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George Black (producer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

George Black
Born(1890-04-20)20 April 1890
Died14 March 1945(1945-03-14) (aged 54)
London, England
OccupationProducer, impresario, theatre manager
Years active1912–1945
ChildrenAlfred, George Jr.

George Black (20 April 1890 – 4 March 1945)[1] was a British theatrical impresario who controlled many entertainment venues during the 1930s and 1940s and was a pioneer of the motion picture business.[2]


Early Years

Black was born on 20 April 1890, at 3 Court, 7 Sutton Street, in Small Heath, Birmingham.[3] He left school at the age of eleven to work for his father who had previously been a travelling showman and now worked in the film industry.[4] Aged twelve, he was looking after his father's Flea Circus.[5] Black served throughout the Great War as a Private in the Northumberland Fusiliers and rose to the rank of Lance-Corporal.[5] After the war, Black helped his father establish the first permanent motion-picture theatres in the UK. Black was a grafter and learnt about the entertainment business from his father. One of Black's initial jobs in his father's cinema was to show films on a Paul's Theatrograph, which was the name of the first commercially produced 35mm film projector. Within a few years, Black had become proprietor of a circuit of theatres and music halls on the North East coast of Britain.

Managing Director of the London Palladium

In 1928, Black moved to London and took over the management of GTC (General Theatre Corporation),[4] which ran a chain of theatres, cinemas and dance halls. He also took over the management of the London Palladium, which was the flagship of the corporation. The Hippodrome, London in Leicester Square, Brighton Hippodrome and Blackpool Opera House were also under his control. When Black arrived as managing director of the London Palladium he'd previously owned a string of thirteen cinema theatres, which he'd sold for £300,000. Although the Palladium had recently fallen on hard times due to falling ticket sales (the theatre had lain dark during autumn of that year), Black's vision was to revive the Palladium as the number one variety theatre in the UK. On 3 September 1928, he re-opened the theatre with a superb variety bill that included Gracie Fields, Dick Henderson, Billy Bennett and Ivor Novello and a full supporting cast. Ticket sales skyrocketed and Argyll Street outside the Palladium's entrance became congested with a mass of unlucky patrons who'd been turned away at the box office. By headlining top-notch homegrown stars on the bill, Black secured continuous success through the remainder of the '20s and throughout the '30s. In defence of his entertainment policy Black was quoted as saying, 'Variety is an integral part of English life, the finest expression of the English character and as necessary to our social life as food and drink.'[6] From October 1928 until 1931, Black allowed live broadcasts over the radio to be transmitted from the London Palladium, which proved extremely popular with radio audiences.[7] Black even looked abroad for acts, bringing many of the top American stars to the UK to perform at the Palladium including Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, Adelaide Hall, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller,[8] Vic Oliver and Ethel Waters. In 1937, Black brought Josephine Baker over to the UK direct from the Folies-Bergere in Paris to headline a British tour on the Moss Empires circuit, which culminated on 27 June 1938 with her appearance at the London Palladium, her first engagement there.[9] Film stars were also booked onto the bill including the juvenile actor Jackie Coogan (who'd appeared alongside Charlie Chaplin in the hit film The Kid).[10] Coogan proved so popular he was held over for an extra week.

In 1928, Black took over the presentation of the Royal Variety Performance. That year it was staged on 1 March at the London Coliseum in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. After a gap of one year, on 22 May 1930, Black presented the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium, again in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary.[11] The show was broadcast live by BBC Radio.[12] Black went on to present and compere at the Royal Variety Performance each year (excluding 1936) thereafter up to 1938[13] after which the performance was halted for the duration of the Second World War.

