Fred Dixon and Girlie

Fred Dixon and Girlie

One of the most novel and amusing cabaret acts from the Jazz Age of 1920s London was that of Fred Dixon and Girlie. Dixon and ‘his girl-friend’ danced at the New Princess Frivolities cabaret show in 1926 and thereafter on the stage in two touring shows.

The first appearance of this novel dancing act was in March 1926 in the 7th Edition of Percy Athos’s New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes’ Restaurant, Piccadilly, London. The Athos Frivolities had been a hugely successful show staged during dinner and supper with a range of numbers and acts and Fred Dixon had been a regular performer since the third edition in September 1924.

A sketch of Fred Dixon and Girlie, New Princes Frivolities, London, 1926
A sketch of Fred Dixon and Girlie, New Princes Frivolities, London, 1926

For the 7th edition of the New Princes Frivolities the cast included the 14 Athos Beauties, Misty the Mysterious from Rome, Tamara and Robert Brunnau (also known as Tamara and Roberts), Jean Rai, Kame Toyo and Hiro, Valentino Peveri, Fred Dixon, Rennee and Jack Corona, Mervin Pearce, Renee Stocker, Doris Hare, Joan Cole, Olga Stocker and Ann Nelson. One of Fred Dixon’s numbers was called ‘a Dance Moderne’ with the aid of a dummy partner which was thought to be the hallmark of excellence. One report said that there had been ‘much merriment by his dance with ‘Girlie’ a lay dancer who seems to be possessed of the wildest enthusiasm for the dance – but it all depends upon Mr Dixon’s nimble toes.’  The number was exceptionally staged and was one of the high-lights of the show creating much laughter.

Fred Dixon and Girlie, New Princes Frivolities, London, 1926
Fred Dixon and Girlie, New Princes Frivolities, London, 1926 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from TheSphere 17/4/26)

In the summer of 1927 Worthing staged its first resident concert party called the Charleston Follies at the Pavillion. Created by W. Foster Horsfield and Ivan Campbell – the producers of the Co-Optimists A touring company – the show featured the dancing of Fred Dixon and Edna Leslie, along with Guy Fane, Eric Mason (ventriloquist and entertainer), Barbara Weale (soubrette), Madge Gregory (singer), Barry Story (Dancer) and four dancers trained by Olaf Kossen. Fred Dixon was a big hit, especially dancing with his ‘friend’ the dummy girlie in the number Ain’t She Sweet?

In late 1927, Fred Dixon and girlie was once more seen in the exotic and cosmopolitan show called the The Blue Saraphan, that toured the country. Presented by Alexander Wolkowsky and Maxim Turganoff, the Blue Saraphan was a company of Russian players, singers and dancers along with the Balalaika Orchestra that seemingly started touring in January 1926.  The show must have had different incarnations and by April 1927 it was announced that it had been produced and staged by Fred Dixon. However, it was only after Fred Dixon’s appearance in the Charleston Follies at the Worthing Pavillion in the summer of 1927 that he revived his act with the girlie dummy doll in the Blue Saraphan.

It was observed that ‘Fred Dixon and his ‘girlie’ were ‘a real live catch and were greatly appreciated’ and for some it was one of the best of the smaller numbers in the Blue Saraphan. The show was still touring in 1929 and it was mentioned more than once that Fred Dixon caused ‘an abundance of mirth with his ‘partner’ in Ain’t She Sweet ?’ where he manipulated his dummy partner with complete dexterity.

Fred Dixon was a fascinating character and was called ‘Dickie’ by his friends. He was born Frederick Dixon on 17th January 1886 in Sunderland, Durham. In 1891 he was living with his father John (a joiner) and his mother Theresa along with six siblings at 27 Deptford Road, Bishop Wearmouth, Sunderland. He later said that his parents were quakers and his for generations his family had been connected with the sea and shipping. It was an accident that led him to the stage. When he was very young his mother was knocked down by a taxi crossing a London street. The doctors advised that a course of dancing sessions would be beneficial for her injured led and so the love of dancing became a quality of the family. Thereafter his mother appeared in some local stage shows and it was here at the age of two that Fred Dixon made an appearance. He clearly became enamoured with the stage and performing.

For some reason he was in teens when he started becoming involved in the production of Pantomimes in the North of England. This was the start of his career in the theatre. One day when he was 15 (in 1901), he said he passed a Blackburn mill as the workers were emerging and was so sickened by the sight of the many despairing down-trodden people, he made his mind up to get away from it all and for some reason went to Brussels to join a stage production.  This was the beginning of his extensive travels and for many years he visited and worked in Germany, Russia, Spain, Scandinavia and North and South America.

