1931 April to June

April 6 – BLUE ROSES

On the stage – for six days –

Vivian Ellis’s musical “Blue Roses” opened on 20th January, 1931 at London’s Gaiety where it ran for just seven weeks, a very short run for this theatre. The Empire was its first stop outside of London in the week of April 4th 1931. It told the story of Chepstow Potts (George Clark), a monocled fashionable man about town, searching far and wide for the stolen Blue Roses flowers. In this search, aided by his pal, Jimmy (Roy Royston), he manages to woo and win Susan (Cora Goffs), and Jimmy manages to win Susan’s sister, Ann – but only after Chester has disguised himself as a detective, a French shop assistant, and a ship’s steward all for the purposes of defeating a villainous American, Otis Van Tuyt. Of course, he did need some professional help, which came in the shape of a real detective, Egbert Parkinson. With gimmicks like the speciality acrobatic act of Peggy, Moro and Delso, and a chorus dancing with light-up shoes, one review claimed “The brains of this musical comedy seem to be in the feet of the performers rather than in the perfunctory adventures. . .” of the cast.

An excerpt from Blue Roses by Pathe
A scene from Blue Roses


On the stage – for six days –

“Meet My Sister” was renamed from “My Sister And I” which was the West End title for this adaptation from Benatsky’s “Meine Schwester und Ich” based on a French play “Ma soeur et moi” by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil. It was premiered in Berlin in March 1930 where it was seen by J.J. Shubert who immediately booked it for an American production, which opened in December 1930 and ran for 167 performances.

“Meet My Sister” which opened at the Empire on 13th April 1931 starring George Grossmith and Joe Coyne, was renamed from “My Sister And I” which was the West End title for this adaptation from Benatsky’s “Meine Schwester und Ich” based on a French play “Ma soeur et moi” by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil. It was premiered in Berlin in March 1930 where it was seen by J.J. Shubert who immediately booked it for an American production, which opened in December 1930 and ran for 167 performances. The story opens in a Divorce Court , where the President is hearing of the breakdown of a marriage between Professor René Fleuriot and the Princess de St Laverne. The show tells in flashback how they met when René was employed to work in the Palace Library, how they fell in love, and how marriage was out of the question because of their difference in rank. However, the Princess disguised herself as Dorine, her (pretended) twin sister, employed as a salesgirl in M. Filosel’s shoe shop. René was happily married to a shop-girl, but not to a Princess. The story involves a lot of misunderstandings and comic sub-plots, but ends with the President advising the foolishly quarrelling couple to make up their really imaginary differences. This English version was a flop and lasted just one week at the Shaftesbury Theatre. It didn’t fare any better on is few tour dates. Strangely enough, it is one of the few German operettas of this period which are still revived and popular in Germany today though completely forgotten and ignored in England.

A scene from a 1934 film starring George Grossmith
A rare recording of George Grossmith


On the stage – for six days –

This dramatic play was on a provincial tour. It tells the story of a young man, educated at Oxford, finds himself the leader of a revolutionary movement founded by his father, the late President of a South American state. In his endeavours to regain the country for the followers of his father he finds himself up against the relations of the girl who had fallen in love with during his stay in England. The two leads are played by Mary Glynne and Dennis Neilson Terry.


On the stage – for six days –

Horace Goldin was of Polish Jewish descent and was born in Vilnius, which was then part of Russia. An accident when he was young left him with a speech impediment. It has been said he showed a talent for magic tricks when he was young after he began learning from a gypsy performer. When he was 16 his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where they ran a store. His introduction to a performing career came when he was apprenticed to touring showman Adolph Veidt, who influenced him to take the stage name Horace Goldin. Goldin began performing magic on a part-time basis combining tricks and jokes after he received poor reviews from newspapers he tried again with a new act, for which he hired assistants and adopted a rapid presentation style said to have been inspired by seeing German-born magician Imro Fox. Goldin did tricks quickly one after another without speaking and became known as “The Whirlwind Illusionist”. With this act he found success in vaudeville and began touring the United States. In 1901 he went to London to perform at the Palace Theatre. His British shows made sufficient impact for him to be invited to do a private show for King Edward VII and royal guests at Sandringham in November 1902. In 1905 he appeared in a short comedy film made in the UK and titled Comic Conjuring. In the early twenties he entered the most successful phase of his career with his development of the illusion sawing a woman in half.

