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Memories of Show Business by Percy G Court, 1953

CHAPTER FOUR

Index and Preface

Percy G Court On returning from the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff, to London, I met Mr. Don Ross who wanted a manager for a small circus - for a special week. I "fell in" with the idea and I arrived at the Boscombe Hippodrome. Every performance - all seats sold. Among the visitors was that colourful personality, Harry Benet. He invited me, on my return to London, to his offices in Beak Street, W.C. After I settled my accounts with Don Ross, I made a call at Beak Street and after a little chat, Harry Benet engaged me as manager to the Royal Britannic Circus.

On my arrival at the Colosseum, Harrow, to take up my job, I felt a little uneasy for it is well known that circus folk are a sect to themselves. Families like Hengler, Wombwell, Tudor, Bostock, Cooke, Ohmy, Pinder, Freeman, Chipperfield and Sanger have been associated with the ring of sawdust for generations and generally, they ostracise those who are not acceptable to their ways and ideals.

This entirely new venture called for a different application. I made myself known to everybody by a little opening conversation - thereby ingratiating myself to each and all. Of course, my long association with variety artists helped considerably - which have a sprinkling of circus artists. Added to this - a small smattering of French, German and Italian - this was a great help on many occasions.

I found that they are a really nice, well informed set of people - some are capable of speaking nine or ten languages fluently. Their morals are above reproach whilst the family man is a sociable and likeable fellow. They are extremely hard working people - in fact, tireless. Rehearsals take place every morning - trying out new stunts - feats of strength or daring and even to taking a session of teaching languages with the aid of a drawing board. I have greatest respect for the folk of the circus. They are all cosmopolitans.

The Royal Britannic Circus was a topping show and consisted mostly of Chipperfields acts and presentations. The Scott family were in good fettle, the Sisters Scott - with their trapeze act - to finish on the long slide down a slack rope, or the whole family in a demonstration of acrobatic, riding and voltage., on one horse. I must make reference to Cliff Berzac. His real name was never divulged. He came from a family who regularly rode to hounds and although born of high estate, he preferred the life with the circus. His act was Cliff Berzac with his unrideable mule. It is beyond belief - this man was at least eighty years of age but his demeanour - agility and upright in stature - would deceive everybody. He claimed that exercise kept him young.

Real Photograph of the Woolwich Empire Theatre in the mid 1950s - Courtesy John Earl.

Above - Real Photograph of the Woolwich Empire Theatre in the mid 1950s - Courtesy John Earl

The Empire, Woolwich, was our next port of call with the Hippodrome, Chatham, to follow then to the Wimbledon Theatre. Mr. Benet came over to see the show and was very satisfied. Our next stop - Opera House, Northampton and so on until we were disbanded in November. Mr. Benet sent me to the Royal Majestic Circus which would be at the Princes Theatre, Bradford at the date of my arrival.

We played a fortnight here to excellent business - twice nightly with an extra matinee on Saturdays. Owing to most theatres showing a pantomime at Christmas, a few of the artists, who had commited themselves, were leaving to take up their various contracts and we the circus were sent to Aberdeen. It was a very long journey from Bradford to Aberdeen, We had ten horse boxes, a fifty foot covered truck and two trucks of thirty feet - with passenger accommodation - a complement of forty-five artists and personnel.

We departed from Bradford, Foster Square station at 8,30 p.m. on Sunday evening - a week before Christmas 1943. Passengers had to change coaches at Leeds Central - incurring a very long cold wait - over two hours - departing just before midnight. The train was well heated - we had our usual allotment - six to each compartment - travelling via Darlington, Newcastle, Berwick, Edinburgh, Forth Bridge, Perth, Montrose to eventually arrive at Aberdeen 4.30 p. m. Monday afternoon - in perfect weather.

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen - From a PostcardWe had a few days vacation prior to opening at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen. A most beautiful theatre, a wonderful staff in a beautiful city. Mrs. Court and myself enjoyed our stroll round this city of granite - of the north. Outside the portico of the theatre is a huge statue of Wallace - that great Scottish patriot. He must have been a veritable "Goliath" and would have been a great "draw" to any circus. At the base is what he thought of all intruders to Caledonia - he certainly was very candid. He spoke his mind.

