Monthly Archives: March 2015
BABES IN THE WOOD”- Drury Lane 1938-39
This pantomime marked a return of panto to its ancestral home- Drury Lane. It was presented by Tom Arnold for Julian Wylie Productions. For the story of Julian Wylie and the Wylie-Tate Organisation (one of the largest Pantomime producers ever) take a look at their article:
This pantomime was a huge success And ran from December 24th 1929 to March 1st 1930. It starred Fay Compton, GS Melvin and Jack Edge. It was featured in early Television Broadcasts when the BBC cameras visited the rehearsals at Drury Lane on 21st December 1938, and broadcast interviews and a short extract .
It featured a star cast, the country’s top speciality act, and the flying skills of Kirby, and a large number of sibling performers- Ganjou Brothers, Arnaut Brothers and the Chevalier Brothers!
These photographs give a glimpse into what the London top pantomimes were like in those pre war days, and I hope sheds a little light on those performers who shone at Drury Lane.
Fay Compton- Robin Hood
One of the West End’s biggest stars, Fay Compton played Robin Hood at the age of forty four, in her theatrical prime. Her Father was Edward Compton, actor-manager. Four times married, she was awarded the CBE a few years before her death in 1975.
She began her career in The Follies,at the Apollo Theatre in 1911 presented by her first husband H.G.Pelissier. She appeared in Barrie’s Quality Street. She was J.M.Barrie’s favourite actress. He created the play “Mary Rose” for her. She appeared in nearly all his productions. Here is a clip of Fay Compton singing “Take Off A Little Bit”by Irving Berlin from “Follow The Crowd” from Leicester Square
Fay Compton appeared in every genre of theatre from Shakespeare to Revue. She began her career in “The Follies” at the Apollo Theatre London in 1911, and in a long life in the theatre appeared in Shakespeare- at the Old Vic and appeared as Ophelia opposite Sir John Geilgud, and again opposite John Barrymore.
In 1941 she created the role of Ruth in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”.
Later in her career she appeared in films, including “Othello” 1952 with Orson Welles, “Laughter In Paradise” (1951) and “The Haunting” (1963) and many appearances as Dowagers and Duchesses on Television. Her last TV appearance was in “The Forsyte Saga” in 1967.
Her Pantomime career included playing Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal Glasgow (1931) with Harry Gordon and Tom D Newall, and “Dick Whittington” again at the Casino Theatre London for Emile Littler, and at The Coliseum Theatre London in 1933. She appeared as Prince Charming for Littler at The Stoll, London in 1942 alongside “Crazy Gang” members Nervo & Knox, Naughton & Gold and Ted Ray.
During the war she broadcast as Principal Boy in the BBC Home Services “Aladdin” along with Norah Blaney and Frank Birch.
Her son, Anthony Pelisseier from her first marriage was a British Director.
G.S.Melvin- Dame Comedian.
George Spencer Melvin was born in Aberdeen, and became a popular Music Hall and Pantomime Star, specialising in the role of hearty out-doorsy ladies. His hit song “I’m Happy When I’m Hiking” became the Hiker’s Anthem in the 1930’s. He appeared in films that included “Variety Parade” 1936, and “Down Memory Lane” in 1943.
Melvin had previously appeared at Drury Lane Pantomime “Sleeping Beauty”in the role of Queen in 1929.
In the show Melvin appeared in several Dame spots that included him being a Girl Guide, an amateur dressmaker, and as a tennis player. He was commended in revues for the “awakening Scene” and his comic creaking joints!
G.S Melvin appeared for the Wylie Tate organisation in many pantomimes, sometimes with Jack Edge, including “Queen Of Hearts” with Gwladys Stanley in 1925.
Above is Melvin’s autograph, and beneath that Mona Vivian, appearing on the same bill in Glasgow that season.
Here is a clip of Melvin performing one of his Music Hall dame characters: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I61n_nmDPEY
Here the Pantomime boasts a horse- Lulu! Played by The Agar Young Duo.
