Saturday, 07 March 2020 09:59

Thus Far: The Story of My Life (Part 4)

Written by Madge Elliott

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Madge Elliott has told us of her graduation from the ranks of the Exquisite Eight to leading lady in The Cabaret Girl, which ran for a long and happy season. But success demands constant work, the higher up the ladder one climbs, the more difficult is it to retain one's hold. So the cry of Madge Elliott was practice, practice, practice. See to where it took her. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3»

Madge ElliotMadge Elliott 1926 portrait. Photo by Janet Jeavons, Lady Viola Tait Collection, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148746415There never has been a theatrical season that, contemplated in advance by actors and actresses, didn't look either much better or much worse than it eventually turned out to be. The one which we were about to enter on in 1926 was no exception to the rule.

This period from a commercial point of view was an excellent one in the London theatre. New plays were being staged in the leading West End houses; musical comedy with its song numbers and dance interludes was at the height of popularity, and vaudeville showed all the manifestations of a boom.

Players' prospects were rosy and the firm of Elliott and Ritchard had many offers of engagements. In fact, we had reached a stage when we could pick and choose our parts. In these months we saw, and did, a great deal, theatrically speaking. It is funny when you stop to think about it how vitally your viewpoint, your entire outlook, is affected by contact with others. Unconsciously you strive to model your life along the lines of the pattern laid down. To be an individual in your own right on the stage is always difficult. Few in the theatre ever really accomplish it. Take the ‘darlings of the gods’ apart to see what makes the wheels go round and you will find that without exception they are a composite of favourites of their own.

I had seen many famous dancers in London and closely studied their work. Fundamentally it was the same as my own, but there was a certain something which made it distinctive.

It was inevitable, however, that quite unconsciously I should absorb some of their technique, but I think, all things considered, that it was mostly my own efforts and the assistance of Cyril which kept my dancing feet in public demand. There is a little, but not much, false modesty about this statement.

With the offers of good engagements plentiful, we elected to accept parts in The Midnight Follies, one of those revue-cum-musical-comedy pieces, with spectacular ballets and gay settings. [1]

It had a long run, and we were the featured dancers. Managers and booking-agents from many theatres dropped in to see the show. While some of them were particularly interested in our dancing, all whom we met privately insisted upon us telling them of Australia—its people, its theatres, and its tastes in entertainment. We felt quite like ambassadors.

Among these visitors one night was Laddie Cliff, revue producer and all-round theatrical manager. He knew the show world of London and the provinces; he knew that Blackpool liked George Robey and vaudeville, and that Manchester preferred pantomime and repertory plays. He claimed that Margate was just a pierrot show town, and that any manager who attempted to produce musical comedy in the Lyceum Theatre would be asking for trouble. He was very wise in the ways of the theatre.

The meeting with Mr. Cliff was exciting, and it turned out to be another ‘day to remember’ in my life. He was considering producing Lady Luck at the Carlton Theatre, and was good enough to say that if we would sign under his management, he would stage the piece early in 1927. Here at last was our really great opportunity.

Immediately I began to develop some of my old malady, fright, when I felt the full force of the offer. Cyril, of course, was his usual calm and sedate self, and winked at me several times during the interview to inspire me with courage. The upshot was that we agreed to Mr. Laddie Cliff's terms.

With such a bright future in view Cyril and I decided on a holiday at Monte Carlo when the run of Midnight Follies ended. It was at the height of "the season" and the gay watering place was crowded when we arrived.

We were immediately among friends, however, for many of our London acquaintances were lazing in this fashionable retreat. Previous to leaving London J.C. Williamson Ltd. had made us an offer to return to Australia to appear in Tip-Toes. It was a very good offer, and if we had not more or less committed ourselves to appear in Lady Luck I feel certain that we would have accepted.

Originally we had intended staying only two weeks, in Monte Carlo, but we were having such a glorious time that we decided on an extra fortnight. In the meantime we had heard nothing from London. In fact the silence was growing ominous. And then one day Mr. and Mrs. Frank Tait arrived on their way to Australia. They met us and reopened the subject of an engagement for Tip-Toes. [2] They were flattering in their praise of our work, and very generous in the terms and conditions offered.

I am afraid that both Cyril and myself were feeling a little homesick. The very mention of Australia seemed to stir old and pleasant memories, of which the Taits were constant reminders. One morning we promised that within 24 hours we would give them our decision.

Cyril and I talked for hours on the beach discussing the proposal from all angles. London's silence was the most puzzling thing, and we concluded that Lady Luck had been abandoned. Result—we would return to Australia.

Next day, and just before it was time for Mr. Tait to call, a telegram arrived for Cyril from London.

It was very much to the point: “Will you join Leslie Henson in Lady Luck at the Carlton Theatre?” . . . Would we? Ten minutes later Mr. Tait called. We were still terribly excited, but managed to stammer out that we had decided to accept the London offer.

Mr. Tait, naturally, was disappointed, but when he said “Goodbye” he wished us all the luck in the world in the new show. We immediately returned to London, saw Mr. Laddie Cliff, and entered into a contract which was to last just on five years.

I can never hear Monte Carlo mentioned without recalling that sunny morning and the joy it brought to us. Of course, we felt some pangs of regret at parting with the Taits and in the thought that they would soon be back in Australia. These emotions were overshadowed, however, by the knowledge of our own good fortune.

Mr. Cliff had supreme faith and confidence in us, so April 9, 1927, found us back-stage of the Carlton Theatre waiting for the curtain to rise on Lady Luck. Cyril was ‘Tommy Lester’ in the piece and I was ‘Patience.’ [3]

To us comparative strangers in a strange land this first performance brought something of doubt to our minds, particularly to my mind. I had a sedate entrance, and I felt that if I could only burst on the stage into a heavy orchestral fanfare or a pyrotechnic display things would be better. I can recall very little of the first act, but I do remember the dull thud of the curtain as it fell, the only thing which broke the silence out front for several minutes—or so it seemed; actually the time was half a second. Then the whole house burst into one of those demonstrations which brings tears of joy to all stage people. Overnight London hailed our performance, and those of us who know London know that such enthusiasm is rare in the theatre. And all because of two players from a country called Australia, who had slipped on to the stage to entertain them, principally with dancing. I could never judge my own work as it went on, and Cyril was too lenient a critic. But the reviews in the morning papers—the hardest cross for any actress in a new role—were as favourable as the applause of our glorious first night audience. I just sat tingling and helpless with happiness as I read approval of my work.

After years of striving to improve my dancing, and cultivating something better than a ‘thread of a voice’, overcoming unguessed obstacles and a spell of bad health, I had reached a place in the sun of the theatre.

I frankly admit my eagerness at that time for all things pertaining to the stage. It was occupation and recreation in one, and I looked forward to many months of interesting work. Letters I received from home and friends in Australia who had heard of my success warmed my heart, even if they did make me feel a longing for Sydney and Melbourne again. Those were very, very happy days.

Laddie Cliff was delighted with the success of Lady Luck, and secretly pleased, that we had lived up to his judgement of us.

I, too, was secretly thrilled for a long, long time when, on arriving at the Carlton every night, I would look up and see ‘Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard’ in the electric lights. There was a ‘strange’ magic about it that seemed to get in the blood, and although I have since grown used to seeing my name in theatre lights, the memory of the first flashing sign still lingers.

In the following years, we appeared in several successful productions under Mr. Cliff's management. Lady Luck ran for 12 months in London. The provinces saw it later on, but not with the original metropolitan cast.

By now we felt firmly established in the good graces of playgoers, and thoroughly acclimatised. Our appearance at the Winter Garden in So This Is Love, in April, 1928, added further to our popularity. [4] This was another long-run piece, and it was March, 1929, before we made a change. The new piece was Love Lies, and London flocked to the Gaiety Theatre in such numbers that a record was predicted. [5]

In addition to his success as a dancer in these shows, Cyril began to achieve a reputation as a "juvenile lead." This led to an offer for film work, and during his stay in London he appeared in Piccadilly, Blackmail, Just for a Song, Symphony in Two Flats, and Service for Ladies. [6] Some of the films were popular enough at the time, although looking back at his efforts, he always says that "they could have been better." Which is not under-estimating their value in the least.

Following on Love Lies, we played in The Love Race [7] and The Millionaire Kid, [8] which carried us to 1931.

Both Cyril and myself are proud of our London record. When we arrived back in Australia to open in Blue Roses in February, 1932, the chief remark of our friends was, “Why, you haven't changed a scrap”—and they invariably looked relieved. Apparently they expected us, because we had a fair measure of success overseas to have ‘plums in our mouth's’ and be patronising, but very early in life we both learned that the easiest way to happiness is to be humble in all things, and grateful for the simplest gifts.

Travelling thousands of miles, meeting with some of the really great men of the world, and studying them, merely proved the truth of this simple faith. I have met leaders of sport, leaders of art in all its branches, and leaders of thought, and always I found them the most charming, sympathetic, and the easiest of people to converse with. It is only the mimics who ‘swank.’

In my theatrical career I met in many cities of the world one charming and talented woman—Dame Nellie Melba. She was my friend.

To be continued …

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Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), 6 April 1935, p. 16, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182034957, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), 2 May 1935, p. 68, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92322156, and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), 10 July 1935, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30094970

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison with additional contributions by Rex Bunnett and Elisabeth Kumm.

1. The Midnight Follies was London’s oldest and most popular cabaret, having been established at the Hotel Metropole in November of 1921. Performances (which generally lasted an hour) were given on a specially constructed stage built in the middle of the showroom and surrounded on three sides by patrons seated at tables at which supper was served.

Madge and Cyril were engaged to perform in the “Spring Edition” of the Follies, which commenced on 12 April 1926 and played until early August. The opening night of the new show was broadcast ‘live’ from the Hotel Metropole over BBC radio–2LO (365 metres) between 12 midnight to 12.30 a.m., and on relay to BBC Daventry–5XX (1,600 metres). The following night there was a further ‘live’ broadcast over the same BBC stations of ‘The Midnight Follies’ orchestra conducted by Jay Whidden from the Hotel Metropole playing pre-show dance music between 10.30 p.m. to midnight.

“THE MIDNIGHT FOLLIES.”

NEW EDITION AT HOTEL METROPOLE.

