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Gatti's Music Halls and Restaurants, and The Players Theatres

Gatti's / Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall / Players Theatres, Villiers Street and Craven Passage
Gatti's, Westminster Bridge Road
Harry Lauder's on Gatti's
Gatti's Music Halls by Alan Chudley

 

Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall, Villiers street.

Later - The Hungerford / The Players' Theatre - Later on a different site - The Players' Theatre / The Covent Garden Comedy Club / The Charring Cross Theatre, Craven Passage

Programme for Gatti's Music Hall, Villiers Street, Charing Cross.See Theatreland MapsThere were two Gatti's, one in Westminster Bridge Road and one in Villiers Street, Charing Cross. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at both venues on several occasions including in 1886, 1895, and 1900.

The Villiers Street Gatti's, was originally built in 1863, underneath the arches of Charing Cross Station, as a public house called 'The Arches,' but it was taken over by Carlo Gatti in 1867 and transformed into a Music Hall. Although the official name for the new hall was Gatti's Charing Cross Music Hall it was also known colloquially as 'Gatti's under the arches.'

Right - Programme for Gatti's Music Hall, Villiers Street, Charing Cross.

For a while after 1883 the hall became known as 'The Hungerford' but the name was eventually dropped in favour of the original Gatti's. The Gatti family ran the hall right up until 1910 when it was converted into a Cinema called the Forum.

Programme for The Players' Theatre - June 16th 1947.In 1946 the building was converted back into a Music Hall to house the Victorian Music Hall club 'The Players' Theatre,' otherwise known as 'Ridgeway's Late Joys.'

Left - A programme for The Players' Theatre - June 16th 1947.

This first Players' Theatre was sold and completely demolished in the late 1980s to make way for the building of offices for Coopers Lybrand and the address was changed to 1, Embankment place. The site of the old Theatre is now the goods entrance and loading bay for the Price Waterhouse Coopers offices above it.

A new Theatre was then built in Craven Passage, a short distance up Villiers street from the old building, to replace the old Players' Theatre. It was constructed in the same style as the old Players but in a completely different railway arch, this time opposite the well known nightclub 'Heaven'.

This new Players' Theatre closed in May 2002 and the company moved out of the building, eventually transferring to a new home called 'The Venue,' which was a basement theatre, located beneath Notre Dame Church in Leicester Place, off the north side of Leicester Square, and right next to the Prince Charles cinema. However this was short-lived and the Players' Company currently have no permanent home.

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukHaving changed hands several times the Theatre, currently called the Charring Cross Theatre, is now leased by the owners of Heaven, just opposite. As the Sultan of Brunei now owns the head lease on the whole complex he has decreed that it must remain as a working Theatre and not be converted into any other form of venue. Both of the remaining offshoot Players' Music Hall companies that are in opposition with each other are now renting the Theatre for their Joys shows whenever they put them on.

Some of the above information was kindly sent in by Graham Hoadly.

There is quite a lot of information on the history of the Players' Theatre club here...

 

Gatti's in the road, 218, Westminster Bridge Road

Gatti's in the road, Westminster Bridge Road.The second Gatti's, Gatti's-in-the-Road (Westminster Bridge Road), was opened by Carlo Gatti, a caterer, in 1865. It flourished for many years, and saw Harry Lauder's first London appearance.

In the Westminster Bridge Road, just opposite the old Canterbury, is Gatti's Music Hall-now a cinema. It was a smaller hall than the Canterbury, holding only 900 people, and was started by Carlo Gatti in the second half of last century. Behind the small stage were two dressing rooms, each about ten feet square, one for men and one for women. There were no comfortable quarters for the artistes as we have to-day. Ernest Ball, who many of the older theatregoers will remember at the old Surrey, recollects when there was no proper grease paint. Dry paint was mixed with lard which was melted on the wire cage over the gas bracket back stage.

Right - Gatti's in the road, Westminster Bridge Road.

