The first cabaret show to be presented by Harry Foster and Major E.O. Leadlay at the Piccadilly Hotel in Piccadilly, London was called Dolly’s Revels. It was staged by Edward Dolly, the brother of the famous Dolly Sisters in February 1924 and had costumes designed by Dolly Tree.
Dolly’ Revels was launched on Friday 8th February in the ballroom of the Piccadilly Hotel. The first programme included the popular singing duo Norah Blaney and Gwen Farrer, the American Forde Sisters, the dancers Santry and Norton, Bobby Blythe and the eight Dolly Girls and the music was provided by Alex Hyde’s band. Edward Dolly had created the dances for Little Nellie Kelly staged at the New Oxford Theatre in July 1923 and had secured the Forde Sisters and Santry and Norton from the show.
The ballroom of the Piccadilly Hotel was decorated with arches and festoons of artificial roses illuminated with tiny electric lights and it was thought to be one of prettiest scenes imaginable and a beautiful setting for the cabaret and the evening festivities.
Dolly Tree, then at the height of her career and popularity, was engaged by Edward Dolly to design the costumes. She had known Edward Dolly for sometime and they had already worked together on several shows including productions with the Dolly Sisters. For the first show at the Piccadilly, she created three changes of costume for the chorus and some original gowns for the principals.
Dolly Tree’s creations were described and admired in detail. Her first chorus had orchid mauve bobbed wigs and bows of different shades of mauve from petunia to pale orchid on the frills of black silk net which make their combination garments. Her sketch for this costume appeared on the front cover of the programme.
The Forde Sisters wore chiffon gowns with circular panelled, very full skirts in peach, rose and apricot. Their other frocks were in deep madonna blue with wide sleeves edged with ostrich feathers, the deep V of the bodice similarly trimmed, along with Spanish sailor hats, with long blue feathers coming from the brim and curling under. The second chorus had short tight coats of geranium coloured velvet with wide flaring basques edged with ermine and ermine muffs. The girls had tiny black velvet shepherdess hats trimmed with silk flowers in petunia, vermilion, lemon yellow and jade, which were set on white fluffy bobbed wigs.
For this second number the Forde Sisters had turned-back small chiffon hats covered in bouquets of daisies in deep rose and white with black shiny leaves.
There was another number that was described as a typical cabaret burlesque of the show Little Nellie Kelly (where Edward Dolly had created the dances) where the eight Dolly Girls impersonated the lead star June.
The show was admired by The Referee as being one of the typical light entertainments ‘designed to rest and refresh the diners and dancers at one of London’s largest and most luxurious hotels’ and was viewed as going off with a bang. However, the commentator from The Dancing Times was not too impressed with the staging of the cabaret ‘I had heard so much in advance about the cabaret at the Piccadilly Hotel, known as ‘Dolly’s Revels’ that perhaps I expected too much… the ensemble known as ‘The Dolly Girls’ will have to look to their laurels if they wish to establish a name for themselves. Their time is poor, their alignment weak, and their general work not to be mentioned in the same breath as the ensemble at the Midnight Follies’.
The plan was to update the programme with some new acts every two weeks and so two weeks after the launch on the 22nd February a new edition was staged. The Forde Sisters and Santry and Norton were replaced with several new acts featuring the Weaver Brothers, two very amusing Americans, who gave an unusual musical entertainment aided by handsaws and other ‘weird’ instruments, Ivan Bankoff and Beth Cannon (sensational American dancers from the Café de Paris), the Canadian entertainer W.V. Robinson and the American dancer Juliette Compton (who, at the time was becoming a famous movie star).
Then on 9th March 1924 there was a complete change of programme again that included Laura de Santelmo (the Spanish flamenco dancer with her castanets alternatively named de San Telmo) along with the retained Weaver Brothers and the dancing of Maxwell Stewart and Barbara Miles (winners of the Professional Ballroom Dancing Championship 1924).
By the 23rd March 1924 the line-up for Dolly’s Revels included the two Bobs, Catherine of Moorland, Kharum (Persian pianist), the Griffiths Bros and Laura de Santelmo and Barbara Miles and Maxwell Stewart were retained.
At the end of March there had been another change and the show comprised Frank Masters (described as the dancing detective), Van Dock (a comedy cartoonist), Elsie Carlise and Laura de Santelmo retained. There was also dancing demonstrations by Gyp Dillion and Du-Marte described as ‘sensational Parisian dancers’ although they appeared to have English roots.
At this time, one of the programmes advertised forthcoming attractions that included the Dolly Sisters, who were performing in Paris and a return engagement of the Weaver Brothers. This was still being advertised through April 1924. It is doubtful that the Dolly Sisters did appear in Dolly’s Revels as there are no confirmed press accounts.
Another edition of Dolly’s revels was staged at in early April 1924 with June, Ralph Whitehead, Anita Elson, Sonia Hale, Frank Leveson and Mewse and Singer. The Sunday Referee said ‘there is no better cabaret in London.’ The show was so popular that the ballroom became far too crowded and many could not get a table and so, in mid-April 1924, the management decided to add a special Souper Dansant, as an overflow, that was inaugurated in the Louis X1V Restaurant from 10.30pm to 2am so that more people could have supper, dance and see the cabaret. At the same time, Ginos and Lolette from Paris were added to the cast.
The Reynolds Newspaper said that Dolly’s Revels was ‘a bright and attractive entertainment, which goes with a rare swing. There are clever and pretty artists, popular songs, picturesque dresses and lots of graceful dancing.’ The Sporting Times were equally effusive describing the show as a ‘lively entertainment’ that had ‘decidedly caught on’ and the ballroom was admired for its illuminated floral decorations and excellent floor for dancing.
