The Bing Boys on Broadway (George Robey, Violet Loraine, Alfred Lester, Jack Morrison)  (Palaeophonics 137)
Item# PE0291
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The Bing Boys on Broadway (George Robey, Violet Loraine, Alfred Lester, Jack Morrison)  (Palaeophonics 137)
PE0291. THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY (A Revue by Nat D. Ayer. Music: Nat D. Ayer. Lyrics: Clifford Grey), recorded 1918, w.John Ansell Cond. Alhambra Theatre Ensemble; George Robey, Violet Loraine, Alfred Lester, Jack Morrison, etc. (378 performances). (England) Palaeophonics 137, w.Elaborate 'The Play' 20pp. Brochure replete with numerous photos of the Alhambra Theatre 1918 production & biographies. Excellently transferred from the legendary Acoustic 78rpm English HMV rarities. Dominic Combe’s most recent intoxicating delight, produced via his enhanced equipment! For this production he had access to fabulous archival material and superb original 78s with which to work!


“THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY, being the adventures of Lucifer Bing and his cousin Potifer in America, was the third in a run of highly-successful revues by Nat D. Ayer: THE BING BOYS ARE HERE, THE BING GIRLS ARE THERE and THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY. John Ansell was musical director for all three, which ran at the Alhambra Theatre in London (in 1916, 1917 and 1918 respectively) for a total of over 1000 performances. The story is described as having been ‘told' by George Grossmith and Fred Thompson.

One hundred years ago Britain had been at war for close on two years. But, unlike during much of the Second World War, London’s Theatre was in boom. There were a few air raids but nothing like during the Blitz of the forties. Revue was a fairly new theatrical phenomenon that fitted well the needs of war-time entertainment. One of the best appeared at the Alhambra on 19 April 1916. THE BING BOYS ARE HERE was written by George Grossmith and Fred Thompson, although most of Grossmith’s contribution was his old material as he had since joined the Army. However, he managed to attend the first night and take his accolade for his initial work. Grossmith later called it his ‘moment supreme’ and, no wonder, for the show was a jewel and certainly the crowning moment in his revue endeavours. It was not wholly an original piece; the story-line was based on the French LE FILS TOUFFE by Rip and Bousquet.

The score was that of American composer Nat D. Ayer who had first come to England with the American Ragtime Octette. He had worked briefly on Broadway in 1909 and had been successful with rag-time songs including ‘You’re my baby’ and ‘Oh! you beautiful doll’. He had contributed to a number of British touring revues from 1914 and had performed extensively on the music-hall circuits. Ayer joined up with Clifford Grey, a relatively unknown English lyricist whose main work had centred round Concert Parties, to write the bulk of the score. This produced two outstanding hit numbers, ‘If you were the only girl in the world’ and ‘Another little drink wouldn’t do us any harm’, and began a very profitable collaboration. THE BING BOYS ARE HERE also introduced Ivor Novello to the West End. Novello, a twenty-three year old Welshman who had already made a name with his patriotic song ‘Till the boys come home’ (‘Keep the home fires burning’), had one song interpolated into the score.

The Alhambra needed a hit and its owner Oswald Stoll oversaw the production. He persuaded with a £500 a week offer the great music and pantomime star George Robey to be in his first revue. His co-stars were Alfred Lester, who was also new to revue and Violet Loraine.

Lucifer (Robey) and Oliver (Lester) were introduced as the twin sons of the mayor of Binghampton and Violet Loraine the house-hold’s cockney cook-general Emma. That which was the plot-line was deceptive, as each scene was a separate episode joined only by the same main characters. The two lads remained in context throughout, while the lass progressed through many characterisations. In revue terms, Robey and Lester played joint comperes and were the linking thread. Built into this format was the inter-relation between the brothers - George Robey’s Lucifer was the optimist and Alfred Lester’s Oliver the pessimist. The comedy was built on this difference, and the audience could relate to it in much the same way as they would to Laurel and Hardy on film and, later, Morecambe and Wise on stage. They were perfect foils for each other, yet beneath the sometimes broad humour they showed a deep brotherly affection and stood by each other through all the tight corners in which they found themselves, and they survived. They epitomised the men drawn from a simple existence to fight a war in a foreign land where comradeship was needed to see them through.

