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Wartime shows at much loved Dudley Hippodrome

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 17, 2013

By Dan Shaw

  • Programme for The Student Prince at Dudley Hippodrome, August 1943

  • Programme from the Dudley Hippodrome's 1944 pantomime Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp

  • Sonny Jenks was a hit as Widow Twankey at the Dudley Hippodrome, Christmas 1944

  • Singer Bruce Trent appeared at the Dudley Hippodrome in 1943

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THE heightened interest in the fate of the Dudley Hippodrome has sent many Bugle readers searching through their collections of Black Country memorabilia for any items related to the old variety theatre.

These programmes from the 1940s belong to Jo Davies of Brierley Hill, a keen collector of Black Country ephemera, who acquired them through an internet auction site.

The earlier programme is dated 23rd August, 1943, and it is for Bernard Delfont's touring production of The Student Prince, the musical melodrama by Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly.

The star of the show was popular Jersey-born baritone Bruce Trent (1912-1995) who enjoyed great success in the 1940s and '50s. He made his name singing with Jack Hylton's band and following this tour of The Student Prince he joined the army and entertained troops in Stars in Battledress. After the war he appeared in many shows on the London stage before retiring in the 1970s.

His co-star was Carole Lynne (1918-2008), a star of the West End in the 1940s and '50s. She married Bernard Delfont in 1946 and after retirement she worked for entertainment charities.

The other artistes on the bill were Cyril Dossor, Frank Powell, Jack Jones, Cleversley Mills, John Clifford, Harry Brindle, Alec Hardy, Betty Percheron, Harold Charlton, Bernard Albron, Bryan Johnson, Charles Denby, Cyril James, Toby Lenon, Marjorie Chard, Marion Gordon, Arthur Clark and Marjorie Macklin.

The programme features reminders that this was very much wartime. One note reads, "Chocolate may be obtained in the stalls foyer upon the surrender of personal points" – even in the theatre sweets were rationed.

Another note gives advice on what would happen in the event of an air raid:

"If an Air Raid Warning be received during the performance the Audience will be informed by two lights from the Number Indicators on each side of the Proscenium Arch. The Red Light means the Alert: the Green, the Raiders Passed. Keep calm, the performance will go on. You are safer here than in the street. If you wish to leave, please go quietly.

"In the event of the Raiders Passed Signal not being received before the end of the performance, any member of the Audience may stay in the Stalls Foyer should they so desire."

The programme carries some interesting adverts. The brewers Mitchells and Butlers is a well-known name but does anyone remember the pharmaceutical chemist Percy G. Richardson and his "Celebrated Pink Pectoral"?

The follow-up to this show was Felix Mendelssohn and His Hawaiian Serenaders, with performances twice nightly.

Jo's second programme dates from 26th December, 1944, and is for the Hippodrome's "first big city pantomime", Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. This was a big hit and ran for six weeks.

Aladdin was played by Avril Angers (1918-2005), the comedienne and actress who began her career with the Tiller Girls. She enjoyed a long career on stage and television, making appearances in Coronation Street, Dad's Army, Are You Being Served? and All Creature Great and Small.

Sonny Jenks played the dame, Widow Twankey, while Wishee-Washee was played by comic Alec Pleon (1911-1985). The other cast members were Margaret Churchley, Maureen Tasker, the Rego Twins, Franklyn Ives, Bill Miles, Diana Ellinger, Lew Miles, Louise Rolyat and M. Skye. Also taking part were Florence Whiteley's Famous Zio Angels, the Latour Babes, Les Klicks, the Five Royal Canadian Mounties and Petro and Petrova.

Have you any more memorabilia from the Dudley Hippodrome or any of the other old variety theatres of the Black Country? Please contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle .co.uk or write to our editorial address.

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