Second Act:

Horace H. Collins OBE 1901-1947

Horace & Josephine Collins' wedding

Horace & Josephine Collins’ wedding

When Fred Collins died in 1931 he left The Fred Collins Variety Agency to his widow Annie and his two sons, Horace and Pete. Horace had worked with his father since he was 14, Fred had nurtured him in the business and relied heavily upon him, he was to be the natural successor. Horace stepped in and took over the running of the Agency, his wedding plans were postponed until in 1933, when he married his fiancée of some years, Miss Josephine Boyes. The following year their son, James Randle, was born.

Horace with son Randle 1934

Horace with son Randle 1934

On his accession of control of the business, Horace decided that a more business-like approach was called for and having served a fifteen year apprenticeship under his illustrious father, he set about rationalising his legacy.

Creating the Collins Five Theatre Seasonal Circuit

Liverpool Shakespeare

Liverpool Shakespeare

As the 1930’s progressed, the Scottish base scene was contracting. The smallest halls were beginning to close
and whilst the base was widespread, it was loose, and with venues no longer changing hands often yearly, he decided that his prime necessity was to control four major theatres – one in each of the principal cities of Scotland – to comprise a seasonal circuit.

Horace & Pete Collins choose the chorus for 40 Thieves

Horace & Pete Collins choose the chorus for 40 Thieves

Horace quickly bought out the lease already held on the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh and by 1935 the Theatre was
 completely refurbished. He did the same for his English outpost, the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool. He acquired major shareholdings in the Tivoli Theatre Aberdeen, The Palace Theatre Dundee and the Pavilion Theatre Glasgow.

Tivoli interior courtesy of J Young

Tivoli interior courtesy of J Young

Horace Collins and Will Fyfe

Horace Collins and Will Fyfe

He was appointed Managing Director of the Tivoli Aberdeen in 1938 and again, his first task was to completely refurbish it. The theatre was reduced in size but still held over 1,000 and it retained its original striking appearance. New lighting was installed and more up-to-date facilities. It is to be remembered this theatre had been erected in 1872 and was used mainly for large companies performing opera and ballet. Fred Collins had held the booking rights since 1910 and had introduced variety revues which included many famous artistes of the day i.e. W F Frame, Fred Karno, Fred Emney, Will Fyffe and in 1922, Florrie Forde first appeared at the Tivoli, and became a firm favourite making many appearances there until her until death in 1940.

Marie Kendall  courtesy of Joyceimages.com

Marie Kendall courtesy of Joyceimages.com

In 1923 Marie Kendall the famous comedienne appeared followed by her son Terry who had formed a double act with his cousin, Doric in the 1930’s. Four grandchildren followed Marie into the profession. Kim Kendall as a singer, Kay Kendall as an Actress who starred in “Genevieve” in 1953, Moya Kendall who whilst appearing in one of the Jack Buchanan Shows in Glasgow married Horace’s younger brother James Alfred, known as Pete, and Cavan Kendall whose acting career spanned 5 decades, appearing films until his death in 1999.

Kay Kendall courtesy of Philip Herdson

Kay Kendall courtesy of Philip Herdson

Moya Kendall

Moya Kendall

Kim and Kay Kendall

Kim and Kay Kendall

Cavan Kendall

Cavan Kendall

Dundee Palace courtesy of Bruce Murray

Dundee Palace courtesy of Bruce Murray

Horace became Managing Director of The Palace Theatre, Dundee, also in 1938. This establishment had been
built in 1893 and had operated as a Circus Hall and a Cinema and from 1938 formed part of the Collins Circuit. Ticket prices in these Theatres in 1938 ranged from 3/ – (15p) Front Stalls to 1/- (5p) in the Circles.

The Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow

The Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow

To complete the circuit, although the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow eluded his complete control he wielded such
power in Scotland as an Agent, he was able to dictate policy and terms to the management. At that time no other Scottish Agent owned theatres and they only existed on the commission they received from their artistes.

The Show Business

Licensed Scripts Tag

With an ever-increasing workload, it was no longer possible for Horace to personally write and stage every “Collins” Production, but he reserved the right to alter and polish each of his Producers’ creations to his own high standard before it was presented to the public. The fact that these terms were acceptable to his producers proves the professional regard in which he was held.

left to right - Fred and Horace Collins and Jock Kirkpatrick back row unknown

left to right – Fred and Horace Collins and Jock Kirkpatrick back row unknown

The profitability of the business was derived from three sources. The Theatre Box Office, the profit from
productions and agency commissions. As Horace ran the Theatres, provided he kept a high-standard of entertainment which could be enjoyed in comfortable surroundings, each would provide rich pickings and the commission, at a standard maximum rate of 10% would always be assured.

When the Manager of the Pavilion Theatre Mr Jock Kirkpatrick died suddenly Horace fully expected to become Managing Director. In view of his record and was extremely disappointed when the Board decided to appoint 
Mr George Urie Scott who although he owned and managed many Picture Houses and Halls, knew little about the booking and production side of the business.

