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The Windmill Theatre Now

From the 1949 magazine 'Film and Art Reel.'

The cover of 'Film and Art Reel' which this article and pictures are from.

Jill Anstey.There is more activity than ever behind the scenes at London's famous little WINDMILL (We Never Closed) Theatre these days. In addition to the normal rehearsals from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the daily non-stop show from 12.15 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.) and active preparations for the 17th Anniversary show (Edition No. 219) rehearsals have now begun for the new Daniel Angel film, "Murder at the Windmill." These are taking place in the theatre's own rehearsal room from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every 'Mystery at the Burlesque', otherwise known as 'Murder at the Windmill' - Click for Details of the Film.evening for the many typical Windmill scenes that will be shot for the film.

Right - Jill Anstey. And Left - 'Mystery at the Burlesque', otherwise known as 'Murder at the Windmill' - Click for Details of the Film.

The dance routines are being arranged by Canadian-born Jackie Billings, whose first 'stage appearance in this country was at the Windmill way back in June 1937.

Donald Clive, 25-year-old actor getting his first big chance in films playing juvenile lead in " Murder at the Windmill, " has to leave rehearsals at 6 p.m. every evening, however, to get down to Aldershot where he appears nightly in the repertory company. He, too, has to fit in rehearsals for the rep. shows.

Jill Anstey, glamorous Windmill girl who came to the theatre as an usherette over five years ago, and then quickly graduated to the other side of the footlights, has been chosen for the second lead in the film, is finding the road to stardom no light one. She rehearses all day for the new Revudeville show and all evening for the film. She has, however, "No complaints! "

Usherette in the film will be portrayed by tall, ash-blonde Gillian Webb, former television announcer at Alexandra Palace, who went to America last year to marry an Army Air Force lieutenant, and has returned for a few months in the home country.

Extracts from the Diary of a Windmill Girl by Pat Raphael

 'Our Cover Girl and Diary Girl Pat Raphael.'It is five years since the day I first walked into the Windmill Theatre. I was then sixteen, had no stage experience or training, but just a burning desire to get on the stage somehow.

Right - 'Our Cover Girl and Diary Girl Pat Raphael.'

David Williams and Vicki Emra dance together in "Fiesta." My mother fully backed up my enthusiasm, and had written to Vivian Van Damm enclosing my photograph and asking if I could have an interview. The big day had arrived. I was nervous and rather embarassed, for there was nothing that I could claim to do in any way related to a career on the stage. Many years before I had tried ballet dancing, but I felt this hardly entitled me to style myself a dancer-more particularly because if I did so, I felt sure Van Damm would ask me to prove my claim, and I would let myself down very badly! So I told Vivian Van Damm the truth, but expressed my willingness to undertake any type of work so long as I could train for a stage career. I think he must have caught some of my enthusiasm, for after I had displayed my physical assets in a swim suit, Van Damm agreed to give me a job.

Left - David Williams and Vicki Emra dance together in "Fiesta."

Windmill Girl Irene King.Although Van Damm is a discriminating employer and has to select his girls very carefully I must in all modesty admit that I believe a certain amount of luck played its part in obtaining me that job. The time was during the war when many stage girls were joining Ensa, and the shortage of labour in the field of theatrical life gave many youngsters like me a chance.

During my first week at the Windmill I just stood backstage and watched and listened to the tremendous hub and bustle that went on around me and wondered whether I would ever fit into it, whether I would ever be able to cope with thinking and doing so many things at once. It was just one clamour of girls changing, girls dancing, girls making up, stage directors shouting their instructions, the orchestra trying out new numbers-and all interspersed with such minor interruptions as: "You're wanted on the telephone Mr. Van Damm," "Where's my Peacock bra?" "Whose taken my ballet shoes?" "What's happened to the music of the Spring number?" and the slightly plaintive cry, "Gosh, how I'm just longing for my break next week."

Right - Windmill Girl Irene King.

After a week of being rather a static figure in this enveloping whirlpool I did become static - literally! My first actual work started in nude tableaux. But while I stood stiffly at the rear of the stage I was able to watch the work of the girls in front of me. It gave me an opportunity to learn from them, to get used to the audience and lose any semblance of stage-fright.

