THE IMPRESARIOS

The Littlers

SIR EMILE LITTLER

(1903-1985)

PRINCE LITTLER C.B.E

(1901- 1973)

BLANCHE LITTLER

(1899-     )

The Littlers- Emile, Prince and their sister Blanche were at one time the most powerful figures in the theatrical world of the West End and Provincial theatre, with almost a total monopoly in producing musicals and pantomime in the United Kingdom.

Emile and Prince

Reference books tell us that Frank Littler and his wife Agnes ran a theatre in London’s Woolwich, and that their three children were destined to become the driving force in theatrical management from the 1920’s through to the 1950’s.

In fact, we have recently discovered at IBY that this story is not quite as simple, and that the early life of the Littlers were not correctly documented. Thanks to the information we have been given by Emile Littler’s daughter Judy Littler Manners and by Marc Richeux (no relation!), we discovered  that the family was larger, and indeed began life with a different name.

Jules Richeux

The Artillery Theatre in Woolwich  was originally run by Jules Richeux and his wife Agnes. From 1909 to 1940 the Artillery Theatre Woolwich was leased by Agnes Littler. During this time she successfully presented such performers as Lily Langtry, George Robey, Albert Chevalier and Violet Vanburgh.

Agnes and Frank Littler were both in the foyer of the Artillery Theatre during the First World War, when an enemy bomb landed just outside. A rare event, as bombing was not common during the 1914-18 war. Both the Littlers were injured in the blast, but survived.

In 1940 the theatre was taken over by various service units as part of the war effort. It suffered further bomb damage during this war, but in 1947 it re-opened as a touring house, with repertory seasons from the "Wheeler and Salisbury Rep Company". It finally closed it's doors in 1954, and was demolished in 1956.

Jules and Agnes had married in Ramsgate (Kent) in 1892. Jules Richeux was born in London in 1863, and had become a tobacconist in Camberwell. His Father, also called Jules had arrived in England from France in the 1850’s - Jules Jnr was one of 11 children, 8 of whom survived into adulthood.

Jules (Jnr) then moved to Ramsgate, and graduated from Tobacconist to become the manager of the” Admiral Harvey” Public House, (Emile was born here) before leasing the Ramsgate Victoria Pavilion in 1906.

He and Agnes had not three, but six children, one who died in infancy. Their children were all born in Ramsgate. The Oldest was Winifred, followed by Blanche (1899), Prince (1901), Emile (1903) and Sylvia.

Blanche, Winifred, Prince, Emile and Sylvia

 

In 1909 Jules Richeux  became lessee of The Royal Artillery Theatre in Woolwich, but unfortunately died only two years later at the age of 48. Agnes took over the running of the Theatre, and then married Frank Littler in 1914.

Upon their marriage Frank Littler adopted the five Richeux children (Blanche was at this time aged 15) and the children took their step-father’s name.

The three Littlers, Emile, Prince and Blanche were to follow both their Father and their Step-Father into theatre management, and in doing so achieved wealth and honour. Prince was created C.B.E in 1957, Emile would be Knighted in 1974, and Blanche became Lady Robey when her husband, the Music Hall star George Robey was knighted in 1954.

The 1920’s-1930’s

 

From the age of 16 Blanche was engaged in the business management of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich,  while her brother Prince became resident manager. By the mid 1920’s all three Littlers were involving in managing the Royal Artillery, and creating a base from which their theatrical empire would expand.

 

 

Emile started his theatrical career as ASM (Assistant Stage Manager) at the Ambassador Theatre, Southend in 1922, moving to the Royal Court theatre in London a year later as business manager, and in 1925 becoming ASM at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre

 

Emile was later to embark on a  visit to America, where he worked for the Shubert Brothers in New York.

 

Emile Littler's New Game - Show Business!

 

Blanche became the managing director of “Blanche Littler Productions”, and later became joint managing director of “Prince Littler Theatres and Tours Ltd”- Blanche and Prince produced their first tour under this banner in 1927.