Pantomime became a regular feature at the London Palladium for many years, and the Christmas pantomime Peter Pan was so popular with audiences that Black made it a fixture at the theatre every year from 1930 to 1938.[14]

In the early 1930s, Black, along with his assistant Charles Henry, decided to experiment with the content of the shows they produced at the Palladium. They came up with the novel idea of pairing together comedy double-acts. On 30 November 1931, Black organised Crazy Week at the Palladium, which brought together various comedy acts. It was under Black's watchful eye that this format was developed into the act that became known collectively as the Crazy Gang consisting of Nervo and Knox, Naughton and Gold and Flanagan and Allen.[15][16] Black devised and produced the shows and revues that starred the Crazy Gang at the Palladium. Many theatre programmes of the 1930s had the words "Produced by George Black" on their cover. The Crazy Gang dominated the Palladium scene until the war years; then subsequently at the Victoria Palace Theatre. The average season attendance at one of the Crazy Gang shows was between 500,000 and 600,000 paying customers. By 1937, Black had signed the Crazy Gang up for a film and stage contract worth £100,000.[17] Black's 1937 production with the Crazy Gang titled London Rhapsody received plaudits from the press. It was considered to be one of the most spectacular shows ever produced at the Palladium. A contemporary critic noted, "whereas Ivor Novello has put Drury Lane back on the map by altering the standard of production there to a point far removed from the theatre's traditions, George Black has achieved the same results at the Palladium by a different process. The London Palladium reviews have been going one better every time. London Rhapsody is the best yet."[18] In 1938 Black co-wrote and staged another Crazy Gang show These Foolish Things, which also featured the Sherman Fisher Girls.

On 5 May 1940, Black presented A Grand Variety Gala from the London Palladium that was broadcast on the BBC Radio Forces Programme in aid of the Variety Artists' Benevolent Fund.[19] In August 1940, Black's musical revue Apple Sauce opened at the Holborn Empire starring Max Miller and Vera Lynn. After the theatre was bombed in 1941, the show transferred to the London Palladium where it ran until November 1941.[citation needed]

In her book The Time of My Life, musical star Pat Kirkwood recounts her time appearing at the London Palladium in Top of the World during the air raids of 1940. She had just opened in the new show:

"We had raids every night and we never knew who would be on stage when they dropped. Tommy Trinder had a side-bet arranged, based on which of the comics would be on when one dropped. It was always Tommy! I had my turn too: one night in the middle of singing ‘Rhumboogie’ a bomb fell so near to the theatre that all the stalls heavy double-plated doors burst open and the whole auditorium shook. Everyone onstage carried on regardless and the audience never moved. This happened on the Saturday night of our first week at the Palladium. On Sunday morning I had a telephone call from Charles Henry, George Black's second in command, to inform me that the show was closing and that all theatres would be shut down until further notice. What we were not told was that on the Saturday night a landmine had landed on the roof of the Palladium and become lodged in the chimney. The bomb disposal men had defused it then carried it out through the stage door on Sunday morning!" [20]

By late autumn of 1940 the German bombing blitz was well under way and more producers and stars packed their trunks and headed out of London. Some moved to Northern England, (Blackpool especially), for the duration of the war. Jack Hylton and George Black were just two impresarios who ran their showbiz empires from Blackpool.[21] The Tower Company who owned Blackpool Tower and its ballroom benefited greatly from this arrangement as their premises were used for shows in rehearsal and for the launch of national tours. Black was president of the VAA (Variety Artists Association) and during the war staged several shows that financially benefited American, British and Allied charities; one such show being Irving Berlin's This Is The Army.[22] On 7 July 1944, Black's forthcoming production Happy and Glorious, set to open at the London Palladium starring Tommy Trinder, Zoe Gail and Elisabeth Welch, was previewed at the Proms as part of Sir Henry Wood's Jubilee Season of Promenade Concerts and broadcast over the radio on the BBC Home Service.[23]

Managing Director of Moss Empires

Black oversaw the merging of GTC with Moss Empires variety circuit in 1932. He was then in charge of the new company Moss Empires Group and was in control of a chain of 53 theatres all over the UK. In 1938, he became the joint managing director of Moss Empires. As manager of the London Palladium and controlling boss of Moss Empires, Black became one of London's most powerful producers. When the chairman Colonel J. J. Gillespie of Moss Empires died in January 1942, Mr. R. H. Gillespie became chairman and George Black was promoted to sole managing director.[24]


