- Variety at Night is Good for You by J.O. Blake
The authorship of Variety at Night is Good for You is credited to J.O. Blake, but in truth it is a labour of love for all the music hall enthusiasts who have contributed to it, and in particular to Nicholas Charlesworth who modestly credits himself on the cover with only the illustrations. Blake, who edited the British Music Hall Society’s magazine the Call Boy for twenty years, started working on the book in 1995, providing text to accompany Charlesworth’s elegant line drawings of variety theatres. However, since Blake died the following [End Page 68] year, we can only assume that much of the credit for this enormous and richly-illustrated book is due to Charlesworth, who has brought in numerous contributors to help with the project while providing information and loaning research material. The resulting book includes entries for every London variety theatre, from the most prestigious (the Palladium) to the most obscure while taking in such celebrated halls as the Holborn Empire, the Clapham Grand and the Metropolitan, Edgware Road. Among the more obscure theatres included are those such as the Woolwich Hippodrome, which only programmed variety for a short period between its beginning in 1900 as a venue for straight plays and its end as a cinema in 1939. Each theatre has an entry of historical text and a series of line drawings, supplemented with other illustrations that include photographs of performers, snippets from the trade press, and advertising material. The text focuses heavily on facts and figures about each particular theatre, giving key dates, audience capacities, acts which played there, and the various companies that owned it. Some entries also include charming anecdotes provided by the additional contributors. For instance, we learn that when John Cliff attended the Camberwell Palace in the 1950s, he was served at the bar by a lady called ‘Auntie’ who advised him, “Don’t have the Guinness – it’s been here for years!” (384). One of the key strengths of this book is Charlesworth’s detailed drawings, which are surprisingly effective in bringing to life these theatres, most of which have long since disappeared. He provides several drawings for each theatre, sometimes including more than one exterior view, plus internal views which include details of signage and ornate plaster-work as well as sweeps of the auditoria. Many of the drawings must be based on photographic reference, because the frontages include advertising for particular shows. The Lewisham Hippodrome, for example, is shown with billboards for a 1939 show starring Troise and his Mandoliers supported by such acts as Scott & Whalley, Larry Kemble, and Bartlett & Ross. The entries are arranged in three sections, titled “The West End Halls”, “Halls North of the Thames”, and “Halls South of the Thames”, with theatres listed alphabetically within each section. Overall, this is a highly useful reference resource for anybody interested in variety theatre, and a testament to those like Nicholas Charlesworth and his contributors who are preserving the memory of this important theatrical tradition.