September 29th 2018
A lover of panto, and a lover of history, and of course, a lover of Llandudno- I had to be there today! Venue Cymru and a host of partners presented a day dedicated to Pierrots- The Seaside Entertainers of yore, and a day dedicated to Will Catlin who brought the Pierrot Follies to Llandudno, and created the Arcadia Theatre to house it in.
The Arcadia Tram and a young Will Catlin
Sarah Ecob at The Venue Cymru asked if I’d like to join in the fun today, and the opportunity to be a part of this celebration was gratefully received. Plus, I got to do some silly panto sketches on the prom with Stuart Loughland, a fellow Dame. Double Bubble!
Nigel Ellacott, Stuart Loughland & Steve Bloor
I was a Pierrot on a North Wales Promenade once! The Summer of 1977 I did Summer Season at Rhyl, and every morning did a Pierrot Show on the Bandstand!
My Pierrot Days! I’m on the right with Philip Rostand, fellow artiste.Big hair days!
Each time I’ve played Dame at Venue Cymru, Stuart has been up the road in Theatr Colwyn presenting Panto, so this was a rare opportunity to meet up and catch up on all things Panto. Joining us on the Bandstand today was Colwyn Bay favourite Steve Bloor and fellow Panto artiste Libby Edwards, joined by a tech team from Venue Cymru, along with Rachel Jones, Educational co-ordinator for the Theatre.
The Pierrots in action!
For a full account of the day’s activities, here’s what the North Wales Pioneer newspaper has to say:
We did three performances of Panto fun during the day, swapping over for The New Follies Pierrot show, and The Llandudno Youth Music Theatre to take to the stage.
when dressed as a Dame from 11am to 5pm my first thought is “where is the dressing room?” for that all important sit-down between shows. There are plenty of benches on the seafront, but too many seagulls..
So my thoughts went to “Safe Houses” to secrete oneself in, to partake of tea in between appearance. Many thanks to the Empire Hotel and The Imperial Hotel for taking in a Dame in need! Thanks also to The Can-Y-Bae Hotel for looking after me so well!
Margo Catlin with her Daughter and Grand Daughter
The day was dedicated to Will Catlin- The man who created pierrot troupes arounf the country. His theatre stood on the site of the Venue Cymru atrium and cafe, named in his honour. To make today even more special his daughter, Margo Catlin, her daughter and Grand Daughter were watching the festivities!
Margo lives in Llandudno, and has had close ties with Venue Cymru volunteering her services for many years. She and Grand Daughter Jane Smith have made an oral history of The Catlin Era.
Sarah Ecob , General Manager of Venue Cymru, co-ordinating today’s events.
It was a full day, performing cookery business and gags with Stuart and Steve, and getting a chance to chat to Rachel about our Pantomime Roadsow. We’ll be back in two weeks with the Roadshow for Venue Cymru to visit ten schools in Conwy.
Had a great chat with Margo Catlin about the Arcadia Theatre- in the 1970’s I used to visit the Arcadia Theatre on my days off from Summer Season at The Gaiety Theatre Rhyl. It was a huge building, seating almost as many as the present Venue Cymru.
It was a joy to be here in my second home for some Panto, some history and some of the best pub food in Great Britain! Thanks to Stuart Loughland and Company for making me feel so welcome, and to Sarah and all at Venue Cymru for the invite!
Margot Catlin aboard the Follies Trolley!
The Catlin Follies & The Arcadia
If you are interested in The story of Will Catlin, The Pierrot shows and The Arcadia, there is an excellent website. Here’s the link:
Will Catlin’s Arcadia circa 1930.
Today’s celebration and story of the Arcadia and Will Catlin is the work of Venue Cymru, working alongside Bangor University, local archives and museums exploring the Seaside Pierrot Troupes.
