THIS souvenir of the Dudley Hippodrome has been given to us by Alan Oakley of Amblecote, Stourbridge. It is the programme from a special charity night at the old theatre, the future of which remains in doubt.
It is a reminder of happier times for the variety theatre, albeit one from its final days, as within two years of this show the theatre would be converted into a bingo hall.
The show was the Grand Order of Water Rats Sunday Spectacular on 11th February, 1962, staged by King Rat Ben Warriss.
The Grand Order of Water Rats is an entertainment charity founded in 1890 with the aim “to assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependents, who, due to illness or old age, are in need.”
There was certainly a star-studded bill at the Hippodrome 51 years ago. How many of these performers do you remember?
Don Arrol (1929-1967) was a comic from Glasgow. On television he hosted Sunday Night at the London Paladium (1962-61), Comedy Bandbox (1962-63) and later The Black and White Minstrel Show and Candid Camera.
Peter Cavanagh (1914-1981) was an impressionist, billed as “the voice of them all”, which was also the title of his radio show. He would often appear on stage with a celebrity and impersonate them at the same time.
Joe Church (1919-1999) was a stand-up comic who was a regular on Sunday Night at the London Paladium.
Billy Dainty (1927-1986) was born in Dudley, where his parents kept a florists shop in Wolverhampton Street. He made his professional debut, aged 15, in 1942, as the back end of a pantomime donkey. Famed for his comic dancing, he appeared at variety theatres across the country before breaking into television in the late ’50s and appearing on Sunday Night at the London Paladium. Said to be a favourite of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, he took part in three Royal Variety Shows and children of the 1970s will remember him as a regular in EBC1: Emu’s Broadcasting Company, along with the infamous puppet. He was also an acclaimed pantomime dame.
Cyril Dowler (1906-1986) was a Liverpool comedian who partnered Kay White and later Rhoda Rogers, whom he married.
Audrey Jeans (1929-c.1980) was a singer and comic from Portsmouth.
Sally Kelly (born c.1939) was an Irish singer managed by Larry Parnes, the impressario behind the likes of Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde. However, she seems not to have had a UK hit single.
Morris and Cowley were brothers Frank and Harry Birkenhead who, dressed as Chelsea pensioners, would perform energetic comedy dance routines.
George Martin (1922-1991) was known as “the casual comedian”, as he would appear in his shirtsleeves. He later became a scriptwriter for Dave Allen, Tommy Cooper, David Nixon and Basil Brush.
Bobby May (1907-1981) was an acclaimed American juggler.
The Three Monarchs – Les Henry, Eric Yorke and Jimmy Prescott – were a comedic harmonica trio.
Benny Lee (1916-1995) was a comedy actor and singer who was a regular in Michael Bentine’s TV series It’s a Square World.
Sid Plummer (1912-1967) was a comedy xylophonist.
Rhoda Rogers (d.1996), hailed as the “British Brigitte Bardot”, began her career in erotic revue but later, in her partnership with Cyril Dowler, became an acrobatic dancer and principal girl in pantomime.
Derek Roy (1922-1981) was a comedian who hosted the popular radio show Variety Bandbox.
Cardew Robinson (1917-1992) was famed for his cad persona and made countless appearances in television, film and radio.
Tommy Trinder (1909-1989) was one of the biggest stars of the Second World War and enjoyed a long career in comedy. He was the original host of Sunday Night at the London Paladium and made many film and TV appearances.
Stanley Unwin (1911-2002) invented his own language “Unwinese”, a gobbledegook form of English, and was often a guest on TV and radio shows from the 1950s to the late 1990s.
Frankie Vaughan (1928-1999) had a string of UK charts hits in the 1950s and ’60s
Arthur Worsley (1920-2001) appeared regularly in British TV from the 1950s to the ’70s with his ventriloquism act in which he never spoke as himself, his doll, Charlie Brown, doing all the talking. He was one of few British variety acts to enjoy success in America, making regular appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Ben Warriss (1909-1993) was a comedian known for his partnership with Jimmy Jewel, which lasted from 1934 to 1966. Later he concentrated on stage work and was still appearing in pantomime in his 80s.
Arthur Scott is the only act on the bill we have been unable to find any details of. Can readers entlighten us?
Also of interest in the programme is a photograph of previous King Rats, the title given to the head of the order who serves a year in office. Standing second from left is Clarkson Rose (1890-1968), who was born in Dudley. The singer and comedian enjoyed a long career in variety, especially as a pantomime dame, and like fellow Black Country funnyman Billy Dainty, he is commemorated with a plaque at Dudley Town Hall.