1st March, 1928
His Majesty King George V
Her Majesty Queen Mary
Executive Producers : George Black & Val Parnell
Musical Director : Alfred Dove
For years, it seemed, people had been proclaiming the death of music hall and variety. The 1928 show was one which put the lie to this. The Birmingham Evening Dispatch commented: ‘People who are always declaring that the music-hall performance is dead received rather a shock if they were at the Coliseum last night to see the Royal Command show in aid of the VABF. Throughout the evening, in fact, it was proved to the hilt that there is a real demand for variety, and that it is humour that the audience chiefly wants.’
The Evening Standard wrote: ‘The Queen always enjoys these annual variety performances more than most theatrical events, and last night she laughed unrestrainedly at the mirth of what some people call the dying variety profession.
‘For these few hours at least variety was very much alive.’
The 1928 show as a signal success for the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, raising £4,400 for the charity. When told of the amount, the King expressed his delight at the sum as well as his enjoyment with the evening.
And Will Hay spoke for many artistes when he expressed his gratitude to Their Majesties for their keen interest in variety. ‘I feel very honoured,’ he said. ‘The royal support given to the variety profession every year is encouraged to all of us in vaudeville.’
One of the leading pantomime dames, Clarkson Rose, recalled how he quelled his nervousness with a little too much Dutch courage: ‘After pacing up and down the dressing room for a little while I went to the stage door for some air, and there was a well known agent in the vicinity who I knew. “feeling a bit jumpy, are you?” he said. “I certainly am,” I replied. He said, “Come out and have a drink, it will steady you up”… True it was only one whiskey he had given me, but I think it might have been a treble, and I was not in the habit of drinking before my work. I heard my introductory music as if it was coming from a distance, and I walked on stage in a sort of trance. I sang my first song to only polite applause and quickly left the stage to change, ready for my second song. When I entered for that I slipped on the highly polished stage and up went my bustle, revealing my red bloomers!’
It seems he learnt his lesson from then on – ‘It was the first and last time I ever took a drink before a show!’
A leading daily commentary on the evening’s entertainment said, ‘Queen Mary was most amused with Clarkson Rose’s delicious burlesque Victorian Dame, and the little trip he did, displaying voluminous underclothing caused roars of laugher led by her Majesty!’
Noni the Clown received the highly unusual accolade of receiving a flower from the Queen. Her Majesty sent him a stem from her bouquet, saying how sorry she felt when he confided that ‘no one ever sent him flowers’.
The irony of life imitating art was of no comfort to Gracie Fields when she had to dash from her show to appear in the Royal performance. ‘One stage of the St James’s where I am playing in SOS, I have to die,’ she explained. ‘I died in the usual way last night. Then I went over to the Coliseum to come as near dying of fright as I ever want to.’
Stanelli & Douglas
The Victoria Girls
Noni & Horace
Jack Hylton and His Band
28th February, 1928
The Coliseum, London