1931 January to March


January 5, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – Jack Hylton & His Band – this was the third time that Jack Hylton had brought his band to the Empire. He had risen to prominence during the British dance band era, being referred as the “British King of Jazz” and “The Ambassador of British Dance Music” by the musical press, not only because of his popularity which extended throughout the world, but also for his use of unusually large ensembles for the time and his polished arrangements.

By the time the Depression started biting in 1930, Hylton downsized his band and began performing in Europe less frequently; that same year, however, Maurice Chevalier recorded with Hylton, who also made the first record of “Body and Soul” and Pat O’Malley replaced Browne as vocalist. In 1930 they recorded Amy, Wonderful Amy, a song about Amy Johnson. Hylton also became a director and major shareholder of the new Decca record label, switching from HMV later in 1931.

A 1931 recording by the band


January 12, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – The Improper Duchess – a comedy by the Irish-born writer James Fagan. It premiered here at the Empire Theatre in Southampton before transferring to the Globe Theatre in London’s West End where it ran for 348 performances between 22 January and 21 November 1931. A comedy of a fatuous little Ruritanian king who is in Washington with one of the peeresses of his realm trying to negotiate a big loan in return for oil concessions in his country. It starred Yvonne Arnaud in the title role. The cast also included Frank Cellier, Hartley Power, John Laurie, Annie Esmond and Julie Suedo.

An excerpt from a later film displaying the many talents of Yvonne Arnaud

An excerpt from a later film displaying Yvonne Arnaud’s many talents – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Z2nNkIxKs


January 19, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – Revue De La Folie Pure – The Folies Bergere revue was so popular when it made its UK debut at the Empire in April 1930 that Tom Arnold brought it back to the Empire for a further week before their return to Paris. Once again it featured the Berlin Palast and the Paris Casino Girls.

A preview of the show

A preview of the show – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnrN_IN83gM

January 26 – PETER PAN

January 26, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – Peter Pan – came to the Empire directly from the Palladium (it wasn’t known as the London Palladium until 1934) where it would play the Christmas season for the next eight years. Peter was played by Jean Forbes-Robinson who repeated the role in 1931, 32, 33 and 34, returning to the Palladium for a final time in 1938. Captain Hook was played by George Curzon and the part of Wendy by Mary Casson.

February 2 – LILAC TIME

February 2, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – Lilac Time – In 1922, Das Dreimäderlhaus, a Viennese pastiche operetta with music by Franz Schubert, rearranged by Heinrich Berté was adapted as LILAC TIME by Adrian Ross with music by George H. Clutsam. Clutsam, an Australian composer, moved to London and had written a 1912 biography of Schubert. Later, he turned to the more profitable field of composing scores for musical comedies. Clutsam’s adaptation is closer to Berté’s original than was Romberg’s 1921 Broadway interpretation, Blossom Time . Lilac Time opened at the Lyric Theatre on December 22, 1922 and ran for 626 performances.

The story is set in Old Vienna where the young composer, Franz Schubert, writes a beautiful love song dedicated to his beloved Mitzi. But he is too shy to sing it himself, and asks his best friend, Baron von Schober, to sing it to her. Sadly she falls in love with the Baron instead of poor Franz, who has to find consolation in their happiness – and in his music. Sub-plots tell of Mitzi’s two sisters, Litzi and Fritzi and their boyfriends; a temperamental prima-donna and a jealous Count.

This UK tour was based on the 4th West End revival which ran at the Lyric Theatre in 1930.

Music from the show

February 9 – LET AND SUB-LET

February 9, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – Let And Sublet, a farce by Martha Stanley had opened on Broadway in 1930, having crossed the Atlantic it got its first European outing at the Southampton Empire ahead of its West End opening. It tells the tale of Jane Blair who hides in her family Larchmont home instead of going off to Europe as her parents had wanted. However, her parents sublet their house to bachelor Edward King, played by Percy Hutchinson, for the summer, while they sail to Europe expecting to meet up with their daughter. Meanwhile Edward arrives at the house where he has arranged to meet with his niece, whom he has never seen. Jane is mistaken for his niece and, liking the handsome Edward she decides not to correct him. By the time her worried parents return Jane is engaged.

