The Lyceum Theatre and The Melvilles

Once the home of some of London’s finest pantomimes, the Lyceum theatre has been many things in its long history.

Nowadays the outside of the Lyceum Theatre is thronging with coaches dropping off hundreds of excited children (and excited parents) who go there to see Disney’s “The Lion King”. At the end of the performance the streets are again thronging with bicycle rickshaws, hoping to carry said children and parents home. It is vibrant and alive. This has not always been the case. Up until fairly recently it was closed and boarded up, its stage invisible, and its stalls removed awaiting the bulldozers to knock it to the ground.

The Building:

The present theatre stands on  the site of its predecessors. In 1772 a building opened as an exhibition rooms and concert hall. In 1794 it was converted into the Lyceum Theatre, only to have several other names during the early part of the 19th Century. It was the Theatre Royal Lyceum,(1809), the Theatre Royal, English Opera (1815) and after major rebuilding, The Theatre Royal and Opera House.(1816). The architect was Samuel Beazley.

It was in 1802 that the building housed a collection of waxworks by Madame Tussaud- the first waxwork show that London had ever seen. They were exhibited to the public here up until 1809

From 1817 the Lyceum was the first theatre to be lit by gas. This novel innovation led to lectures and demonstrations being held in the theatre illustrating the (relatively) clean. And attractive mode of lighting. Unfortunately the building was burnt down in 1830, and rebuilt, it was called The Royal Lyceum and Opera House (1834)

In 1902 the theatre closed, and, apart from the Portico and rear walls, was rebuilt as a Music Hall in 1904.This almost total demolition was due to new and improved fire and safety regulations. The architect was Bertie Crewe.

In 1907 it returned to theatre use, and remained the Lyceum Theatre up until 1939.

In its time it has been a chapel, a Circus, a concert room, a waxworks exhibition, a cinema (briefly) and a dance hall, pop venue, television studio as well as a theatre. However, during the period that it was run by the Melville Brothers- from 1909 to 1938 it was the home of some of the West End’s premier pantomimes- a rival to the crown held by Drury Lane at times.

Ticket Prices from 1914

The Melvilles were not the only famous management that  ran the Lyceum. During its theatrical history the theatre was  under the control of Henry Irving, the great actor-manager. In 1878 he ran the theatre, and employed Ellen Terry as his leading lady. His Shakespearean productions meant that the Lyceum was constantly sold out, and several times he would tour not just this country, but America. His Knighthood in1895 was the first ever given to an actor.

During Irving’s time here the pantomime was not completely ignored. One production stole the thunder from the Drury Lane’s pantomime.

The Pantomimes:

An early version of Cinderella” was performed here in 1809, as was a version of Jack and the Beanstalk in 1809 (?) shortly after the publication of the History of Jack and the Beanstalk. A few years later the Lyceum had one brief glimpse of the legendary Joseph Grimaldi- he never performed in a pantomime there, but in 1811 he appeared in a short scene from “Mother Goose” singing his song “Tippety Wichet” at a benefit.

In 1844 on Easter Monday the Lyceum presented a burlesque- “Open Seasame, or a night with the Forty Thieves”. Around the same time the management-Mr. and Mrs. Keeley presented a novel attraction to London: The famous midget General Tom Thumb in “Hop O’My Thumb, Or The Ogre and his Seven League Boots”. So popular was “The General” that he was requested by Queen Victoria to appear before Her Majesty at Windsor to repeat his performance.

Madam Vestris appeared her as an early Principal Boy in a production written by Planche.The author J.R. Planche was responsible for presenting some beautiful Lyceum pantomimes in the 1840’s onwards. He was praised in the press because:

His fantasies sought to restore the garbled stage versions of Fairy Tales to their original form..they resembled pantomime without the harlequinades- clever parodies, puns and witty turns of phrase..”

To enhance Planche’s scripts, the designer William Beverley created some spectacular scenic effects in the 1840’s. For Planche’s “Island Of Jewels” in 1849 he created what would be the very first “Transformation Scene”, which caused a sensation.