Tauna Beckham has an important part in the new Val Guest musical thriller "Murder at the Windmill."First thing I noticed when working at the Windmill was that my work was not confined to learning dance routines and vocal numbers - when you have a lot of people together in a busy, excitable atmosphere you've got to learn to rub along together happily. I learnt the hard way that the best means of doing this was to find out their little idlosyncracies - and treat them sympathetically!

One learnt to remember never to wear tap shoes for rehearsals conducted by the choreographer whose speciality was ballet sequences. First time you met him he would tell you it was forbidden to come to his rehearsal wearing tap shoes, "because he refused to stand 'clip,' ' clip,' 'clip ' noises. If he was particularly irritated with you then he would mimic everything you said in a most sarcastic fashion, at the same time rolling his perpetual cigarette round his lips.

Then you had to get used to the type of showgirl who would be continually losing her own things or quite unintentionally borrowing yours. It was quite usual to lose your dressing gown for about five days and then find it hanging behind her door - and she honestly never knew she had got it! This particular girl could fray your nerves to breaking point, but nevertheless we knew we couldn't do without her for she had a lovable and kindly nature. But her scatterbrain resulted in some amusing situations, such as the time when a nude was missing just before the curtain was due to rise and this girl, wanting to be helpful, rushed on the stage and took up the missing position. She completely overlooked the fact however that she was wearing outdoor brogue shoes and a brassiere!

Left - Tauna Beckham has an important part in the new Val Guest musical thriller "Murder at the Windmill."

Of course, my early years at the Windmill were during the war and that great spirit of companionship which drew our nation together was as apparent at the little theatre as it was in the Services and Civvy Street. These were exacting days. At night we slept at the theatre in our dressing rooms. And we were usually so tired after the shows all day that we slept through the noise of the bombing. We were all keen that our little theatre should preserve its slogan "We Never Closed," and, as you know, we did maintain this tradition - though on some occasions it proved rather difficult. I remember one incident during the flying bomb period. The turn featured a castanet dance with a nude standing on a pedestal in the background. As the sound of a flying bomb drew closer most people left the theatre until there were only four members of the audience in the front row. Then one of the panes of glass, which form the front-stage at the Windmill, broke. The girls with the castanets carried on gamely, carefully dancing round the hole. But the nude was the person for whom I felt sorry. The vibration from the bomb made her pedestal shake, and she was swaying precariously to and fro. But I'm glad to say she survived the turn.

I was personally involved in another amusing incident concerning this glass-front stage made in this substance to allow electric lights to show through. On this particular occasion I was on the end of a line of dancing girls. Next to me was Charmian Innes and on her other side Sonia Stacpoole, who is now married to Harry Roy. The girls made their entrance in a kicking routine, and just as I came on to the stage I disappeared through one of the panes of glass, leaving my head and shoulders on view to the audience. Charmian hurriedly pulled me out. I tacked myself on to the line again and continued dancing. I was amazed at the tremendous reception this action brought me - for I had no idea that one of my legs was covered in blood. I hadn't felt a thing, but the electric lights had burnt me and I was considerably grazed. Fortunately, being "special glass which does not splinter, there was no real danger, and in a couple of days I was quite fit again.

High speed action photograph of Renee Baxter from a scene in London's famous Widmill Theatre.Apart from our normal shows during the war the company used to entertain troops on a Sunday. Although it involved extra work, this-was great fun, and our Services audience were so appreciative that it made the work really worth while.

Right - High speed action photograph of Renee Baxter from a scene in London's famous Widmill Theatre.

A normal audience at the Windmill I would judge to be one of the most difficult in the world because they expect so much, and because so many people who come to see the same show three or four times seem to think that this excuses them from showing any appreciation by means of clapping. Our troop shows didn't need any incentive in this direction It was at two of these troop concerts that I met Jean Kent, a former Windmill girl. On these occasions she was top of the bill and I played second lead.

