Local Variety Girls
Local theatres like the Empire in Cleethorpes and The Palace in Grimsby were not purely for the professionals. Many a child from a local dance school would have had their first taste of the limelight at their local theatre.
I’ve been collecting stories from people who have connections with the places in my books and have some fabulous things to share.
I absolutely love this memory from Sandra Beal as she describes her entrance on stage at The Palace Theatre in Grimsby.
‘At Easter 1943 I was in a show on the Palace Theatre.
I remember going down a tunnel round the corner in the backstage stars’ entrance. I was 3 at the time, 4 the following July.
I was inside a BIG easter egg with one of the dance teachers, lots of fairies dancing round the outside. When it was my turn the egg opened, the teacher said “now” I was given a little push, I then had to sing my song and do my dance all alone
I can still picture my mother and my great grandmother sat in the middle of the 3/4th row and my gran was in her usual black hat, black coat, waving a white handkerchief.’
Her dance teachers were Miss Hall and Miss Snell.
I can see little Sandra, waiting inside the egg to ‘hatch out’, can’t you? And even though it was long ago her memories are so vivid. And what a picture she paints. I love that she can see her mother and great-grandmother in the audience because I can see them too. How proud they must have been watching their little chick.
June Watkins shared memories of dancing at the Palace, and the Empire in Cleethorpes on the stage where my Variety Girls dance in my imagination.
‘My auntie Vi Philips had some of her dancers on shows there in the 40s and 50s. I was a dancer but was too young to be on there. We did the last panto at the Empire theatre in Cleethorpes, 1959 ish and the summer shows on the pier in the early 60s.
I’m 6th from the left, about 16 at the time. I’ve got lots of photos. My aunt put me on the stage at 4 till i was 18. I loved it.’
June kindly sent me the photos above to go with her memories. I wonder how many hours they practised their routines after school? all those years of training. And how many mothers sat with a needle and thread sewing costumes and sequins, tying ribbons and fastening hair into tight buns. There’s are so many stories behind photographs and I love these two of June’s. it makes me feel happy to look at them. They speak of youth and summer and happiness.
Pamela Chesney writes that her cousin, Wendy Phillips played Red Riding Hood in a pantomime at the Palace Theatre. She is now a retired dancer living in Las Vegas.
Which brings me to:
Many local girls took their dancing to another level and became professional dancers, touring the country in summer seasons and pantos, even appearing at Las Vegas and the Moulin Rouge in Paris. I wrote about Janet Evans’ family connections on another post.
Norah was a chorus girl , working for her brother-in-law, the impresario, Harry Marks at the Palace Theatre. She was pregnant with Janet’s mother and danced right up to three days before she gave birth at 2 Montague Street. At the time the house was a boarding house for people in the theatre. Three days after the birth she went to Mexico on the Mauritania and stayed there for three years leaving her baby, Sheila with the family who ran the boarding house.
The family eventually adopted little Sheila. It seems harsh doesn’t it, leaving your child behind like this but it was not uncommon. Contracts would not be broken and people needed to earn a living. Many entertainers had to leave their children with family of friends while they toured the country.
Pictured above, Norah in later life with her grandchildren
Dancing Girls and Boys
When I was a child we lived in a pub opposite Cleethorpes Pier. The East Coast Dance Festival would be held there each year. Children from all over the coast would compete in different sections and categories. I used to spend most of my day there, watching these boys and girls entertain, some of them so young in their little pink tutus and satin shoes. And although I loved to watch I never once wanted to get up there and dance myself.
It takes a lot of courage to walk out into the spotlight to entertain an audience – I am grateful that so many talented and dedicated people do. Watching TV is no substitute for a seat at the theatre.