Television on the West End Stage in 1935

by Malcolm Baird

Over 80 years ago television was featured in a smash hit musical play in London's West End. Glamorous Night, a creation of Ivor Novello with lyrics by Christopher Hassall, opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on May 2nd 1935. The hero, played by Novello himself (shown here), is Anthony Allen, an Englishman who has invented a new television system. The opening scene is set in a quiet suburb, where Anthony complains that no one in Britain will support his invention financially. Then he departs on a pleasure cruise and ends up in the somewhat Ruritanian land of Krasnia. Here he meets Militza, a prima donna with whom King Stefan of Krasnia is infatuated. The plot then moves into the usual mixture of adventure and romance which went over well on the stage 80 years ago. Anthony of course falls in love with the glamorous Militza but eventually she must marry King Stefan in order to save her country from anarchy. On the plus side for Antony, the King has adopted his invention, so he travels back to England where, in the final scene, he sadly watches the Krasnian royal wedding broadcast on his own television system.

Welsh Actor and Composer Ivor Novello (1893–1951)

The production played to packed houses. The critics were grudgingly favourable and one comment was "if it is nonsense, it is glamorous nonsense, and for those who are ready to be entertained, it is the best show of its kind Drury Lane has had for years." A few weeks after the opening, King George V and Queen Mary attended a performance. Afterwards, the King remarked to Ivor Novello, "We enjoyed ourselves tremendously, with one reservation—we could have wished a different ending. We found it a little sad, the Queen and I in fact you made the Queen cry. Make the next one with a happy ending please."

In the final scene of Glamorous Night, Anthony is dwarfed by a huge television image of Militza's wedding. This is rather at odds with the real world of television, as the B.B.C. was still broadcasting on the 30-line Baird system which gave an image a few inches in size. However my father had demonstrated large screen black and white television in a London cinema as early as 1930 and in 1935 he was working on large-screen colour television.

Cover of theatre programme for Glamorous Night at Theatre Royal Drury Lane (1935)

It is not on record that anyone in our family ever went to see the show. My mother might have been interested but she was expecting a baby (me!). At this time, my father's company was working to upgrade its television systems for the competition for the first high definition television on the B.B.C. But in January 1937 the all-electronic Marconi-EMI 405 line system was adopted.

The success of Glamorous Night is an indication of the grip that television had on the public imagination. A few years later it was made into a film, but the television connection was quietly written out of the script, with Anthony Allen's occupation being changed from inventor to newspaper reporter. The film industry was getting nervous about television and this was fully justified by the disastrous impact of television on cinema attendance after World War II.