The Royal Variety Performance

The Royal Variety Performance is an annual command performance usually held in one of the theatres on Shaftsbury Avenue in London; it is usually recorded in November and then televised to the nation in December. 2018’s command performance was performed on the 19th November and at the time of writing the date for the production to be televised is yet to be announced.

The performance is one of a kind with its life spanning more than 104 years with a total of 88 performances with hundreds of performers and artists taking part and attracting more than 100 million TV viewers each year. It’s about the best of the best of British talent, which is what A Ticket 2 Ride Entertainment’s project The New Greatest Show is about, finding world class talent in working class community then take that talent right through to the international stage. More information on that project can be found on the front page of this blog on the right hand menu.

It was by request of the head of state that the Royal Variety Performance was first brought to life in 1912 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary at the Palace Theatre in London. This was just a year after the original planned performance that was meant to take place in the year of the king’s coronation to be staged at the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh. However the building caught fire months before the show was scheduled to be staged. The King would declare that all profits would go to the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, which is what the charity was known as back then.

It was some years later before the next production would be staged, as the events of Great War unfolding and taking many people into service including entertainers and artists. 1919 was to see the second command performance, this time at The Coliseum Theatre in London with the music director Edward Elgar.

It wasn’t until 1921 that the King suggested that the Royal Variety Performance would become an annual event, and was held at the Hippodrome in November and in 1923 returned to Coliseum Theatre. After a year break in 1924, The Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square would become the home of the command performance until 1926, with the Alhambra being demolished in 1936 to make way for what is now The Odeon Cinema on Leicester Square.

In 1927 the command performance was to take to take up residence at the Victoria Palace Theatre and in 1928 it would return to Coliseum before enjoying seven successful years at the London Palladium. It would be first broadcast nationally by the BBC in 1930.

The final performance that King George V attended was in 1935 which was his and Queen Mary’s Silver Jubilee. The king died 3 months later in January 1936 and the final performance at the London Palladium for the time being would be in the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.

The command performance never has found a full time home with its increasing popularity; the next 7 years found the command performance bouncing between the The Coliseum and The London Palladium. 1951 the back and forth between the same venues was broken with a stint at the Victoria Palace Theatre, the first performance that was not in front of the head of the Monarch. It would also be the last opportunity that King George VI would have to enjoy this production, however he was too ill attend, so Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret took his place.

1952 would be the first command performance in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in her position as head of state accompanied by Prince Philip. Over the next few years it would enjoy its success at many homes across the country, including Blackpool Opera House and Manchester’s Palace Theatre.  Most recently the command performance has taken residency at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was 1955 that this annual event begun to be televised on regular bases.

The Royal Variety Charity was it is known today is based in Twickenham, Middlesex. It is dedicated to giving support to those who have professionally served the entertainment industry and find themselves sick, impoverished or elderly.

The charity is believed to be one of the few charities in the UK that has an unbroken line of patronage from the reigning monarch since George V in the early twentieth century. Queen Elizabeth II is the current sole life-patron of the charity.

Established in 1908, the charity was originally called the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, and then in 1971 the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and then in June 2015, was officially awarded the title and name of the Royal Variety Charity.

The charity provides residential and nursing care for eldely entertainers at its own care home, Brinsworth House in Twickenham and also provides a nationwide grant scheme for those living in their own homes, of any age, living anywhere in the UK.

So for the entertainment industry is it an important annual event on ITV in December.

Living Near a Theatre

Its well known that one of the best businesses to be in is housing, and if you’re a civil engineer or builder than business could be really booming as there is a real shortage of housing in the UK currently with local councils having to find land that to be stocked for future houses.

But why, when developers want to build residential houses, do they choose to build near an entertainment venue? Moreover how do they sell the homes without telling them that there will be noise from the venue? Though as a side note I wonder if failing to tell potential customers that they could possibly be disturbed by the entertainment venue they are new home comes under the consumer act of fit for purpose goods.

But then why worry when most people view new homes during the day when the venues are closed, so why would the question about excessive noise at time of sale? When asked after sale about it the developer no doubt plays dumb, saying they weren’t aware or they never experienced the problem.

This is what would have happened to London’s Cambridge Theatre that now has restrictions meaning they cannot have any get in or get outs on a Sunday. This is a common restriction when new a residential estate is built nearby. Some a lucky to just get a curfew, but sometimes theatres are forced to make their buildings sound proof at their own cost.

Here in the 21st Century if you want to build a new entertainment venue anywhere you have to consider sound protection. So why is it, when a developer plans to build 25 flats in close vicinity to an arts venue that’s been around year before, shouldn’t sound proofing of the flats be considered or even made compulsory by the planning committee?

So recently there have been plans announced to build a hotel near the Adelphi Theatre in London and the Corn Exchange in Oxfordshire has the potential of housing being built close by. Once new people move in the complaints will start about noise, which will then put the venues under threat of restrictions or worse, closure.

While it is good to hear the government are currently going through a consultation period to guard theatres against these restrictions and extra expenses when the income is becomes less.  These protections would include ensuring that developers fully sound proof their new buildings to accommodate their neighbours.

It all just seems to be another dig at the entertainment business, another way of making things harder. While the industry struggles at times to finance works the amount of money it pours into the UK economy goes unnoticed and unsung. So it just seems the current situation where developers and planning committees are ganging up on theatres and venues in a culture that has become about self or as Burger King make us believe that we can ‘have our way’. The developers and the planning committees show no consideration for what is already there as an important part not just the national but world heritage.

Currently there is a consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework that every council has to use when considering planning application plans. It is no surprise to hear that the Theatre Trust advices that the planning applications around the Adelphi and Corn Exchange should be rejected. Mayor of London is in favour of the legislation change, saying that the city would become dormant if these plans are left to go ahead as they are and MP John Speller, who has previously proposed a bill on this matter to parliament suggests that the current applications should be postpones pending the outcome of the consultation. Either way is it the best way forward as we do need to protect our theatres of having unfair operating restrictions which could result in us losing our heritage and once these venues close it can be very hard to have them reopened.