Right - His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen and the statue of Wallace - From a Postcard.

We lived in Union Street, over Boots Chemists, it was an easy distance to the theatre. We opened to an absolutely packed house and I never saw, in my long life, such an array of Scottish pageantry before. Parties of dignified families were numerous and filled this beautiful theatre to enjoy our circus offering. The passionate patriotism of their country is exemplified by the display of gorgeous "tartans" - "The exemplary badge of bravery" whilst the little girls added a great charm, wearing velvet capes, which added to the scene.

Mr. Donald, the managing director, was very pleased with the show which included the 5 Australian Aces - a thrilling motor-cycle riding on an inclined plane - with acrobatic stunts. Also Tom Davis Trio - motoring in mid-air - in which all three pass and re-pass each other whilst the track, a grilled tea cup track, is hoisted by cables and a "crab" or "drum' about ten foot high - whilst they continue racing at fifty miles per hour - until the track is lowered.

Our last spectacle was Chipperfield's Lions. The trainer "Dick Chipperfield put his beasts through various tricks to earn the plaudits of the patrons - a Grand Finale!

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen from a postcard sent in 1907.The stage at H.M. Theatre, Aberdeen, is twenty four feet from street level. We had at least twenty-eight horses - these were all stabled outside of the theatre. The lions and other dangerous animals were housed at the theatre. A portion of the stage functioned as a lift and four horses could be accommodated either to travel up or down.

Left - His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen - From a Postcard.

At this period, 1943 - 1944, it was operated by six men - three each side, synchronising. On New Years night, after the performance, an accident occurred - either a man slipped, or was tired - let the handle free. A very big man, of huge dimension, stepped forward to catch the handle - he failed - it decapitated this brave fellow but it broke the impact of the journey to the cellar and the four horses were unhurt. Mr. Donald made provision for his widow and a collection was made among the artists which was in figures ......

Our visit was coupled with fine weather - it seemed anomalous to me - that at Bradford and Leeds - it was very cold - yet here, hundreds of miles further north, it was fairly warm. We stayed at this four weeks and only a sprinkling of snow - on two occasions. I shall always have happy memories of Aberdeen. The citizens were enthusiastic with our circus representations. We were feted everywhere - invitations to Scottish gatherings and parties after the show, whilst the directors invited Mrs. Court and myself to the Caledonian Hotel, which we appreciated. Later a really "big K' was given by Mr. Donald - on the last performance before we departed - down south.

It is the third week of January 1944 at 2 p.m. on Sunday, we said "Goodbye" - as the snow gently fell - and the picture changed - it seemed as if it was just --- luck and the train sped on towards - Wigan. We had a wait at Perth of two hours and here at the Station Hotel we dined and refreshed ourselves. Then again we departed and arrived at 4 a.m. Monday to be welcomed with snow and sleet - at Wigan.

We are due to perform a Minor's Matinee in a few hours time, 10 a.m. staff at the station unloading. Animals to be groomed and fed and everybody worn out with train travel. After the matinee - a protest from the local stage staff - saying that they would not agree to take up our ring mat (weight twelve hundredweight) twice during each performance or strike and set Tom Davis's act "Motoring in Mid-air"

This was a poser for me and I phoned Mr. Benet at Beak Street for advice - as Mr. Tom Davis (the owner of Motoring in Mid-air) expected a full weeks salary. I connected London and Mr. Benet, after explanations, agreed that the act would be cut. This was appreciated by the stage staff but it reflected itself by the audience disappointment. We had a weeks vacation to follow Wigan and our next date was Empire, New Cross, London S.E.

New Cross Empire Theatre London - Courtesy Peter Charlton

Above - The New Cross Empire Theatre London - Courtesy Peter Charlton

From Wigan to Empire, New Cross, with a circus - well it is a "big jump". I was welcomed by Claude Marner, the resident manager, and we opened to a full house. I lived at Breakespeares Road, off the Lewisham High Way. As was my usual practice to be at the theatre by 10.30 a. m., I walked via Wickham Road, Lewisham High Way, down a hill, where Jenkins, the auctioneers are at the corner, to Deptford Broadway. A little to the left is Empire, New Cross.