 

During that same year Prince joined the board of the New Theatre Cambridge, becoming its managing director in 1931. This was a year when Prince extended his portfolio, buying the Opera House, Leicester.

 

1931 saw brother Emile becoming manager of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (where he had started as ASM six years previously) and starting in management on his own account.

 

By the mid 1930’s the Littlers were touring productions jointly, as well as individually around the country: Blanche and Prince produced “The Bing Boys are Here” starring George Robey which opened at the Alhambra in 1934. Emile produced and toured “Jane Eyre”, “The Corn is Green” and “Miss Hook of Holland” amongst other productions, and  by  1935 were producing pantomimes in the West End and the provinces.

Emile Littler and Cora Griffin

 

In 1933 Emile Littler married the actress and Principal boy Cora Goffin. She was 31. Cora had first played “boy” in Cardiff in 1922, and in 1926 replaced Binnie Hale in “No No Nanette”, and toured in Princess Charming before graduating to principal boys in Jack and the Beanstalk.

 

In 1931, Cora Goffin scored an even greater success as Colin in Mother Goose. This further fuelled the publicity machinery which had been placing her picture on cigarette cards and boxes of chocolates since the mid-1920s; when she played Colin on the wireless, she received so much fan mail that, for the first time, the BBC had to hire a secretary to handle a singer's post.

 

Cora Goffin's love of tomboyish roles with lots of cheeky, practical jokes made her a firm favourite in Babes in the Wood, Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk, particularly in the north of England; but she was also in demand for other work. After her marriage in 1933 to Emile Littler, she was in the play All-In Marriage, of which Littler was the co-author. She also won special praise on taking over from Edith Evans the role of a wisecracking American in Once in a Lifetime in the West End.

 

With her legs insured for £20,000, Cora Goffin continued to tour the provinces and Ireland in her husband's productions until she finally retired from the stage in 1940 after a final appearance in Aladdin.

 

She was born Cora Gwynne Poole Goffin at Hampstead on April 26 1902, the daughter of Cora Poole, an actress who trained her from an early age. As "Little Cora Goffin" she began by singing at private afternoon parties given by society hostesses, and made her first professional appearance at 10 when she danced at the London Palladium with the Russian Ballet. After she appeared alone for a few moments in front of the curtain, the great ballerina Anna Pavlova told her: "Little girl, one day you will be a great star."

 

After her father's early death Cora Goffin became the primary breadwinner for her mother, grandmother and three unmarried aunts. She began touring the variety theatres in her first dramatic role as The Little Prince, an adaptation of Shakespeare's King John, a part which the young Ellen Terry once played.

 

Her first starring role was in Alice in Wonderland in 1913, which prompted Haydon Coffin, who played the Mad Hatter, to recall years later how she had looked and acted as though "she had stepped down from the pages of the book".

 

Cora Goffin went on to play Viola, Rosalind and Puck on tour with the Clive Currie Juvenile Shakespeare Company, but made her greatest mark as Little Lord Fauntleroy.

 

At the same time she appeared in the silent film Down Under Donovan (1922) when she threw herself under a horse. She later recalled falling under a car in another film, which was made on the streets of Paris; when the gendarmes arrived they were annoyed to find that they had appeared in a film without their permission being sought.

 

Cora Goffin bought her first car while on tour in the north of England, and persuaded a chorus boy to teach her to drive. On fulfilling her contract, she set off back to London but, to her surprise, came to a halt in the open country. On flagging down a passing motorist, she was inducted into the mysteries of buying petrol and being towed to a garage.

Sir Henry Lytton in Aladdin 1934

 

In 1934 Emile had created a great impact on the pantomime world producing “Aladdin” at the Prince Of Wales Theatre Birmingham- it starred the debut panto appearance of Stanley Holloway, and also starred Sir Henry Lytton and Cora Goffin as Principal girl.

