Happy 110th Birthday to the legendary London Palladium!

The world-famous home of variety, The London Palladium, has had a long and colourful history since its opening on Boxing Day, 26th December 1910.

Always signifying the biggest stars, the finest productions and the most memorable entertainment, the theatre has had the good fortune to have some theatre greats at its helm – producer George Black who first promoted high-speed variety here in the late twenties with huge success. In the thirties he first brought the Royal Variety Shows here, as well as creating the Crazy Gang, who made audiences laugh for the next three decades. From the forties on, international stars became more and more in favour by the UK audiences and the world’s biggest starts appeared for a week or two, in between their other commitments to radio, movies or TV. In the fifties, Val Parnell was at the helm for Sunday Night at the London Palladium, TV’s legendary variety show which aired on the theatre’s one day off from its regular show commitments, drawing huge viewing figures for the new commercial TV network and cementing the theatre’s international status as the home of variety. Val’s son Jack Parnell conducted the Palladium orchestra for many years of the show and was a very in-demand conductor for TV and stage.

Also legendary at the Palladium were the pantomimes- always lavish, with big sets, gorgeous costumes, top talent and guaranteed full houses from opening night to closing night. Back in the day, panto season could last as long as from Boxing Day to Easter!

But what of the fabulous building itself? It was designed by the legendary Frank Matcham with his signature long, low balconies which hugged the stage and gave a genuine feeling of intimacy, despite the theatre being one of London’s largest – currently seating just under 2300. What also helped was Matcham’s style of construction which did away with the need for supporting pillars which gave unobstructed views from all three levels- Stalls, Dress Circle and Upper Circle.

Built on the site of a previous circus and wine cellars, the new theatre was an instant hit with performers and audiences alike.

For those of you interested to know what the place looked like upon opening, here is a report from THE ERA newspaper from 24th December 1910, two days before opening.

‘Brilliant in white and gold, with seating in warm red, the house sounds the last word in luxury and appointment, and the magnificent sweep of the dress circle presents a remarkable appearance from the stage.

In the great Palm Court at the back of the stalls, one thousand persons can be comfortably served with tea. This is a very striking feature of the Palladium and the Palm Court is of all Norwegian Rose granite which, especially, looks extremely attractive.

The decorations are very beautiful, Rose du Barri hangings adorn the boxes, and upholstery of the same colour has been employed in the stalls, while the orchestra is enclosed by a marble balustrade, Generally speaking, the colour scheme of the walls is pink, white and gold, with coloured marbles, and certainly there is not a dull note anywhere.

The walls of the main vestibule are painted silver. Perhaps the most unique feature is the box to box telephone that has been installed. It will therefore be possible for the occupants of one box, recognising friends in another box, to enter into conversation with them.’

Topping the bill at the Palladium was seen as the apex of the entertainment world for decades, and rightly so. The Palladium always stood for the best and that’s what audiences understood- and appreciated.

Some Palladium seasons of the stars have become legendary – from Danny Kaye’s several appearances in the late 40s and early 50s, to Judy Garland’s unforgettable seasons at a place she felt so much at home (there is a bust of Judy to remind us of the superlative talent that has graced that extraordinary stage).

After World War Two the theatre changed ownership to Moss Empires, where it stayed until the merger with Stoll to become Stoll Moss Theatres. As a Stoll Moss manager in the 1980s I was privileged to be part of the management team at the Palladium from time to time. My favourite time there was during the year-long run of Allan Carr’s flamboyant and fabulous LA CAGE AUX FOLLES starring George Hearn and Denis Quilley. It was a gloriously risque farce, but its Jerry Herman music made its charms accessible to the widest audience- and showed off its heart of gold at its centre. There was some tension with such a daring show being at the home of family entertainment, and perhaps the theatre’s huge capacity along with the AIDS crisis then unfolding so mercilessly, all contributed to the show not running for many more years. There was definitely a tension between the show and the theatre which made it susceptible to variances in public perceptions. However, a year at the Palladium is pretty amazing going!