February 16 – GENERAL CRACK

February 16 – On the stage – for six days – General Crack – the play is adapted from a 1929 film and takes place in 18th century Austria and revolves around Prince Christian, commonly known as General Crack played by English romantic actor and dramatist, Matheson Lang, whose imposing presence, commanding features, and fine voice were as well suited to Othello as to such popular and picturesque characters as Mr. Wu and the Wandering Jew. The play yells the story of Prince Christian who’s father had been a respectable member of the upper ranks of the nobility but his mother was a gypsy. General Crack, as a soldier of fortune, spent his adult life selling his services to the highest bidder. He espouses the doubtful cause of Leopold II of Austria after demanding the sister of the emperor in marriage as well as half of the gold of the Holy Roman Empire. Before he has finished his work, however, he meets a gypsy dancer (Armida) and weds her. Complications arise when he takes his gypsy wife to the Austrian court and falls desperately in love with the emperor’s sister.

Matheson Lang at leisure

February 23 – NINA ROSA

February 23 – On the Stage – for six days – Nina Rosa – Sigmund Romberg’s latest Broadway musical romp arrived in Southampton ahead of it’s London opening. Lavish, spectacular and exotic, this Romberg show starred Harry Welchman, Robert Chisholm, Freddie Forbes and Ethelind Terry in the title role, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, but it didn’t live up to the success of his earlier works. It failed to make much impact at London’s Lyric where it opened on 6th July, coming off within six weeks.

The title tune


On the Stage – for six days – Never Say Die – a stage play by William H. Post and William Collier Sr., which ran on Broadway for 151 performances in 1912. It tells the story of multi-millionaire hypochondriac John Kidley, who after a mix up of tests, is told that he only has a month to live. He dumps his fiancee, Juno Marko, while he is at the Swiss spa of Bad Gaswasser, there he meets a young Texas heiress, Mickey Hawkins, who has been betrothed to the fortune-hunting Prince Smirnov, but is in love with Henry Munch, a bus driver from back home. Believing he is dying, and wanting to help out, John suggests that he and Mickey get married, planning on leaving her his fortune so that she can marry who she wants when he’s gone. On their honeymoon, with Henry along as a chaperone, the couple fall in love for real, although, of course, they don’t realise it right away. Eventually, John bests the Prince in a duel, Henry and Juno get engaged, and John and Mickey get to stay together.

Guy Newall was a 46 year old British actor, screenwriter and film director and he took on the role of John Kidley. He was born on the Isle of Wight on 25 May 1885. He began his film career by acting in the 1915 film The Heart of Sister Ann. In 1920 he directed his first film, and went on to direct a further ten. He established a production company with George Clark whom he had met during the First World War, and they raised finance to construct a new studios at Beaconsfield Studios.

March 9 – LOVE RACE

March 9 – On the stage – for six days – The Love Race – Stanley Lupino’s latest London hit “The Love Race” came straight to the Empire from its successful run at the Gaiety where it had opened in July the previous year. As with all Lupino’s musicals Laddie Cliff starred along with Stanley Lupino and was joined by Frederick Conyngham in his first major role. A report at the time said “the piece was essentially a singing and dancing show with a plenitude of vastly absurd and equally diverting comic business.

A scene from The Love Race


March 16, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – With Variety and Music Hall stars Charles Austin and Clarice Mayne topping the bill, this was intended for a London run to be followed by a Moss Empire tour. “The Rebel Princess” has music by David Hendries & Louis Goetz and book & lyrics by John Sayes & George Murray. The very thin story tells of Prince René, the rightful heir of oilrich Sardinovia, who is threatened by a revolution headed by rival Prince Carl. René returns inconito, joins a band of supporters led by Pepita, and naturally falls in love with her. His friend Brass Graggleigh and revolutionary lass Hildebrand manage to inject a great deal of comic business into the story before things are sorted out politically and romantically in the appropriate manner. The show was produced at Cardiff Empire and then had a week at Lewisham before its week in Southampton and then a final week in Birmingham. During this time it failed to find any backers for the West End and disappeared from view, never to be seen or heard of again.

A 1931 Pathe featurette with Charles Austin

March 23 – IT’S A BOY

March 23, 1931 – On the stage – for six days – It’s A Boy – In 1930, Leslie Henson and his business partner Firth Shephard co-leased London’s Strand (Novello) Theatre and presented a series of farces launching with It’s a Boy! Starring comedy team, Leslie Henson and Sydney Howard, with Norman Griffin and Bertram Dench. This visit to the Empire marked one of the only provincial visits with the full London company. A report of the time said “the piece was more notable for the comedic abilities of the cast than for its plot, which involved a man about to be married for the second time who finds himself with a stepson older than himself.

A Pathe featurette with Leslie Henson in 1930

March 30 – CLOSED

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