 

Sir Henry Lytton (left), Cora Goffin (center), and Stanley Holloway (right) Aladdin 1934

Cora Griffin as Aladdin

 

The Littlers’ were, in many ways the pioneers of a new style of pantomime casting. Just as Sir Augustus Harris had been credited in the Victorian era with introducing Music Hall stars into pantomime, Emile and his brother Prince to a certain extent, introduced stars and personalities from outside of theatre into their productions- the rising stars of film and radio, and musical comedy “names” not associated with the world of pantomime.

Emile with Arthur Askey

 

In the years following Emile’s triumph at the Prince of Wales Birmingham, he introduced stars such as Arthur Askey, Binnie Hale, Sid Field and Jessie Mathews into his productions, adding names such as Tommy Trinder and Billie and Renee Houston as well as the debut of Douglas Byng as Dame.

Cora with Arthur Askey

 

In 1935 Prince Littler added the New Theatre Cardiff as well as the Prince Of Wales Cardiff to his list of theatres, as well as producing (along with Blanche) the Drury Lane Pantomime. They presented the 1935 “Jack and the Beanstalk” at Drury Lane, and the  “Cinderella” pantomime at the Coliseum , following it up with the same production at the Prince’s Theatre the following year.

 

Click on image to enlarge

While the Littler empire expanded, they continued to tour productions and establish themselves as the leading West End pantomime producers- a title they held for the next twenty years. Often these pantomimes would be written by themselves, constructed in their own scenic workshops, as well as produced and toured around the country.

 

in 1936 Prince Littler  presented Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow with Ivy Tresmand and Shaun Glenville. 1n 1937 Prince became the lessee of the Prince’s Theatre Manchester, and added the New Theatre, Norwich a few years later. In 1937 Emile presented Aladdin at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh with Cora Goffin and Stanley Holloway. He followed this in 1938 with Babes in the Wood and then Humpty Dumpty in 1939.

 

By the late 1930’s Prince Littler was becoming more involved in the business side of the companies he owned, with Emile and Blanche becoming more responsible for the producing side. In effect they were now heading for a position where they would control over 50% of West End Theatres, touring companies and provincial theatres.

Emile Littler and his 60 Bright Eyes trained by Betty Fox - Cinderella 1938

The 1940’s

 

1940 saw the last appearance on stage of Cora Goffin- Mrs Emile Littler. She retired after a final appearance in “Aladdin. The 1940’s saw an escalation in the fortunes of the Littlers. At this point Prince was producing shows, often in association with Blanche that were highly successful tours- many of them popular revivals- “White Horse Inn”, “Glamorous Nights”, “Careless Rapture” along with “Showboat”, “Goodbye Mr.Chips” and in the late 40’s “Brigadoon”.

 

Nora Delaney Littler

 

Prince Littler too had married a pantomime star- Nora Delaney. Blanche was at this point in time touring Australia with George Robey, and became involved in fund raising concerts for the war Savings campaign, and concerts for the troops as war began in earnest.

 

Blanche had married George Robey after his first marriage to Ethel Haydon was dissolved in 1938. George had married Ethel in 1898, and they had two children- a daughter Eileen and a son, Edward. Robey had first been offered a Knighthood after the first World war, but at that time preferred the more modest CBE. He was to wait 1954 to receive the Knighthood, shortly before his death.

Emile

 

During the 40’s brother Emile was also touring his high profile musicals, and revivals at the Coliseum Theatre London. These included “Maid of the Mountains” (1942), “Belle of New York” (1942)- which he co-wrote with Bernard Dunn,, “The Quaker Girl” (1944 and the original “Song Of Norway” (1945) to be followed later by the highly successful “Annie Get Your Gun” (’47) “Charley’s Aunt”, and “Lilac Time”.

Emile and the cast of Annie Get Your Gun

 

It was the 1944 production of “The Quaker Girl” revival that brought Emile Littler into contact with one of his former Pantomime imports- the stage and screen star Jessie Mathews. Jessie Mathews’s career had reached amazing heights in a series of British and indeed American films, and  had acquired a reputation for being somewhat “difficult”. Littler had contracted her to star in his revival, and was none too pleased when she walked out on the production ten days before it opened.