In 1852 a Miss Ellington become one of the first “Principal Boys” when she played the Prince in “The Good Woman In The Wood”, this was to mark a significant change in the History of Pantomime.

In 1866 the pantomime was produced by E T. Smith, then lessee of the Lyceum. He commissioned none other than W.S. Gilbert, who was yet to have written the comic operettas which made him famous. It bore the comprehensive title of Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren; or, Fortunatus and the Waters of Life, the Three Bears, the Three Gifts, the Three Wishes and the Little Man Who Woo'd a Little Maid, and it was produced at Christmas when Gilbert was 31 years of age. He received £60 for it, and it was not a success. It starred the Vokes Family, who were together for the first time, it pre-dated their seasons at Drury Lane which did not start until 1869. See further article on this pantomime, including an extract from the script.

Towards the end of the century it was Oscar Barrett who was receiving all the praise for his pantomimes:

Click on image for further information and full cast

1893 Oscar Barrett’s “Cinderella”.

In 1894 Henry Irving departed for America with his company. Oscar Barrett was left to create his pantomime.  The heroine was played by Ellaline Terriss (then aged 23).

Ellaline Terriss as Cinderella - 1893 Lyceum

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The London Illustrated News of 1894:

It is open to doubt if the London stage has ever seen such a Christmas play of the kind conceived and executed in such faultless taste. It is hardly fair to call this dainty and charming “Cinderella” a pantomime, for the modern pantomime is associated in the public mind with rough and tumble fun, wild dances and music hall songs. Nothing of the kind is found at the Lyceum

Inspired by the absent master away in America, Mr. Oscar Barrett has out of the legend of Cinderella extracted a fairy opera beautiful to behold and delightful to listen to. All London will in a few days be talking of Mr. Hawes Craven’s picture of the autumnal woods where, around the sleeping Cinderella, a ballet is danced, all being clad in what ladies call “Liberty Tints”.

 As might be imagined Miss Ellaline Terris makes an absolutely ideal Cinderella. Everything stagey and theatrical vanishes from the mind. The new Cinderella is cut clean out of a lovely picture book”

Apart from Miss Terris, the show was stolen by Charles Lauri- an artiste specialising in animals or “skin” parts. As Cinderella’s cat, he virtually replaced the “Buttons” character as her best friend and ally, and astonished audiences by clambering around the edge of the dress circle.

This pantomime also stole the thunder of the opposition. Over at Drury Lane Dan Leno, Herbert Campbell, Little Tich and Ada Blanche were appearing in “Robinson Crusoe”. It was Augustus Harris’s greatest failure. Ellaline Terris proved to be the hit of the season, and Drury Lane lost £30,000.

The costumes were created by Charles Wilhelm and Barrett wrote in the programme: “The costumes and accessories have been specially designed by WILHELM (to whom Mr.Oscar Barrett is pleased to acknowledge his indebtedness for many valuable suggestions”.

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After the run of “Cinderella” was over at the Lyceum, it transferred to New York.

Postcard from 1905 Dick Whittington

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The 1895 Pantomime was Robinson Crusoe.

The 1905 Pantomime was Dick Whittington.

The 1907 Pantomime was “Robinson Crusoe”. From this year onwards Pantomime became an annual institution at the Lyceum until 1939, with the exception of 1917-18 when the Great War meant the production was cancelled.

1907-08    Robinson Crusoe starred Dorothy Craske as Principal Boy, and Sybil Arundale as Principal Girl.

Dorothy Craske & Julian Rose

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1908-09    Little Red Riding Hood with Charles Penrose, Julian Rose, Frances Cameron, Margery Carpenter, Dorothy Craske (P.Boy) M.Espinosa, Foreman & Fannan,  and J.D.Hunter,

1909-10    Aladdin. With K.Scott Barrie.

Ernest Carpenter the manager died on December 23rd, just before “Aladdin” opened.. A benefit was given for his widow the following year in gratitude for the man responsible for re-establishing The Lyceum as a “legitimate” theatre, and laying the foundations of the theatre that would now be run by the Melville Brothers.

