Harry Leslie's Rusholme Pavilion is more than a distant memory for most people. The exact date that performances started here is a little unclear, there may have been some summer-time only shows dating back to 1903 but the earliest printed programmes date from 1908. I have been very fortunate in being able to prepare this page with some detailed information provided by a Rusholme resident whose late husband, Tom Egan, had collected memorabilia about Harry Leslie. Some of this was published in the Rusholme Times in 1980 and at that time there were still enough residents who had memories of the Pavilion who then sent in their letters and recollections about Harry and the Pavilion. As some of the letters were written by residents who said they were upwards of 80 +, (one was 91) we can safely assume that they had a firsthand knowledge! These original letters together with some programmes from 1908-9 have now been passed to the Rusholmearchive and have proved to be a valuable resource. I am very grateful to Mrs Egan for being given this material for publication.
The site of the Rusholme Pavilion was on the southern side of the Birch Villa, (now called Hardy's Well). You can see it in the map below dated 1934 just near the corner of Wilmslow Road and Dickenson Road. For all of its life the Pavilion was unseen to the passing public because the plot of land was shielded from Wilmslow Road by very high advertising hoardings. These hoardings can be seen in the photograph below to the right of the Birch Villa.
Programme cover for May 10th 1909 below
Harry Leslie was born in Blackburn in 1871, the son of a public schoolmaster. His surname was in fact Makinson, but he always said that 'Harry Makinson' was too long for a stage name. He worked in the textile industry and at the age of 30 in the 1901census was identified as a book-keeper. He was an amateur ventriloquist and when he won ten gold sovereigns at a talent spotting competition in Sheffield he decided to pursue a career on and behind the stage.
He was first mentioned in Rusholme for helping to provide entertainment to children at a Coronation celebration in 1902, but he started his summertime only 'al fresco' shows in 1903-04 under a marquee adjoining the Birch Villa. He was determined to provide the shows that holiday makers enjoyed at the 'end of the pier', sometimes referred to as concert parties. He opened the marquee in 1904 for a summer season. Best described as 'rustic' (?) it was provided with form and deck chair seating for the patrons and two wooden huts for the artistes dressing rooms. In the Stage and Field magazine April 24th 1905 Leslie announced that "the pavilion had been extensively altered since last summer. The structure and canvas roof had been altered, the ground sloped so that 700 people had a good view'' and that "the pavilion will be warm and cosy on wet and cold nights and fresh and cool on hot nights".
The picture below is of his first pierrots troupe, apparently recruited from local Rusholme talent. Harry Leslie is sitting centre, wearing a Homburg hat.
An interesting story appeared in the Manchester Guardian in 1907 when a tentmaker started an action against Harry Leslie in the County Court. It seems that a canvas roof was made, measuring 50 ft x 64ft to cover the roof of the Pavilion and was to cost Harry Leslie £47, however it might not have been quite big enough because it leaked and the rain came in and soaked the audience!
Harry Leslie made a counterclaim for £30 of lost business, (bear in mind seats were three pence to one shilling) and he called a witness, Eugene Elgar.
Mr Elgar claimed that he was a regular visitor to the Pavilion but had been asked to leave because he had insisted on putting his umbrella up to keep off the rain. The judge interrupted and asked if he knew it was going to be wet why did he not wear a macintosh or a bathing suit! Elgar replied he did not mind the rain but the ladies would not use the seating because of the wet conditions! After further exchanges between the lawyers the Judge found for both sides - he ordered Leslie to pay the outstanding sum less his loss.................
Judge Parry who heard this case was himself clearly at home in theatrical circles as he was an author & playwright of children's stories. One of his books, Katawampus was staged in 1924 at the Rusholme Theatre. See the photograph below.
To the present date there is no photograph of either the interior or exterior of the concert hall, but I have discovered one description of the interior and the atmosphere from a letter written in 1980. Mrs Ethel Walmsley of Hathersage Road said,
'I was a regular going every week to Leslies in the good old, bad old days - we lived at Belle Vue and used to get the 53 tramcar down to the Birch Villa. The concert parties were like those we saw on holidays at the Piers & Pavilions. The theatre itself was an intimate little place, tip-up plush seats with lace covers were 1/6d, other tip-up seats were 1/-, then to sit on forms were 9d, there was also a promenade along the sides, standing there cost 6d. We had some happy & enjoyable nights there and the memories remain with us. It was very sad for us regulars when Leslies had to close down after so many happy years when the heart was young and we were enjoying it so much.'
Another letter in 1980 from a Mrs Maria Hill said;
'We were regular patrons from about 1930 until it closed early in the war because of the air raids, (after WW1the Rusholme Pavilion had apparently been reconstructed largely out of wood). 'We spent many happy hours there, despite its sparse appearance, but some very good turns were seen there, many better than are seen on TV today. Billy Manders Quaintesques were the most popular, as it was an all male show, the girls came in their hundreds'.