L-R Pete Collins, Jack Anthony, Dave Willis, Jock Kirkpatrick and Horace Collins outside Glasgow, Pavilion

L-R Pete Collins, Jack Anthony, Dave Willis, Jock Kirkpatrick and Horace Collins outside Glasgow, Pavilion

It was of course, necessary to give the paying public the stars they wanted to see. Horace had an unerring eye
for top-rate talent, like his father before him. He was constantly on the lookout for young comedians because nine
shows out of ten at that time were headed by production comics who he would take under his wing and groom for
stardom, just as his father had done in earlier days. It was the ambition of many aspiring young talents to be so lucky as to be offered a “Collins” long-term option contract which was a near certain ticket to stardom. These contracts could last for as long as sixteen years and the tyro (novice) would commence at around £20 a week, rising each year if the management chose to exercise their option. The trainee, who even in the early years was a fair talent, would be guided and advised while appearing with an already established star and so learn his trade and make his ‘Name’ whilst doing it.

When the top-stars became too expensive to maintain, their contract would be allowed to lapse and the newly
groomed young star would take over. It should be remembered that this system guaranteed a full year’s employment in a very precarious profession.

On some occasions, an established artiste became unhappy at the restrictions placed on him by his contract
which limited his immediate advancement to the top No.1 venues. When this occurred a legal wrangle could arise. Here the Artiste would have to buy out his contract and this he would do expensively, but amicably, as it was generally agreed that “Collins” had made the Star into what he had become. A good example of this was when Dave Willis made the break before his planned replacement, Jack Anthony, was quite ready.

G H Elliot

GH Elliot

For three pantomime seasons in the 40’s, Horace bolstered the Box Office appeal of these Glasgow Pavilion Productions by writing in a part for the perennial Glasgow favourite G H Elliott known as ‘The Chocolate-Coloured Coon’ ( remember these were different times ) with Elliott as first top of the bill in the first year then switching to Anthony top of the bill for years two and three although the contracted Anthony was on much the smaller salary.

Jack Anthony

Jack Anthony

It worked well with Jack Anthony eventually out-lasting his illustrious predecessor Dave Willis, as a top Box Office attraction. G. H. Elliott had been engaged by Fred Collins to play Dandini in ‘Dick Whittington’ in the Coliseum Theatre in Glasgow in the late twenties and immediately became very popular with the Glaswegian audiences and the pantomime broke all records. The following season, he appeared in ‘The Forty Thieves’ and made his opening entrance in a Baghdad Market place scene on the back of a real camel, kindly lent by Mr E. H. Bostock of Bostock & Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie.

Bostock camel

Bostock camel

Elliott had to stand for quite a few minutes until applause subsided. He received his Command Performance during this engagement.

Alec Finlay

Alec Finlay

At that time he commanded a salary of £350 weekly. He became popular world-wide and his most famous songs were ‘Lily of Laguna’ and ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon” so he was only too happy to return to Glasgow to appear in the company of Jack Anthony.

Other Scots comedians who came up through the “Collins” system were Jack Radcliffe and Alex Finlay – not to mention Robert Wilson the popular Scottish Tenor who alone during that era could match the drawing power of the comedians.

Robert Wilson and Johnny Victory, Palace, Dundee copyright David Mason

Robert Wilson and Johnny Victory, Palace, Dundee copyright David Mason

Robert Wilson and Johnny Victory, Palace, Dundee copyright David Mason

Robert Wilson and Johnny Victory, Palace, Dundee copyright David Mason

Robert Wilson and Johnny Victory, Palace, Dundee copyright David Mason

Robert Wilson and Johnny Victory, Palace, Dundee copyright David Mason

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Harry Gordon

(81)-Denny-Willis

Denny Willis

Bert Bendon, George West. Harry Gordon, Aly Wilson and Denny Willis all starred in many ‘Collins’ productions
over the years to mutual advantage.

In these days, all theatres were officially graded as ‘Ones’, ‘Twos’ and ‘Threes’. These gradings were based on the ‘drawing’ power at the Box Office and were nothing to do with the size or facilities so that a small theatre in a town where there was only one such venue could be rated higher than a larger city theatre where there were several theatres to choose from. As far as Scotland was concerned, the Collins circuit comprised of all ‘Twos’. On leaving the “Collins” control, all artistes, without exception, went on to play the Number ‘Ones’ which were mainly under the control of either Howard & Wyndham or Moss Empires.

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Horace Collins, Dave Willis and company travel to America in 1935

Between the long traditional Scottish seasonal productions which fortnightly completely changed their content, the theatres presented traditional variety and the Agency was constantly searching for fresh top-quality acts. Horace and his assistants scoured Britain, Ireland and Western Europe always looking for the best and in 1935, he even crossed the Atlantic to look at the Vaudeville Circuit and doubled his trip with a face-to-face get-together with his American contact, Neil Kirk. Kirk was a Theatrical Agent in New York who had introduced talent to Scotland from time to time through the Collins Agency and in turn the Collins Agency had sent lots of Scottish Acts over to America where they, of course, were made extremely welcome by the large number of Scots who had emigrated to the States. Sir Harry Lauder had made several very successful trips to America and was every bit if not more popular there as in London. The voyage made by Horace was undertaken in a partly holiday atmosphere as he was accompanied by Dave Willis who he was promoting at that time. It is interesting to note
that Horace carried with him an open introductory letter to all American Civic Dignitaries penned by Glasgow’s  Lord Provost, Alexander B Swan, describing him as one of Glasgow’s leading citizens.  A small amount of 16mm film footage of this voyage has survived.