Sadly eight years after this Drury Lane pantomime GS Melvin came to a tragic end. He was appearing at Drury Lane Pantomime a third time in 1946, and attending rehearsals. He lived beside the River Thames at Kingswood Creek, near Datchet in West London, and left his house on December 2nd to set off for the theatre. The Thames was in full flood and he drowned ,with in sight of his home.
Jack Edge. Comedian.
Jack Edge was one of Wylie Tate’s favourite comics. He appeared in a great many of their pantomimes around the country. These included “Aladdin”at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle (1927) and “Queen Of Hearts”, a subject he did often, at The Manchester Palace in 1925 and at The King’s Edinburgh, alongside Harry Gordon (1929) and again at The Leeds Grand with Dorothy Ward and Shaun Glenville in 1930.
Greta Fayne began as one of Mr CB Cochrane’s ladies in revue. In 1921 she appeared in “League of Notions” and appeared in plays and musicals, mainly in the West End . She was a dancer as well as an actress/singer, and appeared in America and the UK.
Her West End shows included “Jack O Diamonds” (1935) At The Cambridge Theatre, “Tulip Time”(1939) at the Alhambra, and “Lucky Girl” at The London Pavilion.
In the late1940’s through the 1950’s she appeared in pantomime, mainly as Principal Boy- “Red Riding Hood” in 1949 saw her starring in “Red Riding Hood” at The Royal Opera House, Leicester. Lower down on the bill were up and coming Morecambe ands Wise, with Freddie Frinton as principal comic.
She appeared as Prince Charming for Tom Arnold/Julian Wylie at The Liverpool Empire, opposite Audrey Jeans as Dandini and Al Read as Buttons.
Her son, Jeremy Wilkin joined RADA and became an actor, famous to fans of Sci-Fi and Gerry Anderson Television programmes as the voice of Virgil Tracy in Thunderbirds, Captain Black in Captain Scarlet, and for his roles in UFO, Joe 90 and Secret Service.
The Ganjou Brothers and Juanita.
One of the very best of the “Adagio Acts” in variety and pantomime. The Ganjou brothers, Serge, Bob and George along with Serge’s wife, Joy Marlow (They married In America on their final tour of 1956. Joy had earlier replaced the original “Juanita”) performed “A Romance In Porcelain” both in the USA, Europe and in the UK at every major theatre and on film. (Variety Jubilee 1943).
The Orchestra was conducted by Serge’s sister, Adele- the precise beats and tempo of their “Blue Danube” music could not be given to the resident theatre’s conductors, and it became the number one “Spesh” act for Theatres.
This description of their adagio act comes from the Independent Newspaper’s obituary in 1998 of Serge Ganjou:
The setting was usually something looking like a large and outsize mantelpiece upon which stood a highly decorative clock. The pendulum, played by the beautiful Juanita, petite of form but long of leg, swung to and fro to the music of “The Blue Danube“.
On came the Ganjou Brothers, a trio clad in powdered wigs, tights, decorated waistcoats and billowing shirts. Juanita swung down and the three men began to swing her around, about and above their heads, eventually flinging her from one to another across the wide stage, and tossing her over their heads from shoulder to shoulder. Finally they threw her high in the air, spun her round and round, caught her in an upright stance and froze in a pose that brought the house down with applause.
Serge was the last remaining member of the troupe. Active until almost the end (he had been treasurer and life president of the Entertainment Artists Benevolent Fund and a popular member of the Grand Order of Water Rats), he had entered the show-business retirement home at Brinsworth House, Twickenham, only two months before he died.
The original Ganjou Brothers and Juanita act, became famous in England when they starred in the Royal Variety Show of May 1933 .Serge Ganjou was working in London when his brothers’ act arrived in 1932. He joined them and in due course married “Juanita” –
A hugely successful international act, the Ganjou Brothers and Juanita played to appreciative audiences around the world, touring America, Australia and New Zealand before finally disbanding. Bob and George Ganjou became variety agents, while Serge opened Daquise restaurant in South Kensington, specialising in dishes from his native Poland.
