Dad was up and racing, not running, when it came to going to all the concerts and shows that were playing during the three months we spent in England!
I swear he was like a kid in a candy store with everything that was available and he made sure we also got our share of culture too!
Fortunately we didn’t have to go to every recital, concert or ballet that my parents went to, thank goodness, but daddy also took us to quite a number of shows at the West End, which was a lot of fun. 🙂
I’ll fill you in on the fun stuff first, then write about the classical events my parents or we all attended!
The Royal Tournament
On June 25 our folks took us to Earl’s Court to see the Royal Tournament and dad remarked that it was very impressive and so different from anything else they’d ever seen.
I remember seeing the Royal Tournament when I was older and yeah, I guess it was different to what we normally watched. I suppose it was impressive to see the various army, navy or air force chaps building bridges or driving motorbikes in intricate swirls without crashing into each other!
Staged in London each summer, the Tournament was different each year. In the latter years, each Tournament was given a theme as each of the three armed services took it in turn to take the lead. The opening and finale of each show would often include huge numbers of musicians and performers.
Two elements of the Tournament earned a place in the programme each year. These were the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition which was a part of the Tournament from 1907 and the Musical Drive by the Royal Artillery.
The First Musical Drive was performed at the 1896 Tournament. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery was formed in 1947 on the instruction of King George VI, the troop performed at each Royal Tournament until 1999.
[Source: Royal Tournament]
I don’t know what year this footage of the Tournament was taken – looks soon after the war so would be around about the time we saw the show …
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Sonja Henie and her Ice Review
Dad said that it was a wonderful two-hours of “splendid entertainment with never a dull moment”! I would imagine it was pretty terrific seeing Sonja Henie swish and swirl around on her ice skates 😀
Sonja was a Norwegian figure skater and film star who, in 1927, started figure skating at 14 years old and turned out to be not only a 3-time Olympic champion, but 10-time World and 6-time European champion as well! A year later, Sonja was already a star. She was called «the Nasturtium of the North», «the Ice Queen of Norway», «the White Swan» and, less flatteringly, «Little Miss Moneybags» 😮
Quite an amazing talent on ice! Mind you she had some very able teachers! When she was 5 years old, she was studying ballet with Anna Pavlova‘s former teacher then later she spent time studying classic dance in London with Tamara Karsavina.
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The Crazy Gang – Ring Out The Bells
On July 20 dad took us all to Victoria Palace to see the Crazy Gang in “Ring out the Bells”.
It was a music hall type show … two hours of non-stop entertainment with can-can girls, jugglers, singers and bawdy jokes.
I don’t think it was our type of entertainment :/
Dad said that he didn’t think we’d go to see that type of show again as it was too noisy and lacked the glamour of US productions!
I’ve never enjoyed vaudeville/music hall shows … they literally make my toes curl 🙁 I’m pretty sure my dislike stemmed from seeing this show.
WITH this new revue for Coronation Year the Crazy Gang celebrated their twenty-first anniversary as a team, and in one of the most popular items of the show, “Wapping’s Challenge to Mario Lanza,” Bud Flanagan brought back nostalgic memories by singing some of the songs he made famous, including for one number the recorded voice of Chesney Allen.
Valerie Tandy was the Gang’s companion in several amusing sketches and additional glamour was provided by Pamela Austin and the show girls.
An acrobatic team, the Bogdadi, made a big hit with their most skilful, and sometimes hair-raising, balancing feats.
Comedy directed by Charles Henry
Music and Lyrics by Ross Parker
Dances and ensembles arranged by Joan Davis
Orchestra under the direction of Freddie Bretherton
Staged by Alec Shanks
Can-Can Extraordinaire from “Paris by Night” sequence.
The Baby Sitters.
Wapping’s Challenge to Mario Lanza
Merci, Cherie, Merci
That’s My Idea of Home, Sweet Home
Beauty and the Beast
Run, Rabbit, Run
The Planter’s Strife
She’s the Sweetest Little Bitch in Town Tonight
Lion and Unicorn
[Source: Ring Out the Bells]
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I have never enjoyed their humour so don’t know if I enjoyed the show but dad said that there was an incredible acrobatic team of five men and one woman from South America. He couldn’t believe how talented they were! I don’t know what their troupe was called unfortunately, so can’t give any more information. I wonder if it was part of “the wire walker Eldino’s” act?!
