Dancing World Magazine
A few years ago I acquired a magnificent run of 25 copies of the rare British magazine The Dancing World. It is a remarkable publication spanning the period from May 1920 to at least March 1924, and at the last check, only one copy is held by the British Library. As a result this is a truly unique find that will be invaluable to researchers of the Jazz Age. But the bigger picture is that it also sheds light on the activity of William Mitchell who created the Palais de Danse in Hammersmith and Birmingham and was also behind Rector’s Club, one of the most fashionable nights-club rendezvous in London.
The Dancing World was similar to the more enduring Dancing Times but was produced in a much larger 8.5 x 11 inch portrait format, and aimed at a more general, yet sophisticated audience. Naturally, there was comprehensive coverage of the world of dancing, but it also featured fashion, cabaret, film, music, theatre, London society and ran an obligatory Paris column each issue.
The stunning colour art deco front covers were drawn by the magazine’s art editor Guillermo Peres (seemingly of Spanish extraction and often signing his sketches simply as G. Peres) and each magazine was full of black and white illustrations and numerous photographs. The early 1920s witnessed a frenetic dancing craze in Jazz Age London; The Dancing World magazine allow us privileged access to this most exciting period of social history.
In an advertisement in the Christmas 1921 issue, the magazine set out its mission statement. It was to be the magazine for the stylish dance-goer – amateur or professional – who needed to be informed on all aspects of dancing from the ballet to the ballroom, styling itself as ‘an artistic paper for elegant folks.’ It was intended to be international in scope, to record the up-to-the minute news and views and to forecast the trends of dancing history, stating confidently, ‘It will appeal to the smart set, people of taste and discernment who appreciate style in a professional paper as they do when making a purchase from any of the high grade firms whose announcements are in our columns’.
It went on to say, in its March 1922 issue, that ‘The Dancing World is not full of dry, technical information. Our magazine is artistic, up-to-date, mixing fun, gossip, art and dancing with a skilled hand. It is the only authentic and amusing publication of its kind in existence’.
The launch of the magazine was clearly part of a business and PR strategy to create awareness of the still growing dancing craze along with the establishment of the Palais de Danse venues (Hammersmith, Birmingham and Liverpool) and London’s Rector’s club, all of which featured heavily in the editorials. The two men behind all of these ventures were the Canadian William Francis Mitchell and the American Howard E. Booker, although Mitchell appears to have been the prime mover. They were clearly wanting to promote both venues and dancing in general to an eager London audience. Both Mitchell and Booker had regular scrapes with the law and were clearly either naive or charlatans or both.
William Mitchell was American but had been brought up in Canada arriving in the UK in 1911 and became manager of the National Institute of Sciences through his brother-in-law Elmer Prather. If we are to believe some newspaper reports, the NIS was a ‘yankee gang of charlatans who masquerade as the National Institute of Sciences’ with the objective of selling worthless or fake courses in obscure flaky subjects to ‘British simpletons’. Their various activities were also described as ‘enterprises for the exploitation of the simple-minded’.
In 1918 Mitchell instigated subscription dances at the Grafton Galleries and made large profits and so with Booker he established Rectors Club in Tottenham Court Road. They sold tickets for dances through their agencies but did not secure a dancing license from the London County Council and were summoned and fined. Undeterred, they did things properly and in December 1918 took a lease on the premise and turned Rector’s into one of London’s most prestigious nightclubs.
Clearly aware of the explosion of the dancing craze in America and the opening of vast dancing palaces, in March 1919 they acquired a former ice skating ring in Hammersmith and turned it into the Hammersmith Palais de Dance with a £30,000 investment. Opening in late 1919 it was a huge success and was described as ‘the largest and most luxurious dancing palace in Europe’.
Mitchell’s Amusements Syndicate Ltd was set up in April 1920 with a capital of £55,000 to carry on the business of proprietors and managers of dancing halls and pavilions, producers of spectacular pieces, concerts and cinematograph exhibitions. Mitchell (of 177a Kensington High Street) and Booker (of 59 Cadogan Square) along with a Mr HD Bradley were directors and they were all also directors of Mitchell and Booker’s Palais de Dance Ltd with registered offices at 177a Kensington High Street. It was at this stage that they also launched the Dancing World Magazine in May 1920.
Flush with success they opened the Birmingham Palais de Danse in December 1920 and made plans to open another in Liverpool which never materialised. They also planned to convert the Palais de Glace in Paris, as another new Palais de Danse.
However, by July 1922 the arrangement between Booker and Mitchell ended and Mitchell became sole Managing director of the Palais de Dance Hammersmith, Palais de Dance Birmingham and Rectors. Then, in March 1923 Rectors Club Ltd was formed with a capital of £30,000, although it was reported that Mitchell had paid a further £12,000 to enhance the place. It was one of the very best cabaret and dancing establishments in London with a high class membership and a nightly audience of over two hundred people.
But success was short-lived and in February 1924 everything came crashing down. The police paid a visit to Rector’s club in early January 1924 for violation of licensing laws and the following month the club was struck off the register and ordered not to be used for the purpose of a club for 12 months. Mitchell was fined. This closure precipitated the end of Mitchell’s business empire and in 1925 Mitchell’s depts were estimated as £32,000 with only £65 assets, so he clearly must have been declared bankrupt, and in July 1926 the lease and contents of the Palais de Danse in Birmingham went up for sale. Why happened to Mitchell’s interest in the Hammersmith Palais de Danse is not known but presumably he lost control of this venture too.
Despite the shady operation of supplying intoxicating liquor without a license and past misdemeanours, Mitchell did appear to create a solid business of dancing and cabaret venues that took London by storm and as such he must be given credit for creating such culturally important places of entertainment.
Dancing World magazine appeared to publish its last issue in March 1924 when the sensational news that Rector’s nightclub had been closed.
Gary Chapman’s (Jazz Age cultural expert, collector and author) collection – The Jazz Age Club – that chronicles cabaret, nightlife, celebrity, fashion and society between the wars, is represented by the Mary Evans Picture Library. All images from Dancing World magazine are available through them. Simply visit www.maryevans.com and enter Dancing World Magazine in the search box to see all listings.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Dancing World Magazine
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The Daily Herald 13/4/22
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