Violet Loraine developed through her various characters starting with the cockney Emma, who sang with Robey ‘If you were the only girl in the world’, to a naughty lady in a night club and to an operatic star and finally to a Duchess. She was as outstanding as her male co-stars. All three had the topical hit ‘Another little drink wouldn’t do us any harm’.

Also in the cast was Phyllis Monkman who was soon to get her big break. Ivor Novello’s number was ‘Keep the home flowers blooming’, a deliberate parody of his war-time hit, sung by Violet Loraine in the final sequence in the garden of her stately home. Novello went straight on to write the score for the musical comedy THEODORE AND CO at the Gaiety.

THE BING BOYS ARE HERE ran for four hours on the first night – the performance was not helped by a Zeppelin raid, but no one was too concerned, and the celebrity-packed first night audience gave it a tumultuous welcome and the reviews were good. It ran for 378 performances and was followed by two other Bing shows. THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY opened 16 February, 1918, Alhambra Theatre, London."

- Rexton S. Bunnett

“Violet Loraine went on the stage as a chorus girl at the age of sixteen. Her rise to fame came in April 1916 at the Alhambra Theatre in the musical/revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE. She was given the leading female part, Emma, opposite George Robey playing Lucius Bing. It became one of the most popular musicals of the World War I era. Her duet with Robey ‘If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)’ became a ‘signature song’ of the era and endured as a pop standard.

Sir George Robey, CBE, was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre, known as one of the greatest music hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a comedian, Robey mixed everyday situations and observations with comic absurdity. Apart from his music hall acts, he was a popular Christmas pantomime performer in the English provinces, where he excelled in the dame roles. He scored notable successes in musical revues during and after the First World War, particularly with the song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’, which he performed with Violet Loraine in the revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916). One of his best-known original characters in his six-decade long career was the Prime Minister of Mirth. During the First World War, he achieved great success in THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916) and several other revues. He raised money for many war charities and was appointed a CBE in 1919. From 1918, he created sketches based on his PRIME MINISTER OF MIRTH character and used a costume he had designed in the 1890s as a basis for the character's attire. He made a successful transition from music hall to variety shows and starred in the revue ROUND IN FIFTY in 1922, which earned him still wider notice.

By the First World War, music hall entertainment had fallen out of favour with audiences. Theatrical historians blame the music hall's decline on the increasing salaries of performers and the halls' inability to present profitably the twenty or thirty acts that the audiences expected to see. Revue appealed to wartime audiences, and Robey decided to capitalise on the medium's popularity. Stoll offered Robey a lucrative contract in 1916 to appear in the new revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE at the Alhambra Theatre, London. Dividing his time between three or four music halls a night had become unappealing to the comedian, and he relished the opportunity to appear in a single theatre. He was cast as Lucius Bing opposite Violet Loraine, who played his love interest Emma, and the couple duetted in the show's signature song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’, which became an international success.

Robey left the cast of THE BING BOYS during its run, in January 1917, to star at the London Hippodrome in Albert de Courville, Dave Stamper and Gene Buck's lavishly-staged revue ZIG-ZAG!. ZIG-ZAG ran for 648 performances. Stoll again secured Robey for the Alhambra in 1918 for a sequel, THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY. The show, again co-starring Violet Loraine, matched the popularity of its predecessor and beat the original show's run with a total of 562 performances.

Robey returned to the London Hippodrome in 1919 where he took a leading role in another hit revue, JOY BELLS. Phyllis Bedells took over from Pollard as his stage partner, with Anita Elson and Leon Errol as supporting dancers. Robey played the role of an old-fashioned father who is mystified over the changing traditions after the First World War. He interpolated two music hall sketches: ‘No, No, No’ centred on turning innocent, everyday sayings into suggestive and provocative maxims, and ‘The Rest Cure’ told the story of a pre-op hospital patient who hears worrying stories of malpractice from his well-meaning friends who visit him. In the Italian newspaper La Tribuna, the writer Emilio Cecchi commented: ‘Robey, just by being Robey, makes us laugh until we weep.… Robey's aspect in dealing with his audience is paternal and, one might say, apostolic.’ JOY BELLS ran for 723 performances.

