Jack Hylton – Boltonian renaissance man

Jack Hylton.
Photo from jackhylton.com website with thanks

When Jack Hylton died on January 29th, 1965, the lights across the West End went dark for five whole days. This, if nothing else, will give you an idea of the enormous impact of this man who in his time had been musician, bandleader, impresario, television pioneer, agent- and so much more.

July 2nd marks the 130th anniversary of Hylton’s birth.

Born in Great Lever, near Bolton, Lancashire on 2nd July 1892, Hylton learned the piano at a young age, to support other performers and to accompany himself whist singing in workers clubs. Working in a musical capacity the with Army during World War One, later he found himself in London where he could pick up work. An accomplished arranger, his style captured the vivacity in sound of the new jazzy imports from America, and his work became highly popular with record-buying audiences.

Ever-ambitious, in 1922, Hylton set up not only his own band, but a number of others too, under the banner of the Jack Hylton Organisation. What distinguished Hylton’s band was that it was larger than audiences had come to expect, with 20 or more players. Combine this with his crisp and toe-tapping arrangements and his dedication to the jazz sound which he evangelically toured across the UK, Hylton was highly-respected and acclaimed as the UK’s King of Jazz , although his music’s popularity extended far beyond the British Isles, into Europe and also the US (where his appearances were curtailed by the Americans Musicians Union).

Hylton’s vivacious arrangements and big band sound were the UK’s closest rivals to the American bands, but the driving quality of his “hot” arrangements and his tender arrangements of the slower, moodier numbers showed an enviable range and versatility of expression that audiences ate up. His success flourished greatly through the 1930s, to the extent that in 1935 he even created a band for his wife to take out on tour – Mrs Jack Hylton and Her Band – who toured the UK extensively and cut over 30 records in 1935 and 1936, capitalising on hubby’s name-draw.

1935 saw Jack’s band headline in a revue, Life Begins at Oxford Circus, at the London Palladium, presented by Jack Hylton himself, and also make their first film, She Shall Have Music, at Twickenham Studios.

With an enviable confidence, ingenuity and unstoppably positive attitude, Hylton was a man who made things happen- a man who truly believed in himself. It’s interesting to note that on a 1942 appearance on the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs, four of the eight records he chose to take with him to his desert island were his own recordings!

World War Two saw some of his finest players called up for war service, and the band was officially disbanded. With these huge changes, Hylton refocused his energies on developing his role as an impresario, discovering new talent, and overseeing theatre, film and radio productions, as well as becoming a leading agent for established and new stars. He presented stage shows, revues, plays, orchestral concerts, ballets, circuses and every imaginable form of entertainment, bringing to them all his unwavering eye for showmanship and a sense of what the public wanted. His stature in the business was such that his many successful shows came to be known as the biggest hits on London stages, and on subsequent UK tours, for years to come.

Always with an eye to the future, Hylton was aware of the potential of television and at the outset of commercial TV in the UK in 1955, he was engaged as consultant for Light Entertainment to Associated-Rediffusion (A-R), the company which had won the London region weekday franchise. His newly-formed television production company produced a wide range of light entertainment fare exclusively for A-R to fill out their schedule, mostly using stars who were represented by Hylton. The sheer volume of work put together quickly meant that quality was highly variable, and tended towards the lower end of the quality scale, with performers apologising on-screen for issues and gaffes. Material was stretched perilously thin- a stage play was chopped into five half-hour segments and broadcast weekly; some Hylton artistes began appearing with rather more frequency than viewers were expecting or hoping for (according to letters received, stored in the archives). This included the over-exposure of his then-lover, opera singer Rosalina Neri (at the time dubbed “the Italian Marilyn Monroe”), who would pop up and burst into song with alarming frequency on many Hylton productions. The Hylton television output was often derided by critics, but a number of his shows were big ratings winners for A-R, proving that Hylton still knew what the public wanted. The Hylton Organisation’s huge undertaking to provide large amounts of tv product was hugely draining, and he refused to renew his contract in 1959 when invited. The general consensus was that his television work was largely unsuccessful.

Continuing to produce theatre shows right up until his death, his last stage production was CAMELOT in 1965. When Hylton passed away at the end of that January, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, a televised tribute to Hylton, “The Stars Shine for Jack”, which was staged on Sunday 30 May, featuring a long list of artists who Hylton had represented, presented and nurtured, including Arthur Askey, the Crazy Gang, Marlene Dietrich, Dickie Henderson and Shirley Bassey. The proceeds from the show benefitted the Jack Hylton Memorial Fund, which gave £35,000 to Lancaster University to build the Jack Hylton Music Rooms in his honour, which are still used to this day.

As someone who lived life to its fullest, Hylton was not constrained by as many societal rules as others – he had a reputation for having a good time, lavish spending and enjoyed the company of women. He was also a deeply loyal friend – many stories abound about his generosity to those fading from the spotlight – when showfolk faced hardship, Hylton could be relied upon for a helping hand. He was truly one of the old school of theatre makers who never forgot a friendship, unlike many of those who succeeded him.

Any one of his talents would be worth celebrating on their own, but for this unique man who left such a big impression on every area of showbusiness, it feels right to say Thank You- and Happy Birthday- Jack Hylton!

Below is a rare television biography of Hylton from 1967 which I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Thanks to YouTube poster Pete Faint for posting (Pete is also the man behind the Jack Hylton website mentioned below)

Those who want to know more about the amazing career of Jack Hylton would enjoy a trip to the Jack Hylton website, where you’ll find much more information. Find it here

Camden People’s Theatre launches New Programmers Scheme

If you, or someone you know, is an aspiring Artistic Director or Programmer, then you’ll want to know about an amazing new opportunity – Camden People’s Theatre’s (CPT) New Programmers Scheme – which has recently been launched.

