Part of programme for the second edition of the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924

New Princes Frivolities First and Second Editions

New Princes Frivolities First and Second Edtions

The first cabaret show at the New Princes Restaurant in Piccadilly was staged in February 1924 and became a regular feature of London’s Jazz Age nightlife for many years to come as the New Princes Frivolities.

The first cabaret show to be staged at the Princes Restaurant came about quickly. Allegedly the license was granted on a Wednesday and a very gay, colourful, entertainment was produced the following day on a Thursday. It was regarded as ‘a marvel of organisation and success.’ The show was called ‘Frivolities 1924’ and was presented and produced by Percy Athos on the 7th  February 1924 or the day after.

A portrait of Percy Athos, producer of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
A portrait of Percy Athos, producer of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924

Significantly, it was one of three new London cabarets all launched at about the same time, the other two being staged at the Piccadilly Hotel and the Trocadero. However, before 1924, there had already been other successful cabaret shows at the Hotel Metropole (Midnight Follies), the Grafton Galleries, Rector’s Nightclub and Queen’s Hall Roof (Cabaret Follies).

Percy Athos was from New Zealand and had been a performer specialising as an exhibition roller skater who migrated to America, Paris and then London. By 1923 he had diversified and become a manager of sorts. In late 1923 he presented cabaret shows at Rector’s nightclub and at the Palais de Danse in Hammersmith both of which were produced by Carl Hyson. He was involved with the Russian Art Revue called Seraia Mish and presented the company as part of Carl Hyson’s cabaret show at the Midnight Follies at the Hotel Metropole.

At this time the new proprietors of Princes Hotel and Restaurant, headed by Beaumont Alexander had announced the formation of the New Princes Club and membership was being offered. As the details were being finalised and plans were being made to renovate the restaurant, it was decided to offer a programme of special attractions and gala nights along with a new cabaret revue to be presented nightly. It was believed that renovations would begin in a few months’ time and that the new club should open in April. However, this time scale was optimistic and it would appear that the restaurant closed in May and then re-opened as a club at the beginning of June 1924.

Frivolities 1924 was devised and staged by Athos and comprised the Russian Art Revue (Seraia Mish) transplanted from the Midnight Follies to the Princes Restaurant perhaps with some new numbers. The key performers in this ensemble were George Wolkowsky and Mlle Nadia and Maxim Turganoff and Mlle Marova. There were no detailed reports of whether there were other numbers included in the show, but given the time constraint that Athos had for presenting the show it is unlikely there were. In the interval there was dancing to the London band. The show was specifically designed to be around for a short period of time before the restaurant was closed and re-decorated with new décor and lighting. This work did not interfere with the hotel, grill room and banqueting rooms that carried on as before.

The chorus in Russian costume in one of the scenes from The Russian Art Revue (Seraia Mish) in the First or Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, , London, 1924
The chorus in Russian costume in one of the scenes from The Russian Art Revue (Seraia Mish) in the First or Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, , London, 1924

Before the restaurant closed for refurbishment, another innovation was implemented in the form of a tea time entertainment. This was devised and produced by Archibald de Bear and was a pierrot show entitled the Five O’Clock Follies staged as an accompaniment to tea and conversation in the afternoon.

The programme for the Five O'clock Follies at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924
The programme for the Five O’clock Follies at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924

With sixteen numbers and a cast of six, the show featured witicisms from Bobby Howes and singing from Doris Patston. There was also time to dance and hour before the show. The settings and men’s costumes were from designs by Archibold de Bear’s usual designer Clifford Pember and the ladies costumes were designed by Ronald Haybrooke.

A scene from the Five O'clock Follies (with John C. Holiday and Doris Patston), London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Graphic 19/7/1924)
A scene from the Five O’clock Follies (with John C. Holiday and Doris Patston), London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Graphic 19/7/1924)

Finally, in June 1924 the restaurant re-opened after refurbishment. The key improvements included a new ebony dancing floor, the erection of a stage at one end of the room and the hanging of great Chinese lanterns each concealing coloured lights from the high roof. On or around 10th June 1924 Percy Athos staged the second edition of what was now called the New Princes Frivolities. It was described as an entirely new super-cabaret with 35 artists, 200 dresses, ten-star performers and seventeen scenes or numbers. Part one was staged at 9.30pm each night and part two at 11.30pm and there was either dinner or supper. There were two dances bands: the Princes’ Toronto Orchestra and Alfredo and his band.

The cover for the programme for the Second Edition of the the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924
The cover for the programme for the Second Edition of the the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924

The Russian Art Revue (Seraia Mish) was once again a major feature in two of the scenes: Gipsy Nights and Moscow with George Wolkowsky and Mlle Nadia and Maxim Turganoff and Mlle Marova. The stars of the show were Hazel Shelley, Henry de Bray, Doris Hare, Cecile Maule-Cole, Hilda Denton and Maureen O’Neil along with 14 Athos Beauties.

The chorus in the scene Strutting Girls in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
The chorus in the scene Strutting Girls in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924

Of the seventeen scenes some were described. The American dancer Hazel Shelley was enchanting and excelled in Shake Your Feet.

