Odds & Ends


A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

November 1995, No. 2

LONDON POSTWAR THEATER - 1920


Seventy-five years ago Europe was still staggering from the recent war and outbreaks of influenza. Unbelievable numbers of its young men were gone forever. The survivors desperately needed distraction.

Light theatrical fare was called for, and provided. There was no Shakespeare or Shaw being produced this year, although Shaw was finishing up his epic play cycle Back to Methuselah. The two classics produced were a revival of Francis Beaumont's 1609 comedy Knight of the Burning Pestle, and a new version of John Gay's 1727 musical drama The Beggar's Opera. A later version of Gay's play would give us Mack the Knife.

Lenox Robinson's family comedy The Whiteheaded Boy was intended as a satire on the relationship between England and Ireland, but no one seemed to notice, most taking it at face value.

Several popular and prolific playwrights were represented. A. A. Milne provided Mr Pim Passes By starring Irish playwright Dion Boucicault and his wife Irene Vanbrugh. A young newcomer named Leslie Howard was also in the cast. This year Milne and his wife also provided a son, destined to become Christopher Robin of the Winnie the Pooh stories. Noted manager Basil Dean produced John Galsworthy's The Skin Game. Peter Pan creator James M. Barrie was represented with Mary Rose.

Novelists, most of them unknown to today's readers, provided theatrical fodder. H. De Vere Stackpole's The Blue Lagoon is one such property, that filmmakers still will just not let die a merciful death. Gertrude Page's novel Paddy the Next Best Thing was also dramatized, as was George Du Maurier's Peter Ibbetson. But the staged novel that caused the greatest excitement was Robert Hichen's Garden of Allah. The Drury Lane Theatre was noted for its extravagant stage effects, and the management did not disappoint. The lavish production included a live camel and the climax was reached during an onstage sandstorm that left Londoners gasping and buzzing for months. Yes, the 1936 Dietrich-Boyer film came from the same source.

1920 seemed to be ripe for musical revues beginning with the letter "J". The year saw Jig-Saw, Jumble Sale, and Just Fancy. American actress Elsie Janis starred in the U. S. revue It's All Wrong. Musicals - commonly know as musical plays at the time - were also popular. Irene introduced theatergoers to the song Alice Blue Gown. Others musicals were The Little Dutch Girl; London, Paris and New York; The Naughty Princess; Oh, Julie!; Pretty Peggy; and The Southern Maid.

A London Christmas season would be incomplete without the annual pantomime, a satirical potpourri of comedy routines by noted performers, many of them cross-dressing, threaded together by the plots of well-known fairy tales. The "panto" was a tradition with many London families, and this year they flocked to the London Hippodrome to see Aladdin. They missed seeing Gertrude Lawrence. The soon-to-be star was an understudy, and none of the headliners was gracious enough to break a leg.

There was one other relative newcomer treading the boards this year. He had played an apprentice/amateur actor in Knight of the Burning Pestle. A five-week lull occurring at the New Theatre, the owners filled the time with a play called I'll Leave It to You. The newcomer performed in the piece. He'd also written it. You may have guessed - it was Noel Coward.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
All of the above mentioned productions, as well as many others, ran for over a hundred performances. The Beggar's Opera ran for 1463. Source: Who's Who in the Theatre, 17th edition, ed. by Herbert Ian with Christine Baxter and Robert E. Finley, Gale Research (Detroit, 1981)


EB CHRONOLOGY

A search of Eagles Byte chronologies on the word "London" turns up the following events for the years 1918-1920:

1918
Jan 28
Germany's heaviest bombing of London takes place during this night.

Feb 25
Meat rationing goes into effect in Greater London.

May 19
Less than half of 42 Gotha warplanes attacking London make it through British defenses.

Sep 5
The Diaghilev Ballet Company opens a season at the London Coliseum.

October
The Spanish flu kills 2,200 Londoners during one week.

Nov 11
The Armistice is signed. Total war losses for the United Kingdom - 745,000.

Dec 24
A. A. Milne's Make-Believe opens Nigel Playfair's newly-renovated Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

Miscellaneous
Future author V. (Victor) S. Pritchett leaves London for Paris, where he begins working as a glue salesman.