Until July 11th, they are inviting applications to join the scheme – it’s a rare and valuable opportunity to see shows, learn about programming and curation, and plug in to the heart of CPT’s artistic operation over the course of the next twelve months.

CPT says “Participants on CPT’s New Programmers Scheme will see shows on our behalf, write reports, and attend regular meetings with our programming team. We want to cast the net as widely as possible to find the best new work for us to support and stage. We also want to hear from you about artists and projects you find exciting and want to see on our stage.

In return, we offer training and insight into programme assembly and curation at one of the UK’s most excited and socially engaged theatres. This will include the opportunity to collectively programme a week of performance at CPT at the end of your year on the scheme.”

If you’re interested and keen to know more, then you can find out more details at CPT’s website here

Booking now open for KIDSWEEK

This August, KIDSWEEK is back, and tickets are now on sale!

A great way to save money on over 40 of London’s most exciting shows, KIDSWEEK lasts all through August. This year, there are 250,000 tickets included in the promotion, but please be aware the most popular shows get snapped up quickly, so take a look as soon as you can!

When an adult books a full price ticket, they can take a child (aged 17 or under) with them for free! Further children’s tickets can be booked at half price, so it’s a great way to treat the family that costs less than you thought!

Shows featured this year include My Fair Lady, Anything Goes, 101 Dalmatians, My Fair Lady,Back To The Future The Musical, Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, Dear Evan Hansen, Disney’s Frozen, Disney’s The Lion King, Mamma Mia, Mary Poppins, Matilda The Musical,The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe,The Play That Goes Wrong,The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Wicked…..and lots more!

Please be aware that not every performance will have the option of discounted tickets, so it’s best to start looking with a few dates in mind.

You can find more details about the shows featured this year, and book tickets here

Celebrate the Royal Theater, Baltimore on June 17th

Royal Theatre, Baltimore. uncredited photograph.

On Friday, June 17th at 6:00 pm BST, the Baltimore Architecture Foundation present REVIVING THE ROYAL THEATRE, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of this legendary now-lost theatre, its history and legacy.

This event comprises a talk about the theatre and the work being done to revive this historic community through the insights of three guest speakers.

Photojournalist Amy Davis will present vintage images of the Royal Theater and few of the other opulent movie palaces in its day looking through a social, cultural and architectural prism to understand Baltimore’s history. The Royal Theater, located at 1329 Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore, first opened in February 1922 as the black-owned Douglass Theatre before changing its name in 1925 to The Royal. It became the most famous theater along West Baltimore City’s Pennsylvania Avenue, one of a circuit of five such theaters for black entertainment in big cities, which hosted some of the world’s greatest musical acts and entertainers, before it was demolished in 1971.

James Hamlin, president and founder of The Royal Theater & Community Heritage Corporation, will share some of what is being done to preserve, promote, and recreate the greatness of the African American Historic West Baltimore Community and Historic Pennsylvania Avenue. In his words: “2-1-2-1-7 on Pennsylvania Avenue and the surrounding community were the epicenters of the African-American [life] in Baltimore. This is a community where Cab Calloway walked. This is where Billie Holiday landed. This is where Thurgood Marshall grew up. This is where every entertainer that you can think of has walked up and down The Avenue and entertained at The Royal Theatre.” Hamlin is also owner of The Avenue Bakery, a community hub and revival pioneer in the area.

Architect Kathleen Sherrill, AIA will highlight her work along the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, Maryland’s only designated Black Arts and Entertainment District. She firmly believes that architects should challenge themselves to play a key role in improving and supporting Baltimore’s underserved neighborhoods, guiding communities to invest in themselves and the next generation through ownership

This special programme is hosted in partnership with the Maryland Center for History and Culture, who are currently hosting the exhibit “Flickering Treasures” which runs through to September 2023.

This free event (donations requested if you feel able to contribute) lasts approximately one hour.

Tickets are donation based. We encourage you to give what you can to support BAF and Baltimore Heritage. Your support helps us make up for lost tour and program revenue from COVID-19 and create more virtual programs like this.

Book your ticket here

You may also be interested to note that the Baltimore Architecture Foundation (BAF) and Baltimore Heritage present the Virtual Histories Series: 30 minute live presentations and virtual tours focusing on Baltimore architecture, preservation and history, hosted twice a month on Fridays at 1:00 pm EST / 6.00pm BST.

NT talks about design

The National Theatre have been running on Instagram a very interesting weekly series of discussions about the design process and the experience of designing for the National Theatre, and giving audiences the chance to ask their own questions.

Each week a different designer talked about one of their show designs, and each week they featured a different design specialism including costume, set, lighting, puppetry, graphics and sound.

Although the NT’s Instagram Live Design Series has now finished, you can browse the archive for talks on the following:

Vicki Mortimer and Sarah Mercer on Follies Costume Designs
Jessica Hung Han Yun and Jack Williams on the Dick Whittington Lighting Design
Katrina Lindsay and Tariq Rifaat on the Small Island Set Design
Sam Wyer on the Ocean at the End of the Lane Puppetry Design
Rae Smith and Toby Olié on the War Horse Set Design
Bunny Christie and Anthony Newton on the After Life Set Design
Donato Wharton, Edward-Rhys Harry and Marc Tritschler on the Under Milk Wood Sound Design
Louise Richardson on the Under Milk Wood Graphic Design
Toby Olié and Audrey Brisson on the Pinnochio Puppetry Design

Find the IGTV Archive here