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A letter of introduction to the US from Glasgow’s Lord Provost – 1935

1938 saw the Glasgow Empire Exhibition open to promote British Industry and since the Collins family home was in Dumbreck, right opposite Bellahouston Park (the venue of the Exhibition), Horace and Josee spent as much time as they could visiting with many of their theatrical acquaintances. Horace produced unique colour 16mm film of the Exhibition. Unfortunately, Josee was unable to attend the opening Ceremony of the Empire Exhibition as she had just given birth to a daughter, Josette Irene, three days earlier!

A Lucrative Business

(133)-Fred-Collins-Variety-Agency-Production-Book

Fred Collins Variety Agency Production Book

To see one’s name in lights and have an audience enthralled by your wit and charm has always been an alluring prospect for those who aspire to the stage. But let’s not forget that in days where the majority of people lived on very little then the prospect of becoming wealthy from your talent was just as appealing then as it is now. Many of the artists who worked for the Fred Collins Agency became extremely wealthy and lived a lifestyle that few could aspire to.

For thirty two years Fred, then Horace and finally Randle kept an account of the salaries of everyone involved in each Collins production in a tatty, brown paper covered ledger which gives a great insight into the rise and sometimes fall of all of the talents who worked in the Scottish variety scene over the years.

(134)-Dick-Wittington-1923-24

Dick Wittington 1923-24

Although the Collins’ Agency employed it’s performers throughout the year in Spring, Summer and Autumn shows, it was the pantomimes that gave a performer their most lucrative and long lasting work. It’s worth remembering that a panto run in these days was much longer than today’s Christmas pantomimes. It wasn’t unusual for a pantomime to begin in December and run for sixteen weeks.

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GH Elliot

(127)-Jack-Anthony

Jack Anthony

GH Elliot was one of the most popular performers in Scotland in the 1920’s and 30’s. At the height of his fame in 1923 he could command a salary of £250 a week (a staggering £11,178 now) for appearing in the Collins’ pantomime ‘Dick Whittington’ at Glasgow’s Coliseum. For many years Jack Anthony worked alongside the likes of Elliot, Willis & Gordon etc at first only earning £17.10 per week (£984) but year by year he honed his talent and his popularity grew eventually earning him £300 (£10,500) in 1945 while Elliot’s star dwindled and his salary did too with the 1942 production of ‘Dick Whittington’ only bringing him £100 (£3,965) each week.

Compare these salaries to a girl in the chorus of 1923 who would bring home £2.5 (£100) or the children who played the titular ‘Babes in the Wood’ in the 1936 production who took home £3 (£167) a week while it’s stars Jack Anthony earned £25 (£1,397) and Harry Gordon was smart enough to get a 15% of receipts deal.

Speciality acts came further down the pay scale but still made a very healthy living. The most famous were Lofty and Seppitoni who commanded £30 (£1,434) a week in the 1926 ‘Big Noise’ showcase. 1931’s production of ’40 Thieves’ saw two fellas in a donkey suit earn £20 (£1,027) a week – probably money well earned! 1938’s production of ‘The Queen of Hearts’ featured a group of acrobats ‘The 5 X-Rays’ who earned a respectable £35 (£1,944) weekly. A speciality dog act in 1945 could take home £70 (£2,440) each week but the records don’t show how much of that was given to the dogs themselves..

(132)-Florrie-Forde-performing-in-Edinburgh

Florrie Forde performing in Edinburgh

Although men dominated the showbiz scene in these years, leading ladies earned very well too. In 1925’s production of ’40 Thieves’, the principle boy, Miss Gray, made a very respectable £125 (£5,977) weekly. Another  performer in Collins productions, ‘Movita’ was salaried at £80 (£2,788) each week in her 1945 production of ‘Puss in Boots’. Florrie Forde was the only woman to get star billing in a Collins panto and in their 1938 production of ‘Aladdin’ in Edinburgh she still commanded a salary of £150 (£8,029).

(128)-Dave-Willis

Dave Willis

(135)-Sinbad-1936-37

Sinbad 1936-37

The highest paid act in the Collins’ book was undoubtedly Dave Willis whose popularity in Scotland throughout the 1930’s was unparalleled. In his heyday of 1936 he commanded a salary of £225 (£12,575) a week to perform as ‘Davy Gravy’ in ‘Sinbad the Sailor’. He parted company with the agency shortly after that as he demanded more and more money and forgot who it was who had nurtured his star to begin with.