As was usual at these music halls, the chairman sat at a table just in front of the stage, with a few favoured patrons sitting by him, The best known of these early chairmen at Gatti's were Tom Tinsley and Ben Baker. Entrance tickets took the form of a metal disc which entitled the beater to a seat and a mug of beer. One of the rules of the house, however, was that all men in the audience should wear a collar and tie, and it is said that a small shop on the opposite side of the road did a brisk trade in paper neckwear!

Non-stop variety, which is all the rage just now, does not entail more work for the artistes than in former days. Performers at Gatti's, after their first appearance, used to go over to the Canterbury, thence to Camberwell Palace, over to the Paragon in the Mile End, on to the Granville at Walham Green and then return to Gatti's for their final performance.

Ben Baker, the chairman, was versatile, and if an artiste was late he stepped into the breach and gave a turn himself. It is related that one of the leading stars of the time at Gatti's was arrested by two bailiffs for debt. Ernest Ball, who was appearing across the road at the Canterbury in The Night Alarm," was called in to deputise at a moment's notice. The officers became so engrossed in the performance that they completely forgot their prisoner who calmly walked out of the stage door and escaped. Fortunately he was 'able to settle his debts before the next evening.

Advertisement for Gatti's Cafe Restaurant 218, Westminster Bridge Road.

Above - Advertisement for Gatti's Cafe Restaurant 218, Westminster Bridge Road.

All the old time favourites have appeared here, including Dan Leno, Marie Kendal, Harry Vance, George Leybourne, Little Tich and Marie Lloyd. It was here too, that Sir Harry Lauder made his first appearance in London some thirty years ago and made an instant hit.

Cine-variety, too, is not new, for some of the earliest films were shown at Gatti's some years before the war in between other turns. Since the war the music hall has turned over to its present status of a "talkie" house. The hall is much the same, with its slender iron column supports, and the old bar at the back of the auditorium, where once leaned agents from the surrounding halls, discussing terms with artistes, is now a modern refreshment counter.

The Romance of London Theatres No. 206. Gatti's Music Hall by Ronald Mayes - From a Magazine Programme for The Palace Theatre 1932.

 

Extract from Harry Lauder's Autobiography
'Roamin' in the Gloamin' 1928,

On his first London appearance at Gatti's, Westminster Bridge Road, and on meeting its manager Tom Tinsley.

"By George - there's a man we've not seen!" said Munroe, suddenly, as we sat, verra glum and silent. "Who's that?" I asked. "Tom Tinsley - the best fellow in London. You'll like him, whether he can do anything for you or not. I'll hail him" - He did, and Mr. Tinsley came over toward our table. I liked his looks. "He's the manager of Gatti's, in the Westminster Bridge Road," whispered Munroe. "Know it?" I knew it as one of the smaller halls, but one with a decided reputation for originality and interesting bills, owing to the personality of its manager, who was never afraid to do a new thing that was out of the ordinary. I was glad I was going to meet him.

"Here's Harry Lauder, he wants to meet you Tom," said Munroe. "Shake hands with him. You're both good fellows." Tinsley was as cordial as he could be. We sat and chatted for a bit, and I managed to banish my depression, and keep up my end of the conversation, bad as I felt. But when, Munroe put in a word about my business in London I saw a shadow come over Tinsley's face. I could guess how many times in a day he had to meet ambitious, struggling artists. "So you're here looking for a shop, hey?" he said, turning to me. His manner was still pleasant enough, but much of his effusive cordiality had vanished. But I was not to be cast down. "What's your line?"

"Scotch comedian," I said. "I----" He raised his hand, and laughed. "Stop right there - that's done the trick! You've said enough. Now, look here, my dear boy, don't be angry, but there's no use. We've had Scotch comedians here in London before, and they're no good to us. I wish I could help you, but I really can't risk it."

"But you've not heard me sing," I said. "I'm different frae them ye talk of. Why not let me sing you a bit song and see if ye'll not think sae yersel?"

"I tell ye it's no use," he said, a little impatiently. "I know What my audiences like and what they don't. That's why I keep my hall going these days."