George Black Sr. was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1857. By 1861 the family had moved to live in nearby Sunderland.[25] Black Sr. worked for many years at the Comedy Theatre in Manchester (later named the Gaiety Theatre) and at Theatre Royal, Birmingham. In time, he bought a huge waxworks exhibition, which he toured the UK with. In May 1906, Black Sr. opened the Monkwearmouth Picture Hall in Bonnersfield, Sunderland, in a building that had formerly been St Stephen's Presbyterian Chapel. The building had ceased to be a church since 1903.[25] It was in this building he would store and sometimes exhibit his waxworks exhibition when it wasn't on tour. Black Sr. along with his three sons (Gerorge, Alfred and Edward) ran the cinema as the British Animated Picture Company and claimed it was the first permanent cinema north of Birmingham. There is evidence to suggest that moving pictures were put on as early as 1904, as an added attraction to the waxworks.[26] The paying customers sat in the old chapel pews in front of a white sheet, which was used as the screen and was tied to the lectern. Black Sr. employed his three sons to work at the cinema: his son George operated the hand-cranked kinematograph, Alfred ran the box-office and Edward wrote the prologues for the silent films. The first film shown was a newsreel called The Launching of the Mauretania, (which was released on 20 September 1906). As early as 1907, Black Sr. anticipated the Cinematograph Act 1909, (which came into operation on 1 January 1910), and separated the projector from the audience. They also ran 'twice nightly' shows. The Black family made a considerable amount of money when in 1914 Black Sr. purchased the local areas screening rights to show the film Tillie's Punctured Romance starring Charlie Chaplin, Marie Dressler and Mabel Normand.

In 1909, Black Sr. opened the New Picture Palace in Gateshead. He also became sole proprietor of the Palace Theatre, West Hartlepool, the Blyth Theatre Royal and the Borough Theatre in North Shields[27] and the lessee of the Picture Hall, West Hartlepool and the Tivoli, Laygate Circus in South Shields. Black Sr. was known amongst the community to be a charitable man and distributed food and shoes among the poor children of Sunderland.

After George Black Sr.'s death in 1910, the Black brothers controlled a chain of twelve cinemas. In 1916, their original cinema (the Monkwearmouth Picture Hall in Bonnersfield, Sunderland) was renamed the Bridge Cinema. George Black claimed that he and his father experimented with the idea of 'talkies' before 'talkies' arrived: 'We collected a couple of old women and old men who saw the film through once, chose what parts they wanted to play, stood behind the screen on the first night of its performance and made up the dialogue as they went along.'[26]

When George Black (b.1891) broke his ties with the local entertainment scene by moving to London in 1928, his brothers Alfred and Edward continued with the family business and opened their most luxurious cinema, the Regal in 1932. In 1936, Edward gave up his interest in the family business and turned his hand to film producing and worked for Gainsborough Films, Gaumont British, London Films, Twentieth Century Fox and the Rank Organisation. Eventually, many of the Blacks' cinemas, including the later-built Regal Cinemas and Essoldo Cinemas, were sold to other companies.

George Black died in London in 1945.[28][29] Acknowledging the service he'd given to the entertainment industry, on 12 April 1945, the BBC aired the radio programme George Black Memories.[30] After his death his two sons George Jr. and Alfred took over the family's flourishing entertainment empire.