But everyone has to start somewhere, and records show that one of the final shows under the Collins name, 1955’s Liverpool production of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ saw an 18 year old Barbara Windsor happy to take home £15 (£323) a week for her title roll performance. Apparently she did quite well for herself since.

(129)-young-Barbara-Windsor-courtesy-of-Jack-Mungo

young Barbara Windsor courtesy of Jack Mungo

Rare Films of the Collins Pantomimes

For his own amusement Horace filmed excerpts of several of the Collins pantomimes between 1931 and 1938. These were filmed on Kodak 16mm cinefilm which was very expensive to buy in those days. Even more expensive would have been the colour film, which Horace used to capture some of the magic of his pantomimes ‘The Queen of Hearts’ and ‘The 40 Thieves’. These rare films did not have sound so sadly the music, the banter and the laughter have been lost but what he did capture is a very rare archive of Scottish panto and some of it’s stars, amongst them: Dave Willis, GH Elliot, Jack Anthony, Florrie Forde and Harry Gordon. These films have been donated to the Scottish Film Archive of Glasgow University and are presented here for your pleasure.

‘Forty Thieves’ starring Dave Willis, filmed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal during it’s 1931-1932 run.

‘Sinbad the Sailor’ starring Dave Willis, filmed at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre during it’s 1936-1937 run.

‘Babes in the Wood’ starring Harry Gordon, filmed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal during it’s 1936-1937 run.

‘Forty Thieves’ starring GH Elliot & Jack Anthony, filmed at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre during it’s 1937-1938 run.

‘The Queen of Hearts’ starring Florrie Forde, filmed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal during it’s 1937-1938 run.

The Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool

(99)-Liverpool-Shakespeare-Theatre-copyright-Bob-Edwards

Liverpool Shakespeare Theatre copyright Bob Edwards

(39)-Horace-Collins-recieves-a-tantalus-from-Liverpool's-Mayor-on-the-re-opening-of-the-Shakespeare-Theatre

Horace Collins recieves a tantalus from Liverpool’s Mayor on the re-opening of the Shakespeare Theatre

It was the popularity of variety that made the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, important to the “Collins” operations and gave them an English base, halfway to Scotland. This could often tempt variety acts to travel the extra miles to Scotland breaking what in the 30’s and 40’s was a really arduous journey. Horace tried valiantly to introduce the Scottish phenomenon of seasonal shows to Liverpool, without much success, sending his Scottish stars down when they were not required ‘at home’. However, it became increasingly apparent that while the Scousers loved the Irish, they only tolerated the Scots, so variety and English travelling road shows reigned supreme.

(98)-Shakespeare-Interior

Shakespeare Interior

The Shakespeare was a most attractive Victorian Hall, all red plush and velvet with some magnificent wood carving and gilded plaster work. As it was sited so far from his natural base, Horace installed as House Manager, a man with an unusual degree of autonomy, Peter Jackson. Very well known in Liverpool, he was yet another flamboyant character. Decidedly corpulent, Peter’s lapels always bore witness to his addiction to snuff, which he took from a silver box which he would caress lovingly many times before opening it and inhaling! He presided over this English outpost until it was finally sold to Sam Wanamaker in the mid 1950’s.

(40)-Peter-Jackson---manager-of-the-Shakespeare---Liverpool

Peter Jackson – manager of the Shakespeare – Liverpool

 

Horace’s Tall Tales

All of life has it’s lighter moments and show business is certainly no exception. From amidst a tug of his beloved Havana cigar smoke, from a copious supply sent to him by his grateful clients, Horace would regale his friends after dinner with tales such as these from very different eras:-

Around 1920, after a show at the Ayr Pavilion, the young Horace was given the chore of transporting a troupe
of Arabian acrobats back to Glasgow in a van for their next performance. Somewhere on the Fenwick Moor, he spotted a girl lying on the grass verge and naturally pulled up to investigate.  As he walked towards the ‘body’ three thugs appeared from behind the roadside bushes and pursued him back towards the van. However, seeing the situation, the troupe concealed inside commenced to pile out, stopping the incredulous bravos in their tracks. With the young ‘lady’ in the rear, they were last seen legging it over the heather.

Then, from twenty years later, came the better known incident when while leaving his office above Lauder’s Bar in Renfield Street, a ‘pro’, who had been ‘dining’ therein emerged and virtually fell at his feet. As the prostrate
gentleman’s pals began to gather round, Horace exclaimed “Give the chap air!”, whereupon with a grin the chap on the ground quipped “Could you no manage Dundee and Aberdeen as well?” We never did hear what followed…

Photographs from the Collins Pantomimes

While many programs and playbills from the early days of Scottish panto still exist very few images of the actual shows themselves were taken or archived. This was probably due to the difficulty of the cameras of the day capturing such large scenes without sufficient light or shutter speed.

We have taken stills from the Collins Pantomime films and present these rare glimpses of the performers at ‘work’ here:

 
‘Forty Thieves’ starring Dave Willis, filmed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal during it’s 1931-1932 run.