The new edition of The Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole seems to be an attempt to create a new form of entertainment especially devised for the atmosphere of cabaret. Hitherto, both here and elsewhere, the typical cabaret entertainment has been, in the main, a conglomeration of variety turns. The backbone of this new production is made up of two items, one a ballet, the other a ballet with songs. The ballet is a version in mime of Mr. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, recently performed in London for the first time by Mr. Paul Whiteman's band. Whatever its place in musical history, this score certainly forms a good background for the ballet, and both the costumes and lighting, all in different shades of blue, help the music to make the performance unusually striking.

The other item is a Chinese fantasy, called A Thousand Years Ago, with original music by Mr. Norman O'Neill. This is delightful, and Miss Elsa Macfarlane's singing helps to make it so. Mr. Cyril Ritchard sings some amusing songs in a pleasant, easy manner; Mlle. Jeanne Aubert, the French artist, who will soon appear in Yvonne at Daly's Theatre, also sings admirably; and the members of the chorus work indefatigably. There is dancing before and after the production.

The Times (London), 16 April 1926, p. 12

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The Rhapsody in Blue ballet, performed by the Midnight Follies troupe, also comprised the second half of a charity matinee in aid of the West Islington Welfare Centre staged at the Winter Garden Theatre on 11 June 1926 (preceded in the first half by the one-act play The Valiant by ‘Holworthy Hall’ [Harold Everett Porter] and Robert Middlemass, and numerous short variety items).

On this occasion the full cast of the ballet was listed as follows: Messenger of Evil Tidings Cyril Ritchard; Faun Quentin Tod; Celimène Madge Elliott; Zobeide Dolly King; Clair Joan Nurick; Bacchantes Meg Lemonnier, Shelagh Hunter; Nymphs Pat Fraser, Peggy Blake; Greek Maidens Lena Cleaver, Audrey Canyon; Greek Youths Billie Shotter, Connie Shotter; Slaves Elsie Percival, Prudence Wise; Mrs. Pinchwife Keira Tuson; Zamor Betty Nicholson; Farcy Maud Scaife. Ballet staged by Quentin Tod.

2. Tip-Toes (music by George Gershwin; lyrics by Ira Gershwin). Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on Saturday, 7 May 1927. The lead roles of ‘Tip-Toes Kaye’ and ‘Steve Burton’ (presumably originally earmarked for Madge and Cyril) were respectively played by New York performer, Elizabeth Morgan and Australian, Gus Bluett. The cast also included American comedians Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson in the roles of ‘Al Kaye’ and ‘Uncle Hen Kaye’. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

3. Lady Luck (music by B. Hedley and Jack Strachey; lyrics by Desmond Carter; additional songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; book by Firth Shephard with additional scenes by Greatrex Newman [founded on Rida Johnson Young and William Carey Duncan’s 1917 play, His Little Widows]). Premiered at the Opera House, Blackpool, on 14 March 1927. London season at the Carlton Theatre (its inaugural production) from 27 April 1927 to 4 February 1928 for a total run of 323 performances. Produced by Felix Edwardes. Dances arranged by Max Rivers. Musical direction by H. [Harry] Morley Acres.

To help promote the show on its pre-London tour the principal cast members performed 25 minutes of musical excerpts in a broadcast from the Nottingham studios of the BBC (and on relay throughout the U.K. via the BBC regional radio network) on the evening of 12 April from 11.20 p.m. to 11.45 p.m. Those taking part included Leslie Henson, Phyllis Monkman, Laddie Cliff, John Kirby, Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard, Beryl Harrison and members of the chorus. The musical accompaniment was provided by co-composer H.B. Hedley, Jack Clarke and George Myddleton at the trio pianos.

Later during the musical’s London run, a ‘live’ broadcast of a performance from the stage of the Carlton Theatre took place on the evening of 30 August transmitted by 2LO–London and on relay to other regional BBC stations from 8.30 to 9 p.m.

Joining Madge and Cyril in the cast was fellow-Australian, Josie Melville, who had achieved stardom in her homeland playing the title role in the Jerome Kern musical Sally for J.C. Williamson’s in 1923, and was, likewise, trying her luck upon the London stage in this her West End debut.

Madge and Cyril earned their fair share of the critical accolades bestowed upon the production by the assorted London newspapers and periodicals.

AT THE PLAY.

‘Lady Luck’ (Carlton).

In London's new theatre, the Carlton, in the Haymarket, the architect, Mr. Frank Verity, F.R.I.B.A. [Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects], already distinguished for work in this field, has skillfully used the developments in new material and engineering methods of construction to provide a well-planned, roomy, comfortable, well-ventilated, tactfully decorated house of entertainment. I understand that it was originally destined for a film-palace; but the excellent planning of the seating to give uninterrupted view of the stage seems to suggest that the architect had in mind the possibility of its use for this ancient three-dimensioned art.

Mr. Gilbert Miller and his associates are to be congratulated not only on their courage and enterprise but on the discretion with which they have chosen precisely the right type of show for the new house. Lady Luck is a quite brilliant affair, if judged by the canon of fitness for environment. As musical comedies go, it is outstanding for a quite intelligible and plausible plot, for balance of design and for genuine humour; and it is quite adequate from the musical point of view. But the chief triumph is that it is pre-eminently a dancing comedy.

The attractive ‘souvenir’ presented by the management claims wonderful acoustic properties for the building. I do not think this claim can be entirely substantiated. Mr. Leslie Henson, it is true, not only presents a supremely comic and admirably contrived exterior but has a precision of enunciation which carries every jest of his—and the most of them were more than ordinarily diverting—to every corner of the immense house. But Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Phyllis Monkman are not so easy to hear; though Mr. Ritchard dances with such an admirable grace, Mr. Laddie Cliff with so grotesque a gaiety and resourcefulness (he is also an excellent mime), Miss Phyllis Monkman with such technical skill and spirit, that the eye is consoled for what the ear may miss.

I propose to return to this important business of dancing. Let me meanwhile indicate the light-hearted theme of Lady Luck. Three friends and partners, Wyndham Bleugh (Mr. Henson), Biff Morton (Mr. Laddie Cliff) and Tommy Lester (Mr. Ritchard) are dead broke in New York. Enter a large Mormon from Salt Lake City with (naturally) chorus of lesser Mormons to announce a legacy of six million dollars for Wyndham. Conditions: to take over the six widows of the deceased uncle. Charming midinette (Miss Monkman), stranded and offered star part by entrepreneur and billed to play in Salt Lake City; reluctance of Wyndham to carry out terms of will; preference for midinette; resolve of the two partners that their friend shall do the right thing by the uncle and them. Anybody with the right kind of brain can make a tolerable shot at the rest, which does not anyway much matter. What does matter is the charm, pace, gaiety and wholesomeness of it ail.

And to return to dancing. The principals already named were but the hors d’œuvres. There were the six widows (Miss Jose Melville, Miss Kathleen Amami, Miss Vera Bryer, Miss Peggy Beaty, Miss Beryl Harrison and Miss Madge Elliott), who all danced most charmingly, in particular Miss Madge Elliott, a beautiful, exquisitely-made, long-limbed athlete of a girl, who, with Mr. Cyril Ritchard, danced the house into an ecstasy of appreciation.

There was also a team of a picked ten of the Tiller Girls—all adequate but these ten outstanding—who danced with a precision and spirit beyond praise, and a technical accomplishment which only clever coaching and physical training to a fine point could have made possible. (Incidentally I am thereby straightway converted to the flappers' vote.)

May I beg Mr. Gilbert Miller, who will grow rich out of this adventure, to devote his well-gotten gains to establishing this house as a home of the new dancing comedy, as an arena in which these graceful athletes, our young countrywomen, may develop the talent which, on hints given by Russians, Scandinavians, Americans and other persons of foreign birth, they have so notably developed. One has only to think of a chorus at the Empire twenty years ago and less to realise what has been accomplished. Queer too, yet not so queer on reflection, how the trained skill, the health, the spirit, the candour of these modern sylphs alters the whole tone of this chorus business. No sensible Bishop should miss this show. And no "mean sensual man." An entirely satisfactory and heartening affair.—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 11 May 1927, pp. 525–526

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“LADY LUCK.”

AT THE NEW CARLTON.

“The casket is superior to the treasure it contains,” one fears, must be the verdict passed on “Lady Luck”: and but for the exhaustless energy and versatility of Mr. Leslie Henson, and much good dancing, first-night visitors to the Carlton might not have found the sumptuous appointments and luxurious seats of the new theatre quite sufficient compensation for the weakness of the entertainment. Neither the music nor the singing is remarkable. The story of this musical comedy—which concerns Mormons—is a matter of no importance; on the other hand, the scenery is worthy of the beautiful home in which it is staged; and the dancing always, and the humour fairly often, is first-rate. The dancers include Miss Phyllis Monkman, as energetic and graceful as ever. Mr. Laddie Cliff, who has lost none of his neatness; Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott, in the two best turns of the piece; the Tiller Sisters, who show all their customary precision; and, of course, the handsome and lively chorus. On Mr. Henson rests the main burden of keeping the audience in good humour, and he is equal to the task, thanks to the support of Mr. Cliff and Mr. John Kirby. He is, indeed, in George Robey's old phrase, “a Prime Minister of mirth.”

The Illustrated London News, 7 May 1927, p. 838

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“LADY LUCK”

This entertainment at the new Carlton Theatre in the Haymarket is called a “musical play.” The description “dancing comedy” would have been nearer the mark, for the music is seldom very inspiring, in spite of a few pleasantly tinkling tunes, and of play there is very little. What there is, however, should suffice to make it appeal to the public, for there are both humour and dancing in abundance. The dancing, in fact, is remarkable. Every member of the company can dance, and does so for quite half of the evening. For the greater part of the remainder of the time Mr. Laddie Cliff, Mr. Leslie Henson, and Mr. John Kirby are allowed to show their sense of humour, and admirably they do it.

The story does not matter. It concerns Mormons, and is chiefly remarkable in avoiding most of the stock jokes in that connexion. Indeed, Mr. Henson and Mr. Cliff fire off new subtleties in an amazing way, and their verbal facility, combined with Mr. Kirby's comic immobility, gives the humorous part of the entertainment a very sure foundation. Of the dancers, apart from the energetic chorus, Mr. Laddie Cliff was as neat and graceful as usual; Miss Phyllis Monkman worked with complete tirelessness and success; Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott twice roused the audience to enthusiasm with concerted numbers; and there were many others, including the John Tiller Girls, who danced with the precision of a platoon of soldiers. Several of the lyrics ore cleverly written; so is most of the dialogue, and, as a whole. Lady Luck may be considered a worthy entertainment with which to open this palatial new theatre.

