Roger Remembers Jan 2016


Roger Holmes

Roger Holmes

I suppose I should count myself lucky – twice. The heyday of the clubs was in the sixties, and I was there to be a part of it. Years earlier, after WW2 and the early fifties, variety theatres were booming, and I was there to savour it all.

In 1945 I went to London as a student. The city was in one hell of a mess, bomb damage everywhere, and Rosebay Willow Herb all over the devastated sites. There was austerity, food shortages, rationing and boy, was it cold in that winter of 1946-7 I was living in the Kings Road, not the posh end, the scruffier bit known as the World’s End,. The number 11 bus passed the door and I could get into Central London for four pence. But what was the point, as a student West End prices were beyond me. The nearest theatre was only a few hundred yards away, Archie Shenburn’s Granville in Walham Green, but it was doing Repertory, of little interest to me. In the other direction, within walking distance, just, was Chelsea Palace. That was the place, when I could raise the necessary. Here there was a good pit orchestra under the direction of Ivan Dozin, who was known to treat audiences to a brilliant Post Horn solo in the intermission. (This man worked his way round the London Halls, ending up as M.D. at the Palladium.) It was here I first saw Max Miller, and became enthralled. I never missed a chance to see him ever afterwards. “When I’m gone, lady, there’ll never be another.” he used to say, and he was right ! A baffling act was that of Lionel King. He got four members of the audience up on stage round a card table, gave them an unopened pack of cards and left them up there to play a hand of whist. Standing in the middle of the auditorium, well away from the stage, he then told them in turn which card in their hand they should play.

Another lasting memory from those Chelsea days was of the mind reading act who called themselves Mr & Miss Tree (geddit ?). It was quite a well known act, and I’m told they had been in a Royal Variety Performance some years before. This was a Saturday night and there were a lot of servicemen, mostly sailors, on leave in the audience. They were not at all impressed and showed this noisily. The act closed the first half, and “Mr Tree” then stepped out and made a curtain speech. This is roughly what he said, ”We’ve won the war, but it’s left this country in a very bad state What this country needs to get us out of this mess are brains. And if we have to rely on some of those here tonight then God help us”..

Jimmy Currie had an act which involved large quantities of water, which usually started off high up at the rear of th stage and ran down towards the footlights amid appropriate scenery. It toured for years and years under various guises and names. The particular one seen in Chelsea was “The Waterfalls of Scotland”. I never worked out just what they toured and how the whole thing was managed without affecting the electrics of the theatre, specially the footlights. The act always closed the first half so that the stuff could be cleared away during the interval. A rival which I once saw at the Huddersfield Palace was the Koolman Water Organ, with some most elaborate lighting effects.


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