Royal Variety Performance
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.
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|Royal Variety Performance|
|Also known as||Royal Command Performance|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||91 (list of episodes)|
|Original network||BBC One (1960–2010)|
|Original release||1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–38, 1945–55, 1957 –|
|Related shows||Tonight at the London Palladium|
The Royal Variety Performance traditionally begins with the entrance of the members of the British Royal Family followed by singing of the national anthem, God Save the Queen, which was also performed by the participating acts as a traditional end to Royal Variety Performances.
Background and founding
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.
Artists and performers
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 from 1927 the British Broadcasting Corporation began to broadcast it on radio.
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 show was staged mainly in a West End theatre. Prior to 1999, only two shows were staged outside London (1955 in Blackpool and 1959 in Manchester), but since becoming the exclusive broadcaster, ITV has staged the show 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. Max Bygraves and Cliff Richard are two of the most frequent performers, having appeared at least 14 and 13 times each respectively between 1950 and 2008. The Beatles appeared at the 1963 show, when 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.
In 1974, Noele Gordon presented the Royal Variety Performance making her the first female presenter of the show.
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. The Children's Royal Variety Performance was devised by entertainer Rod Hull in 1981 and took place in London until 1994 in aid of NSPCC.
In 1990, A Royal Birthday Gala to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Queen Mother, was staged at the London Palladium on 19 July, replacing the traditional November/December Royal Variety Show that year. In place of the traditional show, a special programme called Thirty Years of the Royal Variety Performance aired on BBC One on 29 December 1990. It was hosted by Bruce Forsyth and took 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.
Britain's Got Talent
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.
- 2007: Paul Potts – pop opera tenor
- 2008: George Sampson – street dancer
- 2009: Diversity – street dance group
- 2010: Spelbound – gymnastics squad
- 2011: Jai McDowall – singer
- 2012: Ashleigh and Pudsey – musical canine freestyle
- 2013: Attraction – shadow theatre group
- 2014: Collabro – singing group
- 2015: Jules O'Dwyer & Matisse – musical canine freestyle
- 2016: Richard Jones – magician
- 2017: Tokio Myers – pianist
- 2018: Lee Ridley (Lost Voice Guy) – comedian
- 2019: Colin Thackery – singer
- 2020: Jon Courtenay – comical singer and pianist
There have been a total of 17 theatres that have staged the 93 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance. Out of the total of 93 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||43||1930–1937, 1946–1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1964–1978,|
1980, 1987–1990, 2008, 2010, 2013–14, 2017–19
|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||3||1955, 2009, 2020|
|Prince of Wales Theatre||2||1961, 1963|
|Royal Albert Hall||3||2012, 2015, 2021|
|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|
Royal Family attendance
A total of 17 members of the Royal Family have attended the 86 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance.
|Queen Elizabeth II||39||1945–46, 1948–49, 1952–58, 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, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990–91|
|The Duke of Edinburgh||26||1947, 1953–55, 1957–58, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969–70, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1987,|
1989–90, 1993, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012
|Charles, Prince of Wales||16||1968, 1977, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2020|
|King George V||15||1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35|
|Queen Mary||15||1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35|
|King George VI||8||1937–38, 1945–50|
|Princess Margaret||5||1949, 1951, 1968, 1970, 1988, 1990|
|Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall||5||2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016|
|Prince William, Duke of Cambridge||3||2014, 2017, 2019|
|Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge||3||2014, 2017, 2019|
|Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex||2||2015, 2018|
|Anne, Princess Royal||2||1968, 2011|
|Diana, Princess of Wales||2||1984, 1992|
|Meghan, Duchess of Sussex||1||2018|
|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 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 Canada, it has aired on CBC variously on Boxing Day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.
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.
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%|
|11 December 2018||5.01||ITV||21.7%|
|10 December 2019||5.06||ITV||N/A|
|8 December 2020||Less than 4.37||ITV|
- 1 6.75 million on ITV, 564,000 on ITV HD and 293,000 on ITV +1.
- 2 8.05 million on ITV, 767,000 on ITV HD and 422,000 on ITV +1.
- 3 7.07 million on ITV, 832,000 on ITV HD and 398,000 on ITV +1.
- 4 6.31 million on ITV, 919,000 on ITV HD and 413,000 on ITV +1.
- Charity, Royal Variety. "Royal Patronage | Royal Variety Charity". www.royalvarietycharity.org.
- "British Monarchy Official Website".
- Graeme Smith (2011) Alhambra Glasgow ISBN 978-0955942-01-3
- "1912, London Palace Theatre". Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund. Archived from the original on 31 May 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
- "History of the Royal Variety". royalvarietycharity.org.
- Charity, Royal Variety. "Royal Variety Charity". www.royalvarietycharity.org.
- Charity, Royal Variety. "Royal Variety Charity | Royal Variety Charity". www.royalvarietycharity.org.
- Charity, Royal Variety. "Performances :: 1974, London Palladium | Royal Variety Charity". www.royalvarietycharity.org.
- "Obituary: Rod Hull". The Independent. 19 March 1999. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
- "Thirty Years of the Royal Variety Performance". 20 December 1990. p. 120. Retrieved 21 March 2018 – via BBC Genome.
- Attended in 1949 as Princess Elizabeth.
- Attended as Queen Elizabeth between 1937 and 1951 and as The Queen Mother from 1959 onward
- "Royal Variety Performance". ABC iview.
- "Royal Variety Performance in Canada on CBC".
- "Classic TV – Old UK TV Show Ratings – 1960s- FiftiesWeb". fiftiesweb.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "Classic TV – Old UK TV Show Ratings – 70s- FiftiesWeb". fiftiesweb.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "OVERNIGHT RATINGS – Bee Gees and Macca still rocking viewers". broadcastnow.co.uk.
- "Royal Variety gives ITV1 peak-time crown". broadcastnow.co.uk.
- "Fame Academy shows the doubters". broadcastnow.co.uk.
- "Royal Variety show draws 8.5m". broadcastnow.co.uk.
- "Royal Variety performs for ITV1 with 7.4m". broadcastnow.co.uk.
- "Royal Variety Performance draws 8.7m". Digital Spy.
- "Royal Variety performs to 8.3m". broadcastnow.co.uk.
- "Royal Variety Performance attracts 6.8m on ITV1". Digital Spy.
- "ITV's Royal Variety Performance enthralls 8.2m, peaks with over 9m". Digital Spy.
- "ITV's Royal Variety Performance attracts 7.3m, down from 2012". Digital Spy.
- "Royal Variety Performance attracts 6.5m, down from 2013". Digital Spy.
- "TV ratings: London Spy bows out with over 1.5m". digitalspy.com. 8 December 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "The Ratings Thread (Part 68) – Page 701". digitalspy.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "The Ratings Thread (Part 70) – Page 441". digitalspy.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "The Ratings Thread (Part 72) - Page 284". Digital Spy. Retrieved 24 December 2018.