The Melville Pantomimes

The Melvilles took pantomime back to its story-telling roots, but invested their productions with excellent scenery and a great deal of “Slap-stick”. The comedians they employed- especially Naughton & Gold, specialised in plate-smashing, messy cake-making in the palace kitchens, and very messy “papering the parlour” scenes.

Mostly the pantomimes written by the Melvilles were in rhyming couplets, with deliberately dreadful puns inserted.

One of the scenic specialities was known as the Collapsing House Of Cards. They were to use this set many times over the years- especially in their productions of “Queen Of Hearts”. The audiences would wait for the palace of cards to come tumbling down amid great cheers and gasps! This scenery was used in the 1927, 1933 & 1938 productions.

The Collapsing House of Cards Scenery

1910-11     Queen of Hearts With Harry Weldon, K.Scott Barrie, Foreman & Fannan, Griffiths Bros, Arthur Poole, Margery Carpenter, Jayne Eyre (Principal Boy, and the wife of Frederick Melville) Iris Hoey, Simeta Marsden, Josephine Sullivan.

*The Lyceum at this time was still not regarded as a Chief Pantomime: (unlike Drury Lane, Kennington, Broadway, and The King’s Hammersmith)

Claire Romaine / J.T. Macmillan / Nan Stuart / The Brothers Egbert /  Brother Egbert Sketch / Jack Williams autograph / Sylvia Oakley

1911-12    Dick Whittington  Dick was played by Claire Romaine, and Alice Fitzwarren was Nan Stuart. J.T. Macmillan was chief comic along with the Brothers Egbert and Jack Williams (Idle Jack).

1912-13    Forty Thieves       Daisy James (P.Boy) Dave O’Toole, Daisy Bindley.

Daisy James was asked her opinion on the casting of Male Principal Boys in Pantomime- this was much discussed this year as Drury Lane had cast a man- Wilfrid Douthitt in their pantomime. She opined:

“My opinion is that the part of a Principal Boy should always be played by a girl. What can be more charming than a dainty and pretty girl playing the part of a boy? The introduction of male persons to play Principal Boys is not incentive to the best traditions of pantomime”

1913-14    Babes In The Wood    Harry Weldon, Woodhouse & Wells, Jane Ray,

During this period, between 1914 and 1919 one of the pantomime dancers was Ninette de Valois- later Dame Ninette, she founded the Royal Ballet.

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1914-15    Jack and the Beanstalk  Louie Beckman as Jack, Doris Dean, Victor Kelly, Ninette de Valois, The Bogdanny Troupe. It also featured Little Miss Edna Maud, Robert Roberty, Harry Brayne, S.Major Jones, "The Two Cures", Iris Banfield, Elsie Piddock, Cissie Vaughan, Harry Conlin, R.F. Symons, Harold Browne, Lottie Stone's Troupe of Dancers and George Jackley & Le Sine.

The Lyceum Clown / The Bogdanny Troupe / Ninette de Valois and Little Miss Edna Maud

George Jackley started on the stage assisting his father, Nathan Jackley of "The Jackley Wonders" a professional acrobat who originated the "Jackley Drop" a celebrated feat of gymnastics and came to the UK working with Henglers Circus. George formed a partnership with Le Sine before commencing his solo career. We are very grateful to Lisa Dawes (George Jackley's grand-daughter) for this information.

The Giant was named “Gobbywobbly”, and the Dame was “Dame Dimple”. Jack returned from market to find his Mother waiting:

Dame:                         Did you sell the cow?

Jack:                           Yes, Ma. I did

Dame:                         How much did she fetch? Fifty Quid?

Jack:                           Not quite so much, you know she was old.

                                    I sold her for this bag of twenty pounds in gold.

Dame:                         Gold did you say? What colour is it now?

                                    I haven’t seen the sight in years, I’ll vow!

                                    To speak the truth, and to tell no whoppers

                                    All the gold I’ve had lately has been in coppers!

 

Lottie Stone's Troupe of Dancers

 

1915-16    Robinson Crusoe

1916-17    Mother Goose  Fred Allandale, Maie Ash.

1917-18                       No pantomime this year. The Great War was at its height, and so a patriotic war play was produced in place of a pantomime.   