 

Littler began to put out press statements claiming health grounds when Miss Mathews went to the press and complained about Littler’s management and the quality of his production- thus signing her death warrant as far as working in the West End again was concerned. The Littlers were the most powerful producers in the country, and the words “She’ll never work in the West End again” were more than prophetic.

 

In 1945 he produced Aladdin at the Cambridge Theatre in London with Binnie Hale as Aladdin and Hal Bryan as Twankey.

 

Emile Littler might have concentrated his pantomime Empire on Birmingham- indeed he established Pantomime House, in Oozells street in that city, presided over by his stage designer Physhe (Mrs P L Wright). However, his flagship The Prince Of Wales Birmingham was destroyed in the blitz  of 1941.

 

Click on image to enlarge

 

Emile turned his pantomime attention to London, presenting the major panto’s in the Stoll Theatre, “Humpty Dumpty” at the Coliseum,(1943) “Goody Two Shoes” at the Casino, and extending out to Golders Green and Streatham. At one point the Littlers produced 15 pantomimes in London alone. Emile staged the Casino Pantomimes (Now re-named the Prince Edward Theatre in Compton Street) almost continuously from 1946 through until 1954, with three at the Palace Theatre, and two at the Stoll Theatre.

 

Yvonne Marsh as Goody - London Casino 1950

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In September 1949 Emile Littler in conjunction with Tom Arnold produced “Kings Rhapsody” starring Ivor Novello at the Palace Theatre, London. The production ran for three years until, on the 6th March 1951 Ivor Novello returned to his flat in the Aldwych after the performance, and died during the early hours of the morning. At his funeral in Golders Green over 2,000 gathered to pay tribute. Among the floral tributes was a bunch of daffodils in a pair of ballet shoes “From Room 16, Palace Theatre- King’s Rhapsody”- a  tribute from the ballet girls.

 

The flat Novello lived in for thirty years is part of a suite of offices belonging to Paul Elliott, the pantomime producer, and founder of E&B Productions.

 

PRINCE OF EMPIRES 1942

 

1942 was an important year for Prince Littler-it began with the death of Sir Oswald Stoll, who died at his home in Putney aged 75.

 

 

Stoll was the head of a vast empire of theatres, and ran a circuit of productions that toured from one Stoll venue to the next throughout the country. Stoll himself had had the Coliseum theatre built, and very swiftly Prince Littler bought the Coliseum, and the other theatres in the Stoll chain, forming “The New Stoll Theatres Corporation”- at the time he purchased the Coliseum for £160,000, including all outstanding debts. A previous “take-over” bid to purchase the Stoll Circuit had failed in 1937, when Sir Oswald had refused to sell to Prince Littler. Among the many theatres now owned by Littler were Swansea’s Palace Theatre, and the New Empire Theatre.

 

In March 1942 Prince joined the board of Stoll, and was chairman and managing director by May.

 

Blanche and Prince continued to run their existing theatres along with the newly aquired Stoll theatres, adding the Derby Grand Theatre in 1944.

 

In 1945 Prince Littler, already chairman of Stoll Theatres Corporation, joined the board of Moss Empires. The largest competitor to the Stoll circuit was the Moss Empire Circuit- and by 1947 Littler became chairman of Moss Empires, and  the largest producing management in the world.

 

 

Horace Edward Moss-later Sir Edward Moss (Knighted in 1906) had founded the greatest chain of variety theatres in the world. Moss died in 1906.Moss Empires owned over 33 music halls- including the great empires of Nottingham, Leeds, Bradford- the Empire pre dated Francis Laidler’s Alhambra, which he sited a few yards away- as well as Glasgow, Liverpool, Sheffield and Edinburgh. The London theatres included the Hippodrome, Finsbury Park Empire, and those at Stratford and New Cross. The jewel in the Moss crown being The London Palladium.