The Times, 28 April 1927, p. 12

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THE MORMON MUSICAL COMEDY AT LONDON’S NEW THEATRE

“Lady Luck,” the musical comedy which inaugurated the Carlton—London's new theatre in the Haymarket—is founded on “His Little Widows," by Firth Shephard. Wyndham Bleugh, who is in partnership with Tommy Lester and Biff Morton—a firm badly in need of funds—inherits a large fortune. The only condition on which he may enjoy it is that he should proceed to Salt Lake City and marry his uncle's six widows in accordance with Mormon law. Wyndham's partners insist that he follow out these instructions, and so the scene shifts to Salt Lake City. There is a ceremony, and Wyndham grows almost reconciled to the idea of his sheikdom. However, Jane Juste, the ex-shop girl and rising theatrical star, manages to abstract the will from the pocket of Ezra, the Mormon Elder; and finally a satisfactory way out is found—and Wyndham enjoys the fortune without being saddled with the widows. “Lady Luck” is largely a dancing show, as all the leading members of the strong cast are accomplished dancers, and the famous Tiller Girls also appear. Miss Madge Elliott, who takes the part of Patience, one of the widows, has had a considerable dancing success with her partner, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who is the Tommy Lester of the production.

The Sketch (London), 18 May 1927, pp. 342–343

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Early during the show’s run the following songs were recorded by Columbia Records featuring the original cast members and theatre orchestra:

  • Happy” sung by Cyril Ritchard  }                                                           cat. no.
  • Sing” sung by Laddie Cliff         } ………………………………...........Col 4340 (10”)
  • Sex appeal” sung by Leslie Henson                     }
  • Boadicea” sung by Henson, Cliff & John Kirby  } ……………….........Col 4341
  • If I were you” sung by Phyllis Monkman & Leslie Henson }
  • Syncopated city” sung by John Kirby                                   } ….….......Col 4342  
  • Blue pipes of pan” sung by Phyllis Monkman & Laddie Cliff }
  • I've learnt a lot” sung by Madge Elliot & Cyril Ritchard         } …......Col 4343
  • “Lady Luck” selection part 1 & 2 – London Theatre orchestra } ….......Col 9214 (12”)

The gramophone records (issued in June 1927) marked Madge and Cyril’s recording debut.

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4. So This is Love (music by ‘Hal Brody’ [collective pseudonym of H.B. Hedley and Jack Strachey]; lyrics by Desmond Carter; book by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby.) Premiered at the Opera House, Blackpool, on 26 March 1928. London season at the Winter Garden Theatre from 25 April 1928 to 26 January 1929 for a total run of 311 performances. Produced by Leslie Henson. Dances and ensembles arranged by Max Rivers. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

On Monday, 6 August 1928 (Bank Holiday), excerpts from Act 2 of This is Love were broadcast ‘live’ from the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre between 9.50 to 10.30 p.m., transmitted by 2LO–London, 5XX–Daventry and on relay to other regional BBC stations throughout the U.K.  

In addition to Madge and Cyril being promoted to the romantic leads, the musical also included Reita Nugent, their fellow-Australian dancing co-star from numerous J.C. Williamson musical productions of the mid-to-late 1910s and early ‘20s. So This is Love was Reita’s second West End musical following her debut (as a replacement) in the Gershwin’s Oh, Kay! starring Gertrude Lawrence in 1927.

The London critics were duly impressed by the graceful dancing of Elliott and Ritchard and the gymnastic skill of their compatriot, Nugent.

AT THE PLAY.

“So this is Love” [Winter Garden)—love indeed of an ineffably noble order, at least on the part of this pretty and highly punctilious heroine, Pamela Stuart (Miss Madge Elliott), secretary to the handsome, amiable, rich young Hon. Peter Malden (Mr. Cyril Ritchard). In real life, I fancy, when rich employers are manifestly and honestly if impudently in love with their secretaries, and their love is as obviously returned, the secretaries feel no difficulty in accepting the new situation. But when our Hon. Peter Malden, realising that he is dealing with a very rare and sensitive type, arranges, with the help of his broker, Potty Griggs (Mr. Stanley Lupino) and his American friend, Hap J. Hazzard (Mr. Laddie Cliff), that his investments should appear to crash, while Pamela's modest flutter should bring her a fortune, thus reversing the situation; and when this friendly trick is discovered by the punctilious Pam and she, instead of saying, “How perfectly darling of you!” draws herself to her full height and, very proud and pale, declares that she can never forgive such an unpardonable deception, let no one say that our musical-comedy has no room for a lofty idealism.

So this is Love is indeed a very agreeable affair—a comedians' and emphatically a dancers’ comedy. The music, by Hal Brody, is sound and deftly syncopated if a little perfunctory; the book is by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby—a book conceived with a very proper bias in favour of the genial idiocies, of conduct and phrase, suitable to Mr. Lupino's peculiar and highly-diverting talents. Mr. Rigby, I will assume, was mainly responsible for the admirably ethical tone of the whole.

Most of the fun was produced by the long exchanges of the two principal comedians, Stanley Lupino, master of grimace, innuendo and grotesquely contrived personal physical disasters, and Laddie Cliff, very nimble and inventive step-dancer. These two held the stage for the greater part of the show without becoming tiresome. There was a pleasant old-fashioned music-hall flavour to their fooling which proved how well that good old brand wears.

But assuredly the dancing was the most delectable and seductive part of the merry entertainment. There was Miss Madge Elliott, not so spectacularly effective possibly as in Lady Luck—perhaps one can't repeat supreme triumphs like that—but entirely charming, especially in a languorous dance in which her gloriously long limbs were posed with beautiful effect. Her long living leaps, with Mr. Ritchard's able assistance, recalled the airy lightness of Nijinsky in The Spectre of the Rose—for all her nineteen hands or so.

A new turn and a tiny little dancer, Miss Reita Nugent, carried the triumphant progress of the athletic nymphs of our unrivalled day a stage further—a brilliant performance of quite astonishing virtuosity and without surrender of grace even in such disquieting movements as one-hand cart-wheels, a swift spinning-top movement round the full circuit of the stage, and a promenade on the hands with full striding movements of the uplifted legs—an unbelievable feat of gymnastic balance. This vivacious and talented newcomer received a deserved ovation from a delighted and perceptive audience. We protest that we really do know a good thing when we see it.

Miss Gilly Flower's dancing in more traditional musical-comedy mood was as good as any reasonable man could want. And as for the Tiller Girls—these wove the cleverly-designed dance-patterns of Max Rivers with such perfect timing, such an air of spontaneous gaiety and such untiring accomplishment (not one of them so much as drawing her breath the faster in the process) as to fill to overflowing the bright cup of our enjoyment. I freely admit the soft impeachment that a certain gallantry (duly detached, I hope) gilds one's judgment. But there can be no question that it is an important national gain that the hard discipline and personal asceticism that alone could make such athletic achievements possible does honour to our modem music-hall stage.

Will not some millionaire finance a match between a picked team of the Tiller Girls and Mr. Cochran's young ladies running, leaping, la savate and la boxe, putting the manager, wrestling, ju-jitsu—to confound Lord Rothermere and justify “the flapper vote”?—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 9 May 1928. pp. 526–527

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“SO THIS IS LOVE!” AT THE WINTER GARDEN.

In “So This is Love!” we have an English musical comedy as breathless in its pace as anything America has sent us, and a great deal more amusing than most American efforts. The authors are Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby, and their story tells how a rich young man, unable to persuade his secretary, Pamela, to marry him because he is rich, arranges with an electrically energetic American, Hap J. Hazzard, and his stockbroker that they shall announce that he has lost his money and Pamela has gained a fortune in the share market. But this mixture of sentiment and finance is not worrying, and only comes into notice when the principals are tired of singing or (which they do as a rule vastly better) of dancing. Mr. Laddie Cliff is cast for the American hustler, and makes him more violently energetic than the maddest ‘live wire’ of American caricature; there is no need to add that his dancing is first-rate. Mr. Lupino, besides being part-author, is the main source of fun in the play, and to watch him acting as a farcical stockbroker and to hear him sing about his “shyness” and satirise crook plays, is to realise that in him we have one of the most engaging of all our mirth-makers; while his back-falls and other acrobatic exploits are at times almost frightening. There is a good deal that is acrobatic in the dancing; but Mr. Cyril Ritchard is brilliantly skilful at the game, as is Miss Reita Nugent, with her cart-wheel evolutions. Miss Madge Elliott can also dance delightfully, and she and Miss Sylvia Leslie have songs to sing. But it is the dance-turns that are the feature of the show, and one of the out-standing turns is that of the Tiller Girls. The music of Mr. Hal Brody serves well enough.

The Illustrated London News, 12 May 1928, p. 880

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“So this is Love.”

It would be absurd to be critical about shows like this. Either you like the kind or you don't, and if you like it there are no limits to that liking. When the curtain went up at the beginning of the second act on a view of the Thames at Marlow in Messrs. Joseph and Phil Harker's best representational manner, when the John Tiller Girls began to disport themselves in front of those waters, and when it looked as though nothing could prevent Messrs. Laddie Cliff, Cyril Ritchard, and Stanley Lupino from being immersed therein—why, when these things happened the crowded audience gargled audibly like a small child beholding its first bit of Blackpool or Southend rock.

The play was about a rich young man whose secretary wouldn't marry him because he was too rich. So he pretended to lose his money, whereupon the secretary, in her adhesion to him became the personification of a glue-factory: But he really had lost his money. And since the girl was true blue and true glue she still stuck. The music was passable, though the employment of three pianos in the orchestra made it sound thin. In the matter of the wit let me cite the song entitled ‘Hats Off to Edgar Wallace!’ and which has the refrain:—

I like to hear a body
Fall with a sickening thud;
It gives me the shivers,
But I like to see rivers
Of blood, blood, blood!