1918-19    Cinderella     with George Bass as “Buttons”.

George Bass

1919-20    Dick Whittington  Edith Drayson ,Nan C. Hearn, Mabel Lait, George Bass, Daley Cooper,

1920-21    Babes In The Wood.

From this period onwards, the Lyceum Theatre was to become the foremost pantomime venue in London.

A ceramic "Buttons" bell-boy with a programme from the Lyceum Theatre's "Cinderella" circa 1921

From the Collection of Nigel Ellacott - read more about Nigel's collection in Collector's Corner

1921-22    Cinderella  The star was George Jackley, with Johnny Danvers.

Walter Melville and Frederick Melville  leased or purchased outright several London theatres. They produced, toured and wrote many plays and pantomimes. In 1909 they took over the Lyceum, and for nearly thirty (often stormy) years, presented the annual pantomime there.

In 1921 their business, and sometimes personal disagreements almost closed the theatre. Unable to agree on a policy for running the theatre, and amid court proceedings against each other, they agreed on one thing. To part.

Fortunately disaster was averted on the closing night of “Cinderella”, and they “Became friends again”. The Lyceum remained open.

For further details, read The Melville Story

The 1922-23 pantomime was Robinson Crusoe”.

The 1923-24 Pantomime was “Jack and the Beanstalk”, with Sybil Arundale again as Principal Boy, and also featured George Jackley, Dick Henderson (Father of Dickie Henderson) and Bertram Dench.

In 1924 the Pantomime was “The Forty Thieves”, written by Leedham Bantock with music by Guy Jones. George Jackley again appeared, along with the Hengler Brothers. It ran for 122 performances.

1925    Dick Whittington was the year that Helen Gilliland played Principal Boy.

1926-27    Sleeping Beauty had Madeline Seymour as Principal Boy and Margaret Jarvis as Principal Girl. Special music for the ballet by Lord Berners was introduced.

From Queen of Hearts

1927-28    The Queen Of Hearts with Dick Tubb, Jack Barty and Dorothy Seacombe as principals. Jack Barty was making his second Lyceum Pantomime appearance- for twenty years he had been a leading Music Hall comedian.

1928-29    Beauty and the Beast - this time written and produced by the Melville Brothers. The cast included Dick Tubb, Dorothy Seacombe and Jean Colin.. (Jean Colin had made her debut as a dancer in “Cinderella” at the Grand, Brighton in 1905).

The Revue “The Show’s The Thing” transferred from the Victoria Palace to the Lyceum, starring Gracie Fields it packed the theatre until the start of the pantomime in 1929.

An advert from the Puss in Boots Programme

1929-1930 Puss In Boots, Clifford Seyler was the author, and Gwladys Stanley (Mrs Francis Laidler) as Colin with George Jackley (Reckless Rudolph) and Naughton and Gold( later of Crazy Gang Fame) were the comedians. Andy Andrews was Dame Tickle. Naughton & Gold played “Luke Sharp” and “Mike Haste”. Kitty Reidy and Archie McCaig also appeared.

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George Jackley’s recording of “Put me In The Sunshine” and “Oh, Mum! Where’s my chewing gum!” were on sale in “any good gramophone shop”! Meanwhile Miss Gwladys Stanley claimed “The one cleansing cream in the world to me is Ponds Cold Cream, and whenever I use Ponds Cold Cream I always finish off with Ponds Vanishing Cream as a final touch”.

 

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from The Stage - 2nd January 1930

1930-31    Robinson Crusoe with George Jackley, Naughton and Gold, Kitty Reidy and Constance Carpenter

This pantomime was followed by Noel Coward’s “Bitter Sweet”, transferred from “His Majesty’s” starring Evelyn Laye in the role she had played in New York.

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1931-32    Cinderella   Kitty Reidy played  Prince Charming, and Constance Carpenter the title role. The comics as before were George Jackley and Naughton and Gold.

Written by the Melvilles, it included this retort from Buttons to the Baron:

“For you and Miss Cinders here, I am content to have no wages,

But as for your other daughters, they fairly me enrages!”