'40 Thieves' 1931 Dave examines some dodgy paintings

’40 Thieves’ 1931 Dave examines some dodgy paintings

'40 Thieves' 1931 Dave Willis and Alex Foster

’40 Thieves’ 1931 Dave Willis and Alex Foster

'40 Thieves' 1931 Dave Willis and Betty Warner curtain call (1)

’40 Thieves’ 1931 Dave Willis and Betty Warner curtain call

'40 Thieves' 1931 Dave Willis and Betty Warner curtain call (2)

’40 Thieves’ 1931 Dave Willis and Betty Warner curtain call

'40 Thieves' 1931 Dave Willis' big number

’40 Thieves’ 1931 Dave Willis’ big number

'40 Thieves' 1931 the march of the thieves

’40 Thieves’ 1931 the march of the thieves

 

‘Sinbad the Sailor’ starring Dave Willis, filmed at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre during it’s 1936-1937 run.

'Sinbad' 1936 acrobats

‘Sinbad’ 1936 acrobats

'Sinbad' 1936 Big Chief Dave Willis

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Big Chief Dave Willis

'Sinbad' 1936 Cliff Harley

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Cliff Harley

'Sinbad' 1936 curtain call

‘Sinbad’ 1936 curtain call

'Sinbad' 1936 Dick Tubb and Edna Thompson

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Dick Tubb and Edna Thompson

'Sinbad' 1936 Edna , Charlie and chorus (1)

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Edna , Charlie and chorus

'Sinbad' 1936 Edna , Charlie and chorus (2)

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Edna , Charlie and chorus

'Sinbad' 1936 Edna Thompson and chorus (1)

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Edna Thompson and chorus

'Sinbad' 1936 Edna Thompson and chorus (2)

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Edna Thompson and chorus

'Sinbad' 1936 Edna Thompson and chorus (3)

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Edna Thompson and chorus

'Sinbad' 1936 Edna Thompson and Peggy Stamula curtain call

‘Sinbad’ 1936 Edna Thompson and Peggy Stamula curtain call

 

‘Babes in the Wood’ starring Harry Gordon, filmed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal during it’s 1936-1937 run.

'Babes' Chorus and Dogs

‘Babes’ Chorus and Dogs

'Babes' Chorus

‘Babes’ Chorus

'Babes' dance sequence

‘Babes’ dance sequence

'Babes' Harry Gordon Backstage (1)

‘Babes’ Harry Gordon Backstage

'Babes' Harry Gordon Backstage (2)

‘Babes’ Harry Gordon Backstage

'Babes' Kilted shenanigins

‘Babes’ Kilted shenanigins

'Babes' Schoolroom scene

‘Babes’ Schoolroom scene

'Babes' the Babes meet some unsavoury characters

‘Babes’ the Babes meet some unsavoury characters

'Babes' village chorus

‘Babes’ village chorus

'Babes' washhouse song

‘Babes’ washhouse song

 
‘Forty Thieves’ starring GH Elliot & Jack Anthony, filmed at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre during it’s 1937-1938 run.

'40 Thieves' lighting effect 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

’40 Thieves’ lighting effect 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Abdullah (G H Elliot ) with his 40 Thieves 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (1)

Abdullah (G H Elliot ) with his 40 Thieves 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Abdullah (G H Elliot ) with his 40 Thieves 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (2)

Abdullah (G H Elliot ) with his 40 Thieves 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Carlton Emmy & his Mad Wags in '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Carlton Emmy & his Mad Wags in ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Cast Curtain Call for '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Cast Curtain Call for ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Chorus Curtain Call at '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Chorus Curtain Call at ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Dance number with the 12 Loretta Girls '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Dance number with the 12 Loretta Girls ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

GH Elliot & Chorus song & dance number from '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (1)

GH Elliot & Chorus song & dance number from ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

GH Elliot & Chorus song & dance number from '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (2)

GH Elliot & Chorus song & dance number from ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

GH Elliot as 'Abdullah' in '40 Thieves' Pavilion '37-'38

GH Elliot as ‘Abdullah’ in ’40 Thieves’ Pavilion ’37-’38

GH Elliot's curtain call at '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (1)

GH Elliot’s curtain call at ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

GH Elliot's curtain call at '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (2)

GH Elliot’s curtain call at ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Jack Anthony takes his curtain call in '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Jack Anthony takes his curtain call in ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Jack Anthony takes his exit in '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Jack Anthony takes his exit in ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Maudie Edwards & Lola Cordell '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion (1)

Maudie Edwards & Lola Cordell ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Maudie Edwards & Lola Cordell curtain call '40 Thieves' 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

Maudie Edwards & Lola Cordell curtain call ’40 Thieves’ 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

The 40 Thieves parade 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

The 40 Thieves parade 1937 Glasgow Pavilion

 
‘The Queen of Hearts’ starring Florrie Forde, filmed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal during it’s 1937-1938 run.

