Skip to content

Betty’s Blog-Remembering The City Varieties!

February 24, 2014

Saturday 22nd February 2014


Our last but one Evening Show! All the remaining shows- we close on Saturday March 8th– are either Lunchtime or Tea Matinee shows with the exception of that final Saturday.

To take a look at the Brick Lane Website- details of shows and backstage features, and a great feature on the career of Rusty Goffe- go to:

Rusty’s feature is in the “backstage News” section! Some excellent photos!

It was to capacity again this evening, and we had parties in from East London, Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire. Vincent has recovered from his cold and was on top form, and the audience was whooping and cheering from the off! The old gag we do in the shop that involves Betty being swindled over Cheese, Tea and Bacon gets a round of applause more often than not these days. Nice to see a traditional bit of business- no idea how old it is, being appreciated! There’s hope for me yet!

Had a chat with Andy about a show he’s done this half term week. He’s been percussion on two or three of Barrie Stacey’s shows “Snow White” this week. It seems only a short while ago that Peter Robbins and I, along with Andrew Ryan, Laura Nayman, Taryn Kaye, Jo Castleton and Adrian Jeckells were doing those shows for Barrie- and before that with Lorinda King, Russell Grant and Sue Hodge!


I spoke to Barrie today- Eighty Seven Years young! He truly MUST be this country’s oldest working producer and agent! He’s bright as a button and constantly on the go. There is a moral there I think- Barrie has never stopped and he is still in love with the “Business of Show!”

In to see our show tonight was Peter and Gail Sandeman. I have known Peter for a very long time- from way back when he took over Swansea Grand House Manager from my Brother Vivyan, through Cardiff and just as I stopped touring to the famous City Varieties in Leeds, he took over there, and remained the driving force behind this, the finest and one of the oldest Music Halls  until he left in 2012.


Peter truly resurrected the City Varieties. I can remember him going up to Leeds in the late eighties- he started there I think in 1987- and remained at the helm through its recent nine and a half million pound refurbishment.He brought back The Good Old Days to its original home, and it was a great delight to have him sitting out front here at Brick Lane tonight.


The City Varieties was built in 1865, as “Thornton’s NewMusic Hall”. In its day it survived as a Music Hall attached to the White Swan Pub – and it has taken one hundred years for this to happen again- the refurb included rejoining up with the Swan Pub underneath.

On that tiny stage Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton appeared. Harry Lauder, Lily Langtry and the top stars of Music Hall trod those boards.

images59ZF4U54  imagesDEQL1Z0E

The BBC began a television programme featuring the City Varieties in 1953. It continued until 1983- “The Good Old Days” put a stamp on what the public thought a traditional Music Hall was really like. A Chairman, banging his gavel, introducing “at ENORMOUS expense”, An orchestra led by Mr Bernard Hermann and chiefly….. YOURSELVES”- Leonard Sachs, of the Players Theatre created the Chairman to outdo all chairmans!

Sadly, the Theatre itself was a bit dog eared and sepia coloured even before the BBC moved in to make television history with this amazing show. (it was huge in Scandanavia. So much so that when I worked at the Engelen Music Hall in Stockholm in the ‘70’s the audience, who spoke hardly any English would chant “At ENORMOUS Expense” loud and clear!).


During the Variety days and after the War, the theatre struggled. Television was creating empty houses everywhere. The resourceful management- at that time Harry Joseph (from 1941) found a niche. It was all “Naughty.. But Nice!” and the City Varieties had a reputation for presenting bawdy shows, often striptease and “Living Statues” with titles like “Stripperama” and “She Stoops to Striptease”- a sort of low budget version of London’s “Windmill Theatre”.


The wonderful Billy Dainty (later to become one of our best “Dames”) in a Strip Show. Beneath him is Peter Ross. Peter changed his name to Johnny Dallas and became a popular Dame too.

Barry Cryer, later to work as comic at The Windmill (The Theatre boasted “We Never Closed” for its Wartime effort to the troops) had his first paid job at the City Varities in Leeds.


The Good Old Days, produced by Barney Colehan presented the top stars of the day in Music Hall Whimsicality! Danny La Rue, Eartha Kitt, Frankie Vaughan (discovered by the Theatre Owner Harry Joseph), Barbara Windsor, Barry Howard and John Inman, Ted  and Hilda Durante, Lesley Crowther, the list is endless- they all appeared here in a setting where the public wore period costume.