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1932-33    The Sleeping Beauty with Kitty Reidy (Her fourth Lyceum Pantomime), Naughton and Gold, Dick Tubb and Sally Stewart. (Kitty Reidy was an Australian Musical Comedy Star. She first appeared in London in 1926).and the Hengler Brothers with Gaston and Andree.

Gaston and Andree

1933-34 saw The Queen Of Hearts return to the Lyceum. The cast included George Jackley, (Knave of Hearts) Dick Tubb, (As Queen Of Hearts), Naughton and Gold, Dick Henderson, Molly Vyvyan, The O'Gorman Brothers, Nancy Fraser and Eve Benson .

Nancy Fraser and The O'Gorman Brothers - Queen of Hearts 1933/4

The pantomime had a famous guest in the audience: It was the young Princess Elizabeth’s first pantomime. She visited it on January 26th 1934, and joined in singing “We all went up the mountain”, and at one point leant over the box to ask George Jackley for an encore.

From “The Times” 1933

The long first half of the entertainment exhausts itself, after the Lyceum manner, in an ecstacy of scenic display, but  at the beginning of the second half, when we have resigned ourselves to the funny men, we are startled (and enchanted) by the fall of the house of cards, into a dark and turbulent ocean. Here then, safely caught, is one essential of pantomime- splendour, and for another, which is humour, we have not far to look.

Some of the cast of The Queen of Hearts

This is Mr George Jackley, to shake the roof with the blast of his witticisms, to whistle his way cleverly and amusingly through a game of cards and (the crowning glory of his performance and perhaps the true climax of the pantomime) to make us all sing an extremely silly but extremely cheerful song about going  up-up-up and down-down-down the mountain”.

In his book “The Lyceum” (published 1952) A.E. Wilson recalls:

“Not to be outdone, the following year was Princess Margaret’s first pantomime- her first visit to a theatre in fact. She was entranced. Standing on a footstool she was just able to see over the front of the box, and did not take her eyes of the box for a second. She, like her sister, joined in singing the chorus of “Two little Tom Tits were Tweeting” when encouraged by George Jackley”

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This pantomime in 1934-35 was Dick Whittington with Dick Henderson, George Jackley, Naughton and Gold and Elsie Prince as Principal Boy with Audrey Acland as Alice Fitzwarren. It also featured Eric Brock as the Dog.

Written by the Melvilles it included the couplet in which Dick explains that his cat will rid the realm of rats to the Sultan of Morocco who replies:

“This is great news- indeed it’s simply topping,

Come to the Palace, with me you will be stopping”

Dick Whittington - 1935 Lyceum Theatre, London

Audrey Ackland being interviewed by her co-stars George Jackley and Dick Henderson

Link will open in Windows Media Player

- alternatively you can download it for free or purchase one with a higher definition from www.britishpathe.com

In 1935 the Melville Brothers celebrated the Silver Jubilee of their joint management at the Lyceum.

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1935-36    The Forty Thieves starred Florrie Forde, the Music Hall star of the “old school” of Pantomime, along with three artistes destined to become famous as part of “The Crazy Gang”, Naughton and Gold and “Monsewer” Eddie Gray. George Jackley once again was the principal comedian. It also featured Polly Ward (Daughter of Winifred Ward, a favourite Edwardian Principal Boy), Claud Zola as "Neddy" the donkey, Albert Letine as Dame (Mrs. Cassim) with an adagio act, and the nine strong "Liazeed Egyptian Troupe". The Panto concluded with a short Harlequinade featuring Claud Zola as the clown.

James Agate writing in “The Times” 1935

There never was a pantomime that had in it more life than this latest work of the Melville Brothers. It holds hardened playgoers as well as children for four hours at an end, a fact it is infinitely easier to state than to explain…….

…..None of the new songs seemed to have quite the authentic popular ring, but how grandly Miss Florrie Forde “put across” that one about the moo-cow and how diffidently but how inexorably Mr. George Jackley compelled all the children to howl with him for his lost cat.”

*Here a warning about new fangled forms of amplification in 1934- something that strikes a note in our modern era of amplification and “radio mikes”:

Mr.Jackley used an amplifier last year, which was absurd. What should Stentor do with an amplifier? This year he dispensed with mechanism and made more noise than ever, singing with a violence that threatened to straighten all the Lyceum’s lovely curves and turn the red plush pale”.”

