Wilson, Keppel and Betty dance again!

The best-loved music hall act of all time? Wilson, Keppel and Betty. Image uncredited

Music Hall legends Wilson, Keppel and Betty were given a much-welcomed extra exposure on Sunday 30th January on Talking Pictures TV’s THE FOOTAGE DETECTIVES, where newly-discovered film is restored and aired.

For those unaware of these legendary figures, they graced music hall and variety stages from the 1930s until 1962, with their most-repeated signature piece being an eccentric sand dance in a sequence known as Cleopatra’s Nightmare which has become legendary in music hall history.

THE FOOTAGE DETECTIVES’ highlight was the airing of film discovered by Wilson, Keppel and Betty biographer Alan Stafford (His book is entitled TOO NAKED FOR THE NAZIS) with the famous trio in 1949, in rehearsal for a pantomime at no other venue than the illustrious Dudley Hippodrome. Aside from giving us the only known colour footage of the famous trio, the film was a fascinating overview of preparation and rehearsals for a major regional pantomine, quite probably unique as a film record of a time sadly long-gone.

You can catch up with the programme by watching it on the channel’s on-demand service, Talking Pictures TV Encore, which you can find at http://tptvencore.co.uk Episode 11 is the one you’ll need to select.

You can see a trailer in the Twitter link below

Early Bob Fosse

Now screening on BBC TWO and BBC iplayer in the UK, there’s a lot of interest around the multi-Emmy nominated 8-part biographical series FOSSE/VERDON co-produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Oscar winner Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon, the husband/wife dance legends of the 50s/60s/70s.

Watch a trailer for FX’s Fosse/Verdon here

Verdon was Fosse’s third wife (1960 until 1971). His first wife was Mary Ann Niles (1949-1951) who he danced with in the revue CALL ME MISTER on Broadway in 1946/7. Graduating into the fledgling world of television, Fosse made an early solo appearance on the fourth episode of the first series of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show as part of a comedy dance routine with Burns and nightclub dancer Harrison Muller (aired Nov 23rd 1950 on CBS – you can find the episode here) and together with Niles were guest dancers on several episodes of the 1950-51 season of YOUR HIT PARADE. By that time, they had been spotted by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who had recently exploded into television as rotating (six-weekly) regular hosts of NBC’s weekly big-budget COLGATE COMEDY HOUR (1950-1956). Fosse has said that Jerry Lewis gave him his first chance to choreograph on this show, and we can see this early work in these clips from all three of their 1951 appearances on the show, available from the treasure trove that is YouTube, and with thanks to the kind people who have shared them.

Episode 22, 4 Feb 1951

Hosts: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Guests: Polly Bergen, Bob Fosse and Mary Ann Niles

Fosse & Niles clip here

Episode 34, 29 April 1951

Hosts: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Guests: Helen O’Connell, Bob Fosse & Mary Ann Niles

This show originated from Chicago, where Martin and Lewis and guest Helen O’Connell were appearing at the Chez Paree nightclub

Fosse & Niles 0.10 in until 5.20

Episode 37, 20 May 1951

Hosts: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Guests: Jane Morgan, Bob Fosse & Mary Ann Niles, cameo by Eddie Cantor

Fosse & Niles 18.24 in until 23.00

And the rest, as they say, is history….


Videotape was not invented until the end of the 1950s, and consequently most TV went out live. The precious recordings that survive have nothing like the technical quality that we are used to today.

These recordings are kinescopes. That is, a very basic process whereby a film camera is set up in front of a TV monitor and the sound and vision are directly recorded from that broadcast. Often the major reason a show was kinescoped was in order that the advertising agencies (who bankrolled the shows) had a record of the programme to show to their advertisers. Thankfully, a lot of kinescopes survived, and thanks to these we can see many long-gone stars of stage and screen at something like their best.

Thanks to YouTube posters and Jim Davidson’s Classic TV Info site