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Betty’s Blog Thursday 23rd January 2014

January 24, 2014

An afternoon tea matinee. The Music Hall felt very cosy today, as outside the weather is cold and dull. What better way to spend the afternoon in a spotty frock eating Danish pastries after telling Dick Whittington to leave your shop and get off to Highgate Hill?

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We are not the only Panto running at the moment, there are still a few going- and Birmingham will finish its hugely successful run of “Snow White” on February 2nd. My mate Gary Wilmot has played his first Dame, and I got the kudos (and I suppose the Qdos!) s of doing his make-up for the photo shoot this Summer. After having such a laugh with him as Buttons over a few pantomimes, this was a jolly day in the studio!  Sorry I can’t be there for their party at the Hippodrome, it will be the first one I’ve missed in years, but Betty is needed here in the home of Music Hall!

We had a packed house today. Quite a few large parties in, and a really good crowd. My revised entrance into “Copacabana” certainly worked, and got a nice “whooo!”- a couple of extra notes and a clean entrance makes all the difference! They love the “Busy Bee” gag. It has all but vanished from the modern pantomimes today. I can’t think when I last saw it in a big glossy panto production. I have to say it would be one of the favourites I reckon in an audience poll here. They can’t get enough of it! Andrew and Paul make the most out of its sheer silliness!

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The changes are getting slicker as predicted. Time to scoop up and hang up the discarded costumes, and hang them up. Team Ellie and Team Anna are on the ball- especially when a certain Dame was heading for a frilled frock when the costume next on was a Deckchair. Thank you Ellie- you steered me in the right direction! The talk in Number Two dressing room today was of a pantomime back in the eighties- and It got me thinking of those pantomimes back in the 1880’s… No, I certainly wasn’t in that one! I got to thinking about the way Music Hall altered pantomime in such a way, that it is the template for what we call Panto today.

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Thanks to that enterprising chap at Drury Lane- Augustus Harris- he brought together the cream of the music hall and attracted a working class audience into the increasingly middle and upper class pantomimes, and created the format we have here today. Without his foresight there would be no “Busy Bee” in panto- the Drill and Mop routine would not have made it from Variety to Panto and I would probably not be in a dress as those Music Hall Comics were a hundred and thirty odd years ago. The idea of marrying Music Hall to Panto was brilliant!

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So.. at the risk of boring you lot.. I thought I’d drop in a bit of Music Hall archive into the blog every now and then, in honour of Brick Lane! Here’s a light Bite- A “Puss In Boots” bill from 1888. You might think that’s a very very long time ago, but the house I live in is about the same age. Its a bit draughty, a bit worn, but like Pantomime, it is still holding me up, and putting a roof over my head!

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It certainly has a dream cast- topping the  bill was Eugene Stratton, described as “The Birmingham Favourite”.      Stratton was the minstrel star of music halls who first brought the song   “Lily of Laguna” to the stage. Born in America in 1861,  Eugene Stratton     arrived in Great Britain with “Haverley’s Minstrels” in 1881, and starred in     Music Hall from 1892. He specialised in sentimental songs in blackface,     among them “Little Dolly Day Dream” and “I May Be Crazy”.A member of the   Grand Order of Water Rats, he became “King Rat” of this charitable   organisation in 1896, and again in 1900. He died in 1918.

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Brick Lane’s Panto cast has, of course a King Rat in the shape of Rusty Goffe- but in fact three members of that same organisation The Grand Order Of Water Rats are in this dressing room with me, and the organisation is still flourishing.

Paul     Cinquevalli  also known as “The     Human Billiard Table” (a part of his act) he could play billiards on his own     back better than most people could on a table! He was originally a trapeze     artist, becoming a juggler after suffering an accident. He first appeared in     Britain in 1885, and became the premier juggler and equilibrist in the     United Kingdom. He had played “Slave of the Lamp” to Dan Leno’s Widow     Twankey in Aladdin at Drury Lane in 1895. He too died in 1918.

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Marie Dainton,     playing Principal Girl in this production was one of Music Hall’s leading     ladies- she, along with Marie Lloyd, Little Tich and Joe Elvin were the     headliners who began the “Music Hall War” of 1907. These artists persuaded     others to strike for better pay and conditions in Music Hall, and to picket     those theatres that broke the strike. The strike lasted for a month,     following the creation of the V.A.F (Variety Artist’s Federation”) and was     the forerunner of our present day “Actors Equity Association”.

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    Fred Emney,     the burlesque comedian who played Dame Shortly in this pantomime was the  father of the character and film actor of the same name. He was born a year  after this production finished its run in Birmingham. Fred Senior was born     in 1865, and first appeared in pantomime  at Sadlers Wells in 1895. He     appeared as Dame in the Lyceum Theatre London in 1894, and as Nurse in   “Sleeping Beauty” at Drury Lane in 1900, and again in 1906 as Empress  opposite Harry Randall as Mrs Crusoe. In 1916 Fred Emney appeared as     Baroness in Cinderella at the London Opera House . It was to be a tragic  pantomime for him- on the opening night, whilst performing the “Whitewashing     scene” with the Brothers Egbert, he slipped on some soapsuds and fell     heavily onto the stage. The audience, thinking it was part of his routine  laughed and applauded, but it was his last appearance. Fred Emney died a  week later on 7th January, 1917.

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So there you are, a daily dose of Music Hall direct from one of the very few surviving Music Halls in the country! If its not to your taste, feel free to skim over it- I offer it up as a homage!

Tomorrow we have an evening show, so I’ll be arriving here at eight O’clock for a nine O’clock show. We should be down around eleven.

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One Comment
  1. Terry Powell permalink

    How thoughtful of you to remind us of our theatrical heritage. My grandfather Robert Charles Pether was part of a famous Music Hall act ‘Rusty and Shine’ from the early 1900’s until his death in 1935. I never knew him but he’s remembered on the few photographs I have. Give me an old house anytime, Nigel; mine’s 1938 so forget cavity insulation but love it! Have a great run!

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