James Agate paid his tribute to Florrie Forde:

“…The first part of this pantomime happens largely under the aegis of Miss Florrie Forde.. This great favourite, of an older day, still holds us in the hollow of her hand, and it is good to hear the old songs reminiscently sung, even when the singer, discarding boyish livery, presents them from a matronly ambuscade of puce and gold draperies surmounted by a confection of obsequious and heliotrope plumes…

….Let it be put down in black and white that, unlike the Principal Boy a la mode, Miss Forde can sing, that when she opens her mouth the issuing sound is not a rillet but a spate, and that you can hear every word and every syllable of every word. This artiste has the power to dominate, and when she is on the stage you cannot look anywhere else even if there be room.”

 

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1936-37 was “Puss In Boots written by the Melville Brothers, with music by Conrad Leonard. The comedians were Dave and Joe O’Gorman, “Monsewer” Eddie Grey, Clarkson Rose and Jack Barty, and Polly Ward. It also featured Marjorie Sandford, Eve Benson, Betty Bucknell, Molly Vyvyan, Noel Carey, Jack Hurst, Maurice Colleano Company, Claude Zola, Latasha & Laurence and Euphan Maclaren's Dancers

Jack Barty and the Euphan Maclaren's Dancers

This pantomime, for the first time in a long while did not have either George Jackley or Naughton and Gold in the company. This was noted by “The Observer” newspaper which wrote:

“But while Mr.George Jackley and Messrs.Naughton and Gold have withdrawn for the delight of other places the newcomers hold their own. Mr Jack Barty is every inch a Lyceum King, and Mr. Clarkson Rose is Dame Tickle, and though he makes less noise than some who excel in pantomime, makes just as big a success”.

1937 The End Of The Melville Partnership.

On February 28th 1937 Walter Melville died at the age of 62. The long partnership with his brother Frederick was over.

It was discovered he left over £205,861 in his estate. A vast fortune in 1937.

The Movies: “One Night Only”

Frederick Melville was left to run the Lyceum alone, in a time of changing tastes. It was no longer possible to fill the theatre with a policy of melodrama and pantomime. Despite hosting many revues and musicals that had transferred there, it required something exceptional to suit the popular class of audience it attracted.

Frederick Melville made an error of judgement when he instructed Bert Hammond, his manager to equip the theatre as a cinema. A rebuilding of parts of the interior was underway to install the projectors, and the auditorium floor had to be lowered, involving reseating and recarpeting. The cost ran to around £12,000.

Frederick had not heeded Bert Hammond’s warning- the existing film circuits prevented him from obtaining films. Only one picture was ever shown, on the evening of April 13th 1937. It was a British film called “The Gang Show”. That evening saw the beginning and the end of the Lyceum as a cinema.

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1937-38    Beauty And The Beast The panto starred Clarkson Rose and Johnny Kavanagh as Beauty’s “Sisters”, with Albert Burdon as “Pickles” The Page. The O’Gorman Brothers appeared alongside Anne Leslie as Beauty and Jill Esmond as Prince, with Betty Bucknell as principal dancer.

Jill Esmond

Jill Esmond was the first Mrs. Laurence Olivier , they married in July 1930. She was later to divorce him and he then married Vivien Leigh. We are very grateful to David Cunard for this information

Frederick Melville died shortly after his brother in 1938.

The Melville Way:

Brian Gorman tells in “Laughter In The Roar” how the Melvilles ran their pantomime empire. Certainly the brothers had an eye for a bargain. In addition to having their scenery made at their own store in Holborn, they would recycle and snap up any scenery they thought might be useful.

“They would buy up any job lots of scenery, or anything  that might be useful one day. Consequently the wrought iron railings, so decorative for St.Paul’s Churchyard in “Dick Whittington” did equal service surrounding the palace in “Queen  Of Hearts.”