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Bert Denver and Feed

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Bert Denver and Feed

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Bert Denver

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Bert Denver

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Florrie Forde opening scene

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Florrie Forde opening scene

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Florrie's big number

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Florrie’s big number

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Harry Niblock and Jimmy McKinlay

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Harry Niblock and Jimmy McKinlay

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Josh Clyton's Five X-Rays

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Josh Clyton’s Five X-Rays

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Sherman Fisher girls (1)

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Sherman Fisher girls

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Sherman Fisher girls (2)

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Sherman Fisher girls

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Sherman Fisher Girls (3)

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Sherman Fisher Girls

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 Stella Peters

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 Stella Peters

'Queen of Hearts' 1937 the lovers plead with the Queen

‘Queen of Hearts’ 1937 the lovers plead with the Queen

Charity and the War Years

(102)-Jock's-Box

Jock’s Box

Like his father before him, Horace was possessed of a dominant charismatic personality and he had many friends from all walks of life. Following in his father’s footsteps he found time to raise large sums of money for various charities and he was the first person to organise matinees for the unemployed during the depression of the 1930’s. He gifted a mobile surgical unit to Edinburgh and his charitable interests included: The Newspaper Press Fund, The Queen’s Institute of District Nursing, Leith Hospital; Edinburgh’s Infirmary, The Sick Children’s Hospitals of both Glasgow and Edinburgh, The Variety Artistes Ladies Guild and Orphanage, The Salvation Army, The British Sailors’ Society, Jock’s Box Glasgow, The British Red Cross, The Prisoners of War Funds, The Blood Transfusion Service, The St Andrew’s Ambulance Service and The Aid to China Fund. All of these are on record and during the war years alone, he raised over £30,000 (Over a million pounds today) – a great deal of money in these dark days.

(41)-Pete-Collins-at-ENSA-Ulster

Pete Collins at ENSA Ulster

By the outbreak of war in 1939, Horace had become easily the pre-eminent personality on the Scottish Theatrical
scene. All Theatrical Agents were members of an association and were well known to each other and the Fred Collins Variety Agency was easily the biggest in Scotland and was the sixth oldest in the U.K.

(83)-A-Florrie-Forde-wartime-show

A Florrie Forde wartime show

It was inevitable, therefore, that he was appointed Scottish Regional Controller and Chairman of Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) for the duration of hostilities. Granted the rank of Colonel to allow him to move with unimpeded authority through service camps, he was responsible for an average of 1,630 performances per month to aid the war effort and these duties he carried out on a voluntary basis from his office in Renfield Street, Glasgow, without payment or expenses. The object of these performances was to bolster the morale of the armed forces, the Merchant Navy, Munition Workers, Dock Workers, Hospitals etc he also despatched parties overseas to entertain the Scottish troops whilst abroad. In 1944, Jack Anthony and his company which included Bond Rowell and Bertha Ricardo, were sent fairly near the front-line and Bertha especially, found this a most harrowing time but rewarding due to the reception they were given by ‘the lads’. All artistes were kitted out in uniforms which they insisted would be of the finest material to easily distinguish them from the ranks. The Collins children received many souvenirs brought back from war-torn Europe the most gruesome being a Japanese flick-knife! It may be of interest to recall that Butlins Holiday Camp at Ayr, which is today Craig Tara Holiday Park, was requisitioned by the Navy as a large naval base called ‘Scotia’. Many of the Agency’s top artistes entertained there including the Henderson twins, sisters of Dickie Henderson who went on to compare the “Sunday Night at the Palladium” TV show and many others and again 16mm film of ‘Dickie’s visit to Ayr still survives. Pete Collins, also served the country during the war years. He was given the rank of Captain and was in charge of ENSA operations overseas while based in Ireland. During this time Pete looked after many glamorous US entertainers such as Bob Hope, Carole Landis, Gertrude Lawrence and Al Jolsen.

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Horace Collins OBE

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Horsesback on Ayr beach. Horace Collins far left, Dave Willis centre

It was not surprising that Horace’s name was put forward by his peers for recognition by the King in both 1945 and 1946. Although on both occasions the submission was that he be knighted, the post-war Government could only see their way to award an O.B.E in 1946. Despite the tremendous burden of running both the Agency and his commitment to ENSA, twins Judy & Jill were born into the family in September 1940 and Horace felt it might be best to buy a house out with Glasgow where his young family could be safer than they were in Dumbreck which was only a stone’s throw from the docks in Glasgow, a prime target for German bombers. He chose Ayr and from then until the 1960s the family travelled to Ayr for many holidays and at weekends. Ayr was near enough for Horace to get to the Glasgow office from quickly, if required.

(43)-Josee-Collins-with-daughters-Judy,-Jill-and-Josette

Josee Collins with daughters Judy, Jill and Josette

Horace’s mother Annie lived in a large house in Pollokshields called ‘Milverton’. At the beginning of the War Horace decided that the house could be better used and donated it to a nursing organisation.  Annie came to live with the family in Dumbreck and remained with them until her death in 1952.