Daddy remarked that Billy Russell was good, as was Alan Clive, the impersonator, however poor Billy didn’t get a stand up review from Leigh Vance in the Billboard magazine below 🙁
I found this review from the Billboard magazine dated August 15, 1953 …
The London Palladium
If, after all these years, anyone still needs an explanation of what gives Abbott and Costello their particular quality, the answer is probably in the genius they have for putting sparkle into the most ancient routines.
Their current Palladium art includes an English switcheroo of their famous “who’s on first” routine.
Says Abbott, of the pit ork, “Who is the leader. What is the drummer,” etc. Then he patiently answers Costello’s puzzled screech, “Who’s the leader?” with a placid “Yes.” And so on into utter chaos of I don’t know who’s what, and so on.
To get yucks from a first night audience who’ve heard it so many times before, needs comic geniuses.
Remainder of the act falls into a similar pattern for the final sketch in which Costello slaps paint over Abbott with a smug relish which he seemed to enjoy as much as the audience.
Rest of the bill, opening on a British National (Bank) Holiday was otherwise disappointing. The Merry Macs, who climaxed the first half, seem to have lost whatever it was which put them on the top. Veteran British comic, Billy Russell, from the walrus-moustached – and – red – nose era proved that whatever the music hall of 40 years ago had over the present day’s [sic], it certainly wasn’t wit. It was left to Alan Clive giving old impressions a new twist, and wire walker Eldino to lift the supporting acts out of a complete doldrum.
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Dad really was happy like a pig in poop, not only with the amount of concerts, etc, he could attend but also with the quality of the performances he saw at Sadler’s Wells, Covent Gardens, Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Opera House and other venues.
He even remarked that one could get served tea and sandwiches at one’s seat at the Royal Opera House 😀
In less than a week from arriving in the UK, on May 16, dad and mom headed off to Sadler’s Wells to see the ballet “Coppélia“. Coppélia tells the comic family tale of an eccentric toymaker and his mechanical doll. Dr Coppélius, the toymaker, has created the lifelike Coppélia doll, and wishes for nothing more than to bring her to life. He thinks that his dream has finally come true, but he has merely been caught up in a lovers’ tiff. Love triumphs over all in this comedy of mistaken identity and the finale is a breathtaking celebration of the lovers’ marriage.
Then the next day my parents went off to Wigmore Hall to see a recital by Shura (Alexander Isaakovich) Cherkassky.
Cherkassky, born in 1909 in Odessa, was taken to the States by his parents when just a child. His career did not really take off until after World War II and following a major tour of Europe in 1946, he moved to London. As one of the last representatives of the hallowed Romantic school of piano virtuosity, Shura Cherkassky regaled audiences with a bravura technique and singing tone in the grand Russian manner. [Source: BachCantatas.com]
Five days later, on the 23rd, my parents took us to see “Sleeping Beauty” at the Royal Opera House. He was enthralled by the beautiful “old fashioned” opera house with its plush red carpets and beautiful lounges 🙂
On May 30, my parents headed up to London to Stoll Theatre, at 22 Kingsway, London, thinking they were going to see ‘Rigoletto” but they found the program had changed to “La Traviata“.
Dad said he thought that Violetta was good but the others didn’t impress him. However he did like the ensemble singing and all the gorgeous costumes and said that overall it was a good performance!
The folks went off to the Royal Festival Hall on June 7 to hear the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Daddy couldn’t stop raving about the performance and how fabulous the acoustics were in the hall. He remarked at how Barbirolli had such a beautiful and expressive technique of conducting and how the orchestra responded so marvellously! He said it was wonderful how, for 5/- (5 shillings), we could sit and listen to something so beautiful; however in HK he’d spend the same amount of money to watch a lousy American movie 🙂
June 13 saw all of us heading off to Covent Gardens to see Alicia Markova in “Giselle”, with Lindy proudly wearing her new glasses 😉
Dad was so impressed with Markova, he couldn’t stop raving about her and who was, in those days, a «Prima Ballerina Assoluta» and how he felt sorry for Violetta Elvin having to follow Markova in “Veneziana”. He also said he enjoyed Soames’ performance here compared to his performance in “Sleeping Beauty”, that Peter Clegg was as good as ever and Ray Powell (The Witch) was equally good. It was altogether a marvellous performance!