Hazel Shelley in the scene Shake your feet in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
Hazel Shelley in the scene Shake your feet in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924

Cecile Maule-Cole (who was born in India) taught the chorus to sing a number called Nautch Girl in Hindustani.

Cecile Maule Cole in the scene Nautch Girl in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
Cecile Maule Cole in the scene Nautch Girl in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924

Hazel Shelley and the Athos Beauties made a great success in Down on the Farm with the aid of toy ducks from Hamleys.

Part of the scene Down on the Farm from the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924
Part of the scene Down on the Farm from the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924

The twelve Beauties made a splash in Wonderful Girls wearing black and white hats and long white dresses decorated with black fur tassles.

The programme for the Second Edition of the the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924
The programme for the Second Edition of the the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924

Among the novelties was a daring dance by George Wolkowsky and Mlle Nadia called a Dance Risquee. Dressed in harlequin costume the passionate Russian pursued his ladylove but she is dropped to the floor from a broad ladder leading to the bandstand in the balcony. Wolkowsky followed her, slipped and rolls down, hitting the floor with sufficient violence to cause a thrill before completing his sensational roll across the ballroom floor.

In Hawaiian Moon (for some this was called In the Pacific) Hazel Shelley led the Athos Beauties in Hawaiian dancing wearing abbreviated south sea outfits comprising grass skirts and garlands of flowers. On the stage in the background were several men dressed all in white, presumably playing ukuleles or banjoleles.

An artists impression of the scene Hawaiian Moon in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, , London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Bystander 9/7/1924)
An artists impression of the scene Hawaiian Moon in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, , London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Bystander 9/7/1924)
Hazel Shelley (centre) and the rest of the cast in the scene Hawaiian Moon in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924
Hazel Shelley (centre) and the rest of the cast in the scene Hawaiian Moon in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, London, 1924

Porcelain Maid featured Mlle Marova, Maxim Turganoff and the Athos Sextette in Regency costume. At the foot of the stage, and to one side, a woman played a harpsichord as a man standing alongside sang. Then there was a dainty old-world minuit dance on the dance floor.

Part of the Scene The Porcelain Maid in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, featuring Maxim Turganoff and Mlle Marova, London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Graphic 19/7/1924)
Part of the Scene The Porcelain Maid in the Second Edition of the New Princes Frivolities, featuring Maxim Turganoff and Mlle Marova, London, 1924 (Image courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library from The Graphic 19/7/1924)

It was thought that the ‘scream’ of the show was Henry de Bray and Doris Hare in Bright Though Tight, an eccentric dance thant convulsed everyone with laughter. Both de Bray and Hare were described as ‘gems of cabaret artistry’. Their second number cryptically called ‘Jewels’ was in fact an apache dance.

The Russian Cabaret company (Seraia Mish) then performed Moscow in seven segments, described as ‘lightening scenes of staccato song, movement and glorious colourings.’ This was followed by the Grand Finale.

Hazel Shelley in her costume for the Hawaiian Moon number in the second edition of the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924
Hazel Shelley in her costume for the Hawaiian Moon number in the second edition of the New Princes Frivolities at the New Princes Restaurant, London, 1924

The costumes and dresses in Moscow, Porcelain Maid, Gipsy Nights and Maule-Cole’s dress were designed and executed by Mde Wolkowsky. All other dresses and costumes were designed by the American artist Gordon Conway and executed by Dubens. Conway also designed the front cover of the programme.

On one of the gala nights that took place on Wednesday 11th June 1924 there was a Grand Rodeo theme with cowboys and cowgirls of the rodeo in wild west costumes.

The show ran for several weeks through the summer. There was a break in August and the restaurant was closed for further alterations including the re-laying of the dance floor. The Five O’Clock Follies were moved temporarily to the New Princes Galleries above the restaurant and in addition to the usual afternoon performance, a supper time show was also given at midnight. Allegedly, the New Princes Frivolities show was taken to the continent for a few weeks but it is not known where. Then, in September, a new third edition of the New Princes Frivolities was staged.

Sources

Daily News 8/2/1924
The Times 9/2/1924
The People 10/2/24
Reynolds Newspaper 10/2/24
The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 16/2/24
The Referee 24/2/1924
The People 2/3/1924
Daily News 1/4/1924
Westminster Gazette 1/4/1924
Westminster Gazette 24/4/1924
The Referee 27/4/1924
The Referee 4/5/1924
The Era 16/7/1924
Westminster Gazette 6/6/1924
Referee 8/6/1924
The Sportsman 11/6/1924
Sunday Post 22/6/1924
The Referee 15/6/1924
Bystander 9/7/1924
The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 12/7/1924
The Era 16/7/1924
The Sphere 19/7/1924
Dancing Times July 1924
The Sketch 6/8/1924
The Sportsman 15/8/1924

Programme in Clifford Pember collection owned by David Robinson
Programme for 2nd Edition of the New Princes Frivolities in the author’s collection
NFA Catalogue London’s Famous Cabarets: The New Princes Club

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