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Pantomime economics of fifty years ago
by Donald Auty, 2003

Pantomime in the 1940s & 1950s - Sinbad The Sailor at the Royal Opera House Leicester, Christmas 1959/60

 

Running pantomimes in the fifties was a great deal different economically than it is today. A typical touring show going around number three theatres for five weeks at such dates as the Palace Attercliffe, Theatre Royal Bilston, and Queen's Park Hippodrome Manchester would cost around £300 per week. There would be no name to top the bill but an established comic from the touring revue circuit at a salary of not more than £30 a week, a supporting cast averaging £12 to £15 per week, a troupe of eight dancers on five pounds a week and a musical director on around £15 a week.

The show would take on an average £600 per week and the split between the producer and the theatre would not be higher than 65%/35% in the producer's favour because the theatre paid for the resident orchestra. Theatre costs would average around £l50 per week so the producer averaged a profit of £90 per week and the theatre £60. Over a period of five weeks the producer's profit added up to £450; if he had four pantomimes out that made a profit of £2250 over the season which was not bad in those days, you could live comfortably on that for the rest of the year and not bother to produce another show if you so wished.

The situation was much better for producers such as Jack Gillam who produced shows that toured the good number two theatres such as the Palaces at Huddersfield and Halifax. The average take would be around £900 per week with the show costing on an average £400 per week over a six weeks tour. Again the split was 65/35 and the theatre running costs would be around £200 leaving the producer with £585 and the theatre with £315.

Gillam usually had a minimum of six pantomimes out so he averaged a profit on each one of them of £1110, multiply that by the six shows on tour over the period of six weeks and you reach a total profit of £6660 which was a nice little nest egg in 1952 and would help out a great deal if one of the touring revues that went out later in the year ran into financial trouble.

The big resident pantomimes in the large cities run by such producers as Sam Newsome Emile Littler and Tom Arnold were a different matter. The initial costs of mounting the pantomime in the first year could amount to £1500. This was amortized over a period of five years at £3000 per season. There were star names to pay in the fifties Jimmy Wheeler was earning £350 a week, Norman Evans £500, Albert Modley £400 and so on.A top principle boy such as Elizabeth French or Elsie Percival would earn £75 a week and have to provide their own tights and shoes and the supporting cast would average between £l5 and £40 per week.The Musical director was paid around £20, a stage management team of three plus wardrobe mistress £60 and a troupe of sixteen dancers and six singers £6 a week each. A speciality act was usually added at around £150. The producer also paid for any augumentation of the resident theatre orchestra, a percentage of stage and orchestra overtime plus his share of publicity. P.R.S. was split on the same ratio as the contract terms, which again were usually 65/35 Only the Dancers stage management wardrobe mistress chorus, and musical director were paid half salary during rehearsal. The rest worked for nothing during the period.

The average cost of a pantomime running for ten weeks would be around £l500 a week the theatre costs £800. The average take would be approximately £5000 during the weeks around Christmas and £3500 for the last six weeks of the run. Making a total of £41000. The pantomime cost the producer £15000 the theatre costs were £8000 leaving the producer a profit of £11700 over the ten week season and they all had a minimum of six pantomimes which left them with £70200 clear profit. Not bad for l952. The theatre had a profit of £6300 which was a nice cushion for the rest of the year.

All these figures are gleaned from show accounts of the times and personal experience over a period of fifty years they are also net of entertainment tax which was in operation fifty years ago and include fixed costs such as offices and their staff plus scenic and wardrobe stores. Compare the percentage profit margins with the those of present day pantomimes and see without difficulty what a different game it is now.

Donald Auty 2003

Also by Donald Auty on this site:
A Stage Struck Man - A profile of Donald Auty.
Those Variety days
Pantomime in the 1940s 1950s
Pantomime economics of 50 years ago
Summer at the Winter Gardens and Pavilion Bournemouth 1961- 67
Working Newcastle's Palace Theatre in the 1950s
Bridlington Summer 1963
Twighlight of the Touring Review
Blackpool Wonderful Blackpool
Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties

 

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