Floral Hall’s Former Stars

In the heart of Scarborough’s Alexandra Gardens, now a bowling green, Floral Hall once stood.

Floral Hall

Above: The original Floral Hall theatre (source)

After beginning as an open air home for pierrot performances – then for George Royle’s popular fol-de-rol entertainers, Scarborough’s Floral Hall gained a roof, lost its floral decorations and welcomed a number of big name acts.

Floral Hall

Above: Floral Hall – with roof (source)

This post compares a number of the venue’s programmes from the 1970s, with those from the earliest days. These were the times of the summer season, the variety performance and the triumph of British seaside entertainment. However, the story of Floral Hall begins with pierrots – and Edwardian Scarborough was a good place to be one.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: Will Catlin’s pierrots perform on the South Sands (source)

These French and Italian inspired performers dressed in white and performed a mixture of comedy, music and mime, primarily on the beach. Will Catlin’s pierrots were a huge success on Scarborough’s South Sands, as were Carrick’s Original Pierrots. Catlin eventually built the Arcadia on the Foreshore, to showcase these performers, but with the development of cinema, he soon transformed the site into the Palladium Picture House, and the grander theatre that became known as the Futurist.

Futurist and Palladium Picture House

Above: The Futurist and Palladium Picture House (source)

George Royle also led a troupe of pierrots, and when Harry W. Smith – Borough Engineer extraordinaire – set about designing Alexandra Gardens, the open air theatre was to provide a home for Royle’s performers. However, Royle quickly rejected the idea of continuing with the pierrot performances, instead preferring his troupe to dress in eccentric period costumes. Top hats for the men and bonnets and crinoline for the women. Known as the Fol-de-Rols they were Floral Hall’s original resident act.

Fol-de-rols

Above: The Fol-de-Rols in the traditional white usually associated with pierrot performances (above)

Below: Looking slightly more like pierrots, the troupe were also known as George Royle’s Imps (source)

Fol-de-rols

The Fol-de-rols were immensely popular, but WWI changed everything – audiences dwindled (the 1914 Scarborough bombardment was a stark reminder of the dangers of wartime) and George Royle signed up to join the army. When he returned he was invited back to Floral Hall, but rents were rising and tastes were changing – the Fol-de-rols would not return.

Fol-de-rols

Above: Dresses and top hats (source)

Below: An early programme (source)

Floral Hall Programme: Fol de Rols

Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s, and seaside entertainment had been completely transformed. Gone were the old fashioned music hall acts, replaced by an altogether more modern form of variety. Furthermore, another huge influence was television – which was where many budding performers made their name. Talent shows such as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces provided many big breaks. Programmes from Floral Hall provide a fascinating insight into the seaside summer circuit at this time, and how stars of the day broke into the entertainment industry.

Floral Hall Programme: The Krankies

Above: The Krankies – a Floral Hall programme (source)

The Krankies are a Scottish husband and wife duo. They starred in TV’s Crackerjack, amongst other things, and Stu Francis, is another comedian who also featured in the same programme. Joe Longthorne, a singer from nearby Hull, found fame in TV shows such as Junior Showtime, and Search for a Star, while American singer Diane Solomon, made a name for herself on the BBC.

Freddie Starr was another act who was ‘discovered’ on a TV show – Opportunity Knocks. See below:

Floral Hall Programme: Freddie Starr

Above: Freddie Starr programme (source)

He was joined in Floral Hall for the 1979 summer season by a puppet show, Mike Lancaster (another comedian), and Patsy Ann Scott, known for her appearances on 1970s TV shows. The Maurice Merry Orchestra are mentioned on most of the programmes here, as is the director Peter Sontar.

Floral Hall Programme: Les Dawson

Above: Les Dawson programme (source)

Les Dawson, like Freddie Starr, benefitted hugely from an appearance on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks, and was a comedian famed for his ‘mother-in-law’ jokes and piano playing. Dougie Squires, on the other hand, was a contemporary version of George Royle or Will Catlin. Instead of leading a troupe of pierrots, he created a singing and dancing group called The Young Generation, who were TV regulars in the 1960s and 1970s. Second Generation was an ill-fated attempt to reform the group.  As for Bobby Bennett, he presented Junior Showtime, another TV show with strong Floral Hall connections. Finally, Kenneth McKellar was/is a singer who represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1960s, and made numerous television appearances.

Floral Hall Programme: Peters & Lee

Above: Peters & Lee programme (source)

1970s folk duo Peters & Lee were Opportunity Knocks alumni – indeed, Floral Hall seemed to recruit heavily from TV talent contests, and featured in the Royal Variety Performance of 1973. Roy Walker is today perhaps best known as the former presenter of Catchphrase, the popular long-running TV gameshow. but he started off as a comedian, and yet another TV talent show alumni – New Faces this time. Lee Wilson was also a comedian and another former New Faces contestant. Singer-songwriter Berni Flint had a record number of wins in Opportunity Knocks, whereas Janet Brown was an actress and impressionist famed for her impressions of Margaret Thatcher.