This morning was Thursday - it started to snow as I left my digs. I approached a large mansion in Wickham Road. The snow thickened - there was no cover - as most of the properties were flat - from the recent bombs. I ran into this big mansion - approached by a semi-circular drive - to the flight of steps and the sanctuary of its large double front doors.

I found I was just in time to witness the sale of this most important house - a freehold property - owned by the late Mr. Parnell. His other, and business premises, are Parnell's Drapery Store in Parnell's Arcade at Victoria Station, S.W. The house comprised fourteen rooms, a huge conservatory, a large billiard room with raised dais, garage for three cars and a concrete underground, bomb-proof shelter. Hardly anyone at the sale.

The bidding starts at £800 - it was like squeezing a lemon - for the bids were slow. At £1,750 it is knocked down --- to me. I ran back to the digs for my cheque book - and I pay to Jenkins and Co. £175 - which is 10% of the purchase price. My wife immediately fainted. When she was calmed, she shouted "You ! You ! Can't you see it will be down before tomorrow morning - the Germans only just missed it last night

Programme for 'The All Comedy Variety Show, Laugh and be Happy' at the New Cross Empire in May 1948.I was greeted at the theatre - everybody seemed to know what happened at Jenkins sale of the house. Bob Bernard, the Ring Master (incidentally - he has a showy pigeon act), he said "Percy - whilst you was away, I took a phone message for you." And I said "Thank you Bob - what is it ?' He said "Do you know a Mrs. Duff ?' I said "Yes - she is a tenant of mine" Bob said "Oh no - no - she was - but she isn't anymore" I said "What do you mean ?" Bob said "You remember last night?" "Yes - well Jerry came over and knocked the lid off Mrs. Duff's house - she left !"

Left - Programme for 'The All Comedy Variety Show, Laugh and be Happy' at the New Cross Empire in May 1948.

I had a visitor at New Cross Empire, enquiring whether I wanted to get out of my bad bargain in Wickham Road on Saturday evening. I asked the man "Why ?" He explained that he saw Mrs. Court and presumed that I was wanting to be rid of it. I said "Well ?" He said if I gave him £100, he would take it from me. I said to him - you are too kind. Thank you. Good Evening !

We travelled to Brighton on the Sunday. The military ban was still in force. I procured a pass for each of our company - allowing them a fortnights stay. Notwithstanding the interdict, we opened to a full house and played to capacity during the visit. On the Tuesday night, two aged people enquired for me. I had an interview with them regarding the sale of 14 Wickham Road. After a prolonged discussion, my wife was present, I felt I could not agree to their offer. They offered me my deposit back, on receipt of a testimony stating I would relinquish all rights of the sale. I said "No".

The Brighton Hippodrome from a 1910 Programme.

Above - The Brighton Hippodrome from a 1910 Programme

Whilst I was at the Hippodrome, Brighton, I had the great pleasure of meeting a very old and esteemed friend of mine, the "Cheeky Chappie" Max Miller, for he has played Kingston Empire many, many times. Always a winner!

We next visit Empire, Chiswick, London SW. and I lived just across the Green. During that week we had a terrific smash up. It was about 2 a.m. on a Friday. The windows of my bedroom had a set of wooden shutters. This saved my wife and self from harm from the blast. The glass dropped down in front of the shutters - all the electric was cut off but we always carried candles.

The lady of the house - tumbled into our bedroom - waving her corsets - saying "Oh Mr. Court - - don't look at me !" In a time like this - it's a duty to look after our neighbours etc., and could I give her a candle ? I dressed and had a look around. I could see that the Chiswick Empire was still standing but to my right - going towards Hammersmith - there was a lot of damage. A church had been bombed and the Times Furnishing Company was flattened. The opposite side of the road got a severe blast too and a lot of property was lost.

Through further enquiries I found that the stables had a side "gone" - one of the horses had a lump out of its shoulder. Some Chinese crew were also flung through a bedroom wall. They were known as The Young China Troupe - but amended their tricks - owing to an arm injury.