“They bought a red London bus- which driven onto the stage by one of the comedians, allowed them to do their newspaper gags sitting on the step while having a break on their journey to find the magic sixpence”

Bearing in mind that a Melville pantomime could be four hours long, it is not surprising they kept a close eye on over-running.-

“After a run would settle down the Melvilles would make alterations to save money. “No more overtime! We know where the big laughs are now, so that song of yours Clarkie (Clarkeson Rose) will have to come out!”

They knew their audiences and what the pantomime was capable of taking before the business began to dwindle. When they reached £30,000 at the box office they would finish the run.

The comics were the stars of the show- comedians like Naughton and Gold, George Jackley, Dick Tubb, Clarkeson Rose, the O’Gormans and  Albert Burdon- but the Melvilles had a caution to them:

“Mr Fred would say to comedians who made their mark, “You can come back here as often as you like. No more money though!”

“The Melville pantomimes were exuberant, colourful- lots of reds and yellows in the sets, tuneful and above all fun” (says Brian Gorman). James Agate (the critic) said they were a “well tried formula”.

“First the story, then the ballet, and finally the comedians after, it must be said, a VERY long interval in which teas, orangeade and ice-creams were sold- all Melville’s own brand- to the overheated audience”.

The Last Lyceum Pantomime:

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1938-39    Queen Of Hearts    Starring Clarkson Rose, The O’Gorman Brothers, Albert Burden, Nancy Fraser, Anne Leslie, Wendy Toye, Latasha and Laurence, Margot Thomas, Eileen Murphy, Arnold Bell and an adagio act from Latasha and Laurence.

The pantomime ended with the Wicked Witch being forgiven by the Royal Court:

Fairy:              Old Witch, you’re defeated in the fray.

                        Courage and true love once more have won the day.

Princess:         Daddy, they’re sorry, for my sake pardon them pray-

Queen:             And I’ll bake some more tarts for the wedding day!

The pantomime ended with the Dame’s number, and the Royal Wedding, as always  led into The Grand Finale.

The pantomime was followed by the “Childrens Comic Harlequinade”, and the singing of the National Anthem: “God Save The King”.

When the curtain fell on that last night , the Lyceum’s reign as Pantomime King was over. The Melvilles had produced nearly thirty years of annual pantomime, and now the future of the very building seemed in doubt.

The Final Curtain

The death of Frederick Melville left the Lyceum pantomime in the hands of manager Bert Hammond, with Frederick’s younger brother Andrew Melville as Acting Manager. This enabled Bert to make a few much needed improvements and modernisations.

In his book “Laughter In The Roar” Brian O’Gorman relates these changes:

“An up to date jazz band was put in the pit, and those rather elderly ladies of the chorus were replaced by more youthful dancers”

He relates that Eddie Gray the panto comic would quip as the ladies entered “This is the bit I like, when the Grandma’s come on!”

Shortly after Frederick died, his brother Andrew also died. Three Melville brothers had passed away in two years. The joint estate left was apparently in the region of £546,000 – over half a million pounds- a staggering sum for 1938.

In 1939 the Lyceum was finally closed, and was due to be demolished in preparation for a major road widening scheme. The construction of large “roundabouts” and transport changes threatened the building and surrounding area.That scheme (fortunately) never happened. The outbreak of War prevented any plans.

PALAIS DE DANCE

1945 The Lyceum Ballroom.

In 1945 the theatre re-opened as a dance hall, much needed in wartime for morale both of the  troops on leave, and for Londoners living nightly with the blitz.

Read Bert Hammond's Article from 1949 Pantomime Pie

After its use as a ballroom waned, the Lyceum became a “pop” venue where live bands would perform to packed houses. The building was used to broadcast television programmes as well.

In the 1980’s once again demolition loomed. There was a campaign launched to save the Lyceum. The National Theatre gave several “Platform” performances, playing in the space that had originally been the stalls, but it was to be 57 before the famous stage of the Lyceum was to see actors again.

In 1996, magnificently restored to its former glory, the Lyceum Theatre opened its doors once again to “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The Royal National Theatre's Oklahoma with Hugh Jackman and Disney’s “The Lion King” followed, and is still packing the theatre to the present day.

This page was last updated 23rd May 2009

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