1930 October to December

6th October – CARL ROSA OPERA

On the stage – for six days – The Carl Rosa Opera Company was founded in 1873 by Carl Rosa, a German-born musical impresario, to present opera in English in London and the British provinces. The company premiered many operas in the UK, employing a mix of established opera stars and young singers, reaching new opera audiences with popularly priced tickets. It survived Rosa’s death in 1889, and In 1924, after a financial crisis, H. B. Phillips became the company’s owner and director, and placed it on a sound financial footing. Regular London seasons alternated with large-scale provincial tours during the 1920s and 1930s.

This was their second visit to the Empire and during their week’s stay they performed Madame Butterfly on Monday, Faust on Tuesday, at the Wednesday matinee they staged Hansel And Gretel and in the evening Rigoletto. On Thursday The Flying Dutchman was performed and on Friday Gianni Schicchi and Cavalleria Rusticana, ending the week on Saturday with La Boheme.

13th October – THE CO-OPTOMISTS

On the stage – for six days – The 1930 edition of “The Co-Optomists” had a new producer and a new composer. The “Co-Optimists” company now included half a dozen newcomers – the popular young actresses Mimi Crawford, Joan Barry, Elsie Randolph, the comedian Herbert Mundin and actor-dancers Cyril Ritchard and Eric le Fré. Staying with the show was Stanley Holloway. There were some changes in the format of the show and, generally, the changes were not especially welcomed by the critics. “The music tends to be pretentiously noisy and jazzish. . . much trouble seems to have been taken, without very obvious results. . . a good many items seem scarcely up to par” (The Stage). However, the audiences gave a rapturous welcome to their old favourites, and, by the end of the show, even the grumpy critic had to admit the show was “received with acclamation”. The show moved to the Southampton Empire from the London Hippodrome.

A look at comedian Herbert Mundin


On the stage – for six days – The week of the 20th October, 1930 saw the 2nd revival of “The Maid Of The Mountains” arrive from London’s Gaiety. The musical was adapted from a book by Frederick Lonsdale with music by Harold Fraser-Simpson & James W. Tate and the lyric writers were Harry Graham, F. Clifford Harris & Arthur Valentine. The musical tells the story of a bandit maid Teresa, who loves the bandit chief, Baldassaré, a man feared throughout the land. Their hiding place is surrounded, and Baldassaré forces Teresa to leave for her own safety. But she is captured by the outgoing local Governor, General Malona, who promises to release her if Baldassaré is captured. Teresa refuses, as “there is honour among thieves.” Meanwhile, Baldassaré and his men have kidnapped the incoming Governor, Count Orsino, and, disguised as soldiers, they are off to rescue Teresa. Baldassaré pretends to be the new governor and meets and falls in love with Angela, Malona’s daughter. Teresa, mad with jealousy because of Baldassaré’s love for Angela, exposes the new “governor” as Baldassaré, and he and his companions are imprisoned on Devil’s Island. Later, a regretful Teresa pleads for his release, and a regretful Baldassaré realises that Angela was just a passing infatuation, and that he really loves Teresa. With the help of the prison governor they escape by boat and all ends happily. The new touring production that came to the Empire featured Anne Croft (Teresa), Bertram Wallis (Baldasarre), Bruce Carfax (Beppo), Jerry Verno (Antonio), Billie Hill (Vittoria), Mark Lester (General Malona).

The original production at Daly’s opened on February 10th 1917 and ran for an astonishing 1,352 performances. Next to “Chu Chin Chow” it was the biggest hit of the War Years and made a star of José Collins. A Broadway production opened in September 1918 and, incredibly, closed after just 37 performances! No show of the time emphasised more the difference between British and American audiences. The first revival was in London in 1921.

Harry Welchman singing ‘A Bachelor Gay’

27th October – DARLING, I LOVE YOU

On the stage – for six days – Darling, I Love You – opened on 27th October 1930, fairly late in its tour after a modest run of 147 performances at London’s Gaiety. The show was based around a book by Stanley Brightman & Arthur Rigby with music by H.B. Hedley & Harry Acres and lyrics by Desmond Carter and directed by Laddie Cliff. The story centres on a dance band member (Bertie), whose wife has a habit of trying to get off with the nearest man every time he upsets her. Bertie and a Scottish musician Douglas McHaig, turn up hours late for a booking at the mansion of Sir Herbert Sylvester – they are to perform for the Earl of Fawcett. But the Earl has failed to turn up, and Sir Herbert’s daughter, Peggy (in love with the Hon. Bobby Darrell) persuades Bertie & Douglas to impersonate the missing Earl and his manservant – and in return she will arrange for a public performance of the Rhapsody written by Bertie. With a jewel thief, Smooth Jim, after the Countess’s jewels, and with Baritz desperately seeking the missing “Rhapsody” orchestrations, plus a dancing butler, and a comedy car, this was a farcical romp with songs. Despite poor notices it was a relative success in Southampton and on the rest of its national tour.