The next day we went for a short drive to Mugswell and back. What a name for a town – yuck! Not sure why dad wanted us to see Mugswell but we did and I don’t think we went back again!
That evening mom and dad went to Albert Hall and as they were a bit early, dad found a parking spot just outside. They had to walk downstairs to a basement and the entrance to the auditorium looked like a back door to a refuse dump (!) but dad said the inside was spectacular.
This huge round building had seating for 8,000 and the stage could accommodate an orchestra and choir of up to 1,000 musicians. He was in awe of the organ – he said the brass pipes stretched all the way up from the floor to the ceiling.
The original organ was built by Henry Willis & Sons in 1871. It had four manuals and 111 stops and was further expanded to 146 stops by Harrison & Harrison in 1924-1933. It was, at that time, the largest organ in the world.
Clarence Raybould came out to direct the London Philharmonic Orchestra and daddy wrote that it seemed ridiculous for the program to show the photo of a young Raybould when, in actual fact, he was now an old man.
My parents enjoyed Raybould’s simple and easy manner of conducting. They found Swan Lake and The Nutcracker pieces lovely to listen to but best of all was Suite No 3 in G, Theme and Variations.
When the concert finished, they drove back to Carshalton over Vauxhall Bridge. Dad said it was his first time driving at night and he found it very unnerving having to drive with just the side lights on. I wonder why that was the rule as the blackout formally ended in 1945! Crazy Poms 😮
Two days later, dad took Lindy to the Royal Albert Hall to see the LSO’s (London Symphony Orchestra’s) “Messiah” conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. Dad mentioned that during the Hallelujah chorus the audience stood up and remained standing, being a custom set by King George III!
He also mentioned that Lindy was all starry-eyed at seeing London at night when they headed home in the car! How sweet was that! 😀
Daddy took Lindy to Covent Garden on June 20 to see Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in “Sylvia” and although they enjoyed Fonteyn’s dancing, dad said they were spoiled by Markova’s performance in “Giselle”; however Fonteyn got a terrific reception from the audience.
Three days later mom and dad went to see “Norma” at the Royal Opera House. They were not impressed, both found it dull and uninspiring.
At half time, when they were out smoking in the corridor, dad saw a lady carrying a small HK rattan basket and he told mom about it. She said that apparently it was all the fashion – those rattan baskets cost 18/11 (18 shillings, 11 pence – a whole lot more than they cost in HK at the time!) and were used as ‘handbags’ in the evenings 😮
Those baskets were what we kids took to school as school bags! How could any woman think that they were elegant enough to carry when all dolled up at the opera or ballet? Too weird!
On the 29th he and Lindy went to Royal Festival Hall to listen to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Alceo Galleria conducting and Robert Casadesus on the piano. He waxed eloquently about Robert Casadesus playing Mozart and Ravel, saying he’d never liked Mozart as much as he did when listening to Casadesus playing those pieces, and he was also impressed with him playing Ravel’s difficult pieces. Even Lindy enjoyed Casadesus’ playing!
Mom and dad went back to Royal Festival Hall the next evening to see another pianist who dad referred to as “Arran” in his diary and who dad thought played all the pieces brilliantly! I couldn’t find anything about anyone with that surname, which I think is surprising and I doubt dad would have got his name wrong! Oh well!
Dear God! For the 3rd evening in a row my folks headed off to Royal Festival Hall!! I bet if all those venues had rooms for rent, dad would have gone to sleep there to save him driving to and fro at night 😉
This time they went hear the London Philharmonic Orchestra being conducted by 27-year old George Hurst. After his first appearance in Britain in 1953 one critic wrote that Hurst’s “manner is confident and unfussy, his beat clear” but dad wasn’t so impressed. He found Hurst’s conducting “uninspired” and didn’t think the young man understood Mozart!
