The effect of the war on the theatre business

As you would expect, the war had a huge impact on the theatre business. Actors and musicians were called up to active duty and some did not make it back. As well as this there was the massive financial impact with the introduction of entertainment tax making it more expensive for those at home to attend the various shows.

Arthur Catterall, the English violinist and R J Forbes, the pianist from Stalybridge were both called up to active duty in July 1917. While neither of them actually left England, Frederick Blamey, the English tenor, served in the air force until the end of the war. Some performers did not return, in June 1917 the actor Charles Bibby was reported missing and in the same month Edwin Batty, a contributor to the Manchester Programme was killed in action. Even those who were lucky enough to return did not always have a career to return to as shown by the Goosen’s family. Eugene Goosens was a conductor who worked in Beccham’s operas, his son Eugene Junior followed in his footsteps. He had 2 other sons, Adolph was a pianist but died from wounds at war in August 1916. His other son Leon was an oboeist but did have to serve and therefore did not share a stage with his father and brother.


As well as the impact of the musicians and actors being called up to active duty, there were many financial burdens for the theatre business as a result of war. The front cover of The Manchester Programme was usually very colourful, printed on good quality card with gold leaf detail added (see featured image). Many times throughout the war the front cover was printed on cheap coloured paper with no added colour or detail (see picture above). While i can not say for certain why this was, a few things have been suggested to me such as the printers strike and limited supplies in wartime. The government introduced an entertainment tax in 1916 which meant that theatres had to make the decision of whether to take this extra cost or pass it onto the customers via tickets prices. The Halle worked at a loss of £558 in that season with the blame being placed on the dark times, as streets were dark, there were petrol shortages and it was a particularly bad winter. Most theatres could not afford to take the extra cost and chose the increase their ticket prices. In Feb 1917, the Palace increased their prices on Saturday nights and during the holidays, they also increased the number of performances to twice nightly to increase revenue. In July 1917 the entertainment tax was rising again which caused protests from the entertainment properties and managers association. They claimed that since the introduction of the tax over 700 places of amusement had closed and that increasing the tax would only lead to more closures and more people out of work and therefore less income tax being paid. They argued that this was counterproductive and depriving the public of entertainment at a time when they needed it the most. The only entertainment venues exempt from the tax were the army theatres set up to entertain the soldiers. With so much financial pressure on regular theatres these came under criticism from the Theatres Alliance. The alliance argued against them being exempt from tax and also from soldiers being allowed to bring a lady friend to these shows. They claimed that they were taking custom from the other theatres as the lady friend would maybe have attended a regular theatre had she not been invited to the army theatre.

Considering the financial burden and decreasing number of musicians and audience members due to the war it is astounding that the theatres remained opened for business and still attracted large audiences during the war period

By Katrina Ingram

A Brass Band Contest at Manchester

A Brass Band Contest at Manchester

Dr Stephen Etheridge

The following page comes from The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools, 1 October 1916. Like other London-based music journals the reporting is indicative of a style of writing that was anthropological in nature. In other words the brass bands at Belle Vue  came to represent a highly reportable aspect of the working-class at leisure. From the 1840s onwards brass band contests attracted large numbers of followers. It was in the  venue of Belle Vue where reporters from the metropolis could try and understand a growing working class and the nature of one of their hobbies.

Common themes that emerged were a recognition that the brass band contest was a popular pursuit for working men in the North, a recognition that the audience were enthusiastic, informed and critical of musical performance and an allusion and comparison with sporting events.

In this way, together with other contributing factors such as the fame and success of ‘crack’ bands from the North, an external view of the working class at play was constructed. By the First World War this reporting had reached its height and in spite of  the brass band being a national movement the construction of a clichéd identity of Northern working-class brass bands was complete.

(These themes are explored in greater detail in my forthcoming article, ‘Southern Pennine Brass Bands and the Creation of Northern Identity, ca. 1840-1914: Musical Constructions of Space, Place and Region’, Northern History, February, 2017, pp. 1-18)


Sir Thomas Beecham- enterprising, advertising and drawing large audiences

During the war orchestral music became more popular in Manchester. My research leads me to believe the Sir Thomas Beecham’s efforts in enterprising and advertising is what drew the large audiences to his concerts.

By mid 1917 Sir Thomas Beecham began changing the shape of things at the Halle. He decided that the Halle will not be restricted to Thursday nights and will play on some Saturdays throughout the season and on one Friday. He also announced that as well as the Grand Opera at the end of the season he would also run one over the Christmas period. This shake up of events drew a lot of attention from the Press, as did Beecham’s other enterprising activities. He put a proposal to the council for the building of a new opera house in Manchester, stating he would hold opera seasons over a period of at least 10 years. In December 1917 Beecham took the job as President of the Royal College of Music in Manchester. All of this activity ensured the press attention when Beecham started his new Christmas Opera season with the Halle.

In December 1917 the Manchester Programme published a full page article on Beecham singing his praises. It stated that he had conducted whole operas from memory as his musical memory is phenomenal. It also claimed that his musical knowledge ranged from 16th century to modern day which is unequalled by any other conductor. Quite an accolade! This free advertising continued when his Opera season opened on Boxing Day 1917 with another full page article. This was repeated the following week with the Programme discussing the opera and how well it was being received. It was at this point that Beecham criticised the press, saying that they were the biggest to enemy to musical progress. The columnist in the Manchester Programme disputed these claims saying that Beecham was being less than just, he added that all local critics have been praising Beecham consistently. The Programme then did not report on the opera for the following 3 weeks and even when it did include an article towards the end of the season it was significantly shorter than they had been previously and mainly discussed Irish baritone, Frederick Ranalow.