The group, 'Billy Manders and The Quaintesques' appeared regularly at the Rusholme Pavilion and were in fact a drag act led by Billy Manders who played in the summer season at Rhyl, Wales. In the card above there is a reference to the Quaintesques being voted the most popular holiday entertainment party in the British Isles. That was in 1934 and below is the cutting from the Sunday Dispatch that organised the competition.
The photograph below is of Billy Manders 'In full make-up?' and the photograph beneath of the 'Quaintesques' with Billy Manders in the centre. The pictures were taken in 1930 and are from Rhyl History Club Community Archive. Billy Manders died in 1950 but under the management of Mrs Manders the show continued in Rhyl until 1962.
Photograph below is of another troupe that appeared during the 1920's at the Rusholme Pavilion, Earnest Crampton's 'The Curios'
Photo below is Harry Flockton Foster 1907
The photograph below was taken in 1934 to celebrate the 25 years of concert parties at the Rusholme Pavilion.
The Cotton Queen, (Miss Gladys Wood of Salford who was an employee of Henry Bannerman & Co), is centre stage with the bouquet of flowers, Harry Leslie is to her left.
Cotton Queens were an early attempt to market and promote the cotton industry in 1930 using women workers from within the trade itself (other industries also did this) to market and promote the cotton industry, especially beyond Lancashire. The development of this form of advertising came at a time when the industry was in decline and therefore attempting to raise its profile, both at home and abroad. Each year a Cotton Queen was elected and, and to be eligible to enter a girl had to work in the cotton industry and be aged between 16 and 26. Would be Cotton Queens had to send their photo in to the newspaper. As many as twenty towns, would then elect a local queen. All the local winners then went to Blackpool for a few days and the national queen was chosen in a ceremony at the Tower Ballroom. It was a prestigious, exciting and glamorous role being the Cotton Queen because for one year she did not have to work in the usual way but travelled the country, with a chauffeur and chaperone, promoting cotton goods. Cotton Queens were not just pretty faces, and were expected to write and deliver their own speeches, as well as undertaking an ambassadorial role on behalf of the entire industry. The promotion for this quest to find a new Cotton Queen each year was organised by the Daily Dispatch. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the reign of the final Cotton Queen, Miss Preston, ended rather abruptly in September 1939 while she was on official duties in Scarborough. After the war the competition was never revived and the Daily Dispatch also ceased publication.
Betty Driver (1920-2011) lived in West Didsbury, Manchester as a child where her father was a police officer. The Rusholme Pavilion was not far from Didsbury and it seems that her parents took her to the Pavilion to see the Quaintesques; to quote Betty Driver,
'I was seven & a half when we set off to see a touring company called the Quaintesques, a group of men dressed as women. The show was going on when the star Billy Manders asked the audience to join in with a chorus. I got carried away, booming away in the back row, and at the end of the song Billy asked me to come forward and sing with him. We brought the house down and I was presented with a jar of toffees - my first fee! '
Betty Driver had a long and varied career following her first turn on a stage in Rusholme - a comprehensive biography is at Wikipedia.
Mrs Hill described Harry Leslie as a surly type who rarely smiled,' but we knew if business was good because he would wear a flower in his buttonhole', others referred to him as a small dapper man who looked more like a lay preacher that a concert promoter. Other members of the family worked with him at the Pavilion, his mother Isabella worked in the box office, his sister-in-law Minnie also helped at the box office. His daughter Mabel became the company manager after serving her 'time' in the Nobodies, this was a troupe Harry Leslie created and was also very popular.
Photo below of the Nobodies
Mrs Hill drew attention to two artistes who had appeared in the Pavilion before they became better known.
Most notably perhaps was Beryl Reid who lived locally and after an audition was given just one weeks work. Mrs Hill said that she saw her perform on her second night, 'and very good she was too'.
The other artist was the piano player at the Pavilion, Jack Parker. He left Rusholme to work in London and having changed his name he achieved success as the co-writer of 'There will always be an England' in 1939. This song was a particular favourite of Vera Lynne and was a great hit during WW11. Here is some biographical information from Wikipedia about these two artists.
Beryl Elizabeth Reid, OBE (17 June 1919 – 13 October 1996) was a British actress of stage and screen. Born in Hereford, England in 1919, Reid was the daughter of Scottish parents and grew up in Manchester where she attended Withington and Levenshulme High Schools. Reid applied for and was accepted in a revue in the summer season in Bridlington in 1936. She had no formal training but later appeared at the Royal National Theatre in London as a comedy actress. Her first big success came in the BBC radio show Educating Archie as naughty schoolgirl Monica and later as the Brummie, "Marlene".