The BBC decorated the parts that the camera saw, but the rest of the building was not looking so good. That lavish “Passorelle” walkway over the orchestra was a BBC creation, and when they finished the series in 1983 they took it all with them.

imagesQS2TEB42  imagesJNUDBFBD  images0Q3XSYN1  imagesRQZ9WXCU

Johnny Dallas is now billed in Glamorama. His former stage name Peter Ross now left behind.

By now Harry Joseph had died and the running of the building fell to his sons, Stanley and Michael Joseph from 1962. Those “Naughty But Nice” shows returned, and the last feather fan flicked past a naked lady in 1968.


Wally Coe was Stage Manager. He featured in the Television version and ran the backstage for what seemed forever. By the time I was doing shows there in the eighties he was still going strong. He sat in his chair in what we kindly called “The Green Room”, the down at heel room before the stage entrance, with a plyboard partitioned “Number One” dressing room next to it.

imagesEBTPGGGT  untitled

Wally was by now hard of hearing. As was Tiggy his dog who slept in the room. They both guarded “the vending machine” which Wally seemed to have the catering franchise to! It dispensed very weak coffetea or teacoffee, depending on what had last trickled out!

Wally loved racing. On a Saturday matinee all you could hear on stage (and in the auditorium I think) was the Two Thirty from Aintree.. it blasted out!


We did a lot of early shows. Ten o’clock and one thirty or two o’clocks. The upstairs at that time was, if I remember blocked off as it was felt to be not entirely useable for a while. There was a dingy alleyway leading to the stage door- past Peggy in the Box Office cabin, and up the stairs.


The dressing rooms smelled of pasties. Pasties and pies. Ainsley’s Pie and Cake shop was next door. I ate a lot of pasties when I played the Varieties!

I recall very low ceilings, with sharp sprinkler alarms that you banged your head on, and narrow stairs. It was here I did “Wind In The Willows” a good few times on tour.


Me with Peter as Otter and Badger!

Peter and I earned our money! We were Edward The Horse, followed by Otter and Badger, then I ran and took off Otter to be Policeman, Peter ran and became a Judge, then I ran upstairs and painted my face Gold and wore a furry leotard and tights and legged it downstairs to portray “The Great God Pan” at “The Gates Of Dawn”,

Dawn was bloomin’ late one matinee. I hoofed it downstairs, gasping. Grabbed my Pan Pipes. Sat behind the gauze frozen to be revealed. I sat. I sat.. The narrator finished the bit about The Great God Pan.. the gauze never revealed me, and I hoofed it upstairs again to wipe off gold and make up as an Otter!. Ah the joys of touring!


I LOVED the City Varieties! It was here that Marc Seymour worked, alongside Andrew Ryan.. I’m pretty certain I did “A Christmas Carol” with Vincent Hayes here at least once- He was Cratchit I was Marley.. I loved the venue and the fact that it was right in the middle of Leeds. The Josephs would see the first show – we generally opened the shows there for Charles Haley and John Farrow- “Christmas Carol”, “Pinocchio”, “Alice In Wonderland” and “Wind In The Willows”. Wally in the corner and Tiggy asleep in the Green Room.

Terry Cantor put a lot of Pantomimes on here, and Peter Sandeman introduced the “Rock & Roll” Pantomimes that became very popular.

imagesQJ61H82X  imagesWDH13RFI

In Coster Costume- Mr Peter John at the Varieties!

All these wonderful memories flooding back, all thanks to Peter Sandeman- General Manager there for Twenty Four Years- He saw the new refurbishment through to its completion. It is a very different building to the shabby but lovely 70’s building. It is fully functioning and you no longer hear the racing on a Saturday- but it still (to my knowledge) only has ONE entrance to the stage. You can only enter & Exit Stage Left! Not good if you’re a Panto Fairy!

There is a lovely little book out, written by Caroline Fields all about life backstage at the Cuty Varieties- along with people’s memories of working there- it’s called “Caroline Fields- Book Of Memories” and is £9.99 plus P&P  on behalf of the Friends Of The City Varieties. You can email for a copy : or look for it on Amazon. I stocked up for last Christmas- its fun!

Here’s a link to the details:

Thanks for the memories Mr Sandeman!

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: