J. Hitchins, long its manager. But the inspiration of the entertainment was not so happy. " Chilperic," revived with an electric ballet, which we should think unimportant now ; " The Forty Thieves," borrowed from the Gaiety ; an extravaganza called " The Lady of the Locket," were all more or less failures. Then, in 1887, a company of which Mr. George Edwardes and Sir Augustus Harris were the dominant spirits, procured the music hall licence under which the Empire has been carried on ever since with a success that has become a proverb among the promoters of such adventure.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Meanwhile, the enterprise of the great provincial cities matched that of London—which it was destined to stimulate and expand. Birmingham had a hall at one time more spacious and prosperous than most in the metropolis. Manchester and Glasgow were notably in advance. Young Edward Moss, with a little fortune made at Greenock, acquired and successfully developed an Edinburgh house ; then joined forces with Mr. Richard Thornton, of Newcastle, and finally brought Mr. Oswald Stoll, who had adventured from Liverpool to Cardiff, into council. To these men we owe the modern method of combination to operate many halls from a single base.

The personal ambition of Sir Edward Moss was mainly responsible for the beautiful Hippodrome, northeast of Leicester Square. Mr. Oswald Stoll "built his soul a lordly pleasure house " in the Coliseum, in some respects the most remarkable variety theatre in the world. And, incidentally, the Moss-Stoll-Thornton alliance has encircled London with suburban halls of great magnitude and splendour, and provided every provincial city of importance with a variety theatre that in many cases puts the " regular " theatre to shame.

Other managers were stimulated to competition. Within a few years Mr. Walter Gibbons built up a circuit of twenty halls, with the vast Palladium for its centre. The directors of the Pavilion, Tivoli, and Oxford work in close sympathy with about a dozen suburban houses. And the Variety Controlling Company, with Mr. Alfred Butt and Mr. Walter de Frece for its dominant figures, has sixteen houses in and out of London.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912There are, in the London area, forty-eight music halls, with a seating capacity of 68,783 ; and a nightly revenue roughly estimated at £7,521—probably more.

Few, but interesting, are the dominant personalities of the music hall—only a few years ago the picturesque figure of Charles Morton disappeared, the receptacle of its history during fifty years.

Edward Villiers, one of his successors at the Canterbury, was, at the London Pavilion, a pioneer of the music hall de luxe at the West End. Unlike Morton, who was never daring in finance, Villiers amassed a large fortune, increased by the Napoleonic methods of Henry Newson Smith, a brilliant accountant, who indicated the lines of high finance since followed by armies of investors.

But the earliest entrepreneurs of the music hall were of the shrewd, homely kind—men like Weston, who built up the fortunes of the Holborn Empire, and who trained J. L. Graydon, destined to make the Mogul famous, as the academy of celebrities ; and Charles Crowder, the preceptor of George Adney Payne, who was invited from the Canterbury to ally himself with the Newson Smith group, and became, by natural succession his successor, uniting, for the first time, the qualities of the old-time showman with those of the chairman of directorates.

A few years ago there was a sudden depletion of the ranks of music-hall magnates, Charles Morton's death was followed by that of Thomas Barrasford, a sturdy north country sportsman, who united many halls into a formidable circuit, meanwhile condensed a little ; of Henry Sutton, a conspicuously expert financier ; of Henri Gros, the passionate politician of variety ; and of George Adney Payne.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912It is a remarkable testimony to the strength of the music hall, as a commercial enterprise, and as a social enterprise, that it should stand, without apparent injury, the sudden and almost simultaneous loss of such expert and potent counsellors.

What first impresses the student of the variety stage is the fact that it is British in origin ; and remains the most characteristic of British amusements. Twenty years ago, what in America is called vaudeville had no distinction ; and little importance. It grew, in emulation of the English music halls ; borrowing our artistes and other material freely, but in the course of time, it has repaid with interest—for the commerce of the two countries is in no respect more remarkable than in variety art.

The growth of the variety stage in America has been to heroic dimensions ; and the vast reward it offers to the artiste threatened at one time to deplete our stage of popular favourites. In return it has made us some compensatory contributions.

It is remarkable that the art of the acrobat being English in origin, could at one time be practised here profitably only by artistes having assumed foreign names. Then, excellence lay with the Germans : anon with the Americans, from whom we now draw our most brilliant gymnasts and acrobats.

With the disposition of the cormorant the variety stage absorbs everything it can, and is insatiable still.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912 From the moribund circus it took whatever was good. It offered an asylum to the ballet dancer, starved out of the opera houses—the brilliant spectacular productions of the Alhambra and the Empire preserved to us a proud distinction of mise en scene ; and the virtuosity to appreciate the Genees and Pavlovas of to-day. It saw the possibility of the cinematograph, at which scientists still smiled dubiously as at a scientific toy. It has succoured distinguished wayfarers from the theatre ; and sent contingents of musical comedians to the aid of the decaying drama. It knows neither cult nor country in its boundless hospitality. And yet, here is a curious and interesting fact, that a music hall programme of to-day, in its main outlines—its predominance of comic singing (however the description may be qualified), its dramatic and musical selections, its operatic and other dancing, its acrobatic and gymnastic performances, its quaintly styled "specialities "—follows the pattern of the music hall bill of half a century ago.

Seldom is a word so glibly misused as " improvement " in regard to the art of the music hall. Improvement there has been, of course—in the structure of the halls, in the style and circumstance of the performance, in the art of the performer. But this improvement needs exposition ; and generous appreciation. The choicest flowers of the variety art are indigenous to its soil. They have blossomed with difficulty—for the inspiration of an author, the stimulus and correction of the expert melleur en scene, the support of an entourage—all available for the histrionic aspirant—were for many years withheld from the music hall artist.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Think that the genius of Dan Leno was untutored, untrained, spontaneous—and then estimate its greatness and courage.

The disposition of the modern manager is not to trade in rough diamonds ; but to give the artiste all the help that all the arts can tender. Where once the outlay on a building was measured in thousands, it is measured in hundreds of thousands. Where once a musician, rising from the music hall to more distinguished work sought to conceal his origin—the greatest musicians of to-day adorn variety programmes.

Infinite care is bestowed upon mise en scene, upwards of ten thousand pounds having been not infrequently spent upon the production of a spectacular piece at a West End music hall.

Then, the crudest comic song is now apt to have a carefully sympathetic background, as opposed to the almost habitual incongruity of old times. Variety has developed. It was once a commonplace to describe variety as the poor neglected sister of the Arts. Now the phrase has its full significance in the glory of the rich and honoured Princess.

H.G. H.

The text and images on this page, apart from the brief explanatory text top of page, are all from the Palace Theatre Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance held at the Palace Theatre, London on the 1st of July 1912. The programme was very kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill for use on this site and is now preserved in the Really Useful Theatre Archive.

 

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912

 

The text and images on this page, apart from the brief explanatory text top of page, are all from the Palace Theatre Souvenir Programme for the Royal Command Performance held at the Palace Theatre, London on the 1st of July 1912. The programme was very kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill for use on this site and is now preserved in the Really Useful Theatre Archive.

 

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