Miss Reita Nugent turns some good cart-wheels. Mr. Stanley Lupino gives one to think that he might drop fooling at any moment and break into satire with a tang to it. Mr. Laddie Cliff does, the usual amusing things with his heels and ankles. Several ladies in the cast, among whom one might mention Miss Madge Elliott, Miss Sylvia Leslie, and Miss Connie Emerald, endear themselves to the audience. This piece is fully up to Winter Garden standards and is the normal success.—James Agate

The Sunday Times (London), 29 April 1928, p. 6

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5. Love Lies (music by ‘Hal Brody’ [collective pseudonym of H.B. Hedley and Jack Strachey]; lyrics by Desmond Carter; additional songs by B.G. De Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson; Billy Mayerl and Frank Eyton; and Leslie Sarony; book by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby.) Premiered at the King's Theatre, Southsea, on 4 March 1929. London season at the Gaiety Theatre from 20 March 1929 to 18 January 1930 for a total of 347 performances. Produced by Stanley Lupino and Arthur Rigby. Dances arranged by Fred Lord. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

On Saturday, 20 July 1929, excerpts from Act 1 of Love Lies were broadcast ‘live’ from the stage of the Gaiety Theatre between 8.20 to 9 p.m., followed by further excerpts from Act 2 from 9.35 to 10 p.m. transmitted by 2LO–London, 5XX–Daventry and on relay to other regional BBC stations throughout the U.K.  

Another compatriot of Madge and Cyril’s (from his tenure in J.C. Williamson musicals in Australia), was Adelaide-born, Harry Wotton, who joined the cast in a supporting role, which marked his West End debut. (Wotton had originally come to London to study singing under Dinh Gilly, having been given a letter of introduction by Dame Nellie Melba. Wotton had gained further experience singing in the chorus of the Williamson-Melba Grand Opera Company tour of Australia in 1928.)

“Love Lies” (Gaiety).

The Gaiety in a nice new coat of many colours offers us, through the intelligent co-operation of Mr. Laddie Cliff, entrepreneur and comedian; Mr. Stanley Lupino, joint author and producer with Mr. Arthur Rigby; Mr. Rudolf Haybrook, designer of scenes, and very gay and jolly scenes too; Miss Irene Segalla, designer of costumes, plain and fancy and entirely charming; Mr. Hal Brody, composer, and Mr. Desmond Carter, chief lyricist (with the usual supernumerary army of additional number-makers and subsidiary poets), a very bright, genuinely amusing and characteristic Gaiety piece.

Rolly Ryder (Mr. Laddie Cliff) has an uncle who threatens to disinherit him if he marries; Jerry Walker (Mr. Stanley Lupino) an uncle who threatens to do the same if he doesn't. Naturally both uncles arrive at Rolly’s enormous studio in Torquay on the very day that Rolly has committed matrimony. (The mixture as before.)

Jack Stanton (Mr. Cyril Ritchard) has met Valerie St. Clair at a bull-fight in Madrid; has flirted, given his name as Lord Luston, believing no such person to exist. Naturally also Valerie arrives from Madrid to become a pupil in Rolly's studio—a fairly distracting place to work in, it will be quickly gathered; and the authentic Lord Luston arrives to commission Rolly to paint his portrait.

Valerie (Miss Madge Elliott) is horrified at Jack's deception; and when they have made their peace on this issue Jack discovers that she is a rich woman, and therefore it is strictly incumbent upon him in musical comedy to draw himself up very stiff and proud and profess his inability to live upon a woman's money. How different from real life, when this irrelevant consideration would be not unreasonably hailed as a stroke of luck! However, in this kind it doesn't matter what the puppets do but how they do it. And frankly they do it as well as possible. Mr. Lupino and Mr. Cliff are genuine comedians, who are even better together than apart. There are a many divertingly silly jokes and an astonishing abundance and variety of delightfully absurd antics by these two. Mr. Lupino has the greater command of gravity-removing grimaces, gestures, contortions and disastrous falls, and was particularly outrageous and amusing in an impersonation of his supposed mistress; Mr. Laddie Cliff has the greater energy and pace. Mr. Cyril Ritchard’s loose-limbed dancing and studiedly hoarse voice-production are very pleasant things to see and hear, and Miss Madge Elliott has not lost the art of graceful movement and daring athletic feats performed with an admirable effect of ease.

The music and the dancing all through go with a swing, and nothing was better done or obtained louder or more deserved applause than “Run away Girl”’ a sort of Gaiety Marathon, wherein the charming young ladies of the Chorus and their somehow inevitably less plausible and less charming young men danced till it didn't seem possible that human muscles could continue to do their work—an effect of admirable drilling and intensive physical training.

A piece of happy nonsense, “Tweet, Tweet; Ssh, ssh; Now, Now! Come, Come!” by Mr. Lupino rather self-consciously supported by the audience, was probably the second favourite. But the whole affair was soundly planned and gaily executed, and may be commended even to those who usually approach this sort of thing with grave misgivings.

The piece is too long. The tiresome elaboration of the hoary jokes resulting from the verbal confusions caused by the names of Uncle Nicholas Wich and Uncle Cyrus Watt should certainly be jettisoned. But there is little else for the most captious critic to complain about. A good romping, thoroughly amusing show.—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 27 March 1929, p. 357

[Stanley Lupino’s 1929 Columbia recordings of “I Lift Up My Finger and Say Tweet, Tweet” (from Love Lies) and “Hats Off to Edgar Wallace” (from So This is Love) may be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wpJqvrCzks&list=PL71B6D3BFA2F16776&index=6 ]

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THE PLAYHOUSES

“LOVE LIES.” AT THE GAIETY.

Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Stanley Lupino may shake hands with each other over a success in “Love Lies,” the new Gaiety musical comedy; between them they have managed to provide a very lively entertainment and may divide the credit. Mr. Cliff ‘presents’ Mr. Lupino, to be sure; but then Mr. Lupino, besides being “star” comedian of the show, is also part-author of the libretto, and has written the music of one of its most telling songs. And Mr. Cliff, if nominally Mr. Lupino's manager, plays second fiddle to him most loyally on the stage. Theirs is a happy contrast of styles. Mr. Lupino, with his gifts of improvisation and parody, his humorous handling of Cockney character, his capacity for getting quickly on good terms with his audience, is all mercurial energy; while Mr. Cliff's methods of fun are more quiet and half-embarrassed, but make just the right foil. They are both well served, and both figure in numbers which should take the town. “Run Away, Girl,” a rollicking turn in which Mr. Cliff has the help of a sprightly actress, Miss Connie Emerald, instantly won first-night favour; but hardly less popular were song-and-dance turns of Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, and the general work of a spirited chorus.

Illustrated London News, 30 March 1929, p. d

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“LOVE LIES”

The Gaiety Theatre, modernized and deprived in the process of its pit, reopened last night with a musical play which, to judge from its reception, bears a long life. It breaks no fresh ground. Along established lines, however, it is well enough put together, being a series of pleasantly spectacular scenes interspersed with informal sketches and given a kind of unity by a plot which leaves everybody the utmost freedom of movement. Some in the audience may have felt, especially towards the end of the evening, that all the artists with a hand in the concoction of the entertainment had sought rather to repeat their former triumphs than to triumph in some new way, but in the hearty applause of the audience the apparent unwisdom of these canny craftsmen was amply vindicated. Why trouble to break fresh ground while the old still yields such encouraging results?

Such minor misgivings as these afflicted only the inconsiderable minority, and in any case stopped short of the use which Mr. Lupino, Mr. Cliff, and the rest made of their material. It was for the greater part of the evening the liveliest of entertainments. The chorus, a fashionably slim chorus, had been well drilled, but still kept a sparkling spontaneity in their dances. They seemed to be dancing with an enjoyment which sometimes seems to be absent from the work of a more intensively trained chorus, and their gaiety diffused itself over the comedy.

Against this charmingly vital background there was, first and foremost, Mr. Lupino, who is the most inveterate of parodists. Considering how closely he confines himself to parody, parodying himself if no other subject offers, the variety of his humour is remarkable. In Mr. Cliff, with his preternatural shyness and the gift of expressing a quiet humour at the centre of a cyclone of absurdities, Mr. Lupino has an admirable ‘opposite number,’ and last night they accounted between them for most of the fun that so delighted the house.

Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard gave the more serious love-making wisely discreet treatment, but they admirably discharged their responsibility for the song of the evening, and when the opportunity was given them they both danced “like a wave of the sea.” Miss Connie Emerald made love in a lighter vein with conspicuous charm, and Mr. Arty Ash made the best of his chances as a comic butler.

The Times (London), 21 March 1929, p. 14

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6. Cyril Ritchard Filmography:

Piccadilly (1929) (British International Pictures) (silent film)—scenario by Arnold Bennett. Directed by E.A. Dupont. Cast included Gilda Gray, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, Cyril Ritchard, Ellen Pollock, Charles Laughton, Debroy Somers and his Band.  

CYRIL RITCHARD IN PICTURES

Cyril Ritchard, whom most Australians will remember as Madge Elliott's dancing partner some years ago, has gained considerable fame abroad. He recently made a great hit in “So This is Love” at the Winter Garden Theatre.

E.A. Dupont, the director, saw in this young man the ideal type for the role of Gilda Gray's dancing partner in the picture, “Piccadilly,” and Ritchard welcomed the chance to play the part. That he has justified his selection is undoubted, being particularly successful in partnering Gilda Gray in her latest dance invention, “The Piccadilly Shiver.”

Daily News (Perth, WA), 12 July 1929, p. 9, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article82985469

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London Night Life

The London of Michael Arlen and Arnold Bennett is to be seen in the English production “Piccadilly,” shortly to be released in Sydney.

This is a Bennett story of London's night life, centring around adventures within and without the famous Piccadilly Club, of which one sleek character says: “It isn't a club really. They just call it that so that everybody will want to come.”

The cast includes Gilda Gray, Cyril Ritchard, Anna May Wong and Jameson Thomas, all in the roles of polished action. The first two are billed at the club as Mabel and Vic, a dancing team that depends on the fascination of Vic for its success. Richard's dancing is finished and original, and not for nothing is he still the popular partner of Australian Madge Elliott in England and on the Continent.