But Munroe spoke up in my favor, too; discouraging though he was we were getting more notice from Tinsley than we had had frae any o' the ithers! Ye can judge by that hoo they'd handled us. "Oh, come, Tom," said Munroe. "It won't take much of your time to hear the man sing a song, you do as much for all sorts of people every week. As a favor to me - come, now----"

"Well, if you put it like that," said Tinsley, reluctantly. He turned to me. "All right, Scotty," he said. "Drop around to my office at half past four and I'll see what's to be done for you. You can thank this nuisance of a Munroe for that - though it'll do you no good in the long run, you'll find, and just waste your time as well as mine!"

There was little enough incentive for me to keep that appointment. But I went, naturally. And, when I got there, I didn't sing for Tinsley. He was too busy to listen to me. "You're in luck, just the same, Scotty," he said. "I'm a turn short, because someone's got sick. Just for to-night. If you'll bring your traps down about ten o'clock you can have a show. But I don't expect you to catch on. Don't be too disappointed if you don't. London's tired of your line."

"Leave that to me, Mr. Tinsley," I said. "I've knocked 'em in the provinces and I'll be surprised if I don't get a hand here in London. Folks must be the same here as in Birkenhead or Glasga!"

"Don't you ever believe that, or it will steer you out of your way," he answered. "They're a different sort altogether. You've got one of the hardest audiences in the world to please, right in this hall. I don't blame you for wanting to try it, though. If you should happen to bring it off your fortune's made."

I knew that as well as he. And I knew that now it was all for me to settle. I didn't mean to blame the audience if I didn't catch on; I knew there would be no one to blame but myself. If I sang as well as I could, if I remembered all my business, if, in a word, I did here what I'd been doing richt along at hame and in the north of England, I needn't be afraid of the result, I was sure. And then, I knew then, as I know noo, that when ye fail it's aye yer ain fault, one way or anither. I wadna ha' been late that nicht for anything.

'Twas lang before ten o'clock when I was at Gatti's, waiting for it to be my turn. I was verra tired; I'd been going aboot since the early morn, and when it had come supper time I'd been sae nervous I'd had no thought o' food, nor could I ha' eaten any, I do believe, had it been set before me. Weel, waitin' came to an end, and they called me on. I went oot upon the stage, laughin' fit to kill mysel', and did the walk aroond. I was used, by that time, to havin' the hoose break into laughter at the first wee waggle o' my kilt, but that nicht it was awfu' still. I keened in that moment what they'd all meant when they'd tauld me a London audience was different frae any ever I'd clapped een upon. Not that my een saw that one - the hoose micht ha' been ampty, for ought I knew!

The stage went around and around me. I began wi' "Tobermory," a great favorite among my songs in yon days. And at the middle o' the first verse I heard a sound that warmed me and cheered me - the beginnings of a great laugh. The sound was like wind rising in the trees. It came down from the gallery, leaped across the stalls from the pit - oh, but it was the bonny, bonny sound to ma ears! It reached my heart - it went into my feet as I danced, it raised my voice for me! "Tobermory" settled it - when they sang the chorus wi' me on the second voice, in a great, roaring measure, I knew I was safe. I gave them "Calligan-Vall-Again" then, and ended with "The Lass o' Killicrankie."

I'd been supposed to ha' but a short turn, but it was hard for me to get off the stage. I never had an audience treat me better. 'Tis a great memory to this day - I'll ne'er forget that night in Gatti's old hall, no matter hoo lang I live. But I was glad when I heard the shootin' and the clappin' dee doon, and they let the next turn go on. I was weak---- I was nigh to faintin' as I made my way to my dressing room. I had no the strength to be changin' ma clothes, just at first, and I was still sittin' still, tryin' to pull mysel' together, when Tinsley came rushing in.

He clapped his hand on my shoulder. "Lauder, my lad, you've done it!" he cried. "I never thought you could - you've proved every manager in London an ass to-night!"

"You think I'll do?" I asked. He was a generous man, was Tinsley.

"Do!" he said. "You've made the greatest hit of the week when the news gets out, and you'll be having the managers from the West End halls camping on your doorstep. I've seen nothing like it in years. All London will be flocking here the rest in a long time."

