On Saturday evening I enjoyed the privilege of taking part in a Gala Variety Concert at the London Palladium to celebrate the 100th birthday of Dame Vera Lynn. I was one of the Maida Vale Singers - an ad hoc group of professional singers which is run by an old friend of mine.
Unfortunately, Dame Vera was too frail to attend, but we were honoured by the presence of Her Majesty The Queen.
The evening took the form of performances of Dame Vera's best-loved songs and a linking narration of significant events in her life by numerous celebrity guests. The show was accompanied by the instrumental ensemble of the Royal Air Force, The Squadronaires - an ensemble originally founded by Dame Vera's late husband, Harry Lewis, from the ranks of the professional musicians conscripted in to the RAF at the outbreak of war. A giant screen at the back of the stage also played various newsreel clips of her invaluable contribution to troop morale during the second world war, including very moving footage of her entertaining "the boys" perilously close to the front line during the Burma campaign in 1944.
Bing appeared on Dame Vera's TV show in 1975, and then, of course, there were the Palladium concerts of '77...
I first worked at the Palladium in 1986 and then again in 1990, when the backstage area remained as Bing would have known it. The past year, however, has seen a lot of renovation of the backstage and front-of-house areas. The location of the stage door has changed and what would have been Bing's dressing-room now houses offices and a Green Room.
In 1986 I seem to remember that there was a framed photograph of Bing on stage located in the stalls bar. That has now gone, alas, but the brass plaque on the staircase just inside the main entrance to the theatre remains and I made the little pilgrimage to see it again. Just in case anyone hasn't seen it, here are a couple of photographs I took on the day.
The inscription reads, "Bing Crosby - whose legendary contribution to the whole world of entertainment was marked by a special anniversary season at the London Palladium Sept. 26th - Oct. 8th 1977"
Last edited by jeremyrose (20/3/2017 7:16 pm)
What a wonderful experience! Glad the plaque is still there.
Vera had a fantastic following among members of the British forces and their families. She had a warm presentational style and knew the type of songs that her public wanted, though the BBC dropped her programme for a time because her songs were regarded as too sentimental and lacking in backbone.
Vera even visited wives and families of members of the forces and conveyed messages to servicemen abroad. She increased her following by visiting forward bases in Burma to entertain the troops there.
A TV documentary to celebrate her 100th birthday is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08k5v5l/dame-vera-lynn-happy-100th-birthday and can be watched for a further 26 days but unfortunately might not be viewable outside the UK.
Later addition - it is now on YouTube
From the late 1950s I worked and became friendly with a group of men (then still young, now all gone over the last 14 years) who had all been on active service in North Africa and Italy, one having been wounded twice. They were all firm devotees of Vera Lynn.
Last edited by Richard Baker (22/3/2017 9:58 am)
Well done Jeremy. You must feel quite proud. Glad Bing plaques are still there.
One night I went in 1977 - opening and closing - all sorts of celebrities were there.
Henry Cooper just a few rows back, Ronnie Barker after show did a 'bobbies point traffic E control'
After I attended opening night I wrote to see if I would be able to lead a 'for he's a jolly good fellow' on closing night. Was refused of course as they said it would probably happen anyway.
Off to Aust on Monday.
Thanks for that, Ron. Yes, I was very proud to be there. I had previously stood alongside Dame Vera on stage at the Palladium for her appearance at the 1990 Royal Variety Performance and during the rehearsal we had exchanged a few words because she was concerned she was getting in my way! (I should add that we were far from being the only two people on stage, but I was standing next to her!)
Have a good trip back to Australia, and very best wishes to you and Anita.
Last edited by jeremyrose (21/3/2017 3:47 pm)