Vic of the dancing feet and the cheerful smile loves his partner, but she ignores him for the more sophisticated club proprietor, Valentine, who returns her affections. There follows an argument, and Vic leaves for America, sufficiently aware of his popularity to realise that the club will fail. In desperation, faced by a decrease in patrons, Valentine remembers the little Chinese scullery girl, whom he had seen dancing on a table on his last inspection of the kitchen. He sends for her, realising that some new draw must be advertised to pull back the old crowd … [extract]

Sydney Mail (NSW), 10 July 1929, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160394332

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Blackmail (1929) (British International Pictures) (Britain’s first feature-length sound film was also simultaneously made in a silent version)—screenplay by Alfred Hitchcock, Benn W. Levy and Charles Bennett (based on the play by Charles Bennett). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast included Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, John Longden, Charles Paton, Donald Calthrop and Cyril Ritchard.

As the Austro-Hungarian born Anny Ondra spoke English with an accent, her dialogue was dubbed for the ‘talkie’ version by English actress, Joan Barry. However Anny Ondra’s actual voice can be heard in a ‘sound test’ for Blackmail speaking with Alfred Hitchcock posted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Z8mSwzSQQk

Cyril Ritchard A Villain

“BLACKMAIL,” the English film which has lately come under the cold eye of the censor, introduces some interesting facial aspects of Cyril Ritchard, who for the purposes of the plot forgets that he is a dancer and light comedian and astounds his admirers as a villain of low repute. Ritchard lately explained to a London interviewer that he was inveigled into ‘Blackmail’ at the request of the producer, Hitchcock, who happened to be his neighbor during a summer spent at Guildford. Ritchard, who has developed beyond the knowledge of local theatregoers, has a genius for friendships with people of social and theatrical consequence. During a period when he was appearing on Broadway he became the bosom pal of Irving Berlin, and at one time when he was ill he was invited by the prominent American actress, Elsie Janis, to visit her and her mother at the Janis home, Torrington, New York.

The Theatre and its People—Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 28 November 1929, p. 21

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THE PICTURE WORLD

“Blackmail”

(THE STATE)

“BLACKMAIL,” the first British talkie, which should have been shown in Melbourne many moons ago, is, despite the long delay and some totally unnecessary censorial cuts, still one of the best things of its kind to be shown in Melbourne. To one who saw the film before the Australian censor cast his baleful eye upon it the excisions deemed necessary by our Mr. Grundy achieve no particular object other than to destroy, in one instance, the thread of the story. Had “Blackmail” been shown here when it was first available, there can be no doubt that it would have been hailed as the finest talkie produced up to that date, and, while it can now scarcely lay claim to this distinction, it is at least extremely good entertainment.

Cyril Ritchard, the Australian actor, plays the part of the dissolute artist with some skill; Anny Ondra, who commits murder in order to save her honor, would have been better had she been a little less intense and a little more natural. Donald Calthrop scores a great triumph as the blackmailer, and from this performance he may be placed alongside George Arliss as one of the world's finest “straight” players. The remainder of the cast interpret their parts with success, and the full dramatic values of the play are faithfully transmuted to the screen.—E.L.

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 20 November 1930, p. 18, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146706686

The murder scene from the ‘silent’ version of Blackmail with Cyril Ritchard and Anny Ondra may be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjF6sGP9X4E

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Just For a Song (1930) (Gainsborough Pictures)—screenplay by Gareth Gundry (story by Desmond Carter). Directed by Gareth Gundry. Cast included Lillian Hall-Davis, Roy Royston, Constance Carpenter, Cyril Ritchard, Nick Adams, Syd Crossley, Dick Henderson, Syd Seymour and His Mad Hatters. ‘The First All British Talking, Singing and Dancing Production’ (Sadly the film is currently regarded as no longer extant).

“JUST FOR A SONG”

A British Talkie

Singing clowns, moaning mammas, sonny boys, and get rich chorus girls have constantly passed in a bewildering array before the picture public's gaze during the last year, says a writer in ‘The New Idea,’ yet the British Dominions Films' all-dialogue musical revue, “Just for a Song,” will undoubtedly come as a pleasant surprise to all Australian talkie fans.

So far Broadway has apparently been the only setting for a stage story—but the music hall and city backgrounds of London in ‘Just for Song’ will be as refreshing as they are unique.

We have here, too, in this picture, some amazing team work, performed by the young Ziegfeld Follies’ dancer, Roy Royston, and the charming English musical comedy star, Constance Carpenter, their eccentric dancing and fine singing voices rivalling the popular team work of the young American stars, Nancy Carroll and Buddy Rogers. Their many acts before and behind the scenes, in perfect reproduction sets of such famous halls as “The Palladium,” “Coliseum,” and the “Alhambra,” would alone be sufficient draw at any time for this film.

Others in the cast include Cyril Ritchard, well known to Australians, Nick Adams, of “Potash and Perlmutter” fame, Rebla, one of London's greatest comedy jugglers, and the beautiful Lillian Hall Davies, who, aside from her numerous musical stage successes is known for her many vocal numbers on “His Master's Voice” gramophone records. She is said to sing a delightful number, “Ashes of Dreams,” with a feeling and sincerity that have done much towards lifting this actress towards the pinnacle of fame.

The magnificent Gainsborough Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Oumansky, plays throughout the film; whilst the “Mad-Hatters,” a fine comedy band, and “The Plaza Tillerettes,” a West-End stage dance team, offer two other special numbers.

Another great star in this production is Dick Henderson who has recently returned from the United States. He will also play a special number.

Though the theatre atmosphere of “Just for Song” is most realistic, it is understood that it is entirely subservient to the story, which is indeed “something different” from the usual backstage talkie.

The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 1 June 1930, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58384451

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Symphony in Two Flats (1930) (Gainsborough Pictures)—screenplay by Gareth Gundry (based on the play by Ivor Novello). Directed by Gareth Gundry. Music by Eric Coates. Cast included Ivor Novello, Benita Hume, Cyril Ritchard, Minnie Raynor, Maidie Andrews, Clifford Heatherly, Ernest Dagnell and Jack Payne and his Orchestra.

Benita Hume repeated her stage role in the British film version, but her scenes were reshot with American actress, Jacqueline Logan for the alternate version screened in the U.S. Cyril Ritchard was cast in the film at Ivor Novello’s request, following his success in the earlier Blackmail. With his “matinee idol” looks Novello had been a silent film star since 1920, concurrent with his British stage career, but this film marked his ‘talking picture’ debut.

IN TALKIE

Cyril Ritchard Goes Over Big

Cyril Ritchard proves that all his stage talent isn't in his feet, with his splendid characterisation of Leo in “Symphony in Two Flats,” now at the Bridge Theatre. This is not his first talkie appearance, but it certainly is the most interesting from the story viewpoint, and the fact that he is now appearing in Sydney in “Blue Roses.”

Ivor Novello, who wrote the play and plays the part of David, the composer, has accomplished an appealing and sincere piece of work.

David, engaged on a symphony which he hopes will win a £2000 prize, marries Leslie (Benita Hume), much to the despair of her wealthy suitor, Leo Chevasse. David's sight fails when he has finished his important work, and Leo, not intending to play the part of intruder, tells him that he has won the longed for award. His wife in a moment of gratitude to Leo embraces him, and for a second her husband is given the power to see them.

Imagining that Leo paid him the prize money in an attempt to console him for stealing his wife, he orders them both out, and during the next few months works on another symphony.

Determined to convince him of her innocence, Leslie visits him just after he has returned from a successful rendering of his last symphony, and their misunderstanding is transformed into happiness.

Truth (Sydney, NSW), 28 February 1932, p. 20, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/169139513

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Service for Ladies (U.S. Title: Reserved for Ladies) (1932) Paramount—screenplay by Eliot Crawshay-Williams and Lajos Biro (from the novel The Head Waiter by Ernst Vajda); directed by Alexander Korda; Cast included Leslie Howard, George Grossmith, Benita Hume, Elizabeth Allan, Morton Selten, Cyril Ritchard, Martita Hunt and Merle Oberon.

OLD THEME WELL HANDLED

Bright British Film

“Service for Ladies,” a British Paramount production at the Regent this week, is an example of the class of talkie that is possible when the restraint of England is coupled with the producing craft of Hollywood.

This movie combines most of the better features of English and American production. The dialogue of nearly every English film is like a clear diamond, but the diamond is too often displayed in an over-austere setting. “Service for Ladies” avoids that defect. The production is precisely as it should be.

The story of the head waiter who, on holiday, is mistaken for a prince or something of the sort is not new. In fact, the skeleton description suggests that it is hopelessly hackneyed. The handling of “Service for Ladies,” however, makes it entirely agreeable.

The acting could scarcely be bettered. Leslie Howard gives a brilliant performance as the holidaying head-waiter, and Elizabeth Allan is no less effective as the girl who thinks him a prince,

George Grossmith acts precisely as you would expect a king, holidaying incognito, to act, and Benita Hume gives a nice study of an amorous countess. Cyril Ritchard, who is appearing in “Blue Roses” in Melbourne, is also in the cast.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 30 May 1932, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242802138

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British Pathé “newsreel” footage of stage scenes from Love Lies and The Millionaire Kid, which include Madge and Cyril performing a couple of their dance routines, may be viewed on YouTube at the following webpage locations:

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard also displayed their terpsichorean talents in a 1927 silent film short for the “On With The Dance” series handled by the Pioneer Film Agency. Others performing in the film included Laddie Cliff, Annie Croft, Binnie Hale, Sonnie Hale, Leslie Hatton, Bessie Hay, Leslie Henson, Bobby Howes, Phyllis Monkman, Leslie Sarony, Reginald Sharland and Sid Tracey. The film was produced by Harry B. Parkinson. (Ref: Internet Movie Data Base listing, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486880/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_1 )

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7. The Love Race (music by Jack Clarke; lyrics by Desmond Carter; additional music by H.B. Hedley and Harry Acres; book by Stanley Lupino.) Premiered at the Opera House, Blackpool on 9 June 1930. London season at the Gaiety Theatre from 25 June 1930 to 17 January 1931 for a total of 237 performances. Produced by Stanley Lupino. Dances arranged by Fred Lord. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

On Tuesday, 23 December 1930, excerpts from Act 1 of The Love Race were broadcast “live” from the stage of the Gaiety Theatre between 8.30 to 9.05 p.m., followed by further excerpts from Act 2 from 9.45 to 10.30 p.m. transmitted by 2LO – London and on relay to other regional BBC stations throughout the U.K.  