Eileen Joyce, an Australian pianist, was also on the program and dad noticed that most of the women in the audience weren’t listening to her playing but were craning their necks to see what dress she was wearing! Hahahaha! 😀
Had a few days’ break from recitals until Sunday, July 5, when he and mom went to see Irene Sherrer /Sherer at the Royal Festival Hall and dad said he enjoyed her playing more than Cherkassky’s; then on the 11th we all trundled to Royal Albert Hall to see “Hiawatha”!
Dad said it was so monotonous he almost fell asleep 😮
On July 15 we all went to the Royal Opera House to see the American National Ballet performing “Les Sylphides“, orchestrated by Benjamin Britten, “Aleko”, inspired by Pushkin’s poem “Gypsies” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Fancy Free”, choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
Dad was very impressed with the corps de ballet in Les Sylphides and he said they were better than Sadler’s Wells company, and he said ‘Fancy Free’ was a very clever modern ballet. We all enjoyed it immensely!
Holy Moses 😮 The next day we went to Festival Hall to see …. wait for it …. “Les Sylphides” again!!
Daddy said with the American National Ballet’s version in our minds we all agreed that this performance was absolutely superb! He said that Nathalie Krassovska (Leslie), Oleg Briansky and John Gilpin were outstanding in their roles.
The next number on the program was “Alice in Wonderland”, with Belinda Wright dancing as Alice, was very good and the final piece was “Fantasy for Fun”, which dad said was a very snappy number with the use of clever ciné projection 🙂
On July 22 Lindy’s friend from HK, Deirdre Smith, came to visit for a couple of days.
On her last day with us we all went to the Royal Opera House to see the National American Ballet Theatre after lunch.
The first number was “Constantia”, set to Chopin, then they performed “Rodeo”, which dad didn’t enjoy at all. The final number was the Pas de Deux from the “Nutcracker Suite” which we all enjoyed thoroughly!
Daddy wrote that he liked Alicia Alonso better than Fonteyn in “Sylvia” and Igor Youskevitch was just as good. The final number was “Interplay” and although the choreography was clever, it didn’t impress dad much.
I somehow cannot imagine taking two teenagers and a 5 year old to the Royal Opera House to watch a ballet in this day and age! Imagine how fidgety the youngsters would be 😀 Still, obviously things were different in the 1950s and parents wanted their kids to get their dose of culture!
The next day – the very next day – we all went to see the Festival Ballet! Although dad was disappointed that the the choir was absent for the Polovtsian Dances but was so entranced by the performance that mom suggested they go to the evening performance. Dad got the tickets, took us all home, we had dinner then they changed and headed out again.
Apparently I was crying and carrying on about them going out, much to their annoyance 😉 However out they went and they were rapturous about the performance.
The first ballet was Swan Lake, Act 1, with Marina Svetlova dancing Odette. Dad wrote her technique was good and that she tried to be as good as Pavlova but somehow didn’t convey the gracefulness of a swan partly because of her build. Dad said she was a great dancer and would probably be outstanding in different roles.
Prince Siegfried was danced by John Gilpin but dad said the best part was the performance of the four cygnettes. He said the dancers conveyed the idea of baby swans amusing themselves in the water to perfection, especially as we’d seen swans in the lakes during our stay so far.
The second ballet was “Vilia”, based on the “Merry Widow“. The costumes were fabulous, full of colour, as was the decor. Dolin was magnificent as Baron Popoff and made the audience laugh with his antics, while Oleg Briansky danced Danilo and Keith Beckett was good as The Secretary. Belinda Wright was the Ambassador’s wife while Anita Landa danced Chouchou. Dad said both were great but he said the laurels went to Daphne Dale, “The Widow”. She was exceptionally good at dancing the Dream part of the ballet.
The last item on the program was the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Vassilie Trunoff was simply terrific, dancing the Chief Polovtsian Warror. Dad said he didn’t think there was anybody else who could dance the part better than Trunoff. His able partner was Anita Landa as the Polovtsian Girl.