A full supporting company of actors, singers, dancers and two more speciality acts helped make this one of the most successful pantomimes of the time. The Robbers, Merciless Marmaduke and Heartless Horace were played by the Chevalier Brothers.
The Fairy Sunbeam was played by Moya Maqueen-Pope
With Vincent Lawson as the Wicked Baron- Baron Baddun, the Babe’s Uncle. The Babes were played by Beryl May and Pat Warner as Reggie and Cissie.
The Merry Men in this pantomime contributed to the vocals- they were Royal Mastersingers.
Adding to the speciality acts, the eight Betty Hobbs Globe Girls provided a balancing act, while Kirby’s Flying Ballet flew some of the chorus. Kirby had several shows that they “flew” artistes in London that Christmas- “Peter Pan” at The London Palladium (it’s 35th Year), “Where The Rainbow Ends” at The Holborn (22nd Year) as well as “Red Riding Hood” across the road in Covent Garden and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Old Vic.
This Tom Arnold/Julian Wylie production was one of the last great pantomimes to be put on at Drury Lane- one of a very long and illustrious line.
For the full listing and story of all the Drury Lane Pantomimes, take a look at our article here!
AUBREY PHILLIPS 1933-2015
Here at IBY we were saddened to hear that Aubrey Phillips has passed away. A long time resident of Clwyd in North Wales, Aubrey was the driving force behind the Summer Season at Rhyl for a great many years during his long career as an Actor, Director, Producer and all round entertainer.
Many thanks to Aubrey’s friend and performer James Harman for some of the photographs used in this article.
Aubrey’s Summer Shows at The Gaiety Theatre Rhyl ran each year for between twelve and fifteen weeks, presenting a change of show each night of the season, and three performances of “Snow White” on a Thursday!
It was Aubrey’s production of the touring version of “Snow White” that entered the record books. It toured on and off for forty years, with “Farewell” tours starting around 1990 and finishing in 2008 when he “Passed on the Baton” to another company.
Dave Peters as Muddles
Aubrey began that mammoth tour when he first presented “Snow White” at the Victoria Theatre in Salford during his residency as Director. He was responsible for the weekly rep seasons, and presented this out of season pantomime for a lengthy run. The first cast in 1969-70 included Alex Munro- a fellow Summer Season Impresario. Alex presented shows at Llandudno’s “Happy Valley” Open Air Theatre, and at the Coliseum Rhyl from time to time. Other cast members included Mathew Kelly, Bryan Johnson, and escapolologists Paul and Danny Denver. The Russell Leite Juveniles played the Seven Dwarfs.
the Victoria Salford Rep Season
In conjunction with Stewart Suthurst, Aubrey began sending Snow White out on tour. The Company became Philip Bernard Productions. Frequently Bryan Johnson played Huntsman, along with Colin Beach as Wicked Queen, later James Harman, who remained a close friend of Aubrey’s up until his death. Bryan was famous for his entry in the early days of the Eurovision Song Contest with “Singing High High High”, and was the Brother of Teddy Johnson, partner of Pearl Carr- also Eurovision contestants in the 1950’s. The highlight of the forty years of Snow White on tour was a short season at the Victoria Palace London.
Joining Aubrey’s casts in Pantomime and tours was Charles Hawtrey, of “Carry On” Fame, Ken Platt, as well as Anna Karen- “On The Buses’s Olive” who appeared in Aubrey’s productions of “The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe”, and from the same Television & Film stable, Inspector “Blakey”, Stephen Lewis.
The longest star of the “Snow White” touring days was Debbie Young, who played the title role for over fifteen years.