Cyril’s casting as a “Talkie Star” was evidently a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of his real-life success in British motion pictures of the period.

Harry Wotton again joined Madge and Cyril in the cast in a supporting role. The musical also featured two other Australians—19 year-old Melbourne-born dancer, Esme Tosh (who, with her twin sister Audrey, had trained under Melbourne dance teacher, Jennie Brenan, before going on to perform in cabaret and revue as the Tosh Twins in Calcutta, London, Paris, the Riviera, Germany and Oslo, until Audrey’s subsequent marriage and retirement disbanded the act); and (making his West End debut) 29 year-old Sydney-born musical-comedy performer, Freddy Conyngham (who had appeared in the Australian productions of Cradle Snatchers, Young Woodley, Good News and Whoopee, amongst other shows in the 1920s). Esme and Freddy shared a duet in the first act, while the second act included Esme leading a dance number with the chorus girls and Freddy performing a song-and-dance number with the chorus boys. 

AT THE PLAY.

“The Love Race” (Gaiety).

Mr. Stanley Lupino is not only the life and soul of this musical play, but the author of its book, and he is too old and practised a hand to tell a plain unvarnished tale. Indeed from the moment that flashlight photographer has taken his “snap” and given the heroine's birthday-party its head the story he tells defies description. It is a sort of fugue on the tables of consanguinity with incredible variations. One cannot imagine him writing it in cold blood, but only creating it as he (and the rehearsals) went along, lawless vivacity is that of spontaneous combustion. The dialogue, as bewildered memory recalls it, consists largely of rhetorical epigram steadied with patter of the tu quoque order which in similar circumstances and from time immemorial has never been known to fail. Each loaded jest is fired off with a justified confidence of hitting the mark, and practically instantaneous laughter is the echo.

It would be something of a comfort to the conscientious critic to find in the mazes of the matrimonial labyrinth through which the characters rush some helpful thread that would lead direct from start to finish while enabling descriptive justice to be done to the scenery en route. Sufficient to say, perhaps, that the heroine's sisters and her cousins and her aunts all enter the love race with zest and with what seem, until the end, poor chances of winning prizes. Yet each, as the curtain falls, succeeds not only in snatching but retaining just the partner that Mr. Lupino, rather than any law of probability, preordained.

The going is good. It allows for gentler passages that evoke a different but not less spontaneous delight from that which is expressed by the sudden guffaw, and that give Miss Madge Elliott, herself a competitor in the race, opportunities to charm us with dancing dalliance by the way. She is admirably paced and partnered by Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who sustains her in mid-air where the dance so often lifts her, flings her graceful figure to the winds, or lands her so safely on terra firma again that she can bow without embarrassment to the responsive storm of cheers.

In reflecting on the entertainment's less hurtling features one notes that its girls, in common with their workaday sisters, achieve an independence that approximates to supremacy. Thus the twin heroines, whose aim it has been to delay until curtain-fall inevitable alliances with Mr. Lupino and Mr. Laddie Cliff, not only are married off-stage in the twinkling of a scene, but proceed from the altar to the motor-track, win an open championship there in a dead-heat, and take the final curtain clad not in the resplendencies that ever have constituted the good heroine's going-away dress, but in motor-kit of masculine design.

The dresses of the Chorus too show similar signs of progress, being no longer the orchidaceous incredibilities in which the pristine coryphée was wont to dazzle us, but merely such pretty and probable frocks and hats as would grace any secular occasion. And what a wonderful leveller is the permanent wave! This universal coiffure bridges the gulf between one side of the footlights and the other, establishes, if not the brotherhood of man, the sisterhood of woman, and marks, it may be, the first step on the way to that equality of opportunity at which the ideal Socialist aims but only bees and ants have achieved.

Mr. Lupino is an idiosyncratic comedian. His technique is infallible, but it is the personality behind it that moves even the grudging admirer to laughter. Some of the fun he exploits is calculated to appeal to one's unkinder instincts; such fun, for instance, as that to which Miss Drusilla Wills, as the spinsterial dud in the love race, lends her grotesque talents with such characteristic devotion to duty. One notes too the increasing popularity of the pun when reinforced by Mr. Lupino's deprecatory grimaces, and that M.P.’s have now succeeded mothers-in-law and kippers as an accepted symbol of farce.

Mr. Laddie Cliff's drier methods and incomparable agility as a dancer provide Mr. Lupino with a perfect foil. These two comedians support each other on the stage as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza complement each other in romance, or as the plumber and his mate combine against society in life. Mr. Cliff dances creatively; his toe-tapping has an astonishing virtuosity, and he is always at hand to support Mr. Lupino when the heavens justifiably threaten to fall.

Of the music let it be said that Mr. Jack Clarke knows his job; that when tenderness is in the air he can articulate it musically, and that when the comedians' patter invades the lyrics his note is always on the beat. The choral manoeuvres achieve fresh permutations which are not at variance with their prettily-attired executants, and the scenery has the contributory glitter such a show demands.

Thus, having established a new and successful tradition under this present regime, the Gaiety lives up to its name. And whether the intending playgoer seeks out this show for the sake of its clever principals, or merely takes pot-luck, the show is good enough and the principals are funny enough to justify either enterprise. H.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 2 July 1930, p. 22

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“THE LOVE RACE.” AT THE GAIETY.

One of those romps only a churlish fellow would refuse to enjoy. The plot is so slender, yet so involved, that it is almost impossible to disentangle it. It had something to do with a raided night club; various suit-cases in which other people's underwear was discovered—male or female, according to the sex of the jealous searcher; young men who pretended to be engaged to their friends’ fiancees; a heroine who promised to marry the first man she saw after midnight; and a motor race that resulted in a dead-heat, to everyone's great content. However, the plot does not matter. Mr. Jack Clarke's music was unpretentiously tuneful, and Mr. Desmond Carter has written at least one very good lyric, “You Can't Keep a Good Man Down.” What the play really requires is a first-class comedy number for Mr. Stanley Lupino. No one could write this better than Mr. Carter; he should be asked to do so. The dances and ensembles arranged by Mr. Fred Lord were lively rather than distinguished; but this was in keeping with the show. Mr. Stanley Lupino, who perpetrated the book, has not given himself any very funny situations, but he tumbles as amusingly as ever, and reels off strings of jokes with such ability that the newest of them do not seem so very old. Mr. Laddie Cliff dances cleverly, and Miss Connie Emerald, Miss Madge Elliott, and Miss Esme Tosh were a charming trio of heroines.

The Illustrated London News, 5 July 1930, p. 44

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“THE LOVE RACE.”

You cannot dance the same dance in a long dress that once you danced in a short; at any rate, you ought not to attempt it, as is particularly evident when a long-dressed chorus, turning its united back upon the audience, retreats up-stage with that strange, inelegant wriggle, presumably intended, in the days of a departed fashion, to remind primitive man of a wilderness of monkeys ascending a tree. A blessing upon long dresses! They are charming. Already, under their influence, musical comedy’s ceasing to be a display of grotesque gymnastic and is returning to cherry-blossom, laburnum, limelight, and romance. But let us go all the way and make the best of a little prettiness while it yet remains with us. Let us remember the grace of ladies and forget, until the fashion alters, the unquestionable vitality of apes.

Happily in The Love Race, in spite of surviving grotesques here and there, grace predominates except among the men, and to ask grace of Mr. Stanley Lupino and Mr. Laddie Cliff would be to ask for a reversal of their tactics. They have much else—a lively humour in common, a brilliant, jerky, clitter-clatter agility that is Mr. Cliff's and an air of sly shrewdness that is particularly Mr. Lupino's. They have, too, a story that never lapses into solemnity and twists itself into incredible complexities that are themselves an entertainment. They are, perhaps, best of all at the breakfast table, where they do those ridiculous things that die in print, but live for a moment of glorious absurdity in the theatre: the shuffling of a pack of toast, the friendly entanglement in the toast rack, the desperate dicing with loaf sugar. It is a very inventive and lively evening. Mr. Frederic Conyngham dances with spirit; Mr. Cyril Ritchard sings with a pleasantly casual romanticism; Miss Madge Elliott, who has indeed the grace to do credit to the longest of dresses, is a heroine in the tradition of cherry-blossom and laburnum, and so good a heroine in that tradition that, when she, too, is acrobatic, even her most daring successes seem a little out of place. Why not a full-dress waltz? There is indeed a duet by Miss Drusilla Wills and Mr. Lupino which contains a fragment of a waltz, and when Miss Wills, an actress of infinite resource, recalls The Merry Widow in mockery, the mockery is delightful. That duet is, in truth, the cleverest device of the evening, and it needs a romantic eye to observe that, under the cloak of mockery, Miss Wills is waltzing as prettily as the merry widow herself. The time is near when musical comedies will again be unashamedly charming. Meanwhile there is reason to be grateful for a little charm, and an abundance of agility, good humour, and long skirts.

The Times (London), 26 June 1930, p. 14

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8. The Millionaire Kid (music by Billy Mayerl; lyrics by Frank Eyton; book by Noel Scott.) Premiered at the Wimbledon Theatre on 27 April 1931. London season at the Gaiety Theatre from 20 May to 8 August 1931 for a total of 93 performances. Produced by Laddie Cliff. Dances arranged by Fred Lord. Musical direction by Harry Acres.

The show marked Harry Wotton’s third London musical with Madge and Cyril.

“The Millionaire Kid” (Gaiety).

The first-night audience for Mr. Laddie Cliff's presentation and production of The Millionaire Kid had all the appearance of a successful family party. The show was approved by the family fans as a typical modern Gaiety confection. A warm, indeed an affectionate, welcome offered to Mr. Barry Lupino on his happy return from exile was a feature of the evening.

The composition of the book was even more perfunctory than usual. It might even conceivably have been an experiment in technique to prove how little this part of the business matters.