In the mid 1940’s, when the Pavilion pantomimes were a highlight in the calendars of a great number of
Glaswegians, Collins Productions would open in early December and run to packed capacity through until Easter.
This would be followed by a Spring Show starring artistes like Jack Radcliffe or Alec Finlay. A production of similar type would take place in the Autumn.

The Unusual Career of Pete Collins (1908-1980)

(125)-Pete-Collins-with-daughter-Claire

Pete Collins with daughter Claire

After the war, Horace at times aided by his brother Pete, set about entertaining a new breed of audience. Gone was the ‘live for today’ attitude of wartime as a new austerity set in.

(84)-Movita-with-husband-Marlon-Brando-courtesy-of-Peter-Green

Movita with husband Marlon Brando courtesy of Peter Green

Things continued to prosper, but there was increasing tension between the brothers with Pete wanting more scope and Horace being rather loath to grant it. Pete, like his father before him was a showman rather than a business man like Horace who distrusted his monetary acumen. Horace had good reason for his attitude as is illustrated, for instance, when he dispatched Pete to London to sign up a principal for the forthcoming Glasgow Pavilion pantomime at a salary of £17.10s.0d. Instead, the bold Pete arrived back having signed up a Mexican film actress called Movita, who incidentally later married Marlon Brando, at a salary of £85. Not unnaturally, Movita meant nothing to the Glasgow booking office so £1,000 was instantly lopped off the seasons profit – a lot of money in the 1940’s. Eventually the brothers decided they simply were incompatible as partners and although they remained on brotherly terms, Horace bought Pete out – lock, stock and barrel.

Another day at the office for Pete Collins courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Another day at the office for Pete Collins courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Pete moved to London and established his own Theatrical Agency. Since putting together the Collins’ Agencies first revue of human oddities in Aberdeen, Pete had always had a taste for the unusual and so began his new career. He reformed the “Would You Believe It?” show, once again with Lofty and Seppitoni but now also featuring acts such as ‘The Human Aquarium’ who could regurgitate fish and frogs and ‘The Human Gasometer’ who after inhaling gas could then breathe it out, light it and cook an omelette on the flames! The show toured for two years to great success.

 

The Human Aquarium

The Human Aquarium

The Human Gasometer and Pete Collins

The Human Gasometer and Pete Collins

Lofty, Seppetoni and Jack Joyce

Lofty, Seppetoni and Jack Joyce

In 1949 Pete launched a new revue which featured a wrestling lion, an armless wonder who painted with his feet and a mechanical man. The content changed depending on the scale of the venue and the title changed too to “Well I Never!” and “You’ll Never Believe It!”.

Another show of Pete’s was titled “Hold Your Breath!” featuring a giant tank of water in which frogmen displayed their talents and an “Aqua Revuette” featuring a “Striptease Mermaid”! This show also toured successfully abroad under many different names.

Lemo the Tame Lioness

Lemo the Tame Lioness

Tom Jacobsen the Armless Pianist

Tom Jacobsen the Armless Pianist

Hold Your Breath!

Hold Your Breath!

 

Another of Pete’s imaginative ventures was a “Jungle Fantasy” featuring a tribe of “Genuine African Warriors” who were actually students recruited from the pubs in London’s Tottenham Court Road!

Pete-Collins'-Jungle-Fantasy-courtesy-of-Don-Stacey-&-King-Pole-magazine-of-the-Circus-friends-associationAs the theatre business declined in the UK Pete headed to the USA in 1954 where he toured with another giant, Ted Evans in baseball stadiums and racetracks supporting many big names of the age. While in the states Pete realised the potential of television and founded his own TV production company on his return to the UK, producing shows based on his old novelty revues.

Postwar Reunion of Pete Collins' 'Would You Believe It

Postwar Reunion of Pete Collins’ ‘Would You Believe It

Ted Evans and Pete Collins arrive at Idlewild, NY

Ted Evans and Pete Collins arrive at Idlewild, NY

Prince Kari-Kari and his Ghana Dancers (From Tottenham)

Prince Kari-Kari and his Ghana Dancers (From Tottenham)

Khara Khavak courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Khara Khavak courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Itchy feet once again took Pete abroad, finally to South Africa where he produced radio and television shows. Among these shows was “The Southern Sky”, based on the BBC’s “The Sky at Night”. Both shows were presented by the legendary British astronomer Patrick Moore with whom Pete became good friends and published the book “The Astronomy of Southern Africa”.

Ateka-and-friends-courtesy-of-Don-Stacey-&-King-Pole-magazine-of-the-Circus-friends-associationPete Collins was probably the UK’s most successful producer of human oddity shows and the last of his breed. In his long and fascinating career he worked with such amazing acts as: The world’s tallest man and shortest man, the world’s tallest woman, a man who played his head like an xylophone, a tame lioness, human robots, an educated pig, a one legged dancer, the woman with ten brains, sword swallowers, a woman who produced ‘paintings’ on a typewriter, flea circuses, a crocodile hypnotist, a man who lived in a bottle for a year, an armless pianist and Heinrich the counting toad to name but a few.