 

 

Previous bids by property developers and attempts to merge Moss Empires with Stoll Theatres Corporation had always failed- shareholders resisted the change. As Prince Littler was now chairman of both, the two were united in all but name.

 

Pantomime Pie

 

Ever one to try something new, during the 1949 and 1950 season, Emile decided to produce his own magazine, which he sold at his venues, with pictures, stories, features and articles about pantomime. He prefaced it:

"Here we are again, the festive season, the clown's merry greeting. A Happy Christmas with your annual dish of Pantomime Pie. This is the third offering cooked up by your humble servant, Father Christmas Emile Littler, and meekly submitted to you in a spirit of topsy turvy merriment and Inconsequential revelry, to glorify our traditional Christmas entertainment- Pantomime-without which the British yuletide season would be incomplete".

See an article from this issue, as well as some additional photos

The 1950’s

 

In 1947 when Prince Littler became chairman of Moss Empires, Val Parnell was the managing director- Parnell was the son of the Music Hall ventriloquist Fred Russell, and remained as Managing Director until 1959, when he was succeeded by Leslie MacDonnell (OBE). Littler and Parnell added the Winter Gardens Morecambe and the Palace Theatre in Manchester to the impressive list of theatres they ran.

 

Later in 1959 Leslie MacDonnell was to appoint the former managing director of Pye Records- Louis Benjamin  as head of the London Palladium.

 

1951 saw Emile Littler produce one of his long running and successful shows “Zip Goes a Million” starring George Formby at the Palace Theatre. Based on the American hit “Brewster’s Millions” it involved George in a race to hold on to his million dollar lottery claim. The show, written by George Posford and Eric Mashwitz opened on the 20th October 1951, having toured to Coventry and Manchester, and was an instant hit. George’s ukulele wasn’t intended to be part of the show, but on the opening night the audience screamed for him to play it, and he duly obliged with “The window Cleaner”!

Emile with George Formby

 

In 1952 George suffered a heart attack, and Beryl Formby took him back to Blackpool- his replacement was Reg (“Confidentially”) Dixon, with Barbara Perry remaining in her role, and the show continued into 1953. Roy Barbour subsequently took over the role of Percy Piggott and toured with it in the UK and went with it to Australia and to New Zealand

 

George was to return to the Palace Theatre for Littler in “Dick Whittington” as Idle Jack in 1956.

 

Click on Image to Enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

On Christmas Eve 1952 television mobile cameras were at the London Casino for a 45 minute excerpt from Emile Littler’s “Jack and Jill”. Charlie Chester and Michael Bentine were making their pantomime debut as Cheerful Charlie and the Crooked Man Twist. Jack was played by Hy Hazell and Dame Horner by Tommy Jover. Other artists in this production were Harry Welchman as the King, Carol Decy as Jill, Jacqueline St.Clere as the Fairy, and Moyra Fraser as the Wicked Witch. The singing comedians, Kirby and Hayes, were cast as Johnny Stout and Willie Green. The cast also included several Continental speciality acts, notably the Baronas, a musical comedy act from Belgium, the Trio Gypsy, an adagio act from France, and the Edourdinis, a troupe of migit acrobatic comedians from Spain. The décor was by Berkeley Sutcliffe. The excerpt from “Jack and Jill” was introduced by Brian Johnston.

PRINCE OF PANTOMIME by George Beckles

Everybody's Magazine January 10th 1952

Click on title to access article

The Business style 1950’s

 

During this period pantomimes for the Littlers became hugely expensive to mount- the first year of a brand new production in the 1950’s could cost over £1,5000 to create, with running costs to cover the large companies employed at the time. A star name, such as Norman Evans or Albert Modley could entail a salary of £400-500 a week, with Principal boys- if “named” artistes commanding between £75-100, (expected to supply their own shoes and tights) a “speciality act” costing perhaps £150, and a supporting cast taking home between £15-£40 a week. Sixteen dancers would be employed along with six singers (around £8-10 a week)- but profits could end up in the region of £11,000 on a production. These shows were generally kept together, and re-mounted by the Littlers in another of their venues the following season, becoming more economic with each year. A system that still, in the main, works today with large pantomime companies like Qdos transferring their shows from one major city to another with perhaps a few alterations to the cast to fit in with local preferences.