Air-craft legs of Windmill Girls in the air minded "Our Flying Start" opening number of the new Vivian Van Damm production.During my years at the Mill I was a firm friend of Jill Anstey, and we lived together for two years. Jill is to play the second feminine role in the new film "Murder at the Windmill." Until we left. a short time ago we were the oldest members among the girls. Since leaving, our footsteps have led us both in the direction of films, for I, too, have recently completed a film -"Irish Melody," a Paul Barralet production made at Elm Park studios, in which I play the leading role. And even more recently I have had the good luck to be put under contract by the J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Left - Air-craft legs of Windmill Girls in the air minded "Our Flying Start" opening number of the new Vivian Van Damm production.

My happiest show at the Windmill took place about eighteen months ago. I had two numbers to which I became particularly attached. One of them was written by Nigel Tangye, It was during this show I was spotted by Bill Watts, who is now my agent and who got my first film chance for me. He asked me at the time if I was wanting work, but I was then content to stay at the Mill for a little while longer. We kept in touch, and when I left the Mill a short time back I promptly told him I was out for other work.

My Windmill experience included singing, dancing, sketches, nudes, monologues, etc., but I finally ended up as a speciality dancer. Now I am keen to turn to straight acting on the screen just by way of a change! This may sound rather remote for revudeville, but nevertheless I am firmly convinced that the Mill is the right training ground for any type of entertainment career.

Cover Girl Pat Raphael now under contract with J. A. Rank Organisation.One of the main features in life at the Windmill is learning to relax between numbers and shows. At first I found it impossible to relax between one number and the next, because I was always thinking about the forthcoming routine. But in time the ability to relax came to me. When you have a break, even if only for fifteen minutes, most girls start to slip off their costumes as they leave the stage and change into a comfortable pair of slippers and dressing gown. Then they may read in their dressing rooms, or go up to the canteen for something to eat with their boy friends or relatives. Many of the girls have radios in their rooms. But definitely the favourite haunt is the canteen - for Windmill girls are always eating and always ravenously hungry. The energetic routines demand plenty of food to keep their strength up.

Right - Cover Girl Pat Raphael now under contract with J. A. Rank Organisation.

After eighteen weeks of working on three six weeks shows the girls get a fortnight's holiday. Most of them try to get away, preferably to the sea, for after the close atmosphere of the theatre the sea air is relaxing to the nerves. During two of my fortnightly breaks I went to Brussels and Holland, and quite by chance these trips started me off on my favourite hobby - flying. I flew to Belgium in a privately-owned Proctor, and during the journey the pilot asked me jokingly if I would like to take over the controls. I always dare anything once - so much to his surprise I said 'yes.' Luckily the plane was dual controlled - for I found the joy-stick incredibly light to the touch, and in a second I had the plane climbing skywards at an angle of ninety degrees. Then the pilot took over again and we looped-the-loop. When I got out of that plane I realised how much I liked it and wanted more!

Shortly after that Van Damm suggested that two or three of the girls should learn flying at the Windmill flying club he had established. I can tell you I was mightily pleased when I was chosen as one of them. Ever after that I spent every moment away from the Mill in an aeroplane. My instructress was Joan Hughes, famous for her A.T.A. work in the war. Joan has over four thousand flying hours to her credit.

The cover of 'Film and Art Reel' which this article and pictures are from.Many people have remarked that flying was a strange hobby to take up for relaxation when my normal work demanded so much energy and pace. But I must say that I always feel an elated happiness when up in the air, a delicious remoteness that soothes the nerves and makes me feel literally on top of the world.

Left - The cover of 'Film and Art Reel' which this article and pictures are from.

I am now due for my "A" licence, and I know that if I had not already embarked on a stage career I should want to spend my days flying. My greatest ambition in this direction is to fly a Spitfire, but I have to ferry four other type of craft yet before I can achieve this ambition. One day I want to fly my own plane back to Shanghai, where I was born and lived until just before the war when my mother and I were lucky to escape back to England. My father is a metal and grain merchant in Shanghai, though since the recent disturbances he has moved to Hong-Kong. The East has a fascination for me, and although I do not want to live there again, I certainly want to return there some day, not only to China but also to Japan, a country I have travelled in extensively. I can speak Chinese and Japanese fluently.

However, for the next few years at least I intend to devote my attentions to making a name for myself on the screen, but I can confidently say that wherever my career may take me I shall always remember those happy days at the Windmill and be grateful for them for the excellent groundwork they have given me.

Text and images from the 1949 magazine 'Film and Art Reel'.

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