The press seem to have forgiven him by the time he returned with his second Grand Opera season in May 1918. The Manchester Programme printed a full page article the week before it began and published an article every week of the Opera season discussing how well it was going and highlighting key singers.This was repeated during the Christmas Opera Season in 1918, with articles printed weekly discussing the success of the Halle and included a full page article on Beecham in which he is put on equal footing with Sir Charles Halle and Richter. During the period of July 1917 to December 1918 Sir Thomas Beecham and the Halle orchestra appeared in the Manchester Programme frequently. In fact there were a lot more articles printed on the Halle and other orchestral concerts than there were on musical theatre. Within the numbers for musical theatre i have included operettas and comic operas that had begun to appear towards the end of the war. In the graph below you can see how the number of articles on musical theatre dropped dramatically in this period despite the number of musical plays being performed increasing. This indicates that the popularity of musical theatre had not waned but the Programme had decided to shift its focus towards orchestral music, which could be argued was Beecham’s influence.


Beecham’s popularity in the Manchester Programme continued after the war, with his Grand Opera season in May 1919 receiving weekly articles, including 2 full page spreads. His Christmas opera season that began on Boxing Day 1919 also received weekly articles in the Programme, sometimes printing two articles in the same week and one article being dedicated to Beecham and his greatness. This shows how Beecham increased the visibility of the Halle by ensuring they appeared in the Manchester Programme most weeks. He understood how important advertising was and used it to it’s full potential.

The strength of Beecham’s advertising skills also stretched to the Promenade concerts. In September 1917 Beecham led a 3 week season which was advertised weekly in the Manchester Programme and began with a full page article in which Beecham stated that these concerts were “free and easy” and were aimed at enticing people unacquainted with orchestral music through prejudice or apprehension. In September 1918, Beecham ran a 4 week season of Promenade concerts, again they were advertised and this time received 2 full page articles in the Manchester Programme discussing the success of the orchestra. This gave the Promenade more visibility than they had ever had, at the start if the war they were ran by Michael Balling, also conductor of the Halle yet did not draw the attention of the Programme’s columnists. In fact even adverts for the concerts did not start to appear in the programme until Oct 1915, showing that there had been no form of advertisement before Beecham was in charge.

It wasn’t just in Manchester that orchestral music was increasing in popularity. Between November 1914 and February 1915 the Leeds Orchestral concerts ran. there were reports that the concerts were becoming more popular and the reason was believed to be advertising. So was Beecham following a trend or was he the one to start it? Either way it seemed to work as he managed to keep the Halle thriving during the war period when theatres in general were suffering.

by Katrina Ingram

Gender in Musical Theatre

This post builds on 2 previous blog posts surrounding women on the stage during World War One and Gender in Musical theatre.

In a blog post entitled ‘Gender differences on the stage in 1913’, i discussed how prior to the breakout of war, the theatre was not class specific and that all women were invited to audition, being judged on talent rather than social status. The theatre, however, did not pay women well with most earning next to nothing and with the majority expected to provide their own costumes for the play. Some women excelled in costume making such as Juliette Dika, a Parisian soprano (pictured above in June 1914) who became famous for the dresses that she made for herself. Despite women being badly paid in Musical theatre they were relied upon heavily by theatre companies during the war.

In the 18 months prior to the war women were pictured in 17 of the 41 articles for Musical Theatre in the Manchester Programme, men were pictured in 15 articles and 9 pictures featured both a man and a woman. This is fairly even, however once the war started the number of women appearing in the article’s pictures rose drastically whereas the number of men pictured remained fairly steady as you can see in the graph below.


Towards the end of the war (July 1917-Dec 1918) the number of articles for Musical theatre dipped so all 3 categories dropped below their average. Discounting this period the number of articles featuring men between January 1913 and July 1920 stayed between 15 and 19. Again discounting the period at the end of the war the number of articles featuring both a man and a woman in the picture stayed between 7 and 10. The number of women featured in the articles went from 17 in the pre-war period up to 43 in the first 18 months of the war. This number dipped slightly to 38 in the following 18 months and dropped to 21 in the final 18 months of the war. While the women pictured in the articles dipped in this period just as much as men the number of female featured articles was still not as low as it had been prior to the war. Even after the war the number of women pictured in the articles of the Programme remained higher than the number of men.

Whilst the number of women featured in the article’s pictures rose over the war period, the number of female titled plays decreased. By female titled  i mean having a girls name in the title or the words ‘girl’, ‘mistress’, ‘princess’, ‘she’, ‘her’ etc. In the 18 months prior to the war 56% of the musical plays had female titles with the rest being gender neutral and none being male titled. In the first 18 months of the war these figures changed, with 46% being female titled and 2% being male titled in that one play was called ‘the chocolate soldier’. In the following 18 months the percent of female titled plays remained fairly steady at 43% with male titled plays rising to 5% and the final 18 months of war showed the most dramatic shift with female titled plays dropping to only 25% and male titled plays rising to 14%. In the 18 months after the war, male titled remained fairly steady at 11% but female titled plays again dropped to 16%.


If the articles featured more women due to there being less men then you would expect there to be less pictures of men, however the pictures of men in articles remained steady. If the Manchester Programme used women as a way of advertising, however, it would be because they thought that women were more likely to draw audiences. Why then were the producers and writers of plays titling them in a more gender neutral fashion as the war progressed. Could it be something as simple as them having differing opinions at this time?


by Katrina Ingram