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BACKSTAGE: 1940

An article from the Picture Post, October 19th 1940

'New rule for Windmill showgirls is lights-out at eleven. They work, sleep, eat in the Theatre.'

BACKSTAGE: 1940What does a showgirl do in her spare time? Vivian Van Damm, production manager of the Windmill Theatre, will tell you. He has turned the dressing-rooms into dormitories, and every night rows of pretty girls sleep peacefully through London's air raids.

Eight and a half years ago, Van Damm introduced non-stop revue to this country. He knows that regular habits and plenty of beauty sleep are essential if girls are to keep their looks and vitality. So he has made the rule, lights out at eleven. From seven o'clock, when the curtain rings down — Windmill non-stop used to run from noon to 11 p.m.; now it finishes four hours earlier — the girls are free to amuse themselves; to dine, do a cinema, sew, read, or play cards. But by eleven they must all be stretched on their mattresses.

But for the grease paints that litter the dressing-tables, the glittering costumes bunched on the pegs, these back-stage rooms might be taken for a girls' boarding school. The Windmill stages the English equivalent of the kind of entertainment that used to be provided in Paris by the Moulin Rouge — it has coined the name "Revudeville" to describe its presentations of song, dance, comedy, and its own special brand of "artistic tableaux" decorated by girls wearing nothing but their natural talent — yet the girls who provide the attraction are as friendly and unsophisticated as a pack of schoolgirls.

It is part of the Windmill's policy to have no "stars," no "leading ladies." On the other hand, any member of the company who shows promise is given the chance to prove herself as an individual performer. Girls who apply for a job need not necessarily have had stage experience. Many haven't, for the age preferred is sixteen. But even comparatively elderly ladies of eighteen and nineteen are eligible for the chorus. The reason why youth is preferred, apart from the obvious one, is because once a girl gets a contract at the Windmill she usually stays for several years, graduating from the chorus as soubrette, dancer, singer, actress, or all four. It is, in fact, the only revue repertory company in existence.

WINDMILL BEAUTIES

Above - Captions Reads: - 'WINDMILL BEAUTIES : LESLEY, Eighteen-year-old from Hendon, who in two years has become leading singer, dancer and actress in "Revudeville." Spends leisure writing, and going through fan-mail. - JUDY: One of the Windmill Revudebelles. Married to a boy in the Navy, she spends her evenings with knitting and book of instructions, is leaving at the end of the show to start a family.

Lesley Osmond, dazzling brunette, who plays leading parts in many of the shows, is a typical case of the girl who made good. She came to the Windmill two years ago. She was 16; raw, inexperienced, and, as she now admits, a perfect frump. Armed with a letter of introduction to the assistant manager, she presented herself at the box office, blissfully unaware that such things as stage doors existed. With an apprehensive glance at the photographs decorating the entrance, she asked for an audition, and got it. A fortnight later, she appeared in the opening show with a solo number.

After that, she buckled to and learnt her job. Learnt to sing, dance, act, and, not least important, to wear the right clothes and wear them well.

Players at the Windmill are divided into two groups — the chorus and the showgirls, known as "Revudebelles."

AN EVENING BENEATH THE WINDMILL THEATRE

Above - Caption Reads:- 'AN EVENING BENEATH THE WINDMILL THEATRE : Showgirls In Their Wartime Living Quarters Twenty-five feet below ground, the Windmill girls of London's non-stop "Revudeville" have made their re-inforced dressing-rooms into temporary living quarters. When the curtain rings down at 7 p.m. — new wartime early closing — the girls are free to go out and brave the raids, or stay in and make themselves at home. Here are Wenda Hurst, Desiree Cooper, Valerie Tandy and Haia Cooper at a game of cards.

Revduebelles appear on the programme by Christian names only. Judy, who looks like a blonde and more dignified edition of Paulette Goddard, will tell you with a resigned shrug that she is the "grandmother" of the Windmill company. She is twenty-five. But soon someone else will have to take her place, because at the end of the present show Judy is leaving the stage for good. She is married to a boy in the Navy, and she is going to do what she has always wanted — have a baby.

Tiny, curly-haired Barbara Eames, who looks like a particularly angelic choirboy, got her first stage job at the Windmill eight months ago. She is already playing small parts and getting into trim as a soubrette. Her parents disapproved of her stage ambitions, her father still disapproves, but Barbara loves her work. She went in secret for her audition, stood in a line with eight other girls, and although she had only had a sketchy training as a ballet dancer, was the only one of the eight to be chosen — not for her pirouettes, but for her charm.

Pauleen and Doreen - And Sonia and Wenda

Above - Pauleen and Doreen - And Sonia and Wenda

A leaflet printed for a Midnight Matinee at the Windmill Theatre for the 2nd of February, 1940 featuring a Special Gala l Revudeville Show in aid of the Daily Sketch War Relief Fund - Courtesy Maurice Poole.Paddy London, on the other hand — lithe, dark and chock full of personality — has been on and off the stage ever since she was two. At sixteen, she holds the stage like an old trouper.

And so the stories go on — seventeen-year-old Joyce Tarr, who came to the Windmill straight from her convent school eighteen months ago, as nervous as a rabbit, and is now following in the footsteps of her elder sister Lorna, who used to be a firm favourite at the theatre; little Anne Singer, who is playing her third show, beginning to overcome her nerves and show signs of becoming a competent actress.

One day these names may be in electric lights. Equally well they may never be heard of again, since many of the girls confess that their true ambition is no more spectacular than to marry and have six babies. In the meantime, they are learning to do a job which most of their patrons consider well worth while — even in war — even in a blitzkrieg.

Right - A leaflet printed for a Midnight Matinee at the Windmill Theatre for the 2nd of February, 1940 featuring a Special Gala Revudeville Show in aid of the Daily Sketch War Relief Fund - Courtesy Maurice Poole.

The above article was first published in the Picture Post, October 19th 1940, and was kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by Maurice Poole.

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