1919
Jul 5
Suzanne Lenglen becomes the first non-English speaking tennis champion, winning the ladies' singles at Wimbledon.

Jul 19
A giant victory parade is staged in London, as well as others all over Britain.

Jul 22
The Diaghilev Ballet Company returns to London with a production of Manuel de Falla's
The Three-Cornered Hat. at the Alhambra Theatre. The designs are by Pablo Picasso.

Aug 13
Jazz pianist-composer George Albert Shearing is born in London.

Miscellaneous
The first boxing match in Royal Albert Hall takes place. ** A Diaghilev ballet season plays at
the Alhambra.


1920
Feb 11
The League of Nations Council meets for the first time, at St. James Palace.

Mar 29
Croydon Airport becomes the London Customs Air Port and Hounslow Airport is closed.

Aug 21
Christopher Milne, son of A. A. Milne and the model for Christopher Robin, is born in Chelsea, London.

Nov 11
George V unveils E. Luytens' Cenotaph in Whitehall and attends the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.

Nov 15
Gustav Holst's The Planets is given its first public performance.

Miscellaneous
C. B. Cochran manages the Aldwych Theatre, through the following year. ** The name of
Camden Chapel is changed to All Saints Camden Town Church.


PEARL OF AN URL


Continuing with this month's London theater theme, our featured URL belongs to London's West End Theatre Ticket Site. They have a number of interesting destinations. "greenrm.html" added to the URL will take you to the Green Room (the traditional actors' lounge) for all the latest news of the London theater. Of special interest to history buffs is the "we_venue.html" area, where you will find capsule histories of all the West End theatres (to use the British spelling). One omission from this area, that we can hope may someday be seen to, would be a list of the productions at each of the theatres.


TRIVIA

LAST MONTH
You were asked to name the poets who wrote the following (answers included):
THIS MONTH
Name the person of whom it was written:

What a wide world was in that little space,
Thyself a world, the Globe thy fittest place.


EB SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (more detailed versions available)

HISTORY NEWS

10-14
Novelist Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters) whose Father Cadfael mysteries are set in Medieval England, dies at the age of 82.

10-18
John Gardner, recently retired as associate curator of small craft at Connecticut's Mystic Seaport Museum, dies in Haverhill, Massachusetts at the age of 90.

10-19
German-born U. S. architectural historian Howard Saalman (Haussmann: Paris Transformed) dies at his home in Pittsburgh at the age of 67.

10-23
The New York Times announces that Radio Free Europe audiotapes covering the period of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 have been uncovered in a German archive in Coblenz. They are expected to show whether CIA broadcasts provoked the Hungarian freedom fighters into action with the promise that U. S. military aid was imminent.

11-1
The Nation's Report Card, issued by U. S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, indicates that last year over half of high school seniors failed a basic test on U.S. history; 36% and 39% of fourth and eighth graders, respectively, flunked the test.

11-1
Culinary historian Helen Duprey Bullock (Williamsburg Art of Cookery) dies at the age of 90 in a Washington, D. C. retirement community.

11-4
French philosopher-historian Gilles Deleuze (What Is Philosophy; with Felix Guattari), depressed by a chronic respiratory illness, commits suicide by jumping from his apartment window in Paris, at the age of 70.

11-7
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres announces his government will delay indefinitely a large dam project that threatens Stone Age carvings at Foz Coa, in his country's northern region.

11-7
Novelist, playwright and journalist (In the Fist of the Revolution) Jose Yglesias, dies of cancer in New York's Beth Israel Hospital at the age of 75.

11-9
Charles Vevier, historian of American diplomacy, died on Thursday at New Jersey's Englewood Hospital at the age of 71.

* * *


I hope you've enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends.

Eagles Byte has a bibliography database of U. S. history books with over 5100 titles. Our British bibliography database contains over 700. Trying to keep up with world history is beyond our capabilities, but we do have a few books in our files and can look up others for you. If you'd like further information and/or fees, feel free to e-mail me.

David Minor

Melbourne, Australia, 1920s

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