A scene from Darling, I Love You – courtesey of Pathe

3rd November – SILVER WINGS

On the stage – for six days – A new musical opened at the Empire on 3rd November 1930 coming from sister theatre London’s Dominion. “Silver Wings” was based on a 1920 American play ‘The Broken Wing’ by Paul Dickey and C.W. Goddard, which had been a hit in London as a straight play some years earlier. It was a spectacularly expensive show in every respect and contained one of the most spectacular scenes ever staged, the crash-landing of an aeroplane, which was talked of for years to come. The Aztec scenes, with well over a hundred dancers, were a magnificent spectacle; the singing and comedy were top class; and the show received massive publicity with newspaper articles and radio broadcasts. However, it lasted just 170 performances in London failing to recover its production costs, contributed to the demise of the Dominion as a live theatre and shortly after this show Stoll Moss decide to use the hall to screen films. However, “Silver Wings” did much better in the provinces where the sheer scale of the production and its star Harry Welchman ensured large audiences. A young Ralph Richardson appeared in a small supporting role in this musical.

Pathe filmed a scene from the show

10th November – DYING TO LIVE

On the stage – for six days – A new farce “Dying To Live” played for the week of November 10th, 1930, prior to opening in the West End the following week. Its star was George Gee a famous musical comedy performer who’d starred In such hits as ‘Virginia’ and ‘Rio Rita’. The play concerns an impecunious artist who suddenly finds fortune’s wheel turns in his favour and leads to a long string of amazingly funny situations. His leading lady was Molly Johnson who had been a big hit in London in the recent production ‘Nine Till Six’.

Pathe captured a sketch by the star George Gee

17th November – OTHER MEN’S WIVES

On sthe stage – for six days – Other Men’s Wives – a 1928 drama by Walter Hackett, which opened at London‘s Wyndhams Theatre in 1928 and then transferred to St. Martin‘s before heading out on a coutrywide tour. The play was considered risque for the time, and was packed with a series of surprising events in a French hotel. It starred Zena Dare as the “femme de chambre”, and was directed by Vivian Reynolds.

A look back at the life of Zena Dare

24th November – HARRY LAUDER

On the stage – for six days – Harry Lauder topped the bill. Lauder was a Scottish singer and comedian popular in both the English music hall and vaudevillian theatre tradition; he achieved great international success. Lauder continued to tour the variety theatre circuits; his last tour was in North America in 1932 after which he was semi-retired until his final retirement was announced in 1935. The supporting cast included Norman Carrol, Dick & Sophie Adaire.

A performance of Harry Lauder in the Huntley archives

2nd December – STAND UP AND SING

On the stage – for six days – Jack Buchannan’s new show “Stand Up And Sing” premiered at Southampton’s Empire on 2nd December 1930, before moving on to other major cities (Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Birmingham) before opening at London’s Hippodrome on 28th February, 1931 where it would run until 28th November, 1931. With music by Vivian Ellis and Philip Charig and lyrics by Douglas Furber from the book by:Douglas Furber & Jack Buchanan; the scenes included an English Country House, on board a ship, an Egyptian garden, and an elegant London hotel lounge, and the action included a ballet sequence with Anton Dolin, who had been a principal at Ballet Russes and went on to form London Festival Ballet (ENB) with his partner Alicia Markova. When the plot had been nicely dealt with, Elsie Randolph and ensemble finished the show with a completely extraneous top-hat, tails and tap-dance routine. This was the first featured role for newcomer Anna Neagle and among the smaller roles was the young comedian Richard Murdoch. It returned to Southampton Empire on 25th April 1932 for a further week directly from the Hippodrome.