Saturday Morning Again I had enquiries regarding the sale of 14 Wickharn Road and I saw W. Jenkins - the auctioneer. I bargained with him. He gave me a cheque for £225 which showed me a profit of £50. This delighted my wife - but I felt that I had lost a bargain. It was worth at least £7000.

The Opera House, Dudley - From a Postcard dated 1905.The Empire, Peterborough was our next stop and at this theatre we played to capacity. After which we had a weeks vacation - then to Opera House, Dudley. The railway station lies very low - in a cutting - and here we had a little trouble in hauling the lions cages up a very inclined slope. The snow was at least three feet deep and despite our efforts - with drag chains encompassing the wheels - it seemed to defy our vigours.

Left - The Opera House, Dudley - From a Postcard dated 1905.

The lions were howling and everybody was fed up but the sacks and chains coupled to the wheels - gave it the right appliance - stopping the wheels from rotating without result. This time we succeeded and as the theatre is very near - the lions were soon comforted. It is a nice warm theatre.

During the week, the lions tore up a pair of velvet curtains worth £200. This needed explaining when I reported to head office. We left Dudley on a Sunday - the snow was falling - humans and animals were a little disgruntled. The cold wind had a very searching inquisitiveness - finding any crack, fissure or tunnel in the traveller's vestments.

Thereby, it was reflected by certain members - displaying uncertain tempers. However, we arrived about one hour and a half late - at Northampton. This is a nice, clean town and although we played to good houses, there was plenty of room to spare at the late performances. From Northampton we travelled via London - yet owing to the fog, we were late arriving in The New Palace Theatre of Varieties, Plymouth  - 1905town. As a result, we lost our scheduled train from Paddington - with its reserved compartments. We had a wait of over four hours (please do not forget - it was wartime). I saw the deputy Station Master who put on an extra coach to satisfy our needs - to Plymouth. We arrived there at midnight - at North Road Station - not a sign of light or a guiding hand to show us (numbering forty-three people) the way to the town and the theatre. It was raining, the roads were full of pot-holes and it seemed a very long walk - for there was no form of transport and we had to guess the many turnings to the town of Plymouth.

Right - The New Palace Theatre of Varieties, Plymouth in 1905.

I was greeted by a policeman and a post office official with a telegram from Harry Benet advising me to notify most of the artists that he had booked a short season at the Stoll Theatre, Kingsway, London, W.C.2, from Easter weekend onwards. The sleet and the rain seemed to evaporate from the import of this telegram. The business at Palace Theatre, Plymouth, was tremendous and the weather was exceptionally good.

On Sunday we again departed for London for a couple of weeks vacation - and then opened at the Opera House - with a circus. This vast theatre, built by Oscar Hammerstein, to stage all the greatest stars of opera - and grand festivals of State Ballet - to descend to exhibiting a common circus - even though it had a Royal Title - The Royal Majestic Circus- seemed incongruous. Yet, the doors were flung open to admit an audience that actually filled the wonderful theatre at every matinee and most of the evening performances.

The London Opera House, Kingsway, London.Of course, being a "Royal" show, Mr. Benet had the honour of receiving H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent and her two children who were enthusiastic about every act and coupled this with an inspection of all the animals - giving a share of time at the "lot" of Cooke's Silver Shetland ponies. Olsen's Sea Lion - Billy was not overlooked - in fact, Billy demanded to be introduced to Her Royal Highness - by clapping his "finny hands" !

Left - The London Opera House, Kingsway, later the Stoll Theatre. The Peacock Theatre now stands on the site.

We have a new Ring Master, by the way - Douglas Cooke. A few words about "Duggie". Well he has been in charge of the circus ring many years. A fine personality with an engaging smile that endears himself to everybody. His family tree had its roots in the circus - going back some hundred years Of course, we still have a big regard for Bob Bernard. The famous greys - "Liberty Horses" were never stabled in London, they always were "boxed" after the performance - and sent home to their stables at Chalfont St. Giles.

