1st July, 1912
His Majesty King George V
Her Majesty Queen Mary
HRH The Prince of Wales (later to be King Edward VIII)
Executive Producers, VABF: Alfred Butt, Oswald Stoll and George Ashton
Musical Director : Herman Finck
His Majesty King George V and Her Majesty Queen Mary agreed to attend a 'Royal Command Performance' at the Palace Theatre in London's Cambridge Circus in aid of the VABF - Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund (the previous name of the Royal Variety Charity) and its proposed plans to build an extension to its Care Home for elderly entertainers, Brinsworth House. This first staging was a lavish occasion with over 3 million roses draped around the auditorium.
On conception the show was dubbed with the working-title 'the Music Hall Command Performance' but was soon altered before the day of the show to become the very first Royal Command Performance and must still rank as one of the most successful.
All the great names of British variety and music hall gathered at the Palace Theatre before King George V, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales. All that is, apart from Marie Lloyd, perhaps the biggest name in popular music hall at the time. Her ommission - apparently on the grounds that she was too risque for such a Royal performance at a time when music hall was just becoming 'respectable' - is one of the most controversial in the history of the Royal Variety Performance.
Her absence, however, failed to dampen excitement of a memorable night of British entertainment, with stars such as comic Harry Lauder, Harry Tate, the 'Prime Minister of Mirth' George Robey, dancer Anna Pavolva and the 'White-Eyed Kaffir' G.H.Chirgwin, ensuring triumph.
There was one moment of unease, when Vesta Tilley, the talented male impersonator, began her act. Queen Mary, seemingly unhappy with the idea of a woman wearing trousers and dressing like a man, covered her face with her programme, which encouraged the audience to be less enthusiastic in their reception to Miss Tilley. Fortunately, following her act was the great comic, Harry Tate, and his ability to get George V laughing soon restored the lively atmosphere.
Even a seasoned performer such as Little Tich could be overawed by a grand occasion. Things started well for him as he sang 'Popularity,' a well-known 1910 number, and then went on to do his famous 'Big Boots' dance. It was towards the end of the night that Little Tich was overcome with nerves and, very sadly, found himself unable to join in the grand finale.
Eager to have a special reminder of the evening, Harry Tate told his son Ronnie to go up to the Royal Box after the show to see if a programme had been left there by the Royal party. He was in luck - Ronnie found the one given to Queen Mary, with its specially hand-embroidered jacket - a real collector's item.
Alfred Lester was litterally caught with his pants down by the Prince of Wales. After the show, the Prince came back-stage, eager to say how much he had enjoyed the performance. Unfortunately, Lester was in the middle of changing - with very little to cover his blushes! The distraught entertainer is quoted as crying out, "It's awful - I can't shake hands with my future sovereign in my pants and vest!"
The Performer was certain about the success of the show. 'We must frankly confess that we are not in the Royal confidence," it wrote, "but nothing, so far as outward manifestation could prove, could have been more obvious than the pleasure the King and Queen and the rest of the Royal party....took in the long variety programme presented to them." It continued: "Perhaps the highest compliment His Majesty could have conveyed was his confession to Mr Alfred Butt, who with Mr George Ashton, had the honour of receiving and bidding farewell to the Royal party, that he had apprehended too long a performance, but that, on the contrary, he had thoroughly enjoyed every detail."
The Stage too, said that while the show would enjoy financial success, "this was as little compared with the fact that Royalty, in the persons of the King and his Consort, have officially set their seal of approval upon the work of that large body of people who are to be found in what is comprehensively termed the variety profession."
And Mr Wal Pink, a member of the organising committee, said simply, "the music hall has come into its kingdom."
Sadly, with war clouds gathering, the second Royal Variety Performance had to wait another seven years.
PIPIFAX AND PANLO
THE PALACE GIRLS
CHARLES T. ALDRICH
1 July 1912
London Palace Theatre
SIR OSWALD STOLL (born 1866, died 1942, knighted by George V in 1919) was an Executive Producer of the Royal Variety Performance between 1912 and 1926.