He was in Spain during the incident that took place at the wedding of King Alfonso X111 and Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain on 31st May 1905 when a bomb was thrown at the royal wedding. For many years he was popular in Berlin and achieved extraordinary success in Moscow with a a Russian dance where he performed under a Russian name.

in July 1914 he was in Budapest and got an advance tip that war was brewing and he packed up and left but only got as far as Berlin. The German Intelligence Service (amongst whom he allegedly had many friends) decided that his knowledge of the country made him far too valuable to England to be allowed out and they managed to detain him and he was sent to a POW camp. Eventually, he escaped but it is not known when.

During the early 1920s he worked in Scandinavia because in September 1924 he was described as coming from the Copenhagen Opera. Whatever the timings, he was also working in England at the same time. He was cast in the pantomime Cinderella at the Lyceum Theatre in London during 1921/1922 and was in the pantomime Robinson Crusoe also at the Lyceum in 1922/1923 and at the Alexandria Theatre Birmingham in 1923/1924. He also appeared in the show She’s A Daisy in the spring of 1923.

Fred Dixon next emerged as a star performer in Percy Athos’ New Princes’ Frivolities  – a cabaret show staged at the New Princes Restaurant in Piccadilly. The cabaret had already been through two editions starting in the spring of 1924, before Fred joined the third edition in September 1924. Later, it was stated that he had been producer of the New Princes Frivolities cabaret shows but it is likely that this meant that he in fact staged the dances.

Fred Dixon and the chorus, New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
Fred Dixon and the chorus, New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924

Dixon appeared in five editions of the New Princes’ Frivolities from 1924-1926 many with a comic or humorous angle. For the third edition Fred Dixon appeared with Rita McLean in the Chinese Lullaby Number.

Fred Dixon and Rita Mclean in the Chinese Lullaby number at the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
Fred Dixon and Rita Mclean in the Chinese Lullaby number at the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Bystander 26/11/24)

In the fourth edition (from December 1924 – March 1925) he was seen in Doodle Doo Doo with the Athos Beauties and Just Kids with Rita McLean. For the fifth edition (9/3/25 – 13/9/25) Dixon appeared in Real Londoners, doing a coster dance with Edna Leslie and in My Baby Waltz with Baby Phillips. In the latter, he threw Baby Phillips around so much that the Bystander thought ‘she’ll be sick in a minute if he turns her upside down again.’ For the sixth edition (14/9/25 – 3/3/26), Dixon was seen with Jean Rai in East Side New York, with Marian Phillips in Shame to Take the Money and with Edna Leslie in Bringing Up Father. In the seventh edition (4/3/26 – 5/9/26) he did the ‘girlie’ number and appeared and with Jean Rai in Sonia and Baccanale.

Fred Dixon and Jean Rai in the New Princes Frivolities, London 1926
Fred Dixon and Jean Rai in the New Princes Frivolities, London 1926

After his stint in the New Princes’ Frivolities, Dixon continued to perform on occasion but became more of a producer. By April 1927 he was producing the Blue Seraphan a Russian song and dance entertainment. Comprising a company of Russian players, singers and dancers and the Balalaika Orchestra it was presented by Alexander Wolkowsky and Maxim Turganoff and had started touring in January 1926. Dixon’s association with this show came about because he had worked with Wolkowski and Turganoff along with George Wolkowsky (Alecander’s brother) in the New Princes’ Frivolities as part of the Russian art revue called Seraia Mish. It is likely that many of the numbers from the Frivolities were subsequently included in the new edition of Blue Seraphan.

The Blue Seraphan toured through late 1927 to 1929 and featured the dancing of George Wolkowsky and his wife Mlle Nadia. Dixon gave several unique comedy numbers including a number called Hi-Diddle-Diddle

In the summer of 1927 Dixon danced with his dummy girlie in the Charleston Follies at the Pier Pavillion, Worthing and then incv late 1927 he revived the act in the Blue Seraphan. Also in the Charleston Follies, Fred Dixon danced with Edna Leslie in the acrobatic Charleston Girl and in an agile Golf Dance.

In the midst of all these activities Dixon was also working with the Susie Boyle School of Dancing,  at the Athenaeum, Camden Road, London. It was stated that all professional work was under the supervision of the artist and producer Fred Dixon.

Thereafter, sometime in 1929, Dixon joined forces with Wallace Parnell and Alexander Wolkowsky and either co-produced or staged the dances for a large number of touring revues that included Paris Life (1929), Laugh Town Laugh (1929), For Goodness Sake (1930), Paris and Piccadilly (1930), Mind Your Step (1930), Funny Side Up (1930), Why Go to Paris (1930), Sensations of 1931 (1930), Pageant on Parade (1930), Honeymoon Nights (1931), The Continental Express (1931) and I’ve Been to Paris (1932).