It Incorporates the work of Dr Tony Lidington from his “Promenade Promotions”. Tony is an academic who also performs as Uncle Tacko in “The Pierrotters” that he founded in 1983
Jane Smith, Margot Catlin & Dr Lidington provided information and archive material from Will Catlin’s archive. Here’s an oral history from Will Catlin’s descendants, Margo Catlin and Jane Smith: http://www.seasidefollies.co.uk/oral-history-of-pierrots-in-llandudno/
Another Pierrot Troupe, produced by rival Harry Korris
In its time the site of the Arcadia and Venue Cymru has seen a theatre building that has changed shape, and frequently changed names. From its earliest origins as The Victoria Palace, it became The Llandudno Opera House, The Hippodrome, then The Arcadia (1916) and after demolition, the site was built on to the Aberconwy Centre which became The North Wales Theatre and now Venue Cymru!
Will Catlin “King of The Pierrots”
Born William Henry Fox in Leicester 1871. Aged 20 he married Ada Elizabeth Freer and had five daughters and a son. Will started performing in music hall, and in 1894 changed his name to “Catlin”- appearing as “Catlin & Carson” in Scarborough. He established his first Pierrot Troupe here in 1894.
In 1908 he bought a wooden building on the seafront in Scarborough and named it The Arcadia. This was later rebuilt as “The Futurist” and is now sadly in the process of being demolished.
He toured his highly successful troupes of seaside promenade players to Whitby, Withensea, Great Yarmouth, Bournemouth, Colwyn Bay, Aberystwyth and to Llandudno.
The first mention of Catlin performing in North Wales was in 1907. The next year his “Royal Pierrots” (Following a Command Performance) proved popular in the area “A Visit To North Wales would not be complete without a visit to Catlins”, and in 1915 he opened The Arcadia In Llandudno. It stood on the site of the present day Venue Cymru.
There had been a theatre on the Venue Cymru site since 1894. Originally named the Victoria Palace, it was built by Jules Rivière, a celebrated musical conductor. Catlin bought the venue and it became the home of Catlin’s Follies. The trams had “Catlin’s Follies” on the front and rear, and in the early days the pierrot troupes would arrive at Llandudno station to greet holidaymakers who flocked to the town for their week long break.
One of several display cases in Venue Cymru, an exhibition on the site of the Arcadia
Between the Wars entertainment changed, and in 1932 Will Catlin presented “The Evening Follies”- “The Champagne of Modern Entertainment”. He married his second wife, Doris Anderson in 1949 . They had two daughters.
He died on 15th January 1953 outside the Llandudno Arcadia. He was aged 85. On his coffin was placed a white Pierrot hat made from flowers, and a card reading “King Of The Pierrots”.
The Arcadia presented his Follies afterwards until the Arcadia was bought by.Llandudno Urban Council in 1968.It continued to provide entertainment to the town until 1993.
In the 70’s and 80’s Clive Stock and H Robertson Cleaver produced Summer shows. Ken Dodd was a regular performer, and Clive Stock and Gwen Overton sang nightly, while comics like Wyn Calvin, Bobby Dennis, Bryan Burdon and Gordon and Bunny Jay did sketches and routines, along with dancers choreographed by Cherry Willoughby. (Cherry also choreographed the Swansea Grand Pantomimes each year for John Chilvers).
When this 1977 Arcadia show was on- I saw it on a day off. I was at The Gaiety Theatre, Rhyl down the road- Summer Season was big business. this was me at the time!
Me in The Gaiety Rhyl Season in 1977
One of the summer season 1977 shows I was in at Rhyl.
Our show at The Gaiety was smaller than the Arcadia production, but we changed the show more often, did Pierrot Shows every morning, and three performances of Snow White Panto on a Thursday!
Music played a huge part in Summer Shows. The Arcadia has a large band. Les Brown and his musicians played in the pit of this 1147 seater, and the shows changed three times a week in the height of the Summer Season. From the tallest parts of the town you could identify the Arcadia by the huge sign painted on the roof.
The Arcadia closed in 1994, remained empty for ten years, and was demolished in 2005. The present Atrium and box office areas along with the café are on the site. The cafe is named after Will Catlin in his memory. Today was a great honour to a part of. Thanks to all at Venue Cymru!