George Black (b. 1891) had two sons, Alfred (b. 1913 d. 2002) [31] and George Jr. (b. 1911 d. 1970)[32] who both entered show business and followed in their father's footsteps as successful producers and impresarios. Together they founded Black Brothers TV Ltd. It was George Jr. who gave Nicholas Parsons his first big break in television.[33] In 1956, Independent Television began. George Jr. and Alfred were keen to muscle in on this new medium and decided to produce a new series together based upon their father's wartime show Strike A New Note and stated in their press handout, ‘to discover the new and unknown stars of Independent Television’.[34] The first show was transmitted in January 1956 and the comedian Arthur Haynes appeared on it. Nicholas Parsons appeared on the third show. The show received a bit of a panning so after the sixth show, George Jr. said to Parsons, "I'm getting rid of everybody but I'm going to keep Arthur Haynes and you. I think the two of you should do sketches together". George Jr. changed the title of the show to Get Happy and the show continued for another eighteen weeks until George Jr. thought he'd exhausted it all. George Jr. and Alfred also produced several West End musicals together including the 1954 production Wedding in Paris at the London Hippodrome.[35]

During the Second World War, Captain George Black Jr. along with Colonel Basil Brown and Major Bill Alexander formed the organisation Stars in Battledress (SIB) that entertained the troops.

Alfred Black married the actress and leading West End musical star Roma Beaumont (b. 1913 d. 2001).[36][37] Roma starred in several hit musicals including The Dancing Years,[38] Perchance to Dream[39] and in Cinderella at the London Palladium in 1948.[40] Alfred and Roma's daughter is the actress Susan Beaumont who appeared in many films throughout the 1950s. Roma Beumont's cousin was the dancer/singer Roma King (b. 1934 d. 2013)[41] who appeared in several West End musicals including Love from Judy (1952–54), Lilac Time and Summer Song (1954).[42][43] In January 1959, George Jr. and Alfred (with the film producer Sidney Box) founded the independent TV Station Tyne Tees Television that served North East England.[44]

The English writer, composer, musician and comedian Bill Oddie's wife, the writer Laura Beaumont,[45] is related to Roma Beaumont.

On 6 May 1975, BBC Radio 2 broadcast an episode of the radio series The Impresarios, devoted to the work of George Black. Narrated by Michael Craig, the series documented the stories of the men who created the world of entertainment. During this episode, George's son Alfred states: "The London Palladium was a dead duck, they'd tried everything there – circuses, films, plays. It was going through a terribly bad patch and they said to my Dad, 'That's yours, what are you going to do with it?' Dad said, 'I'll make it the number one Variety theatre of the world." The programme contains interviews with Tommy Trinder, Roma Beaumont, Alfred Black, Pauline Black and Alec Shanks.[46]


Crazy Gang shows

Other Palladium shows

  • Peter Pan – Christmas pantomime produced annually from 1930 -1939
  • London Symphony (1938) – with costumes designed by Erté[50]
  • Gangway (1942) – a musical revue (ran from 17 December 1941 to 24 October 1942)[51]
  • Best Bib and Tucker (1942) – a musical revue[52]
  • This Is The Army (1943) – an Irving Berlin show with flu G.I. cast[22]
  • Happy and Glorious (1944) – a musical fanfare