In late 1933 Dixon created the mis-en-scene for a revue called As We Like it at the Chelsea Palace that featured George Wolkwosky and his new dancing partner Esme Grande. At the same time he produced the revue Stepping Out at the Metropolitan, London. He was also the stage manager for Richard of Bordeaux at the Kings Theatre, Hammersmith (April 1934) and then Tom Arnold’s Dick Whittington at Finsbury Park Empire (late 1934) and Tom Arnold’s Jubilee Revue at Finsbury Park Empire (March 1935).

In the summer of 1936, Dixon produced and managed Richard Jerome’s resident concert party in Worthing Pier Pavilion in a show called Gay Parade. He staged the 1937 show and this had seven complete changes of programmes throughout the season and at one point the cast included George Wolkowsky and his partner Esme Grande.

In December 1937 Dixon worked again with Tom Arnold and staged his pantomime Puss in Boots at the Alhambra, Glasgow, followed by the same pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham in December 1938. He was also in charge of Tom Arnold’s The Long and Short of It, that opened at the Liverpool Empire and then toured. Dixon also once again staged the third and fourth and fifth versions of the Gay Parade at the Pier Pavilion, Worthing in 1938, 1939 and 1940.

In the Spring of 1939 Dixon married Norah Louisa Maude Rowley (born 1904) in Hampstead and they were living at 6 Montague Place, Worthing. Shortly after the outbreak of World War 2 in October 1939 and during a blackout in Aberystwyth, Dixon sustained severe injuries when he caught his foot on the kerb colliding with another pedestrian. He plunged head first through a plate glass window that left him with livid scars on his forehead but escaped losing the sight of one eye.

Dixon joined the Civil Defence Service as an ambulance driver in London during the first part of the war. He took part in the worst of the London blitz and while picking up casualties in the street strained himself incurably. Although he was treated in hospital he never really recovered.

Throughout the early 1940s he continued to work. He was the manager and stage director for Tom Arnolds touring version of George Black’s Black and Blue in early 1940; he was co-producer with Will Catlin for Catlin’s Follies at the Arcadia in Llandudno in the summer of 1941; he produced the Pantomime Babes in the Wood at the Arcadia, Llandudno in late 1942 and was once again involved in the Catlin Follies at the Arcadia in the summer of 1943.

Sadly, Dixon died suddenly in Llandudno in late September 1943. He was aged 56.

The Stage 14/12/22
The Era 21/3/23
Birmingham Daily Gazette 22/12/23
The Sportsman 12/9/24
The Bystander 26/11/24
The Referee 14/12/24
The Bystander 18/3/25
The Dancing Times April 1925
The Tatler 15/4/25
The Sphere 4/11/25
The Stage 14/1/26
The Stage 14/1/26
The Stage 4/2/26
The Stage 25/2/26
Acton Gazette 15/1/26
The Stage 4/2/26
The Stage 25/2/26
The Encore 4/3/26
The Sphere 17/4/26
Leeds Mercury 9/4/27
Worthing Gazette 17/8/27
Worthing Gazette 21/9/27
Kentish Express 19/11/27
Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate and Cheiton Herald 19/11/27
Derby Daily Telegraph 31/12/27
Derby Daily Telegraph 4/1/28
The Staffordshire Sentinel 19/6/28
Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 19/10/28
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29/12/28
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1/1/29
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1/1/29
Worthing Herald 25/6/27
Worthing Gazette 22/6/27
Leeds Mercury 9/4/27
The Stage 29/9/27
Worthing Gazette 7/6/33
The Stage 14/12/33
Pontypridd Observer 23/12/33
The Stage 5/4/34
The Stage 28/12/34
The Stage 28/12/34
The Stage 28/3/35
Worthing Gazette 19/2/36
Worthing Gazette 30/9/36
Worthing Gazette 20/5/36
Worthing Gazette 26/5/37
Worthing Herald 18/9/37
The Stage 31/12/37
Nottingham Journal 24/12/38
Nottingham Journal 20/2/39
Worthing Herald 20/5/38
Worthing Gazette 16/3/38
Worthing Herald 26/5/39
Worthing Gazette 6/12/39
Worthing Herald 1/10/43
The Stage 7/3/40
Worthing Herald 24/5/40
North Wales Weekly News 29/5/41 and 22/5/41
North Wales Weekly News 3/7/41
North Wales Weekly News 21/8/41
North Wales Weekly News 23/12/42
North Wales Weekly News 2/9/43



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