The Royal Variety Performance is a televised variety show held annually in the United Kingdom to raise money for the Royal Variety Charity (of which Queen Elizabeth II is life-patron). It is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family. The evening's performance is presented as a live variety show, usually from a theatre in London and consists of family entertainment that includes comedy, music, dance, magic and other speciality acts.
The first performance, on 1 July 1912, was called the Royal Command Performance, and this name has persisted informally for the event. This was held in the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. After correspondence with Sir Edward Moss, the King said he would command a Royal Variety show in his coronation year, 1911, provided the profits went to the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund, as the Royal Variety Charity was then known. It was planned to be in the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, part of the vast Moss Empires group, but the building caught on fire a month before the show. After the death of Moss, Sir Alfred Butt was chosen as the impresario and it was staged in 1912. This was a lavish occasion, and his London Palace Theatre was lavishly decorated, complete with some 3 million rose petals.
Top performers included Vesta Tilley, Sir George Robey, David Devant, Anna Pavlova, Harry Lauder and Cecilia Loftus. The organisers did not invite Marie Lloyd, because of a professional dispute. Her act was deemed too risqué and her three public, unsuccessful marriages were thought to make her unfit to perform in front of royalty. She held a rival performance in a nearby theatre, which she advertised was "by command of the British public". The name of the event was changed to prevent possible royal embarrassment. The Royal Variety Performance became an annual event at the suggestion of King George V from 1921 and the British Broadcasting Corporation began to broadcast it on radio.[when?]
From 1928 through to 1938, the impresario-producer and manager of the London Palladium, George Black, took over the presentation of the Royal Variety Performance. He would also facilitate as compere at the shows. His first production was held on 1 March 1928 at the London Coliseum and from 1930 to 1937 he held the shows at the London Palladium. His 1938 show returned to the London Coliseum. Throughout World War II from 1939 to 1944 no shows were presented. The show resumed in 1945 after the war ended.
From 1960 to 2010, the BBC and ITV broadcast a recorded version of the show, alternating the production between their two main channels, with the BBC producing and televising the 'even years' and ITV televising the 'odd years'. In both 1976 and 1978, the BBC broadcast the show live. The BBC usually staged the show in a West End theatre, and ITV in regional theatres outside London. From 2011, ITV have exclusive rights to televise the show. The show has been frequently staged in the London Palladium theatre, and in the 1950s and 1960s a television show based on the same idea, called Sunday Night at the London Palladium and hosted by many entertainers, including Bruce Forsyth, ran for over 20 years.
A wide range of acts has performed at the Royal Variety Performance, including Laurel and Hardy in 1947, the Beatles in 1963, the Supremes in 1968 and the Blue Man Group in 2005. At the 1963 show, John Lennon delivered the famous line:
|“||For our last number I'd like to ask your help: Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery.||”|
The money raised by the Royal Variety Performance provides most of the funding for the Royal Variety Charity (formerly the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund) and its care-home for retired members of the entertainment profession and their dependents, Brinsworth House.
After the first Royal Variety Performance on 1 July 1912 presented by Sir Alfred Butt, it was seven years before the next show, on 28 July 1919 held at the Coliseum Theatre presented this time by Sir Oswald Stoll. The orchestra was conducted by Edward Elgar. In 1921 it moved to the Hippodrome, and was held in November. It was the first time that the Royal Variety Performance became an annual event. In 1923 it moved to the Coliseum Theatre. Then after a gap in 1924, moved to the Alhambra Theatre in February 1925, where it remained in 1926, held on 27 May. It was the first Royal Variety Performance to be broadcast, with the BBC providing live radio coverage.
In 1927 there was another move, this time to the Victoria Palace Theatre, with J. A. Webb the compère. The 1928 show, on 13 December, was held at the Coliseum Theatre. The next show, on 22 May 1930, moved to the London Palladium with George Black and Val Parnell compèring. It was the start of seven successive years at the venue.
There have been two Royal Scottish Variety Performances, both attended by Queen Elizabeth, and presented by Howard & Wyndham Ltd in Glasgow's Alhambra Theatre, which Sir Alfred Butt had opened, in 1958 and 1963.
In 1990, A Royal Birthday Gala to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Queen Mother, was staged at the London Palladium on August 4; replacing the traditional November/December Royal Variety Show that year. In place of the traditional show, a special programme Thirty Years of the Royal Variety Performance, shown on BBC One on 29 December 1990, hosted by Bruce Forsyth, was a look back at the BBC's television broadcasts of the programme over 30 years, with clips from the archives. After this variation, from 1991, the traditional variety show returned.