I had my office under a long staircase - built of stone - for there was hardly room for more than three people to enter - and it was very close to the stage. Here I could be within call and it was ideal for the disbursement of salaries on Friday evenings. I would place in the Call Boy a notice - Treasury Call: stage crew, ring boys etc. They would be paid first - followed by the Floradora Girls - lastly, the artists. My salary list would be well over £1000. I used to receive the cheque from an office - high up in this wonderful building. Cash it at a bank near the Strand. I never carried a satchel in all my travels, I had it made up in the desired denominations - at the bank. Wherever I toured.- this money was put in a canvas satchel, strapped around inside my trousers.

Anyone watching could see that I did not have any bag - which nearly every other manager likes to show that he has "got it", blatantly advertising the fact. Although I was followed in Birmingham, Lewisham and Bradford - nobody interfered with me. In all my tours, my only loss was the balance sheet, vouchers etc. - nothing of any value was lost (see note later).

I lived at Catford - in the Brownhill Road. I used to travel home after the show sometimes via Charing Cross and sometimes via Blackftiars - according to the time that was convenient to leave the theatre. I lived here nine weeks during the time we played in and around London. If the syren sounded, the ladies used an Anderson Shelter. The men, in the coal bunker in the basement. The legs of my bedstead was pushed into the coals to steady it.

Programme for Stars on Ice at the Stoll Theatre 1947One night - just above where we lived - street after street was destroyed and a few yards below us was a childrens' school - this was used as a casualty station. I saw at least eight people carried on doors - used as a stretcher - to this school. On this very bad night, many, many were injured. A small terrier following behind a litter - the occupant asked me if I would care for him until he returned. I brought it into the landlady of the house - the dog is still there.

Right - Programme for 'Stars on Ice' at the Stoll Theatre, formerly the London Opera House, Kingsway in 1947.

Just before our last night, I had a visit from the manager of the incoming company. It was an Army Show with big spectacular scenery, and I think that the salary list would be considerable. This manager asked about office facilities and I pointed out the merits of my cupboard under the staircase. He scorned the idea. He chose a dressing room on the second floor of dressing rooms. During the run of this particular show, this manager must have been followed by men who had an intimate knowledge of the exits and entrances. He had just arrived from a bank when he was unfortunately "tied up" and left there - whilst the marauders decamped.

Our visit to the Opera House was all too brief for me. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Mr. Harry Benet was there at the last performance and left gifts here and there as a gesture of his appreciation.

We did not have far to go to our next theatre - it was Lewisham Hippodrome - and as I lived a few yards from the stage door, I did not require an office at the theatre. At Lewisham the accommodation is very limited and companies that are numerous - are very handicapped. It is impossible to dress a company of more than thirty at Lewisham. During our 1944 dates, friction was caused by lack of space and facilities for ablutions etc. If you have two or three star artists - each will demand a dressing room for himself or herself and I support that. It is these artists who are the attraction when they go on the stage to entertain. If they are not at their best - they give an indifferent performance. Whilst the other twenty-seven are packed like sardines.

Frank Matcham's Lewisham Hippodrome

Above - Postcard of Frank Matcham's Lewisham Hippodrome.

The manager of the Hippodrome, Lewisham, was a Mr. Schofield and I was always very happy by the service he rendered - either at Lewisham or at the other theatres viz Palace Theatre, Reading and the Palace, Plymouth.

We had opposition - not far away. Ginnet's Circus - performed in a tent -just close to Ladywell Station about a mile and a quarter from Catford, Their pitch was in a public park. I asked my wife to go over and see the show and take my card to introduce herself to the management.

When Mrs. Court arrived, she found them packing up - after the matinee performance. It appeared that one of their artists was a "seer" and she prophesied that, if the circus stayed at Ladywell, all would be lost - and so they departed. The same night or in the early hours of the following morning, a "doodle- bug" came over and dropped on the very ground the "big top" was pitched. A portion of it did not disintegrate but its major part blew a long terrace of small properties to pieces. This was by the side of the rail track whilst the smaller portion was cordoned off - but on view to the public for some days afterwards.

