1961, London Prince of Wales

6th November, 1961

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Executive Producer: Bernard Delfont

Musical Director: Harold Collins

Stage Director: Charles Henry

The 1961 Royal Variety Performance, held at the Prince of Wales Theatre, had a new format, with the number of performers cut by about a third from the previous year, allowing each act to show off the artistes' true individuality.

The Queen Mother's pleasure at the result - Her Majesty was always a very keen variety fan - was evident, not least at a tribute paid to her by Maurice Chevalier.

At his brilliant best as compere this year was Bruce Forsyth. Better known to modern audiences as TV presenter, he had a brilliant way with the audience. This year he even managed to upstage Sammy Davis Junior with his impression of the great American star!

Davis appeared in a dancing scene with Lionel Blair, and there was other American talent on offer too, those comic geniuses Jack Benny and George Burns. The night also saw the wonderful Shirley Bassey in her Royal Variety debut.

As an example of some of the problems faced by the director of Royal Variety Performances, Robert Nesbitt recalls having to rehearse the orchestra at 8.30 in the morning of the show because the plane bringing Sammy Davis Junior into London had been delayed and hadn't arrived until the small hours of the morning. As he explained, in something of an understatement, "It's a very unfortunate hour to have to rehearse"

Unhappily, Charlie Drake was unable to appear because of an injury caused during his TV show. Charlie was knocked out during a stunt that went wrong and consequently suffered from loss of memory and sever concussion. He said, "I don't remember anything about the accident - or much else since."

There is a generally accepted rule among artistes appearing in the Royal Variety Show that the Royal Box is not addressed directly, but in 1961 there were two notable exceptions to this.

Predictably perhaps, the Crazy Gang lay behind one of these. As many in the audience that night recall, they came on and announced that there was a car blocking a side street outside the theatre, "I've got a number here,"  said Bud Flanagan, "HRH 1".  Then looking up at the Queen Mother, he said, "Throw us the keys down, Mam, and we'll move it for you"

Unknown to Her Majesty, there was someone stationed behind the box to throw a bunch of keys on to the stage, which 'brought the house down!'

The other instance came about when Maurice Chevalier asked Robert Nesbitt whether it would be all right to go over to the Royal Box during the second chorus of "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"  to sing it directly to the Queen Mother.

The answer was, "From you - yes, it would be alright."  So Chevalier did just that and when it came to the last line he made a charming alteration to end the song "You must have been a beautiful baby,,,,,because Majesty look at you now" - a gesture that enchanted all present.

Jack Benny and George Burns joined forces, with Benny in drag, to re-create the popular partnership of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Burns played himself and Benny, in a costume typical of those worn by the late comedienne, gave an hilarious impersonation of Gracie, the two of them recalling for millions of fans the television programme that had made the duo such firm favourites with British audiences. Burn's familiar closing line that invariably followed one of Gracie's ludicrous monologues had become a popular catch-phrase by now and the audience waited with delicious anticipation for him to take a long look, draw on his cigar and say quietly, "Just say goodnight, Gracie."

Many members of the audience missed their last tubes and buses due to the show over-running by nearly three-quarters of an hour! To add to their delay, people were prevented from leaving because the foyer was used to present the entertainers to the Royal Party. One theatre-goer was not amused and complained, "We could have caught our last tube home if we had got out the theatre when the curtain fell."

Host and Performers


Acker Bilk

Kenny Ball & The Temperance Seven

Dame Shirley Bassey

Jack Benny

George Burns

Lionel Blair

Max Bygraves

Maurice Chevalier

The Crazy Gang

Sammy Davis Jr

Arthur Haynes

The McGuire Sisters

Morecambe And Wise

Nina & Frederik

Andy Stewart