By Ivor Jones
One memory I have of the past is, as a teenager, going with my parents to the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney.
My parents were ten-pound Poms, as they were called in the 50’s, and as such they enjoyed the British humour of visiting artists to this country. The occasion that I recall mostly was the appearance of Max Bygraves on the stage at the Tivoli in 1965. He called to the audience “Anyone from Manchester?” (we came from Bristol) and a number of hands shot up to which he then said to those who raised their hands “It’s still raining”. Which got the audience laughing as we were all in sunny Sydney.
The Tivoli Circuit was an Australian live theatre which started life in 1893, founded by English comedian Harry Rickards. The theatre was mostly known for its Vaudeville, Black & White Minstral shows and Pantomines. Max Bygraves (who later moved to Australia and lived on the Gold Coast, dying in 2012) was continuing the type of programming that had made the Tivoli a household name here. The theatres in both Sydney and Melbourne were affectionately known as “The Tiv”.
Harry Rickards was born Harry Bejamin Leete in London in 1841, His niece, Katie Lawrence described him as “as bit showy” saying that he “had diamonds instead of buttons down his shirt”.
The ”House Full” signs went up for the final show on the 26th March 1966. In that final audience were many notable performers who had appeared on stage over the many years that the Tivoli was operating and, in some cases, the spouses of those who had passed on to show their appreciation of the Tivoli. Amongst the 1,800 patrons were such notables as Queenie Paul (who also served in management in 1932), Evie Hayes and Sadie Gale (widow of Roy Rene aka “Mo”), whilst Gwen Plumb went on stage to make a speech. English comedian Jimmy Edwards, in his closing speech, said “I don’t relish the distinction of being known as the man who closed the Tiv. Music hall’s dead in Britain. Now this one’s dead there’s nowhere to go. I’ll either become a character comedian or a pauper” Jimmy Edwards passed away in 1988.
The end of an era had come and gone and Channel 9 telecast the second half of the final show to the wider national audience on the Nine Network.
Along with my memories of going to “The Tiv” back in those days of what was to become the swinging sixties, is the fact of family connections with the “Tiv”. My wife’s Great Aunt, Winnie Gill, held the very responsible and highly regarded role of wardrobe mistress. In the book “Tivoli” by Frank Van Straten he tells of her as starting as an assistant in the wardrobe at the Sydney Tivoli in the Connor & Paul days of the 1930’s. In August 1949, on the departure of long-serving Barbara Mackay she was promoted to head the wardrobe in Melbourne. Frank Van Straten goes on to say in his book, “Loved by several generations of chorus and ballet girls, Winnie supervised the Tivoli’s costumes until the (Tivoli) Circuit closed.” Winnie had to be much more than a dressmaker. Her duties included millinery, wig-making and was a first-class buyer (buying materials by the hundreds of yards) and was required to improvise, often transforming costumes from one play to another. Probably one of the most well-known stars dressed by Winnie was Sabrina. Winnie moved to the London Tivoli (a separate entity) in the mid 50’s until her retirement in the late 70’s when she retired to Sydney. Upon leaving London, and unable to bring her aging pet dog home with her, she left it in the care of her close friend and neighbour, Danny La Rue.
Auntie Win had worked and dressed many famous performers or actors during her time at the Tiv. Win was also much loved by my wife and was one of her favourite relatives. I first met her when we visited her at home in Monterey NSW and found her very charming and likeable. Her name appeared on the programmes of the Tivoli for many of the shows, including the final show that appeared on the stage of theatre “One Dam’ Thing After Another”.