During my time at Stoll Moss, the General Manager was a wonderful man called John Avery who had steered the Palladium through the sixties and seventies. It was very much his home, and everyone spoke very affectionately about him – rightly so, for although being fastidious for details, he was a very kind man who loved theatre and theatre people and the audiences who came. I never met anyone who had less than a kind word for John

One thing I must mention about the Palladium -which has now gone -was the enormous ticket office, which sat as a separate unit to the left of the theatre’s facade as you stand outside. It was absolutely vast! With huge wooden carousels of books of printed tickets (all this is pre-computers of course), banks of desk and telephones, it felt as large as a football field, with many windows open for different types of booking – same day, advance and special concerts, reflecting the incredible busy-ness of this incredible building.

I felt very lucky to have been part of the management at this iconic building, and for all the people that I met, including impresario Harold Fielding, showman supreme Robert Nesbit and many others – all of whom were unfailingly kind, modest and generous. Fielding’s glorious SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN with Tommy Steele ran at the Palladium for five straight years in the early 1980s, a glamorous (and ambitious) scene-for-scene rerun of the classic movie which took audiences’ breath away – and made a heck of a lot of money in the process!

For anyone interested in finding out more about this jewel in the crown of variety, in my opinion the best book you can get is The London Palladium – The Story of the Theatre and its Stars by Chris Woodward, which you can find on Amazon here

I’m raising a glass to you and thanking you for the memories, Palladium!


You can now watch all five entertaining Brixton Music Hall talks for free!

Music Hall artistes waiting to go on at the Royal Music Hall. Undated photo from the arthurlloyd.co.uk website

The month of September welcomed Music Hall Wednesdays (part of Lambeth Heritage Festival’s first totally ‘online’ season) which gave an entertaining look at Brixton and Lambeth’s Music Hall history from a number of viewpoints.

The organisers have now loaded all five talks to their YouTube channel (Music Hall Brixton and Beyond). So if you missed out on a talk, or enjoyed them so much you want to go back and see them again, they are all now available online for you to enjoy at your leisure.

Here’s a quick reminder about each talk:


COME ROUND ANY OLD TIME – BRIXTON’S MUSIC HALL COMMUNITY, where Sue McKenzie looks at how and why Brixton was home to so many people from music hall, early cinema and variety in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She also tells the stories of some of the performers in what was a precarious and unpredictable world. Link to Sue’s talk here


THE EMPRESS THEATRE OF VARIETIES, where Bill Linskey talks about the history of The Empress Theatre of Varieties, now long-demolished. Opened in 1898 it quickly became one of Brixton’s best-known venues; described as ‘one of the finest of London’s suburban music halls’. Link to Bill’s talk here

RESEARCHING BRIXTON’S MUSIC HALL CONNECTIONS, where Christine Beddoe and Tracey Gregory share stories of music hall people associated with the legendary address Glenshaw Mansions on Brixton Road and reveal some of the sources they have used to uncover the stories. Link to Christine and Tracey’s talk here


MUSIC HALL JUGGLERS OF LAMBETH, Charlie Holland’s talk on music hall jugglers features original props, posters, programmes and photographs, and draws you into the globe-trotting lives of Paul Cinquevalli, the Mongadors, and Hanvarr & Lee. Link to Charlie’s talk here.


INTERNATIONAL MUSIC HALL is an interesting panel discussion on how music hall linked Brixton to the world, and how changing performance names and personas disguised true identities. Featuring Alison Young (a solicitor who has turned her research skills to exploring the lives of her paternal family of music hall performers); Steve Martin, (Brixton based historian and author specialising in Black British history); Amy Matthewson, (Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London). Link to the panel discussion here

In addition to the talks, the Music Hall Brixton and Beyond collection on the fascinating historical website Layers of London continues to grow. They now have over 50 short histories of music hall people in and around Brixton. You can explore street by street.
It’s well worth a visit, and all praise to the contributors for the ingenious way it has been created and the detail which is available. You can find LAYERS OF LONDON by clicking here

The group have been delighted by the large online attendance for each of these events and are consequently planning more talks and possibly walks live or virtual.