Daddy said that this ballet was as good as he imagined it would be with wild dancing, jumps high in the air, the slapping of hands and the stamping of feet, swirling kaftans and at the same time the graceful swaying by the captive Persian girls.
Daddy wrote that he could have watched the whole performance every day without ever getting tired of it 😀
Apparently there was a choir for the evening performance but dad said the singing wasn’t powerful enough, especially in the male voices, however he thought it was better than without!
Back to the Covent Garden to see the American Ballet on the 25th, together with friends of theirs called the Mitchells. They saw Alfonso and Youskevitch perform again in Tchaikovsky’s “Theme and Variations” and he loved their pas de deux, then Melissa Hayden came on in “The Combat” and he was seriously impressed with her performance, however the next number – “3 Virgins and the Devil” – was “meh” in his opinion. He did enjoy the final number, which was “Gala Performance” and said it was very amusing!
The next day we all headed off to the Royal Festival Hall at 7pm to see the USAF Band. It was a brilliant band and very versatile, and we all enjoyed the whole program … the Band and the Singing Sargeants.
When we came out, we loved seeing the lights up and down the Thames but the folks weren’t impressed by seeing the number of cuddling couples sharing the same park benches!
Not sure if they weren’t happy to see the cuddling couples, or so many of them on one bench 😉 However … cuddling couples notwithstanding … I was thrilled to be up so late and seeing the lights of good ole London town!
Thursday the 30th July was another ballet night! Same performers – Trunoff, Landa and Dolin. The first number was “Scheherazade” which was very colourful and basically featured Vassilie Trunoff’s high, acrobatic leaps, leaving the other dancers unable to shine.
Next on was “Petrouchka” with Dolin in the lead role, Landa as the Ballerina and Trunoff as the Moor. All dancers were magnificent as was the supporting cast 😀
The last number was “Le beau Danube” which dad said was a gay ballet danced to Strauss’ music and in it Anita Landa was the tops! John Gilpin was terrific as the Hussar but dad thought Nathalie Leslie’s role as the Street Dancer didn’t really suit her as she was better in more dramatic roles.
Keith Beckett was just as good in that ballet as he was in “Petrouchka” and all the other ballet performances we’d seen him in.
During the interval mom and dad bumped into the Kadoories and as they were leaving they met up with Mrs Hing outside.
Who was Mrs Hing? Have no idea 🙁 However the Kadoories were Lawrence and Muriel Kadoorie, friends from HK and whose children, Rita and Michael, were friends of Lindy’s.
We had a break from ballets and concertos going up to Scotland so the next ballet we saw was on August 25. It was at Festival Hall and saw “Grieg’s Concerto”, followed by “Alice in Wonderland” and then the Pas de Deux from Don Quixote by Minkus and danced by Kovatch and Rabovsky.
Daddy thought that both dancers possessed wonderful techniques, especially Rabovsky. Kovatch movements of her arms and hands were marvellous and something which dad said that the local dancers didn’t have. The applause after their dancing was tremendous.
Prince Igor concluded the performance, which ended at 10:30pm and apparently I fell asleep in the car going back to Carshalton!
I remember putting on my white socks after seeing the various ballets and pirouetting around my bedroom, pretending I was a prima ballerina! What a joke!
As my sister told me – quite honestly – that I would be too tall and certainly wouldn’t be graceful enough to be a ballerina! It was absolutely true but oy, she could have said it a little less brutally! LOL! 😀
On August 22, dad, mom and dad took Joanna to Covent Garden to see the Royal Danish Ballet. It was the company’s first visit to Britain. Dad said it was a good ballet but very different from the norm.
Then on the 29th, dad got fed up with all the washing, ironing and packing that was going on so he suggested to mom that we all go to see «South Pacific» at Drury Lane!
It came as a big surprise for us girls when we got to the theatre and dad said that although he wasn’t that impressed with the show, he certainly didn’t regret going to see it!
Thus endeth our saturation of ‘kultura’ in London during the summer of ’53 😉
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