The Devenishes of Devonish Court, in the county of Devon, are on the brink of insolvency. Lord Devenish (Mr. Wyn Weaver) and his formidable consort (Miss Violet Farebrother) are bent upon making a brilliant financial match for their daughter, Gloria (Miss Madge Elliott), whose heart is already given to the personable and penniless Hon. Aubrey Forsyth, Lord D.'s agent (Mr. Cyril Ritchard). The Millionaire Kid, Albert Skinner, has fallen in love with the printed image of a Miss Devenish in an illustrated weekly and assumes she is the daughter of the old gentleman, Lord Devenish, who appears with her. He did not know, poor fellow, being an American, that Gloria would inevitably have been labelled the Hon. Gloria, so he proposes to Lord and Lady Devenish for their daughter's hand and is accepted with indecent promptness. But it is Jane, the daughter of the peer's reverend brother, Alban, who is the original of the photograph, and a good deal of time is spent in complicating and unravelling this simple problem, which is finally solved by decoying the hen-pecked peer, who is only too willing, into a cabinet particulier of an exceedingly odd restaurant—(odd because Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Barry Lupino are the waiters—and blackmailing him into consenting to break off his daughter's engagement—a base (and quite superfluous) plan disedifyingly suggested by Rev. the Hon. Alban. Clearly none of all that matters much.

The ladies of the Chorus seemed in the First Act to lack the sprightliness we look for. I think they were hampered by the frumpish day dresses of the present mode. Things improved when we arrived at the Main Hall of Devenish Court for the revival of the polka and the lancers. Here the charming dresses had apparently been designed to mitigate for the worldly-minded the disappointments incident to the prevailing full-length fashions.

The music seemed reminiscent; three numbers, however, “Thank You Most Sincerely,” “Life is Meant for Love” and “I’ll be Lost Without You” had pleasant new phrases that stick in the memory. Jokes, on the whole, seemed a little thin and perfunctory—one about a wine being “pre-war vintage—if there's another war” standing out bravely. Though I must in fairness add that a jolly lowbrow behind me laughed at everything with such abandon that his neighbours began to fear for his dissolution.

Success was built rather upon the guileless clowning of Mr. Laddie Cliff and Mr. Barry Lupino. Mr. Lupino walked off balconies, sat on spurs, planted pens dartwise in obvious targets on retreating footmen, put on spring-bowlers and sat on collapsible campstools and back-chatted with his partner with a touch of inspired idiocy. Mr. Laddie Cliff assumes so pleasantly the air of an exceedingly friendly and ingenious monkey that he is irresistible.

The dancing of Miss Madge Elliott, with the rhythmic sensuous movements of her gloriously long limbs and her courageous confidence, not misplaced, in her graceful partner, Mr. Ritchard, was admirable; as were the clever steps and cartwheels of that pretty romp, Miss Vera Bryer. An “interlude de Ballet” in the ultra-modern manner seemed to me a good musical and choreographic joke. Altogether a cheerful and cheering affair.—T.

Punch, or The London Charivari, 3 June 1931, p. 610–611

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“THE MILLIONAIRE KID,” AT THE GAIETY.

Mr. Laddie Cliff's latest musical comedy is so much like its predecessors that one wonders why he has troubled to change more than the title of the book and music. There isn't an original incident, and scarcely a line, in the entire book, and at least one that would be incredibly vulgar, were it not so school-boyishly in tune with the rest of the humour. The scenery by Joseph and Phil Harker is, as usual, unexcitingly competent; with one rather pretty set for the last scene, however. The dresses are charming and the wearers up to Gaiety standards. Whether the comedians will amuse you depends on whether you can stand an entire evening of knockabout humour. Mr. Laddie Cliff darts about agilely enough, and contrives to look depressingly solemn throughout his performance. Mr. Barry Lupino is so much like every other Lupino since 1784, when Georgio, of that ilk, burst into fame as an acrobatic dancer, that it is difficult to say anything new of him. Mr. Barry Lupino was due, we are told, to make his first appearance at the Gaiety thirty years ago; broke his contract with George Edwardes, and went to America. So that he has only himself to blame that in 1931 a West-End audiences finds little new in his tricks. Still, he is amusing enough in his way, and most of the first-night audience rewarded his effort with a deal of laughter. Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard played their accustomed roles of stage lovers, and danced a ballet between themselves with superb solemnity. Miss Vera Bryer was a delightful minor heroine. To quote, for the last time: If this is the sort of show you like, this is the sort of show you’ll like.

The Illustrated London News, 30 May 1931, pp. 942–944

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“THE MILLIONAIRE KID”

In the day when the lancers and the polka were danced without a thought that they would so soon become quaintly evocative of a vanished period, this musical comedy would have been considered something of a spectacle. But that was the day before producers began to load revolving stages with fairs and Eastern bazaars and lakes and mountains. The Millionaire Kid has some pleasant Devonian scenery, moonlit as well as sunlit, but it must rely for popularity upon the grace of its dancing, the liveliness with which its small chorus is handled, the effectiveness of its knockabout humour, and the sentimental value of its frequent reversion to dances which belong to everybody's youth. Its music and its songs and its story are neither better nor worse than these things have usually been at the Gaiety.

Its best chance of a long and prosperous life is to be found in the dancing. While Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard are dancing we are apt not to notice that they are also singing. And surely whatever they have to say to each other in the song called “Thank You Most Sincerely” is better said in the sinuous grace of their dance. “Life is Meant for Love” is a slightly more attractive song, but the dance that goes with it is not more attractive, and need not be. Indeed, whenever Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard are moving together about the stage the evening goes pleasantly enough, and we derive a similar pleasure from the rather more energetic dancing of Miss Vera Bryer and Miss Gilly Flower. The handling of the chorus, which is prettily dressed in yellow and green, and red and white, is sometimes ingenious, but never strikingly original. For humour we depend upon Mr. Barry Lupino and Mr. Laddie Cliff, who both aim at the kind of silliness that compels laughter.

The Times (London), 21 May 1931, p. 12

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Following its disappointing London run, The Millionaire Kid toured the British provinces for four-and-a-half months with most of the original cast (with the exception of Madge and Cyril, whose roles were respectively taken by Fay Martin and Basil Howes), and returned to the West End for a further limited season of 27 performances at the Prince Edward Theatre between 24 December 1931 to 16 January 1932 (with Martin and Howes retaining their replacement roles).

Postscript

Independently of Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard also performed in the London revues Charlot’s Revue (1925); R.S.V.P. (1926) and The Co-optimists of 1930.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  • Charlot’s Revue

London impresario André Charlot had taken up tenancy at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1925 to present a series of revues featuring a roster of West End stars that included Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, Jack Buchanan and Herbert Mundin (recently returned from America, where they had appeared in André Charlot’s Revue of 1924 on Broadway), together with Jessie Matthews (who had understudied Lawrence in the U.S.), Robert Hobbs and Peter Haddon. Between March and May the company played the American version of the revue for West End audiences and then, from June, the programme of songs, sketches and ballets performed changed on a monthly basis to allow Charlot to showcase new material in preparation for launching a new edition on Broadway with his four lead stars. Throughout July, August and September the best of the previous month’s items were retained with new material added to keep the show “fresh”. At the end of September the show had taken on its final form in readiness for its subsequent transfer to New York with Lawrence, Lillie and Mundin, who played for a further week’s season at the Golders Green Hippodrome prior to their departure for the U.S. to join with Jack Buchanan (who had already left at the end of August).

Meanwhile the revue continued to play for West End audiences with Maisie Gay (available after the early closure of Better Days), Edmund Gwenn and Dorothy Dickson joining a cast that included Jessie Matthews and Peter Haddon for the October edition of Charlot’s Revue. Again new material was added to suit the individual talents of the featured performers.

 * * * * * *

The November Issue was a great improvement on the previous month. The weak material was taken out, and both Edmund Gwenn and Dorothy Dickson were given more suitable items. Ronald Jeans supplied two clever and ingenious new sketches. ‘Fate’ was an ordinary example of the triangular love drama, only the audience decided the turns the plot would take. Should the heroine choose the husband or lover and should the latter be strangled were examples of the twists it could take. There were, according to Ronald Jeans, over two hundred alternatives. On the first night it was played again after the finale to show how different it could be. Jeans’ other sketch, written with H.C.G. Stevens, was ‘Off the Lines’. It was first played straight and then with the actor making a late entrance; the inexperienced actress continued with her lines while he was three behind. Dorothy Dickson had a new song in ‘Love your neighbour’ and a new ballet ‘Saints and Sinners’. Maisie Gay's charwoman, Mrs 'Arris, sang ‘You don't know what you've got’. An addition to the cast was Cyril Ritchard making his second London appearance; he had already been seen that year in the revival of the revue Bubbly.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (unpublished manuscript) by permission of the author.

* * * * * *

The main burden of a heavy and, on the whole, satisfactory evening's work fell upon Miss Gay, Miss Dorothy Dickson, Mr. Gwenn and Mr. Cyril Ritchard. Miss Gay's supreme achievement was the song, “You don't know what you've got,” in which a jaded alcoholic land- or char-lady confides to us her doubts and experiences. The duet, “Follow Mr. Cook,” with Miss Gay and Mr. Gwenn as two grotesque travellers, well written and composed, was sung with extraordinary gusto.

It struck me as sufficiently absurd to hear Miss Dickson lamenting that nobody could ever be found to love her. Miss Dickson is a trump card in a revue-maker's hand for singing, playing and dancing, or just merely looking.

Mr. Cyril Ritchard's easy acting and graceful dancing were a pretty good substitute for Mr. Jack Buchanan's, which is no faint praise.

Altogether a sound show and provocative of much speculation as to what superb system of physical training the principals undergo to enable them to do these things and live.—T.

Extract from Punch (London), 11 November 1925, p. 528

* * * * * *

There was a December Issue which proved to be the last, the show closed a week before Christmas. There were few changes. Dorothy Dickson had left to play Peter Pan being replaced by Mamie Watson who had not been seen in London since the Gaiety revival of The Shop Girl in 1920. Miss Watson was not such a graceful dancer as Miss Dickson but she was a far better actress and singer. Jessie Matthews was still on board and was given a new song, ‘I can't remember quite’.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (ibid.)

* * * * * *

Its season at the Prince of Wales having concluded, The Times listed the following item under the heading of “Christmas Theatre Arrangements”:

At the Golders Green Hippodrome on Boxing Day Charlot's Revue will be presented. The company includes Mr. Cyril Ritchard, Mr. Henry Lytton, Jun., Miss Veronica Brady, Miss Jessie Matthews, Miss Elsie Randolph, and Mr. Herbert Mundin. The piece will remain there for a month.

The Times (London), 24 December 1925, p. 8

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[The inclusion of Herbert Mundin in the cast list is suspect, given that he would have presumably remained in New York until the end of the Broadway run of Charlot’s Revue in March 1926.]

