11 Secrets Of The London Palladium

By Zoe Craig Last edited 6 months ago
11 Secrets Of The London Palladium
The London Palladium.

The London Palladium opened on Boxing Day 1910, a 3,000 seater theatre that went on to become one of the most famous theatres in the world. Here are a few facts about the place.

1. It's pretty huge

When it opened in 1910, designed by the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, the three-level auditorium had a seating capacity of 3,435.

Today, it has just 2,286 seats, making it London's fifth largest theatre.

Inside the London Palladium today.

2. It used to have an internal telephone system

When it opened in 1910, the Palladium had its own telephone system. The occupants of the theatre's boxes, on recognising members of another box, could pick up a telephone and call each other. It's a strange concept when so much effort goes into persuading audiences today to turn off their smartphones during performances.

3. It was once a cinema (for a very short time)

In 1928, The Palladium was bought by The General Theatre Corporation.

The corporation turned the building into a cinema. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) the project was a failure, and only lasted three months.

4. He's behind you! Panto at the Palladium

For many years, The London Palladium was famous for its pantomime.

One show, Peter Pan, became so popular that it ran at Christmas at the theatre every year from 1930 to 1938. From the 1940s onwards, the Palladium became the place to see your festive show.

Cliff Richard played Aladdin at the London Palladium in 1964-5.

Stars such as Julie Andrews, Max Bygraves, Norman Wisdom, Cliff Richard and Cilla Black all appeared in various Christmas pantomime shows. The 1954 version of Mother Goose starred Peter Sellers and was scripted by Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan.

In 2016, this tradition was revived with Cinderella, starring Paul O'Grady, Amanda Holden, Julian Clary, Lee Mead, and Nigel Havers (among others).

Cinderella at the London Palladium in 2016.

5. Hitchcock filmed there; but all is not quite as it seems

The climax of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 spy thriller The 39 Steps was filmed at the Palladium.

Look closely, and you'll see that despite all the drama of that particular denouement, the theatre audience in the Palladium aren't actually moving.

Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

That's because they aren't real. The climactic London Palladium scenes were filmed using the Schüfftan process; a way of combining live action with a model or transparency 'in camera'.

In this short snippet, the packed theatre is just a photographic transparency or painting; because your eye is drawn to the action on screen, most people don't notice the 'still' in the background.

6. It was hit by a bomb in the second world war

The London Palladium was hit by an unexploded German parachute mine on 11 May 1941. The bomb fell through the roof, and became lodged over the stage.

A Royal Navy bomb disposal team arrived; but when they touched the fuse locking ring in order to remove the fuse, the bomb started ticking again.

The area was rapidly evacuated, but the bomb didn't go off. Two of the bomb disposal team cautiously returned, extracted the fuse and removed other hazardous components, rendering the mine 'safe'. It was then lowered to the stage and disposed of.

7. It's famous for hosting the Royal Variety Performance

You might think that all Royal Variety Performance shows have taken place at the London Palladium.

In fact, only 40 of the 88 Royal Variety Performances since the shows began in 1912 were hosted at the Palladium.

It was a pretty permanent fixture in the 30s, 60s and 70s, but has been hosted in several other theatres too. Click here for the full list.

8. Sunday Night at the London Palladium

Sunday Night at the London Palladium (with other variations on the title) was a hugely popular live Variety show broadcast on ITV from the London Palladium for several decades.

The show ran from 1955 to 1969 before being revived again in the 1970s, and then again in the year 2000. Since then, there have been more shows, from 2014 to the present.

In its heyday, it was one of ITV's most watched programmes, reaching an audience of more than 20million people in January 1960 while Bruce Forsyth was the host, in an edition featuring Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

Sunday Night at the London Palladium

Other star guests included Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Johnnie Ray, Liberace, Petula Clark, the Seekers, and the Rolling Stones.

9. It was the birthplace of Beatlemania

When the Beatles played Sunday Night at the London Palladium on 13 October 1963, it was, at that stage, one of the band's biggest live shows to date.

The band didn’t hold back, playing No. 1 hits From Me to You, She Loves You, and Twist and Shout. The sound quality isn’t great, but you can listen to the whole performance below.

The reviews were favourable, but it wasn't the band's performance that hit the headlines, it was the screaming crowds drawn to the show, both inside and outside the theatre. The Fab Four could hardly hear themselves playing; at the 7min45 mark in the clip above, you can hear the ever-charming John Lennon telling the crowd to 'Shut up!'.

A subsequent edition of the Daily Mail (on 21 October) diagnosed the band's screaming fans as suffering from 'Beatlemania'.

10. It hosted Johnny Cash, but the album was never released

A Johnny Cash album was recorded at the London Palladium on 21 October 1968. You can see the set list here.

The Man in Black.

But Columbia Records never released the album. We're told that some bootleg copies of the performance are in circulation.

11. Secret Tunnel

A bit hard to verify, this one. The Argyll Arms pub states on its website that a secret tunnel links the 1742-built boozer with the famous theatre over the road. It sounds perfectly possible.

The Argyll Arms.

If you know any more about this secret tunnel, please let us know.

Did we miss anything? Let us know your favourite secrets of the London Palladium in the comments below.

Last Updated 08 May 2017

Clive Penfold

The roof used to open. Before WW2, my mother used to go up on the roof
of the building next door, no4 Argyll St, which belonged to Dickens and Jones with her auntie and look through the open roof at the show taking place below.

Pat Richardson

Tommy Steele has appeared at the Palladium more times than anyone else in the history of the theatre.