Pathe captured these shots from the show

8th December – CHELSEA FOLLIES

On the stage – for six days – “Chelsea Follies” had a book by Archibald de Bear and Reginald Arkell with music by Wolseley Charles – a very experienced revue writing team. However, a seven episode ‘Pageant of Chelsea’, that took up much of the first act had sections written by Reginald Berkeley a successful playwright. It was the Pageant which firmly placed the show in Chelsea, but even the opening, ‘The Party Spirit’, had shown another aspect of the area. It showed the dying embers of a Chelsea party whose guests were the show’s stars, the models from the art school and the local ‘lads’.

The first of ‘A Pageant of Chelsea’ episodes was ‘Ye Bunne-Shoppe’ a mixture of history lesson and robust dance by a chorus of lady buns and male bakers. It had Nell Gwynne and King Charles listening to pleas for pensions and a home for aged soldiers. Jack Train played the old sailor who was soon to be a founder inhabitant of the Chelsea Hospital. ‘The Sage of Chelsea’ showed the sage, a statue of Thomas Carlyle, listening to what would happen in the future when women’s emancipation, so advocated by him, had taken place. Seeing a taxi-woman, policewoman, postwoman, Guard’s officeress, Vicaress and Firewoman he saw what he had been responsible for and he took a flying suicidal leap into the Thames. The theme of women’s emancipation was taken a stage further with the principal ladies taking uniform for the song ‘Girls of the new Brigade’.

‘The Bonnie Banks of Stamford Bridge’ referred to the home of the local football club. Hay Petrie played the Chairman of the club who was leading an interview for a new player. It was a topical satire on a local team that had no local lads playing for it (some things never change). The best player was turned down when it was heard that he was born and bred in Chelsea. The Lads of the chorus gave a training sequence which led nicely into another sporting fixture, ‘The Big Fight’, a burlesque of a fight between Nervous Nervo and Knock-kneed Knox with Eddie Gray as the referee. These three plus the trained Lads were all to end knocked out on the floor. The last piece of the Pageant was ‘The Chelsea Flower Show’, set against a colourful flower background painted by Clifford Pember with Anona Winn singing her only song while Peggy Cartwright and Toni Grecco performed a clever Grecian style dance. Nervo and Knox were soon on the dancers’ tails with their burlesque of the classical dance, another of their variety acts. It brought to a close the first half.

Hal Swain and his Band, who accompanied the show, had their solo spot after the interval. Chelsea Follies ended in ‘More Party Spirit’ a party scene that showed the earlier part of the party that opened the show. It hosted a guest star, Lillebil Ibsen an artist not unknown to the variety stages around London who did clever skits on female entertainers, watched not only from the audience but a stage filled with gaily dressed guests. Miss Ibsen’s best imitations were of a minor star of the German Light Opera and a parody of an English chorus girl. There were things to please every taste in Chelsea Follies and it became an immediate hit. Nervo and Knox were greeted as supreme comics and the cleverness of the piece was not over looked.

Pathe captures Nervo & Knox in Chelsea Follies

15th December – A PAIR OF TROUSERS

On the stage – for six days – Alice Delysia‘s third and final visit to Southampton and the Empire was on 15th December 1930 when she appeared in Frederick Jackson’s “A Pair Of Trousers” which went on to open at London’s Criterion the following week on 23rd December. Again Violet Vanbrugh co-starred in this along with a 28 year old Hargrave Pawson in what would become his West End debut in a short but credible career which ended abruptly with his death at 43. This farcical comedy was built around a pair of torn trousers creating odd situations for the storyline and was declared by The Times as ‘so boring that all the Delysian sparkle could not save it’. Delysia returned to musical comedy and her last big London success was in 1933, in ‘Mother of Pearl’, presented by Cochran at the Gaiety Theatre. Her last London appearance was in 1939 as Hortense in ‘The French for Love’ a light comedy by Marguerite Steen and Derek Patmore.

An Alice Delysia recording – Babying you (Kalman) with WH. Berry, 1932

26th December – THIS WEEK OF GRACE

On the stage – for eight days – This Week Of Grace, a brand new show to culminate a phenomenal year for Gracie Fields, who’s career had seen a major change. Firstly she started out playing variety, at the Victoria Palace and the Palladium. She then made her New York debut in September at the Palace where she played for two weeks to excellent notices; but for Christmas, Gracie Fields returned to the Southampton Empire starring in an eight day run of “This Week Of Grace” which opened on December 26th. This was the only theatrical outing for the show and was used as a platform for a major 1933 film that would establish her as the top female of entertainer of her time.

Gracie Fields singing a song from the show – which was recorded early in 1931
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