A public telephone vote decides the most popular act in each semi-final, which then progresses to the final, along with a second act chosen by the judges. The grand final is then broadcast live and all the acts perform again for the public vote.
There have been a total of 17 theatres that have staged the 81 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance. Out of the total of 82 shows, 75 have been in London theatres and seven in other cities and towns.
Note: Where no town or city is noted in the theatre column in the following table, the venue is situated in London.
|London Palladium||41||1930–1937, 1946–1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1964–1978, 1980, 1987–1990, 2008, 2010, 2013–14, 2017|
|London Coliseum||10||1919, 1923, 1928, 1938, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 2004, 2006|
|Theatre Royal, Drury Lane||7||1979, 1981–1983, 1985–1986, 1991|
|Dominion Theatre||7||1992–1996, 2000–2001|
|Victoria Palace Theatre||6||1927, 1951, 1955, 1960, 1984, 1997|
|Opera House Theatre, Blackpool||2||1955, 2009|
|Prince of Wales Theatre||2||1961, 1963|
|Royal Albert Hall||2||2012, 2015||100th Anniversary (2012)|
|Hammersmith Apollo||2||2002, 2016|
|Palace Theatre, London||1||1912|
|Palace Theatre, Manchester||1||1959|
|Edinburgh Festival Theatre||1||2003|
|Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff||1||2005|
|Liverpool Empire Theatre||1||2007|
|The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford||1||2011|
A total of 16 members of the Royal Family have attended the 86 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance.
|Queen Elizabeth II||39||1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 (Blackpool), 1955 (London), 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964–65, 1967, 1969–71, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989–90, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012|||
|Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother||26||1937–38, 1945–51, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991|||
|The Duke of Edinburgh||26||1947, 1953–55 (Blackpool & London), 1957–58, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1987, 1989–90, 1993, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012|
|King George V||15||1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35|
|Queen Mary||15||1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35|
|Charles, Prince of Wales||15||1968, 1977, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016|
|King George VI||8||1937–38, 1945–50|
|Princess Margaret||5||1949, 1951, 1968, 1988, 1990|
|Duchess of Cornwall||5||2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016|
|Anne, Princess Royal||2||1968, 2011|||
|Diana, Princess of Wales||2||1984, 1992|
|Prince William, Duke of Cambridge||2||2014, 2017|
|Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge||2||2014, 2017|
|Sarah, Duchess of York||1||1986|
|Earl of Snowdon||1||1968|
|Queen Maud of Norway||1||1922|
The performance is broadcast on television throughout the world and is considered by many to be a tradition of the Christmas and New Year holiday season, particularly within the 53 countries of the British Commonwealth. For example, in Canada and Norway the programme is broadcast following the chimes of midnight each New Year's Eve and in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean Islands and the Bahamas it is broadcast during the afternoon of Christmas Day, every year.
In the 1960s, the televised edition of the show was the number one rated show for the entire year in the UK in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967 and 1968, with the show ranked 6th in 1964, 3rd in 1966 and 2nd in 1969.
In the 1970s, the show topped the annual rankings in 1975 and ranked 8th in 1970, 4th in 1971, 9th in 1976 and 3rd in 1977.
Ratings sourced from BARB.
|20 December 1998||11.24||BBC One||N/A|
|4 December 1999||10.60||ITV||41.0%|
|17 December 2000||7.92||BBC One||N/A|
|28 November 2001||11.55||ITV||47.0%|
|15 December 2002||8.19||BBC One||30.9%|
|26 November 2003||8.56||ITV||36.8%|
|15 December 2004||6.60||BBC One||31.0%|
|11 December 2005||9.82||ITV||36.8%|
|12 December 2006||7.98||BBC One||33.7%|
|9 December 2007||7.78||ITV||27.2%|
|17 December 2008||7.75||BBC One||31.7%|
|16 December 2009||9.56||ITV||37.4%|
|16 December 2010||8.90||BBC One||33.0%|
|14 December 2011||7.61^1||ITV||29.2%|
|3 December 2012||9.24^2||ITV||33.7%|
|9 December 2013||8.30^3||ITV||31.3%|
|8 December 2014||7.64^4||ITV||28.7%|
|8 December 2015||4.94||ITV||24.3%|
|13 December 2016||5.13||ITV||22.0%|
|19 December 2017||4.86||ITV||22.1%|