We now tour the midlands for a few weeks and one week was August Bank Holiday 1944. Tenting at the Recreation Grounds of Mitchell and Butlers - the great Birmingham Brewers. It was beautifully laid-out - all the fun of the fair - with cock-shies, roll-em-up, dodge-ems, swings, round-a-bouts, fortune tellers - ghost train. In fact, everything of this type of entertainment and all of it sponsored by Mitchell and Butlers, under a Mr. Collins direction. We had a guaranteed sum with a proviso - should the takings reach there will be a further sum added.

Well it is the first time that I took a job on like this. I made myself useful by acting as a "Spieler" - telling all and sundry that "all the crowned heads of the world had witnessed our wonderful show -with lots of trimmings!" My office was in a tent and here someone thought that they had caught me napping - for whilst I was at the pay office - someone took a registered envelope with nothing else - but vouchers for payment. These I had in duplication - with the exception of the inconvenience - I did not lose anything. We finished to a most excellent weeks business but I was very pleased it kept dry for if it had rained - it would have been a different story.

The Everyman in the 1960s - Courtesy Derek Aldridge and Les Osman.From Birmingham we journey only a short distance to Cheltenham. Here we have a very small stage but, without doubt, every performance we turned hundreds away - having everything that provided a corner - or a seat at a premium.

Right - The Everyman, Cheltenham in the 1960s - Courtesy Derek Aldridge and Les Osman.

We travelled to Bath on the Sunday where we had a great difficulty in stabling our horses. In fact, owing to the "hostile" attitude of some residents - who had empty stables - yet flatly refused - Mr. Bertram Mills horses were kept in the horse boxes at the railway goods yard. On Monday I prevailed upon the Town Clerk to let a portion of the stables which belonged to the Borough Council. Having effected this, all the horses were suitably stabled. Reginald Maddox, the proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Bath, gave me a warm welcome and I shared his office.

Programme for 'Cinderella' at the Theatre Royal Bath December 1938.Our grand climax was a group of lions. "Slanged" or shown by a Major. He did not seem to have them under control on the second performance on Monday. The lions made a concerted attack on this trainer - pinning him to one corner of the grilled arena. The poor chap looked "all-in". Ring Master, Douglas Cooke directed men - ring boys - arming them with long iron bars. But there were ten of the animals and as fast as we held one lion or more, another leaped at him - he was only armed with a chair - the legs pointing towards any beast who made an attack - no tricks were attempted and the Major, very tired - and undignified - was rescued after a ruse by the Ring Master.

Left - Programme for 'Cinderella' at the Theatre Royal, Bath - December 1938.

This episode lasted thirty-three minutes. Reg Maddox prevailed with myself and advised Harry Benet to cut the lions from the programme. This was done and on Tuesday afternoon, all the lions were sent en route to the farm Bath, the city which history links up with the early Romans - whose entertainment was the facsimile of ours today - conjures up imagination - what Nero would have done to a lion tamer who faltered - a lot of thumbs would be pointing down.

Sunday came round and with it the exodus and cavalcade of the Royal Majestic Circus to London and "here we are again" as Joey the Clown tells his public at the Empire Chiswick on a return visit. We are again repeating the same good business - with a few new and novel acts. We again cross London to the Empire, Ilford. We are again in difficulties with the stabling and we were unfortunate in not finding any stabling near. This was because most of the property had been destroyed by bombing. Our nearest stables were at Dalston - three miles away. Ilford was disastrous for us - we did a very bad week's business and we had bombs dropping all round us - missing us by yards. The house in which I lived - everybody left it for three days. My wife and I were the sole occupants. Many of the artists slept in the dressing rooms.

Now again we depart for the Midlands - to Hanley and thank goodness for a night of sleep. It seemed so tranquil after last week and it brought back memories of my boyhood - when I was in Hanley at this same theatre with Arthur Robert's musical comedy "Gentleman Joe" The cabby: "This town is the centre of the potteries and if the folk like your show - you will play to good business but if - to the contrary - well you might as well put up the shutters."

