DESPERATE times call for desperate measures and as the growing popularity of television in the 1950s stole away the audiences at popular theatres, Black Country playhouses turned to more and more lurid gimmicks to attract the punters.
This programme from the Plaza Theatre, West Bromwich, has been loaned to us by Peter Hill of West Bromich, and it illustrates the type of sensationalist fare theatre producers were forced to put on to bring in custom.
It was the week beginning October 29, 1956, ITV had begun broadcasting in the Midlands the previous February, and the Plaza was staging Call Girl by Robert Colwyn – a play billed as "adults only".
This was an obscure touring production by Jack Gillam (Entertainments) Ltd., its details lost from the records, and the only information we have is gleaned from the programme.
The play was produced by grandly-named John H. de Lannoy and the cast were Delia Stanyer, Freddy Lees, Leonard Kingston, John Chilvers, Bernard Stevens, Helen McLaren, Arthur Barclay, Julia Hand, Robert Vaughan, Joycelyn Ring, Constance Davidson, Juli Castell and John Hammond. Do readers know anything about them?
The play was set "in London during the present day and covers a period of twenty-four hours" with scenes taking place in a Soho side street and a Kensington flat.
Information on the history of the theatre in Paradise Street can be found in Ned Williams' book Black Country Theatres.
It was opened as the New Empire theatre by Black Country impresario Ben Kennedy on June 1, 1914, with a variety bill.
From the start short films were screened there but in 1927 the building was leased to CD Cinemas and became the Plaza Cinema.
The Kennedys took over again in 1936, with plans to return to theatre but they decided to keep the new name. However, the Kennedys' plans were put on hold by the Second World War and it remained a cinema with live theatre not returning to the Plaza until a Christmas pantomime was staged at the end of 1948.
The television boom began in the 1950s, with the coronation broadcast in 1953 and the spread of commercial television across the nation, 1955-62. Soon the Plaza's variety bills were interspersed with "glamour" shows, although local amateur operatic and dramatic groups also performed there.
The week-long run of Call Girl was followed by Back Yard Kids, described in the programme as "a show of teenagers all from West Bromwich, something new in the entertainment world, this novel presentation is supported by a first-class variety company, adding up to a grand evening's entertainment."
Were you one of the West Bromwich teenagers that took part in Back Yard Kids?
That was followed in November 1956 by The Peaches Page Show, starring "Britain's loveliest strip star".
Live theatre at the Plaza ended not long after these productions, on February 2, 1957, with a special farewell show Thanks for the Memory.
It reopened on March 11, 1957, as the Kings cinema and screened films until April 28, 1973, when it closed and was then demolished to make way for a new three-screen cinema.
The new Kings cinema opened on June 28, 1975, and remained open until September 2002.
Have you any Black Country theatre memorabilia, photos or programmes to share with Bugle readers? Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle .co.uk or drop us a line at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.