During the run of JOY BELLS he was awarded the Legion of Honour for raising £14,000 for the French Red Cross. He declined a knighthood that same year because, according to Cotes, he was worried that the title would distance him from his working-class audiences; he was appointed a CBE by George V at Buckingham Palace instead."

-Zillah Dorset Akron

“Alfred Leslie Lester was an English actor and comedian. Born into a theatrical family, he learnt his craft touring in melodramas, as a young man, but made his reputation as a comedian in musical comedy, music hall and, later, revue. Lester's gloomy stage persona was seen to its quintessential comic effect in the long-running musical THE ARCADIANS (1909) in which he delivered optimistic lyrics in a lugubrious manner. Among his other hit shows were THE NEW ALADDIN (1906), HAVANA (1908) and THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916). His co-stars included George Grossmith Jr., Phyllis Dare, George Robey and Violet Lorraine.

In 1905 Lester was engaged to play in a musical comedy, THE OFFICERS' MESS – OR HOW THEY GOT OUT OF IT at Terry's Theatre, London, where he was spotted by Alfred Butt, who ran variety shows at the Palace Theatre. Lester made an immediate impression with his monologue ‘The Sceneshifter’, in which a gloomy stagehand gives his ideas for the improvement and brightening of HAMLET. He was booked for further monologues and sketches by Butt, and in 1906 he appeared at the Gaiety Theatre in London as the Lost Constable in George Grossmith Jr.'s musical THE NEW ALADDIN, in which the reviewer in THE TIMES judged his performance the funniest thing in the show. At the same theatre he played Nix, the bo'sun, in another musical HAVANA in 1908; again, his performance received critical praise as the best thing in the piece.

THE ARCADIANS in 1909 confirmed Lester's reputation as a leading West End performer. In a cast that included Phyllis Dare, Dan Rolyat and Florence Smithson, he was singled out by THE TIMES, which found him ‘more hilariously melancholy than ever: the audience rocked to hear him sing that his motto was 'always merry and bright.' In 1912 he played Vodka in THE GRASS WIDOWS, and the following year was Byles in THE PEARL GIRL. Between runs in musical comedy he returned to his music hall monologues. WHO'S WHO IN THE THEATRE noted that Lester had ‘the unique distinction of being the only person who has been selected to appear at both the Royal Command Theatrical and Music Hall performances’.

In May 1915 Lester reprised his original role in a revival of THE ARCADIANS, and among his most celebrated shows of the First World War years was a revue, THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916) in which he and George Robey co-starred with Violet Lorraine. THE OBSERVER commented, ‘Nothing so funny in revue has ever been seen in London … the three together are almost too much to endure for three hours’.

His later roles in musical comedy were Umpicof in ROUND THE MAP (1917), Hu-Du in SHANGHAI (1918), George in THE ECLIPSE (1919) and Miggles in a revival of THE SHOP GIRL (1920). He starred in four more revues: PINS AND NEEDLES (1921), FUN OF THE FAYRE (1921), RATS (1923), and his final show, THE PUNCH BOWL (1924). THE TIMES considered the last, ‘with its brilliant changes of character in the various scenes, was technically perhaps better than anything he had ever done’.

During the run of the THE PUNCH BOWL Lester was taken ill and had to leave the cast. Suffering from a chest complaint he was recommended to go to a warmer country, and spent some weeks in Morocco. Feeling considerably better he began the journey home by train, but he was taken ill again en route and died of pneumonia at a nursing home in Madrid.”

- Wikipedia

“If you are interested in what original audiences of early 20th century English operetta and musical comedy heard, there is a great source for such recordings – the record label Paleophonics. Dominic Combe prepares CDs for them from his huge collection of shellacs and a few cylinders.

I came across these somewhat hard-to-find CDs on the website of the mail-order company NORBECK, PETERS AND FORD, ( which is specialized in historical performances from the beginning of recorded sound all the way through to the 1960s.

There are now over fifty Paleophonics CDs, and more are being prepared or scheduled for future release. Each CD comes with a lavishly illustrated program booklet with reviews, information about the shows and fantastic publicity photographs, and artwork from the original London productions, in the form of reproductions of the magazine PLAY PICTORIAL.”