Charlot's Revue then toured throughout England until August of 1926, but without Cyril Ritchard, who had left to join the cast of his next London revue R.S.V.P.

  • R. S.V.P. opened at the Vaudeville Theatre on 23 February 1926 and ran through a second edition closing on 6 November 1926 for an estimated total run of 294 performances (N.B. because of the British General Strike of 1926 the exact number of performances given between 5 to 17 May is tentative).

Cyril Ritchard’s performance in R.S.V.P. ran concurrently with that of his cabaret season in The Midnight Follies between mid-April to early-August.

* * * * * *

While 1925 had been marked by a large number of flop shows and the suggestion that revue was ‘dead’, 1926 was able to reverse the trend and produce quite a feast of successes. It was the Vaudeville Theatre that presented the year’s first hit with Archibald de Bear's R.S.V.P. The theatre had been closed for twelve weeks for a major modernisation and refit and the first production was a revue constructed to the same formula as the hugely successful The Punch Bowl, a sandwich piece with the centre the major contribution. Where its predecessor offered the story of ‘Punch and Judy’ with ‘Punch-and-Judy-Up-to-Date’, R.S.V.P. offered the relatively modern ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in the form of ‘Alice in Lumberland’. Other than the presence of composer Norman O'Neill and designer Clifford Pember, de Bear's production team changed completely. There were still the various works of various contributors to supplement de Bear's own, and there was an increased reliance upon the growing talents of one man, Greatrex Newman. Newman had been contributing sketches and lyrics for revues since 1914 although many had been for the out-of-town productions of Harry Day. The previous year had changed this; he had written for The Punch Bowl and had contributed to the lyrics of the musical comedy, The Blue Kitten. Quentin Tod and J.W. Jackson choreographed, Mr Tod being responsible for the Alice ballet. 

The star of R.S.V.P. was Robert Hale … J.H. Roberts, a respected non-classical actor, made his entrance into revue to feature along side Mimi Crawford, Cyril Ritchard, Joyce Barbour, Enid Stamp-Taylor and the young Annie Kasmir …

As in The Punch Bowl the second act of the three acts was considered the most important aspect of the entertainment. In ‘Alice in Lumberland’ de Bear was able to mirror the success of his brilliant ‘Punch-and-Judy-up-to-date’. The new fantasy had every member of the cast taking part. The scene was set in the shop of Peter, an old book seller. A couple, played by Cyril Ritchard and Joyce Barbour, tried to buy an autographed copy of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but old Peter (J.H. Roberts), much to his daughter's surprise, refused. The reason became evident when from the book the famous Lewis Carroll figures came alive; and so did the ballet phase of the fantasy. Mimi Crawford played Alice, an Alice that kept her associations with the famous Tenniel drawings—indeed the whole was joyfully Tenniel. Quentin Tod, first appeared as the White Rabbit, Annie Kasmir, seen with many other Italia Conti children in lesser roles, played the Dormouse. Robert Hale's Queen of Hearts, Cyril Ritchard's Mad Hatter, [Hugh Dempster’s March Hare] and Enid Stamp-Taylor's Cheshire Cat were accompanied by a Norman O'Neill score that included the haunting ‘Alice, where art thou’.

There was another widely advertised inclusion into R.S.V.P.; a burlesque of Mercenary Mary by Greatrex Newman entitled ‘Worse-than-any-Mary’ which became Robert Hale's main showcase. He played three main characters, Kid June the heroine, Chris Baskcomb the comedian and Hearn the Hunter and senile humorist (the stars of the Hippodrome success were June, A.W. Baskcomb, Lew Hearn, Peggy O'Neil and Hale's son, Sonnie). Joyce Barbour played Miss O'Neil as the character Worse-than-any-Peggy. It closed the first part of the show and proved as successful as the ballet.

The rest was the usual mix, but a more successful mix than de Bear ever reached in The Punch Bowl; perhaps because the artists concerned gelled in an easier fashion. However, as before the third part did require some tuning to bring it up to standard.

… The opening number had chorus and principals introducing themselves, followed by Enid Stamp-Taylor telling of ‘the recipe of revue’ …

… ‘Family Bridge’ had J.H. Roberts as an absent minded clergyman with Joyce Barbour the local lady giving a bridge party exasperated by a keen bridge playing major (Cyril Ritchard). For ‘Sentimental me’, the first Rodgers and Hart number to be performed on the London stage, J.H. Roberts and Joyce Barbour played chronic invalids endeavouring to imitate the love-making of Cyril Ritchard and Mimi Crawford …

Cyril Ritchard and Joyce Barbour had several good opportunities. Ritchard had two solo numbers, ‘My bachelor days’ and ‘How d'you do?’, both with music by Melville Gideon. He and Miss Barbour had a magical spot in 'How now, brown cow?' a burlesque of a vulgar rich woman learning to speak the Queen's English …

R.S.V.P. had excellent notices and soon broke all previous Vaudeville box-office records by as much as fifty pounds and there was a new record for advanced booking and library deals. A second edition appeared in August … It continued until November when de Bear replaced it with another high quality product.

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (ibid.)

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  • The Co-Optimists Of 1930 opened at the Theatre Royal Birmingham on 24 March, followed by its West End season at the London Hippodrome from 4 April to 21 June 1930 for a run of 99 performances.

* * * * * *

Archibald de Bear and Clifford Whitley staged in April The Co-Optimists Of 1930, another not unsuccessful attempt to revive the famous group. Only five of the original 1921 company survived the move into the new decade, they were Davy Burnaby, Stanley Holloway, Phyllis Monkman, Elsa Macfarlane and Wolseley Charles. The newcomers were a set of strong performers with a great deal of box-office appeal. Mimi Crawford, Elsie Randolph, Cyril Ritchard, Joan Barry, Herbert Mundin, Harry Milton, Joe Sargent and Eric le Fre all brought with them strong musical comedy and revue backgrounds. The show played a week in Birmingham before coming to the large London Hippodrome for its run. Most noticeable in his absence was Melville Gideon, the composer who had been associated with all the other productions and who had written most of the songs used. To take his place came another young American in Arthur Schwartz who had come to London to write Here Comes the Bride in February. His lyricist was Howard Dietz with whom he worked most of his career—they contributed two songs. Greatrex Newman was the main contributor to the book and lyrics; Leslie Henson directed.

The new show was a development in the old style of programme with more topical material and, other than for the traditional Pierrot costumes, was far removed from the simple end of pier production the title indicated. The cast described themselves as the ‘troupe who give the stuff’ in their last song, and the ‘stuff’ was indeed given with the expertise one would expect from such a talented troupe. Gone was the original ‘Bow Wow’ opening on a darkened stage, now they came on simply introducing themselves and, when fully assembled, they sang Davy Burnaby's ‘The guard of the Channel Tunnel’, a song that was deeply in The Co-Optimists’ flag waving tradition. The programme took on a new look as it moved from song to sketch to dance, all that was missing was the chorus line for it to be a revue. The setting had become more adventurous with Aubrey Hammond designs; he had also designed the modernised Pierrot costumes the cast wore. Davy Burnaby's jovial position of master of ceremonies was cast in rock, as were Stanley Holloway's songs sung in his deep baritone voice and the new addition of his ‘Sam’ monologues which had given him star status.

Greatrex Newman supplied a number of the sketches, mainly in the burlesque style. He had been associated with many of the past Co-Optimists including the New York production and had just had his greatest success with Mr Cinders the show he wrote with Clifford Grey. The Russian ballet was the favourite subject for revue treatment of the season. In this production it became a droll travesty called ‘The Lost Child’ set in Hyde Park with the cast, playing nurse, doctor, policeman and a man about town—all in ballet skirts. The child grew as the divertissement continued at quite an alarming pace.

'Burglary á la mode' showed the fashionable side of being robbed. ‘The Divorce of the Painted Doll’ had the cast as nursery rhyme characters in court, and ‘The Family Album’ showed ancient bicycles on the road, a pony carriage and a group of Victorians dancing the polka, with its humorous Hammond setting the cast conspired to mock the past. The final scena of the show was also a glimpse back to Victorian times. It was called ‘Sunday Afternoon—Then and Now’ showing the contrasts of social life between the old-world village in those not too far departed years and the same place in 1930 with a petrol station with a charabanc arriving with its noisy passengers and girls running around in short skirts.

… Phyllis Monkman and Elsie Randolph played a couple of charwomen scrubbing the stage through coughs and gossip. Miss Randolph had a more glamorous moment with the song ‘Dancing time’ one of the many moments through the show which required the entire cast to dance, a not too difficult task with artists such as Cyril Ritchard, Mimi Crawford and Eric le Fre who were all nimble dancers …

The production was well enough, but not rapturously, received. It found its audience for only eleven weeks. In that time Elsie Randolph injured her leg while dancing which took her out of the show for a couple of weeks, Cyril Ritchard left [in early May] to join the cast of the musical comedy The Love Race and was replaced by Harry Milton …

Extract from Revue by Rex Bunnett (ibid.)

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PLAYS AND PLAYERS

When the Australian cricketers visit the London Hippodrome to-morrow night to be entertained as guests by the Co-Optimists of 1930, they will meet an old friend in Mr. Herbert Mundin. Mundin's last engagement before he joined the Co-Optimists was in Australia, where he appeared in several musical comedies, and met all the present Australian XI. Another Co-Optimist who will be renewing acquaintance with the visiting team is Cyril Ritchard, an Australian by birth. These two will be able to undertake the introductions when the company and the cricketers meet on the stage after the show.    

The Sunday Times, 27 April 1930, p. 6

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard also appeared together on a couple of variety bills at the London Palladium performing a “pleasant musical comedy turn” in which they “dance charmingly together” (according to The Times) in late February and early March of 1930 prior to commencing rehearsals for The Love Race. (Noted under “Variety Theatres” in The Times for 25 February 1930, p. 12 and 11 March 1930, p. 14).

Additional sources

  • Robert Seeley and Rex Bunnett, London Musical Shows On Record 1889–1989, General Gramophone Publications Ltd., London; revised edn., 1989
  • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1920–1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2nd edn, 2014
  • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2nd edn, 2014
  • Sandy Wilson, Ivor, Michael Joseph Ltd., London, 1975

 

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