 

The Littlers would employ 3,000 people in their pantomimes, and, indirectly give work to a further 25,000 each year.

 

In 1955 Emile Littler was approached by Gwladys Stanley- widow of the “Panto King” Francis Laidler to produce the pantomimes at the Bradford Alhambra. This was not possible for Littler, as he was already commited to producing the nearby Leeds Empire pantomimes, so he introduced the producer Sam Newsome to Gwladys, brokered the deal, and took two and a half percent of the gross for his trouble for all the time that Newsome produced pantomimes there!

 

 

Emile was responsible for putting the young radio and variety star, Julie Andrews into his pantomimes- as Princess in “Aladdin” at the Casino the pantomime ran for 103 performances from December 19th until February 23rd 1952. Littler, always on the look out for free publicity to ensure a sell-out run created “Julie Andrew’s Eleven Favourite Nursery Rhymes” as a supplement to “Woman’s Companion Magazine” on February 2nd 1952, and boosted his box office sales to the end of the season.

 

During the 1950’s Emile and Prince wrote and produced over 15 pantomimes  in the West  End, and a further 200 in the provinces.

 

The pantomime “Humpty Dumpty” starring Pat Kirkwood boasted a chorus of sixty in 1942, at the Coliseum with over 560 costumes  in wartime- quite an achievement in times of rationing- every costume designed by Physhe in the first month the pantomime played to 122,000 people braving the blitz twice nightly.- During the 1950’s the chorus size had dropped, but the production values remained the same. Emile Littler in particular favoured the somewhat “lesser known” subjects for his pantomimes- subjects like “Humpty Dumpty”, “Jack and Jill” and “Goody Two Shoes” with their lesser known plots were easier to place his stable of radio and variety personalities into, along with his speciality acts.

 

Click on image to enlarge

 

However,to return some of their good fortune the Littlers were heavily involved in charitable work for the profession, and headed some of the theatrical charities. Emile headed the Emile Littler Actors Charitable fund in 1953, which supported the Actors Orphanage Fund as it was then known. During the early 1950’s Emile and Cora adopted a five- week-old girl, and 18 months later, another girl.

 

Emile was later to create the “Emile Littler Award for the most promising actor & Actress at RADA- at the end of each year he would present two prizes of 25 guineas to the students who won this award. Emile was created a freeman of the City of London and was Knighted in 1974.

 

Prince Littler was involved as president of Denville Hall (The Actors retirement home) and the V.A.F- the Variety Artiste’s Benevolent fund. He was awarded the CBE in 1957 mainly for his work within the theatre and for his charities.

 

In 1954 Sir George Robey died, leaving Blanche Littler a widow. She remained a partner in the Littler empire, and lived close to her brother Emile in King’s Gardens, Hove, on the Sussex Coast. Blanche and George had lived opposite Tommy Walls the skating show impresario on Grand Avenue Hove. Robey is still remembered in Brighton today for the annual George Robey Challenge Trophy at Brighton racecourse.

 

During this period Emile and Blanche produced many West End musicals that went on to tour the circuit. “Love from Judy” in 1952  was an Emile Littler musical that played the Saville Theatre, starring “A Company of young stars” that included Jean Carson in the lead with   June Whitfield and the young Barbara Windsor, as well as the established star Adelaide Hall..

 

The following year Prince presented the hugely successful “Guys and Dolls” at the Coliseum, along with “The Pajama Game” and “Can Can”.

