This year’s Royal Variety Show took place in November in the presence of Prince William and Catherine. It is to be broadcast by ITV in the lead up to Christmas. The show has been among the most watched programmes in British TV history. With 24 million viewers the 1965 programme was the 6th most watched ever. Only EastEnders, Coronation Street and Only Fools and Horses have had more viewers. The show is a cherished institution and has left memorable moments in broadcasting.
With this legacy behind it, could these two lost 85-year old EKCO discs hold the earliest recording of the show?
That show was broadcast live on the radio by the BBC on the 30th May 1932 from the London Palladium where the royal audience was King George V and Queen Mary (Prince William’s great-great-grandparents!) According to the Royal Variety Charity, an original 1932 programme is missing from their records. But could the EKCO discs confirm who performed that evening?
For several months I couldn’t answer this. The grooves appeared too worn or contaminated with foreign material. I was using the Ortofon 2M 78 stylus with a 2.6mil radius tip (see “The EKCO Radiocorder”). Perhaps a larger tip would sit higher up the wall where the damage or contamination might be less? After much searching I ordered a Nagaoka MP-110 from Japan with a 4.0mil tip and recovered the following samples (which are edited to remove surface noise).
The first sample is my grandad introducing Jack Hylton’s dance band performing a trendy medley of tunes (see also “Calling All Stars, 1937”). By referencing the date and place my grandad certifies it as an authentic live recording.
The second sample also features my grandad playing compere. Here he introduces actor/crooner Jack Buchanan. He sings the song “Goodnight Vienna” which was taken from a 1932 romantic film of the same title. This originated the phrase people used to describe something final. The BBC commentator can be heard interrupting the broadcast to confess he announced the performance “a little too early”.
These melodious samples are fashionable for 1932, qualities not shared by others below!
"Any old iron? Any old iron?
Any, any, any old iron?
You look neat. Talk about a treat!
You look so dapper from your napper to your feet
Dressed in style, brand-new tile
And your father's old green tie on
But I wouldn't give you tuppence for your old watch and chain
Old iron, old iron."
This is music hall legend Harry Champion bellowing the final chorus to “Any Old Iron”. Born William Crump in 1865, Champion used rapid-fire rhythm and rhyme. He called it “quick singing”. Today we might call it something else.
The quality is poor because Champion was not a crooner. He never had use for a microphone. Any records Champion made saw him shout down a mechanical horn. So this could be the only sound of him performing on stage before an audience.
Champion was popular until 1918 and the end of WW1. The arrival of jazz and swing then saw him forgotten. But it seems the Great Depression led to his revival in the years before WW2. By 1932 the 67 year-old found himself broadcast on the radio, popular once again despite his theatrical methods.
The final sample shows that the revival in music hall was not limited to Champion. Here is Vesta Victoria. She found fame as far back as 1892 when she sang “Daddy Would Not Buy Me a Bow Wow”. Here she sings “Waiting at the Church” which again suffers for want of a microphone. A clear performance can be enjoyed in this 1977 episode of TVs The Muppet Show.
These days we have wireless access to whatever media interests us. Yet many of us use it to watch variety shows performed before participating studio audiences and streamed live on digital services, which allow the shows to be easily shared and archived on social media platforms like YouTube above. This ensures the echoes of variety now carry much further than the early wireless broadcasts and my grandad's records ever could.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England