London shows

Other shows



  1. ^ a b c d George Black at IMDb.
  2. ^ George Black biography:
  3. ^ George Black biography: Oxford Index:;jsessionid=4183249747D152C63F36E42001429F0E?pageSize=10&q=black+theatre&sort=relevance&t1=GEN00020
  4. ^ a b "George Black, Producer, Passes", The Evening Independent, 6 March 1945.
  5. ^ a b A short George Black biography on BBC Genome mentions Black looking after his father's Flea Circus:
  6. ^ George Black quote taken from: The London Palladium: The Story of the Theatre and Its Stars by Chris Woodward, page 55,:
  7. ^ Turned Out Nice Again: The Story of British Light Entertainment by Louis Barfe, ISBN 978-1-84887-757-3:
  8. ^ London Palladium poster advertising Fats Waller's appearance at the theatre in 1938: [1]
  9. ^ London Palladium poster advertising Josephine Baker's appearance at the theatre on 27 June 1938: Archived 18 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography by Diana Serra Cary, ISBN page 119, Jackie Coogan is paid £1,000 a week to appear at the London Palladium:
  11. ^ Royal Variety Performance 1930:"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ The Royal Command Performance BBC radio listing 22 May 1930:
  13. ^ Royal Variety Performance 1938:"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ The London Palladium's history:
  15. ^ The London Palladium: The Story of the Theatre and Its Stars by Chris Woodward, page 88:
  16. ^ The Crazy Gang:
  17. ^ The London Palladium: The Story of the Theatre and Its Stars by Chris Woodward, page 104:
  18. ^ The Man Who Wrote the Teddy Bears' Picnic by J. J. Kennedy, ISBN 9781467885690, George Black references on pages 123 and 124:
  19. ^ "George Black presents a GRAND VARIETY GALA". The Radio Times (866): 15. 3 May 1940.
  20. ^ The Time Of My Life, by Pat Kirkwood, ISBN 978-0709063674,
  21. ^ The Blackpool Opera House Story by Barry Band (retrieved 10 February 2015):
  22. ^ a b Billboard newspaper, 13 November 1943, page 4 (retrieved 12 February 2015):
  23. ^ Preview of George Black's forthcoming London Palladium show with Tommy Trinder, Jewell and Warris and Elisabeth Welch broadcast on 7 July 1944:
  24. ^ Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure 1899 – 1949 -notes – the Story of Moss Empires and how it all began:
  25. ^ a b The Changing Face of the Bonnersfield & Sheepfolds areas of Monkwearmouth – article: (retrieved 9 February 2015):
  26. ^ a b George Black Sr. biography:
  27. ^ Borough Theatre, North Shields history: Archived 9 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ George Black obituary in the Toronto Daily Star, 5 March 1945: (retrieved 9 February 2015):,13957640
  29. ^ The Evening Independent – 6 March 1945 – George Black dies article:,5993729
  30. ^ George Black Memories, BBC General Forces Programme, 12 April 1945:
  31. ^ Alfred Black – IMDb:
  32. ^ George Black Jr. – IMDb:
  33. ^ Nicholas Parsons: With Just a Touch of Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation by Nicholas Parsons, ISBN 9781907195228, page 16:
  34. ^ Nicholas Parsons interview:
  35. ^ Wedding in Paris, 1954 British Pathé Newsreel footage showing the cast of Wedding in Paris during rehearsal, backstage scenes of actresses trying on costumes and footage of George Jr. and Alfred Black:
  36. ^ Roma Beaumont and her husband Alfred, the son of George Black appear on the Pat Kirkwood This Is Your Life TV show filmed on 20 January 1994;
  37. ^ Portrait of Roma Beaumont painted by Henry Marvell Carr in 1945:
  38. ^ 1939, Ivor Novello and Roma Beaumont in The Dancing Years:
  39. ^ 1945, Ivor Novello and Roma Beaumont in Perchance to Dream:
  40. ^ Roma Beaumont's obituary in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (retrieved 7 February 2015):
  41. ^ Merton Park Stage Star Passes Away (retrieved 12 February 2015:
  42. ^ Roma King obituary, The Stage newspaper (retrieved 9 February 2015):
  43. ^ Theatreland: A Journey Through the Heart of London's Theatre by Paul Ibell
  44. ^ TV in the 1950s:
  45. ^ Laura Beaumoint IMBd:
  46. ^ The Impresarios, BBC Radio 2:
  47. ^ 1935, London Palladium poster advertising Gracie Fields and supporting cast plus commencing on Tuesday 27 Aug – 'Our new production "Round About Regent Street", produced by George Black': Archived 18 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  48. ^ Excerpts from The Little Dog Laughed at the London Palladium broadcast on BBC Home Service on 16 November 1939:
  49. ^ Excerpts from Top of the World were broadcast on BBC Home Service Basic on 6 September 1940:
  50. ^ Erté, A Mirror of Fashion for 75 Years – Smithsonian Museum, April 2005, PDF, page 4, illustration of an Erté costume from London Symphony at the London Palladium:
  51. ^ Excerpts from Gangway were broadcast live from the London Palladium on BBC Forces Programme on 16 July 1942:
  52. ^ George Black puts on his 'Best Bib and Tucker' – radio broadcast from the London Palladium on BBC Forces Programme on 12 January 1943:
  53. ^ Over The Footlights – London Musicals:
  54. ^ An excerpt from George Black's Naughtical Musical Play The Fleet's Lit Up broadcast on BBC National Radio on 26 August 1938:
  55. ^ The BBC Home Service, on 20 November 1939, broadcast live excerpts on the radio from Black Velvet from the London Hippodrome:
  56. ^ Roma Beaumont in Black Velvet: Sussex Agricultural Express East Sussex, England, 10 November 1939:
  57. ^ "Robert Farnon Society - Harry Parr Davies".
  58. ^ George Black invites you to listen to HAW HAW radio show broadcast on 24 February 1940 by the BBC from the Holborn Empire I'
  59. ^ The London Stage 1940–1949: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel by J. P. Wearing, ISBN 9780810893061, page 37:
  60. ^ Excerpts from Apple Sauce were broadcast on the BBC Home Service Basic on 30 August 1940:
  61. ^ a b c Over The Footlights – London Musicals:
  62. ^ Get a Load of This: database:
  63. ^ Excerpts from Strike a New Note were broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on 24 April 1943:
  64. ^ George Black invites you to Strike it Again, excerpts from the show broadcast on the BBC Home Service radio on 23 February 1945:
  65. ^ Excerpts from the pantomime Simple Simon were broadcast on BBC Scotland Regional radio on 20 December 1934:
  66. ^ Excerpts from Josser's Detective Agency broadcast on BBC National radio on 1 July 1935:
  67. ^ Excerpts from Josser's Detective Agency broadcast on BBC radio on 1 July 1935:
  68. ^ a b c d e Around the Pantos, BBC regional radio show broadcast on 20 December 1935:
  69. ^ The show was broadcast on BBC Regional Programme Midland, 14 May 1936:
  70. ^ Broadcast on BBC radio National Programme Daventry, 16 July 1936:
  71. ^ Broadcast on the BBC Regional Programme London, 5 November 1936:
  72. ^ Exceprts from the Pantomime were broadcast on the BBC radio show Round the Pantomimes 2 on 29 December 1936:
  73. ^ Holiday Fare from the stage of the Hippodrome on BBC Regional Radio on 27 March 1937:
  74. ^ An excerpt from The Gang Show was broadcast on BBC Regional radio on 5 April 1938:
  75. ^ Elisabeth Welch: Soft Lights and Sweet Music by Stephen Bourne, page 41, ISBN 9780810854130:
  76. ^ Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon in The Silent Melody (radio adaptation) broadcast on BBC National Radio on 7 June 1938:
  77. ^ BBC Forces Programme broadcast on 23 February 1940:
  78. ^ Broadcast on BBC Forces Programme, 5 May 1940:
  79. ^ Excerpts from the show were broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 18 May 1940:
  80. ^ Do You Remember Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth? by Jean Collen, Pamela Davies, ISBN 978-1411635234 – Hullabaloo references, pages 76 & 77:
  81. ^ Black Vanities broadcast on BBC Forces Programme on 24 April 1941 live from Victoria Palace Theatre:
  82. ^ The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall by Eve Golden, ISBN 978-0813122519 pages 19 – 20 mentions the Black and Blue revue:
  83. ^ Billy Bennett (comedian) Dead – Billy Bennett taken ill on stage at the Blackpool Opera House – 1 July 1942 – Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette (retrieved 17 February 2015):
  84. ^ Excerpts from Youth Must Have Its Swing are broadcast on BBC Home Service Basic on 4 May 1943:
  85. ^ Billboard newspaper, 19 August 1944, article, page 21 'English provinces get London premieres(retrieved February 2015):
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