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The Talk Of The Town - Opening Programme


London Hippodrome opening night programme, printed on silkWhen Sir Edward Moss, the founder of Moss' Empires, opened the Hippodrome on January 15th, 1900, he achieved his ambition to give Londoners "a circus and watershow combined with elaborate stage-spectacle impossible in any other theatre." The first show, entitled Giddy Ostend, starred Little Tich and the cast included a youngster whose name was Charles Chaplin. After Giddy Ostend came a series of extravaganzas with titles like Volcano, Typhoon, Earthquake, Avalanche, and Flood. These productions were by no means confined to the stage; in front of it, the part of the auditorium normally occupied by the stalls, there was a circular arena; the floor could be lowered and the resulting tank filled with a hundred thousand gallons of water. In the course of an Arctic Spectacle called The North Pole, seventy-six Polar Bears slid down into the tank from the stage!

List of Design and Architectural Consultants for the conversion of the London Hippodrome into the 'Talk Of The Town' 1958 - Click to enlargeWhen the arena was used as a circus-ring, every kind of performing creature appeared on it - from elephants and lions to cormorants and rattlesnakes.

Left - List of Design and Architectural Consultants for the conversion of the London Hippodrome into the 'Talk Of The Town' 1958 - Click to enlarge

All sorts of "novelties" were presented: Russian Giants, Pygmies performing a war-dance; an "Armless Wonder" who played the violin; a lady who baked clay in a crucible and handed out "rubies"; and a scientist who cooked steaks on blocks of ice.

In 1909 the Hippodrome was partially rebuilt; the stage was enlarged, and the old arena space was used for seats. Among the great showmen who appeared on the stage were Cincluevalli, Houdini and Chung Ling Soo; Marie Tempest played in a sketch with W. C. Fields and Leoncavallo conducted his opera I Pagliacci -as part of a programme that included the first American Rag-time Octette!

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Onwards from 1912 (during which year an all-star cast performed a matinee in aid of the suffered from the "Titanic" Disaster) a series of lively revues were produced Hello Ragtime, Hello Tango, Zig Zag, Joy Bells, Round in 50, Brighter London. Among the stars were Harry Tate, Sophie Tucker, Paul Whiteman and his Band, Violet Lorraine and George Robey.

Came "TheTwenties", and Revue gave way to Musical Comedy - Mercenary Mary, Sunny, Hit the Deck, That's a Good Girl, Yes Madame, Stand up and Sing, Please Teacher. The stars included Jack Buchanan, Binnie Hale, Bobby Howes, Elsie Randolph, Vera Pearce, Cicely Courtneidge and Anna Neagle. And at appropriate seasonal intervals, of course, Pantomime reigned.

In 1938 the Late George began a series of very popular musicals - The Fleet's Lit Up, Black and Blue, Black Velvet, Get a Load of This, Lisbon Story - and from 1945 to 1947 Ivor Novello starred in his celebrated Perchance to Dream which had a record run of 1020 performances.

Notable attractions at the Hippodrome in recent years have been the one-man show by Maurice Chevalier, Her Excellency, starring Cicely Courtneidge, the Folies Bergere revues, Bet Your Life with Arthur Askey, The Blue Lamp with Jack Warner, Champagne on Ice, with Bellta, Anna Lucasta with a Negro Cast, and Wedding in Paris, in which Evelyn Laye made a triumphant return to the stage In the closing stages of the Hippodrome's story, Max Bygraves and Dave King appeared in light-hearted musicals, and variety bills were headed by performers like Johnnie Ray, Lonnie Donegan, Alma Cogan and Charlie Gracie.

Charlie Gracie at the London Hippodrome 1957 - Click to see Charlie Gracie page

Above - Charlie Gracie at the London Hippodrome 1957

The London Hippodrome closed its doors to the public for the last time on 17th August, 1957. It was the end of an era - the last page of a chapter as colourful as any in theatre history. And so, with happy memories of a Glorious Past, we go forward. . .

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