 

Emile meanwhile had presided over the Palace Theatre in London with sole control up until 1951. At this point he sold the building to a finance company who then leased it back to Littler and EMI- thus giving Bernard Delfont a 50% share in the building. The run of West End hits continued into the 1960’s with “The Desert Song” revival, “The Sound of Music” and “The Flower Drum Song”.

Emile 

 

NEW - On Boxing Day 1957 Emile presented a BBC Radio Programme entitled 'Hail Pantomime!' which was written by Gale Pedrick. It told the story of pantomime past and present. In an article from The Stage on the 19th December 1957, Gale Pedrick contributed a 'pen portrait of a man of of exceptional pantomime knowledge and experience.'

 

In spite of the indisputable truth that today the accountants rule more than neat lines at the foot of the page - they rule our lives - figures can still mean as much or as little as you care to read into them. The exception is when one remembers a man like Emile Littler: for the very fact that he has produced over two hundred pantomimes is a seasonable reminder that his place among the great Showmen of England is secure.

 

Littler has a fine record in other fields of entertainment and enterprise, but at this time of year we think of him and - automatically - of all that is best in pantomime.

 

Even the legendary Julian Wylie only presented only nine major pantomimes in London: Emile Littler's record at the time of writing is fourteen in London and one-hundred-and-eighty-eight in the other great cities of Britain.

 

In the four syllables that got to make up the phrase 'show-busi-ness,' the accent is theoretically on the last three.

 

Littler finds time to give other considerations their value, and that is where he scores hands down.

 

It takes such a man to add imagination to acumen and thus spell success.

 

In entertainment there are so many answers that can't be found in the book - which accounts for past failures by men who thought only in terms of balance sheets.

 

Showman

A lifetime of writing for and about the great figures of entertainment has left me fascinated by the mystery of what goes to the makings of a Showman, and I mean Showman with a capital S.

 

In the life and outlook of Emile Littler it is possible, I think, to find the key.

 

I make this pronouncement for several reasons.

 

To be a leading figure in the theatre you must have the gift for leadership, the ability to make people listen to your advice and to act on it without question. Emile Littler has that gift. It help's to be born into a home where one's parents, sisters and brothers live and breathe the theatre. Such a home - such a background - was his.

 

In the same way that a brilliant orchestra-leader should play fiddle, 'cello and bass-drum and every other instrument in the band, a theatre manager should be experience in every aspect of his work.

 

Emile Littler has shifted scenery, sold tickets, and been electrician, stage-manager, publicity man and advance agent. He has written his own shows - shows incidentally, that were good enough to be bought and staged by rival managements!

 

He has been an actor.

 

He spent five years of a crowded life in America, working hard on both sides of the footlights. And there was a memorable period where Emile ran the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for Sir Barry Jackson. Observing, studying, assimilating - how could an ambitious and enterprising young man fail to profit from such experience? And Emile Littler was both ambitious and enterprising.

 

A manager should possess - and not all do - a sense of humour. This admirable quality enables its possessor to laugh at himself, to tell a good story even if he is its target., to remember when things went right but also to remind you, with a smile, about the times they went wrong.

 

A year or so ago, when after twenty-five years, his career had reached a peak, and the name Emile Littler had figured on the playbills advertising an unprecedented number of hits, for the benefit of theatregoers a most impressive publications was circulated, a souvenir of Emile Littler's impact on show-business.

 

Success

Since its purpose was basically one of public relations, it would have been forgivable if all of those glossy pages were confined to the successes for which Littler had been responsible in two decades.

 

Instead, Emile Littler insisted on printing as well a list of twenty-six 'failures', productions that in his own opinion had missed the boat in London and on tour.

 

What is more, this was not just a stark list of titles. On the contrary, one was intrigued to read in each case the reasons why the public had stayed away in such large numbers.

 

True enough the total of successes far outnumbered the 'failures,' and included such memorable productions as 'Annie, Get Your Gun', 'Waltzes from Vienna', 'Blue for the Boy' and 'Love From Judy,' to say nothing of the dozen or so pantomimes that had drawn the town - and I mean London Town.