No People Like Show People by Pete Collins

No People Like Show People by Pete Collins

Pete Collins & Patrick Moore

Pete Collins & Patrick Moore

Hold Your Breath Programme 1949

Hold Your Breath Programme 1949

 

Many of Pete’s tall tales and stories of the fascinating individuals he represented can be read in his very entertaining book “No People like Show People”.

Pete Collins died in South Africa in 1980 leaving a widow, Moya and three daughters.

Pete Collins 1913-1980

Pete Collins 1913-1980

A Fire at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh

Theatre Royal Fire Report courtesy of Ian Rintoul

Theatre Royal Fire Report courtesy of Ian Rintoul

Disaster struck at midnight on Saturday 30th March 1946 when the Theatre Royal Edinburgh, the fourth theatre
on the Broughton Street site, was gutted by a fierce fire. The fire was spotted by the night watchman who kept it in control as best he could until the Fire Brigade arrived. The fire started in the gallery and the watchman, Mr Walter Fraser who was 56 years of age at the time, dropped from the gallery handrail into the upper circle twenty feet below to continue the fire-fighting. His action helped to cut off the fire from the stage and dressing rooms. The safety curtain had been dropped at the end of the performance just 40 minutes prior to the fire starting and there had been 1,500 people attending the show.Thousands of pounds worth of dresses and materials were saved. It took five detachments of firemen to bring the fire under control and at one stage the flames leapt to a height of 40 feet above the top of the building and needless to say, the roof collapsed. People were evacuated from their homes in the immediate vicinity.

 The preserved frontage of the Theatre Royal after the fire courtesy of Ian Rintoul

The preserved frontage of the Theatre Royal after the fire courtesy of Ian Rintoul

On investigation, it was thought that a cigarette dropped in the circle was the cause which finally gutted the auditorium. The show in residence that night was “Hail Caledonia” with Tommy Morgan and the Stage Manager, Mr A. Gibson, praised the company for the efficient way in which they removed the ‘props’ and stated “Not a frock, uniform or ‘prop’ was left”. Although fully insured at the time, it was impossible to obtain a permit for building materials as all such were strictly reserved for housing projects after the war. Plans for a new theatre were drawn up by Basil Spence, later to become Sir Basil who was the Architect of the new Coventry Cathedral. These plans were for a sumptuous up-to-date theatre with a slightly smaller capacity to suit modern conditions.

The post-fire shell of the Royal, Edinburgh, base centre courtesy of Edinburgh Evening News

The post-fire shell of the Royal, Edinburgh, base centre courtesy of Edinburgh Evening News

However, by the time permission to rebuild was granted, after the death of Horace Collins, costs had risen so much that it was impossible for his heirs to raise the finance and the Royal remained a shell until its demolition in the late 1950’s. In the interim, the backstage area continued as a scenic workshop presided over by artist Bill Grayson and as a theatrical workshop presided over by Miss E. Cooke, all overseen by Mr. A.J. ‘Bumper’ Wark, the erstwhile House Manager, who had been with the Collins set up since the time of Fred Collins. Perhaps had Horace lived beyond 1947, the outcome would have been different.

Horace Collins’ Final Curtain

Horace Collins Obituary

Horace Collins Obituary

When in his forties, Horace became a very corpulent man, possibly due to his unique lifestyle. He had spent most of his life sitting in theatres, car or office. In 1945 he was involved in a car accident which had virtually written-off his car and it was just assumed he had fallen asleep at the wheel as he had done on a previous occasion whilst on a long journey. He never admitted anything was amiss with his health but stated it had all been due to the fact that the number plate on his car added up to 13, his unlucky number. Funnily enough, Fred Collins had always considered the number 13 lucky! In 1946 he was persuaded to visit a health clinic in Wales to see if he could lose weight. This greatly annoyed him but under duress, he agreed to go to Wales with Josee and son, Randle. He made his rehabilitation into a holiday break and whilst he obeyed the dictate of no outside eating, he made a morning dash to his wife’s hotel room telephone to ensure the smooth operating of his business which was his first priority and strictly against his doctor’s orders.

Horace Collins Tribute

Horace Collins Tribute

On his return home, every effort was made to stick to a diet but Horace liked his food and in a very short time
reverted back to his normal eating habits. All this therefore provided only a temporary respite as on 16th August 1947 Horace was struck down by a massive cerebral haemorrhage and died. He had been out fishing at Ayr the previous day with several friends and son, Randle and the boat had developed engine trouble and whether or not this was a contributing factor was never known but he died within 24 hours of this incident leaving his widow, Josee, son Randle just turned 13 years old and three daughters, Josette aged 9 and twins, Judy and Jill aged 6 – not to mention a theatrical void which was impossible to fill. At the family home in Ayr the road was completely blocked solid with limousines stretching round the corner into Racecourse Road. The funeral was held at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Great Western Road, in Glasgow attracting mourners from the theatrical world and from most all other walks of society, such was his prominence at that time. For the Scottish Theatre, it marked the end of the Golden Age.

Horace Collins 1901 - 1947

Horace Collins 1901 – 1947