I cheerfully say - I was greeted by Mr. Hughes and we had a wonderful week. The old Grand Theatre was burnt down some few years before - I trust that it will resume its former glory when it is re-built. Hanley has no link with the northern towns during Sunday therefore all the loading and en-training was at Stoke - about three miles distant. Our next town was at Bradford - to the Princes Theatre.

We departed on Sunday - Stoke to Manchester - changing at London Road Station - then to cross Manchester and depart again from the Exchange Station. We had fifty-five minutes according to the timetable to effect this change but we were over thirty minutes late at London Road. I had made arrangements with the railway for them to provide extra men to load and unload dogs, ponies - and the sea lion with its tank. This was quickly executed but we arrived at the Exchange Station, Manchester, to see our train departing without us.

So there we were - waiting again - with a wait of over four hours before the next. The irony of it all is that we learned - our train waited in Rochdale Station for exactly seventeen minutes during which time we could have easily loaded everything - in the space of ten minutes. We arrived at Foster Square Station, Bradford, exactly midnight. Mr. Olsen, the trainer and owner of the sea lion, had to stay with his animal all through the small hours of the night and erect the tank - because this sea lion - if it became ill - might even die if left too long without water.

Two 1940s Programmes for the Prince's Theatre, Bradford; 'The Guinea Pig' 1948 and 'A Cuckoo In The Nest' 1949 - Click for details.Such were the trials and troubles to all that travelled - on Sundays - during the war period. We again stayed in Bradford for two weeks. Our takings were a little down - compared with our former visit - yet I am happy to say - everybody was satisfied. Here we terminated the tour. The animals were all sent back to Mr. Harry Benet's farm at Horley in Surrey. I sent by registered post the returns and comments vouchers, receipts of wages etc. with the balance sheet to Beak Street, London W.C.2.

Right - Two 1940s Programmes for the Prince's Theatre, Bradford; 'The Guinea Pig' 1948 and 'A Cuckoo In The Nest' 1949 - Click for details.

Mrs. Court and myself stayed in Bradford for an extra fortnight on holiday. We took bus runs out to Baildon Moor, Ilkley Moor and the surrounding district - thoroughly enjoying the quiet scenery of the neighbourhood. I am now sixty-five years of age and I made up my mind that I would settle down in the south of England - near the sea. We are alone - and we feel a sense of relief - and late on a Saturday evenings, I took a train from Foster Square Station, Bradford, to Brighton via Leeds where the train became wedged with passengers.

Two music hall artists were sitting opposite to us. On our arrival at St. Pancras Station, London - these artists found that all their luggage was stolen. Crossing town at 6.30 a.m. Sunday to Victoria and we arrived at Brighton at 8.30 a. m. We again fix up at The Cecil (very comfortable) but I did not stay - feeling that Torquay would be more to my liking - so again, we travel via London - Paddington and arrive at Torquay. I stay in Torquay about two months when a wire came from Harry Benet - offering me a job as manager to a pantomime to be produced at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon. I accepted because I was thrilled with the idea of managing a show at this very famous theatre. Mrs. Court and I arrived there three weeks before Christmas 1944 and I met some equally famous artists in the historic and beautiful town.

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon - Courtesy Dave Gregory from his excellent website Postcards of the past.Clarkson Rose was in possession with his immortal extravaganza "Twinkle" and though it was here at a time when it was not safe - Clarkson Rose played to excellent business. I had quite a lot of running about prior to production of Red Riding Hood.

Left - The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon - Courtesy Dave Gregory from his excellent website Postcards of the past.

For example, I had to verify the ages of the younger troupe of dancers before the magistrates at Warwick - some four miles distant - whilst to collect certain properties of local origin etc.

The leading comic was Albert Grant - a well known West of England comedian. Kitty Prince was the principal boy with a well-balanced support. We played five weeks - which was not bad considering it was a new departure to play pantomime at this theatre. I shall always remember the many kindnesses Mr. Fossell gave me during my stay - in fact, I brought about the engagement of George Jewett as stage manager to the Memorial Theatre.

This stage can be operated by machinery in a wonderful combination of elevating bridges to form either quadrangle or figures of a pyramid design. It is too intricate to describe all the details. It is definite that no other stage in England equals its capabilities.

Continue to Chapter Five...

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