Please do share the links to the talks and the Layers of London music hall collection with anyone you think might be interested. They’re all well worth a look!


The drama behind the drama: listen to the tortuous birth story of the National Theatre

Broadcast recently again on BBC Sounds, THE NATIONAL is a fascinating listen. Written by Sarah Wooley, this three-part drama about the creation of the National Theatre on London’s South Bank features all the main players: Sir Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Tynan, Lord Goodman, The Lord Chamberlain, Peter Hall and Harold Pinter as well as many others.

You can listen to THE NATIONAL by clicking here

(Please note – users outside the UK may not be able to access BBC online programming – but give it a try anyway!)


Enjoy an online journey through Streatham’s Theatre History

Foyer of Streatham Hill Theatre. Photo courtesy Tim Hatcher

When entertainment was not readily available or affordable, Streatham-ites have always made it themselves. The first building constructed with theatre in mind was opened in 1888, and within 40 years, the entertainment on offer in Streatham rivalled that of the West End. This online talk reflects the way in which professional and amateur theatre have complemented each other through the ages, and shows how talented amateurs became stars of the West End stage.

This comprehensive online talk is on Tuesday 15th September 7.00-8.30pm BST and will be given by Liz Burton of the Streatham Society, Streatham Theatre Company and Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre

Book here to request a place and enter “Theatre” in the subject

This event is hosted by the Streatham Society. Part of Lambeth Heritage Festival 2020.

You may also be interested to read my comprehensive and fully-illustrated article about the jewel in Streatham’s theatrical crown, the 2800-seater Streatham Hill Theatre (which has just celebrated its 92nd birthday). Read the article here


Listen to Beside the Seaside – a nostalgic sound portrait of the Golden Age of UK holidays

Available to listen to now until September 1st is a jolly celebration of the British seaside in all its glory, a compilation of seaside-related material from the BBC Sound Archive.

Seaside entertainer Tony Lidington takes a trip to Brighton for BBC Radio 4 Extra and reflects how this city has inspired a wealth of seaside memories captured in the BBC Sound Archive.

Tony came to Brighton in the eighties as a student and set up his own Pierrot Troupe, The Pierroters, named after the rotting West Pier which was the subject of a Kaleidoscope feature made in 1995.

There are first hand memories of what it was like to go on a seaside holiday between the wars in a programme called ‘Sand Between the Toes’ made in 1984.

Tony meets Max Tyler, an expert on the Fol De Rols, and he and Tony hear them perform in an extraordinary piece of archive from 1937 when four of the shows hundreds of miles apart were brought together live by the magic of wireless.

There are also insights into Brighton’s very own Cheeky Chappie as Tony visits a Fish and Chip Shop in Brighton where the Max Miller Society has set up a museum.

‘Casting Shadows’ a wonderfully evocative play by Mark Burgess conjures up an imaginary meeting between the actor Laurence Oliver, playwright Terence Rattigan and Brighton’s famous seaside entertainer, Max Miller. Roy Hudd headlines as Miller.

Gavin Henderson, president of the National Piers Society, reveals that seaside piers were initially places of sophistication, almost the arts centres of their day, and Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust looks to the future and the plans to create a new vertical Pier on Brighton seafront.

Tony celebrates the Great Days of the West Pier in his 1995 Archive Hour programme ‘Oh What a Lovely Pier!’ with contributions from the late Corin Redgrave among others.

The programmes featured within ‘4 Extra at the British Seaside’ in chronological order, with approximate timings are:
Pierrotters on Tour (from Kaleidoscope) – 8 minutes

Sand Between the Toes – Memories of Seaside holidays between the wars (1984) – 27 minutes

Casting Shadows, a play by Mark Burgess, starring Roy Hudd – 44 minutes

Oh What a Lovely Pier! (Archive Hour from 1995) – 56 minutes

This fascinating celebration can be heard at the BBC Sounds site until September 1st.

LISTENING PERIOD ENDED