Below: Frank Ifield and Ken Goodwin programme (source)

Floral Hall Programme

In this final programme, Frank Ifield – a singer who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. He came a respectable second in 1962, during the decade that made him famous, but in 1976 he was less successful and finished twelfth. Opportunity Knocks gave Floral Hall another performer in Mancunian comedian Ken Goodwin, and Luie Caballero is/was an actor and impressionist. Bert Weedon was a guitarist and a regular performer for the BBC.

As the above selection of programmes demonstrates, Floral Hall hosted an impressive array of performers for nearly eighty years, but sadly closed in 1987 – there were insufficient funds to restore the building, and the heyday of the British seaside holiday was slowly slipping away.

Who would have thought that a simple open air theatre from 1908 would last so long and provide so much entertainment?

Floral Hall

Above: The sun sets on Floral Hall (source)

Do you remember Floral Hall? Do you have any old programmes, or recall the performers you saw?

Please get in touch if you’ve got any information to share…

Sources

Scarborough Civic Society

Scarborough News

Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website

This wonderful Fol-de-Rols website

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Scarborough’s Pierrots, Catlin’s Arcadia

Scarborough’s Foreshore has always provided a colourful display of changing shopfronts, alternating amusement sites and unusual attractions. From the Turkish Baths (later an Indian Village and now Coney Island Amusements) to the Madhouse and Millennium living history attraction, tourists have always had plenty of entertainment to choose from.

foreshore

Above: The bustling Foreshore in the early 1900s (source)

Caitlin’s Arcadia occupied the site of the now closed Futurist Theatre.

Catlin's Arcadia

Above: Catlin’s Arcadia on the Foreshore during the early 1900s (source)

It’s story begins with theatrical entrepeneur Will Catlin (real name William Fox) whose popular pierrots were a regular sight on Scarborough’s South Bay during the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: Catlin’s Pierrots perform on the South Sands (source)

Often referred to as the ‘sad clown’ the pierrot character has a long history – dating back to the seventeenth century, but became popular during the nineteenth century in France and beyond, as a recurring motif in theatre. With a whitened face and baggy attire, the pierrot was a naive, innocent character, whose antics included comedy, mime, song and dance.

Catlin's Pierrots

Above: Catlin’s Pierrots (source)

Catlin, a former music hall performer first visited Scarborough in 1894, and it was during that time that he formed his renowed group of exclusively all-male pierrots. Whilst his pierrots toured widely – even over the winter months, when they visited a variety of cities and towns – in Scarborough they performed (during the early days) on a makeshift stage on the South Bay.

Catlin's Pierrots

Above: The troupe were also known as Catlin’s Royal Pierrots (source)

They were not the only pierrot group in town – George Royle’s ‘Imps’ performed a similar act on the South Sands from the early 1900s, but adopted different tactics after being invited to entertain audiences at Floral Hall in Alexandra Gardens. Unlike Catlin’s group, Royle’s performers were male and female, and in their new venue wore period costumes, calling themselves the Fol-de-Rols.

You can read more about the Fol-de-Rols by visiting this website.

Catlin, on the other hand, was rapidly becoming frustrated by rising rental fees for beach performances. Seeking his own venue, he purchased land on the Foreshore and opened Catlin’s Arcadia – the pierrot shows operated from here between 1909 and 1912.

Catlin's Arcadia

Above: The Arcadia (source)

A shrewd businessman, Catlin sold souvenir postcards (depicting the pierrots) at performances, and even met visitors at the railway station to promote the shows.

Such was the popularity of his troupe by 1912 that they were named the most popular entertainers in Britain.

In 1912, he sought to cash in on the popularity of motion pictures, by creating the Palladium Cinema, which, by 1920 was deemed far too small to meet rising demand. Consequently it was then replaced by the Futurist, a huge, state of the art complex that opened in 1921 to accommodate larger audiences and more entertainment. It initially also contained an ice cream bar and soda fountain. The latter would become a popular fixture in Scarborough, with one at the future Corner Cafe, and Evelyn’s Soda Fountain at the Windmill Site on the Foreshire.

evelyns

Above: Evelyn’s Soda Fountain (source)

Catlin remained involved with the entertainment business – he also operated theatres in Llandudno and Colwyn Bay, and according to this article, when he died in 1953, his coffin was fittingly topped with a pierrot hat, made from white flowers, and an inscription reading “King of the Pierrots’ final curtain”. The Futurist, on the other hand, became one of Scarborough’s premier entertainment venues, finally closing in early 2014. Its future remains uncertain. There’s even a film being made about it – you can check out the progress of this project by visiting this link.

Did you ever visit the Futurist? Do you know anything about the Palladium, the Arcadia or the famous pierrots? Please comment below.

Sources and Further Reading

The Theatres Trust

The Cambridge History of British Theatre

Arthur Lloyd Theatres Page

Scarborough News

Fol-de-Rols

Will Catlin