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When a Hollywood star sang at the Dudley Hippodrome in 1948

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 04, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Hollywood star Allan Jones sang at the Dudley Hippdrome in June 1948

  • Flier from the Dudley Hippodrome, June 1948

  • Dancing xylophonist Reg Redcliffe

  • Magician and origamist Robert Harbin

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WE HAVE more memorabilia from the glory days of the Dudley Hippodrome, courtesy of Jo Davies of Brierley Hill. This flier dates from June 1948 and is typical of the variety shows that were the theatre's mainstay.

Playing twice nightly, at 6pm and 8.15pm, the show began with an overture and then the first act on stage were dancers Ray and Madge Lamar. Ray Lamar and Madge Nicholls formed their partnership when they married in 1947. They played in every variety theatre in the country but the couple divorced in 1956. Lamar then went into management, running theatres on the English Rivera.

Next on the bill was comedian Hal Miller, "The Jovial Joker". However, we have been unable to find any details of his career. Did you ever see him perform or can perhaps tell us something about him?

Miller was followed by Reg Redcliffe, described in the flier as "Britain's novelty musical act". He played the xylophone while dancing energetically and although he never made the big time he was typical of the speciality acts that once flourished in British variety.

The next act was better known, magician Robert Harbin. Billed as "wizard if ever there woz", he invented a number of well-known magic tricks, perhaps most famously the "Zigzag Girl" which would see a glamorous assistant placed in a box and apparently cut into three with her middle section pulled out. He was also a leading exponent of origami, popularising the Japanese art of paper folding on TV and publishing many books on the subject.

Number six on the bill were the Newman Twins, "sensational acrobats". Again, we have been unable to uncover any information on them; can you tell us anything?

Ray and Madge Lamar then returned to the stage for a second stint and they were followed by Yeaman's Dogs, described as "fun for all". This is another variety act lost to history and we would be grateful for any details.

Hal Miller then gave another turn before the big star of the night took to the stage. Presented by Bernard Delfont the "famous Hollywood singing star" Allan Jones then performed.

Born in 1907 Jones made his name on Broadway in the 1930s. His big Hollywood break came in 1935 when he played the romantic lead in the Marx Brothers comedy A Night at the Opera. This led to him being given the lead role of Gaylord Ravenal in the 1936 film of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II'sShow Boat, co-starring Irene Dunn and Paul Robeson and directed by Dudley-born James Whale.

Jones then reunited with the Marx Brothers for their 1937 movie A Day at the Races and in the same year he made The Firefly in which he sang his most famous song, The Donkey Serenade. His Hollywood fortunes faded after that but Jones enjoyed a long career touring the world and performing on stage. He died in 1992 aged 84.

Allan Jones was married to actress Irene Hervey and their son is the singer Jack Jones.

Incidentally, while appearing at the Dudley Hippodrome, Allan Jones also paid a visit to Finegan's sweet factory in Smethwick; Victor Finegan, the owner, was friends with Robert and Maurice Kennedy, proprietors of the Hippodrome. Dig out your copy of Bugle 700, January 26, 2006, for more.

Closing the bill was an act called The Wyomings and the only clue in the flier as to what they did is the cryptic phrase "whips and ropes". Presumably, they were some kind of western-themed novelty act.

This night of variety would have helped to lift the gloom of post-war austerity for folk in Dudley but the flier also hints that better times were just around corner. In it are two full-page adverts, one for the Birmingham electrical firm of Joseph Lucas who "urgently require women and girls full or part time for interesting factory work", and the second was for the Round Oak steelworks. It seems that on the eve of the 1950s, when Britain "had never had it so good", jobs in the Black Country were plentiful.

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