 

To print such a list was a gesture typical of the man. He has no time for excuses.

 

Now and again, one had misjudged public taste and reaction. Very well, don't waste time, let's get on with something else. If it's new, so much the better!

 

All of this, I fancy, goes to prove my point - that if you're to make a name in this colourful, dramatic, exciting profession, it's no good unless you possess the human touch.

 

Whatever the accountants may say the profession of entertainment is not a matter of hard facts in a ledger. It is something quite different, something that can be explained by the fact that this able, likeable man, who has more than two hundred pantomime productions to his credit, himself acted in a pantomime as a child. He can write you a pantomime, light it, dress it (from his own workshops), produce it, and if the emergency arose, could act in it.

 

Romance

I feel that pantomime and the Christmas tradition mean more to him than all his directorships and other multifarious business activities. However full his life may be for the rest of the year, round about September there comes a glint in the eye, the hint of a smile on that firm mouth, a quickening of the tempo in the comfortable, old-fashioned office in St. Martin's Lane, and a busy humming of long-distance telephone calls.

 

He has seen many changes in this world of make-believe. In many of these changes he has himself had no small hand. As that great dame George Lacy said to me of pantomime a day or two ago: 'The great thing is to change with it.'

 

Lacy, incidentally, plays a fairy godmother role in the Littler Story. It was while George was making us laugh - and cry - as Mother Goose at Daly's twenty-five years ago that Emile Littler captured the heart of his principal boy, Cora Goffin, and married her. Theirs is one of the happiest of theatrical romances.

 

It is true that television has meant the end of pantomime as we knew it in some of the smaller provincial theatres.

 

But Emile Littler sums up the position thus:

 

'The annual Christmas pantomime thrived in the big towns last year, and everything points to an even more flourishing state of affairs this season. In the ten towns in which I am associated with pantomime the advance bookings are well above average, and I'm hoping this is going to be a 'Merry Christmas' for us all'

 

In 1958 and 1959 Emile produced two pantomimes at the Bournemouth Pavilion. Puss in Boots in 1958 featured Reg Varney as Dame and Tommy Cooper. In 1959 Cinderella featured the TV Magician David Nixon and Erica Yorke.

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The 1960’s

 

The Littlers  held court over the West End and the provinces throughout the 1960’s. New managements were emerging and styles had changed. Interestingly, in 1966 Emile Littler employed a young D.S.M (Deputy Stage Manager) for his production of “110 in the Shade” at the Palace Theatre. His name was Cameron Mackintosh! Littler himself presided over the Palace and the Coliseum theatre until 1973, when he retired. His beautiful house “Downmere” in Poynings, Brighton, East Sussex to this day has “Cora’s Walk”, dedicated to his wife Cora Goffin. The lane runs between the churchyard and the local public house.

 

From The Stage - 20th September 1973

From The Stage - 31st January 1985

 

In 1973 on September 17th Prince Littler died aged 72. Sir Emile was to outlive him by a further twelve years- he died in 23rd January 1985 aged 81. After the war, Emile and Cora had  purchased the Downmere estate at Poynings, Sussex, where she was an enthusiastic gardener; then when she was 50, they adopted a five-week-old girl and, 18 months later, another girl. She and Littler, who was knighted in 1974, later moved to Ditchling in Sussex. After his death 11 years later, she continued to enjoy reminiscing with friends over a drink at six o'clock. Cora died  on May 10th 2004 aged 102.

 

OTHER PAGES OF 'LITTLER' INTEREST

Collection of Costume Designs by Charles Wilhelm - from Mrs Mae Rogers who was Prince Littler's Wardrobe Supervisor

Backstage Pantomime by Eric Wainwright

Pantomime Annuals and Comics

Music Hall Pantomimes - George Robey

George Robey Gallery

Article of George Robey

We are very grateful to Judy Littler Manners and Marc Richeux for providing further information and pictures which we use with their permission.

This page was last updated 10th May 2012

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