Goldin’s success owed a great deal to presentation and promotion skills and a certain amount to his persistence in suing other magicians. He successfully used the courts to prevent competition from other magicians. In the late twenties Goldin began to spend more time in the UK and regularly appeared at the country’s major venues. This was his first visit to Southampton, and shortly after he became a British citizen.

The Huntley Archives have preserved this performance


On the stage – for six days –

“The Song Of The Drum” closed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on Saturday 2nd May 1931 and opened at the Empire on the following Monday, 4th May with a new title “The Song Of The East” to underline the mystique of the setting of the musical. Derek Oldham continued in his West End role, but with a new supporting cast. Composed by Vivian Ellis & Herman Finck with lyrics by Desmond Carter from a book by Fred Thompson & Guy Bolton, the show starred Barry Doyle, Phyllis Ebb and Alec Turner. This was a lavish, magnificent production, carefully NOT set in India to satisfy the Censor and contemporary politics, but certainly with a lavish bazaar scene, beggars, donkeys, goats and a real camel, plus a large chorus of dancing harem girls and marching British soldiers. With comic sub-plots, stirring marches, a sensational acrobatic dance act together with magnificent scenery and a cast of 125, it was surprising that it only managed a four month run in the West End.

Pathe captured scenes from the Drury Lame production


On the stage – for six days –

This show marked the opening of a period of twice nightly variety shows. Layton & Johnstone were an American vocal and piano duo, consisting of Turner Layton (baritone and piano) and Clarence “Tandy” Johnstone (tenor). After forming in New York City in 1922, they moved to England two years later and met with immediate success. Between 1924 and 1935, they sold over 10 million records. They recorded extensively for the British imprint of Columbia Records, scoring major hits with such songs as “All Alone,” “(You Forgot to) Remember” and “Sonny Boy,” the latter selling over a million copies. Peter Martland has stated that Layton & Johnstone were amongst the most successful and prolific recording artists active in Britain during the period. Their performing and recording repertoire included many tunes that would become standards in the Great American Songbook, along with spirituals, blues, show tunes and other popular songs of the day. They appeared at top venues in London, Paris and across Europe, and gave command performances for the British royal family on numerous occasions. They also appeared frequently on BBC Radio.

There was a strong supporting variety bill that made up this “The Great Road Show”.


On the stage – for six days –

This second week in the twice nightly variety season was headlined by “The Big Four” who were making their first performance in Southampton. They arranged all their own numbers whether from the popular song book, operatic arias or well-established ballads. Leading the support programme was Jimmy James who played a riotously funny sketch, ‘The Spare Room’, in this he played the part of an inebriated husband and was supported by Stella Dene and the full company. The programme also included dancers, Renee and Godfrey who had recently appeared at the Royal Variety Performance as well as comedian George Betton and colonial entertainers, Austal and Arthur.

Jimmy James and his famous drunk sketch
Jimmy James


On the stage – for six days –

Nellie Wallace was a 61 year old British music hall star, actress, comedienne, dancer and songwriter who became one of the most famous and best loved music hall performers. She was known as “The Essence of Eccentricity”. She dressed in ultra-tight skirts — so tight in fact, that she would lie down on the stage and shuffle back and forth on her back to pick up whatever she had contrived to drop. Her hat sported a lone daisy, feather, or fish bone, and once even a lit candle — supposedly, so she could see where she was going and where she had been.

Her main character was a frustrated spinster, singing ribald songs such as “Under the Bed,” “Let’s Have a Tiddley at the Milk Bar” and “Mother’s Pie Crust.” Other well-known songs in her repertoire included: “Meet Me,” “The Sniff Song,” “Three Cheers for the Red White & Blue,” “Half Past Nine,” “Geranium,” “Tally Ho!,” “The Blasted Oak,” “Three Times a Day” and “Bang! Bang! Bang!” Her appearance made her unusually successful as a pantomime dame — a role usually performed by men. She usually wore a fur stole, which she described as her “little bit of vermin”.

The variety show included Clifford & Roy and also Eddie Windsor.

Pathe captured this footage of Nellie at home
Nellie Wallace


On the stage – for six days –


On the stage – for six days –


On the stage – for six days –


On the stage – for six days



On the screen – for seven days –

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