I needn't say, I suppose, that I was immediately engaged for the rest of that week at Gatti's. And Tinsley's predictions were verified, for the managers from the west end came to me as soon as the news of the hit I had made reached them. I bore them no malice, though some of them had been ruder than they need ha' been when I went to see them. They'd had their chance; had they listened to me and recognized what I could do, they could ha' saved their siller. I'd ha' signed a contract at a pretty figure less the day after I reached London than I was willin' to consider the morning after I'd had my show at Gatti's.

Above - Extract from Harry Lauder's Autobiography 'Roamin' in the Gloamin' 1928 - Courtesy Christine Tweed, Great Great Granddaughter of Thomas Tinsley. Thomas married a lady called Sarah Ruth Vasey in 1874. They both started off as vocalists. Tom died on 29 December 1910 in Burslem, Staffordshire where he was born.

 

Gatti's Music Halls by Alan Chudley

Gatti's music halls must be treated with some caution, as there are many myths associated with Gatti's. The Gatti family were mainly caterers rather then Theatre Managers, although in my day they owned the Vaudeville and Adelphi Theatres; Jack Gatti ran the Vaudeville and leased the Adelphi to other managements, retaining the family box at the Adelphi for use of family and friends. Jack Gatti was a man of his word, if a show at the Vaudeville bombed, then the management of the show would be told; "Come back and try again when you have something better to offer"

When I first started work in twice nightly variety, during the last war, older artistes would tell you that you could always get a try out at Gatti's in the road, and if successful you were paid what it was worth to Gatti's, if not you were told to come back and try again with new Material; this is how Harry Lauder came to Gatti's in 1900. Harry Lauder, apart from being one of the greatest performers ever, was also a great story teller, often with stories against himself. His reputation for being mean ( actually he was a very generous man) started with his Gatti's try out. He was an instant success, and agents who used to congregate in Gatti's bar, rushed around with contracts for many years ahead, which the then inexperienced Harry Lauder signed, with the effect that within a very few years Harry Lauder found himself tied to contracts which paid him far less then his worth. When those contracts ran out, Harry Lauder would only work for those agents at Salaries well over the odds. After a very frustrating negotiation of Harry Lauder's salaries, at the Tivoli Theatre in The Strand, two well known managers looked out of the office window and saw the Strand being dug up for road works, one asked the other the reason why and was told that Harry Lauder had lost sixpence and was having the strand dug up to recover it. Lauder took this up as his trademark, saying that people never remembered a generous act and never forgot one's meanness. At the Glasgow Empire in 1949 I saw the great man send a call boy out for the Glasgow evening paper which cost one and a half pennies, the call boy was given two pennies and told to be sure to return with the halfpenny change, what those watching did not see was the call boy being tipped five shillings, a generous tip in those days

I only saw Gatti's in the road as a bomb site, the stage area was more or less in tact, (The two dressing rooms mentioned on the Arthur Lloyd site were, in fact, under the stage.) Gatti's looked as though it was a very Spartan house and it is doubtful if it could have accommodated more then 600. Judging by the 1946 Players theatre, which was open to club members only, Gatti's under the arches was not much better. It is possible that The Players company did, as a temporary measure, go to the Venue, near the Prince Charles Cinema, which itself opened as the Prince Charles theatre with the Canadian revue; "Clap Hands," which was under the management of Harold Fielding and transferred from the Lyric Hammersmith on Boxing day 1963. "Clap Hands" only had a moderate success and very soon the Prince Charles theatre closed for alterations. It was thought at the time that the intention was to turn the Prince Charles Theatre into a cinema, and the suggestion on the Television programme; "That was the week that was" that the Prince Charles was licensed as a Theatre, only with the intention of turning it into a cinema later on, brought the threat of legal action of liable from the Fielding management. However, the Prince Charles reopened as; "Fielding Music Hall," again only a moderate success, and after more alterations the Prince Charles became a cinema.

Text Courtesy Alan Chudley.