At the end of April 1924, Dora Duby, the American dancer, who had made a big hit in Paris, replaced June with the addition of the comedian Rebla, Ella Retford, Anita Elson, Ralph Whithead, Sonnie Hale and with Ginos and Lolette retained.
By 11th May 1924, The Referee said that Dolly’s Revels was an outstanding attraction so much so that the dinner and supper dances at the Piccadilly Hotel were drawing more and more people to the ballroom and restaurant with the cost of 15s 6d for supper or dinner, dance and the cabaret. New numbers and speciality dancers were regularly added and about this time the famous Trix Sisters joined the cast.
It was also observed the management were ‘developing’ the entertainment in the Louis XIV Restaurant as it was fast rivalling the ballroom as a dance resort. De Groot’s orchestra in the restaurant played from 6.45pm to 9pm at which hour the Weaver Brothers with their extraordinary ‘saw’ music began their antics.
The concept of ‘developing’ the entertainment in the Louis XIV Restaurant became clear by mid-May when it was revealed in adverts that there were in fact now two different shows. The Sporting Times said that each show had different costumes, numbers and artistes but there obviously there was some overlap.
In the Louis X1V restaurant during dinner, with the cabaret at 9pm, were Martin Broones, Joan Goode and Paul Orah and the Dolly girls while in the ballroom before 12 (midnight) were the Trix Sisters, Rebla, Joan Goode and Paul Orah, Dora Duby and the Dolly girls. Toward the end of May Edna Maude and Stanelli and Douglas were added.
By 8th June 1924 the show still featured Dora Duby but the rest of the cast had changed with the addition of Gaston Palmer, the dancers Frank Leveson and Doreen Read and the re-appearance of the Forde Sisters.
There was also a grand display of models by Peron (the couture house that Dolly Tree designed for), which presumably was staged in the ballroom during dinner.
The chorus of eight wore striking trouser costumes in one number, performed a Welsh Tatta dance in another and wore chequered ‘draught board’ costumes in ‘Music Hath Charms’.
For the special Derby night, special souvenirs were given out that were appropriately horses and jockeys heads on the end of long wands. It was noted by the Referee that immense ingenuity was shown in devising new ideas for these souvenirs and that
several dancing enthusiasts were making collections of these ‘jolly mementoes’ from London clubs and restaurants.
In mid-June 1924 the ‘comic’ dancers Sielle and Mills were added to the cast of Dolly’s Revels, and in one number gave an ‘exceedingly funny dancing burlesque’ of the perils of the deep blue sea. The Forde Sisters continued in solo and dual numbers with amazing acrobatic work.
A short while later Eddie Dolly introduced Layton and Johnstone, the talented coloured performers from the Elsie Janis show at the Queens Theatre. Layton was joint author and composer of a number of popular songs that were featured in Dolly’s Revels including Strut, Miss Lizzie, Sweet Emolina my Gal, Dear Old South Land and Sweet and Pretty Eliza Jane. They received a ‘big reception’ to their large repertoire of new and amusing vocal fox trots and other melodies which also had a rich humour and it was noted that their resplendent evening dress and easy manners contrasted amusingly with their plantation inspired songs.
It was also reported that the original Dolly Girls under Eddie Dolly’s direction were presenting an English cabaret in Frankfurt as an interlude in a German revue, and so their places were taken by a new band of dancers.
Through July 1924 the line-up continued with Layton and Johnson (singing What’ll I do, the intriguing Irving Berlin song), Frank Leveson and Doreen Read, and another dancing team of Geraldo and Enid Dearth. One newcomer was the American dancer Nancy Jackson, who was a star of the Denishawn school of dancing and had filled several engagements with Norma Talmadge in the movies. She was greatly admired in an Eastern dance.
Neither the summer heat wave or changing seasons affected the popularity of Dolly’s Revels. But, sadly the show did come to an end sometime in mid-July 1924. The Piccadilly Hotel management decided not to have a vacation in August but launched a completely new show called Piccadilly Revels that began on the 28th July 1924. The new programme included Brook Johns who had created a sensation in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York, the return of the dancers Seille and Mills, Fay Cole and Julie Sudo with the bands Jack Hylton, Paul Specht and Don Parkers bands. To make the most of the summer, the great terrace overlooking Piccadilly was also opened for lunch, tea or dinner al fresco with dancing at tea time.
Programmes for Dolly’s Revels
The Stage 17/1/24
The Stage 24/1/24
Nottingham Journal 7/2/24
Weekly Despatch 10/2/24
Westminster Gazette 11/2/24
The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic 16/2/24
Daily News 21/2/24
The Referee 24/2/ 24
The Era 6/2/24
The Referee 9/3/24
The Sunday Referee 23/3/24
The Sunday Referee 30/3/24
The Sunday Referee 6/4/24
The Sunday Referee 13/4/24
Birmingham Daily Gazette 15/3/24
Dancing Times April 1924
The Bystander 16/4/24
Reynolds Newspaper 20/4/24
The Referee 20/4/24
The Referee 27/4/24
The Sunday Referee 4/5/24
The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic 10/5/24
The Referee 11/5/24
Daily News 19/5/24
The Sunday Referee 25/5/24
The Sketch 28/5/24
Sporting Times 31/5/24
The Referee 18/6/24
The Sunday Referee 8/6/24
The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 14/6/24
The Queen 18/6/24
The Tatler 18/6/24
The Referee 22/6/24
Sunday Mirror 22/6/24
The Referee 29/6/24
The Sunday Referee 6/7/24
The Referee 13/7/24
The Referee 20/7/24