I worked for Aubrey in the 1977 Summer Season at Rhyl’s Gaiety. I was fortunate enough to work with Debbie, and as happened in most years we performed “Snow White” each Thursday at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm during the long season. Charles Hawtrey was appearing at the start of the season, but was unwell, and I was moved up into the role of Muddles without delay. Aubrey as always played “Martha”- he billed himself “The Original Martha” (I’m not sure if Arthur Askey would have agreed!) and Johnny Dallas played the Huntsman Role, with Colin Beach as Wicked Queen , and on a few occasions when there was a problem Joe Holroyd played Queen and Colin became a stand-in Prince.
On a Thursday I actually did four shows- “Uncle Joe” and I appeared on the Prom in the Pierrot Shows for Aubrey. I was a replacement for “Auntie Dot” who apparently broke her arm and was unable to play the Piano- it was a very long day on a Thursday!
Joe Holroyd had been a founder member of Oldham repertory, and Aubrey and Joe became founders in turn of the Little Theatre in Rhyl.
Those Summer Seasons don’t exist today. Aubrey showed me how the need for expensive bills and posters was not necessary when a bright yellow Day-Glo two sided board outside the theatre worked just as well. The locals came at least once a week as well as the visitors who, in those days stayed at the resort for a week. Aubrey did six days at the Gaiety each week, presenting Wrestling on, I think the Saturday, which was “Change over” day at the seaside Resort.
Into those tiny dressing rooms we crammed hundreds of costumes. I supplied all my own for my solo “spots”, and then we had for each show at least one opening, one first half finale, an Act Two opening, a finale plus three “Scena” costumes. Aubrey had aquired a set of Roman Gladiator Costumes that season. Colin’s Auntie had been “On The Halls”, as he said, and taught him a silly number to the tune of “Entry Of The Gladiators”- that was that sorted!
We were Soldiers in Busby’s, Minstrels, Cowboys, Choirboys, Spanish, Chinese- in UV costumes singing “So Long Oolong”, we were In our Pantomime Costumes, in UV Blacks for Chris Covington’s “Star” Puppets, and in Evening Wear, Swim Wear, and to accompany Johnny Dallas singing “When A Child Is Born”, we were in Kaftans.
The experience gained from doing over four months of this change of show was invaluable. Aubrey prepared young performers for a lifetime of coping with whatever was handed out, and provided hundreds of artistes with work for over forty five years.
Sadly the Gaiety is no more. Aubrey’s long Summer seasons at The Floral Pavilion New Brighton are no more. The site of the Gaiety is occupied by public toilets that mimic the circular shape of the Gaiety auditorium foundations. Here is a picture of me on that site in 1977 and one taken last year. (2014).
Sadly visitors do not always go to Rhyl or to New Brighton to spend a week these days, but Aubrey’s “Summer Pantomime” format lives on in many places to this day.
Aubrey reported to a newspaper in 1977 “Summer Pantomime has been one of the mainstays of Phillip Bernard Productions. We have never looked back since we roaded “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” eight years ago. We’ve worn out three sets of scenery and it is still a hot favourite”
Memories of sitting in my corridor of a cramped dressing room listening to tales from a local who popped in of an evening – Roy Rolland, the man who took over from “Old Mother Riley” and became her once again- and to Bryan Johnson, to Colin’s stories of a speciality he had perfected- tap dancing en pointe- on large cake tins… of finding a peeling poster backstage announcing Danny Caroll in a “We’re No Ladies” show (before he changed it to La Rue) and of Aubrey and Johhny Dallas or Dave Peters swapping anecdotes, changing comedy routines in mid flow, and teaching newbies to always, always be on their toes- This is something I have to be eternally grateful for.
Dave Peters is no longer with us- Aubrey often did “a double” with him as”Two Vicars” and “Chelsea Pensioners”- he did the same with Johnny Dallas- I think they will be swapping anecdote sand performing long lost routines at this very minute.
Bless you Aubrey, and Thank You!