Robert Opie, collector and author of numerous works on British nostalgia and ephemera — and founder of London's Museum of Brands — has shared his collection of vintage programmes from the London Palladium with us. They feature in his latest book, The Graphic Design Sourcebook: 200 Years of Commercial Art from the Robert Opie Collection.
With a world so full of changing graphics, there has always been the need to keep something constant, to give the consumer a touchstone of comfort. In the case of the Palladium, the building itself was the constant. The programme covers would change, although not for the first seven years, building the visual reference to its magnificent facade.
Opening in 1910, the Palladium was destined to become one of the great entertainment venues of London. Then, towards the end of the Great War, the programme cover began to reflect the 'grand variety' that was building its reputation, from comedians and ice skaters to piano music and dancers.
As graphic design developed into the era of art deco in the 1920s and 1930s, so too did the covers become increasingly flamboyant. In 1926 the cover reproduced 'by kind permission' that of Vogue, the magazine having come over from the USA in 1916. In 1934, the building's name was changed to 'London Palladium', and a jazzy cover claimed that it was 'the world's leading variety theatre'. Alas, by the 1960s, photography had begun to edge out the art of illustration.
Fortunately, examples of these programmes have survived as souvenirs that tell many tales. For me, inside each cover there is a peep into the past. For instance, by 1915 the theatre proudly announces that it is fitted throughout with the Ozonair system of ventilation. At this time also, the programme reminds its female audience who 'are respectfully requested to remove their hats so as to afford greater comfort to those seated behind'.
During the first world war, Maud Gibson's Academy of music and dancing offered a special course after 6pm for war workers at an inclusive fee. In the second world war, the London Palladium remained open throughout the Blitz. Programmes that had shrunk due to paper shortages still had room to tell their 'attendees' that the performance would continue in the event of an air raid.
The Graphic Design Sourcebook: 200 Years of Commercial Art from the Robert Opie Collection, published by Unicorn Publishing Group