Her many film and television roles as a character actor were usually well-received. She reprised her Tony Award-winning performance of a lesbian soap opera star in The Killing of Sister George for the screen version and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Drama. The former tour of the play was not a success, people in shops refused to serve her and other performers due to the gay characters in the play.In both Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People Reid played Connie Sachs. For Smiley's People she won a BAFTA for Best Actress on Television. She also wrote an autobiography, So Much Love, which was well received. She played the part of an elderly feminist and political subversive in the 1987 television drama Twice married, but childless, Beryl Reid died from pneumonia and osteoporosis.
Albert Rostron Parker started his career as Jack Parker playing the piano at the Rusholme Pavilion. "There'll Always Be an England" is a patriotic song, written and distributed in the summer of 1939, which became highly popular upon the outbreak of World War II. It was composed and written by Ross Parker born, 16 Aug 1914 in Manchester) together with Hugh Charles (born Charles Hugh Owen Ferry, 24 Jul 1907 in Reddish, Stockport, Cheshire), and a popular version was sung by Vera Lynn
Harry Leslie lived for some years on Platt Lane in Rusholme and in addition to the Rusholme Pavilion Concerts he seems to have run a successful Artists Agency managing a number of artists. In the 1914 Annual Stage magazine he had an advertisement listing a substantial number of 'turns' who he represented including the
" BROWNIES. " " CANTABS." " CORINTHIANS. " " EUTERPIANS. "
" EXCELSIORS. " " GAIETIES." " GAY LIEUTENANTS. " GEMS." " GROTESQUES."
"HARMONICS." "HUMORESKS." " IDEALS." " MARCH HARES." " NOBODIES."" PIERROT,
PIERRETTE AND PIANO." " POPPIES." " QUAINTS." " SEQUINS." "VAGABONDS." &c., &c.,
The advertisement below appeared in The Stage' magazine in February 1920 and clearly shows the extent to which Harry Leslie had become as an agent. I should like to thank the Stage magazine for giving me permission to reproduce the advertisment.
Other popular names that appeared regularly at the Rusholme Pavilion included Leslie Henson, Claude Hulbert and Clarkson Rose. There is some biographical information from Wikipedia about these artists below.
Clarkson Rose. Born in Dudley, Worcestershire in 1890 as Arthur C. Rose. He began his career as “A.C Rose- Comedian”, making his first appearance on stage in 1905 at the Mechanics Institute, Dudley. And later forming his own concert party. He was later to present his own Summer Show “Twinkle” at seaside resorts for over forty years.He always claimed his favourite role was Widow Twankey, in “Aladdin”. Clarkson Rose’s last pantomime was at Leicester in 1967. He died on 23rd April, 1968.
Leslie Lincoln Henson (3 August 1891 – 2 December 1957) was an English comedian, actor, producer for films and theatre, and film director. He initially worked in silent films and Edwardian musical comedy and became a popular music hall comedian who enjoyed a long stage career. He was famous for his bulging eyes, malleable face and raspy voice and helped to form the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) during the Second World War. Henson died at his home in Harrow Weald, Middlesex, in 1957, aged 66
Claude Noel Hulbert (25 December 1900 – 23 January 1964) was a British comic actor. He was the younger brother of Jack Hulbert. Like his brother, he was Cambridge educated and was a member of the Footlights comedy club as an undergraduate.
His subsequent career was less successful than his brother's, it seemed that British studios simply didn't see him as a major star. Claude's film appearances became scarcer as the 1940s wore on. His films, however, were, at best, modest and moderate, sadly lacking in budget, ambition and spark.
Hulbert died in a hospital in Sydney, Australia, whilst ashore from a world cruise with his family
Mrs Brice wrote in Sept. 1980,
'How well I recall Leslies Pavilion situated on Wilmslow Road, Rusholme. Mr & Mrs Harry Leslies daughter Mabel had her own act known as the 'Seven Nobodies'. Billy Manders brought his show, the Quaintesques from Rhyl to perform there. It had an all male cast (in drag) and very popular it proved to be. My uncle, Chris Booth, was the doorman at the Pavilion and as a child I was privileged to go backstage and meet the artists. Quite a thrill for a little girl then! How we all enjoyed those happy shows. A weekly visit to the Pavilion was a 'must' for most Rusholme residents'.
South Manchester Amateur Operatics used the Pavilion for their Annual Productions.
The article beneath appeared in 'The Stage' in October 1928. It refers to Harry Leslie celebrating 25 years of production at the Rusholme Pavilion which would appear to indicate the Pavilion opened in 1903, (?). Once again I should like to express my appreciation to 'The Stage' magazine for giving me permission to reproduce the article.
Harry Leslie worked hard raising money for a wide range of charities. There were a number of mentions in the press regarding his charitable work and I have highlighted some below.
In 1903 he received thanks from Mr Tootal-Broadhurst, Chair of the Manchester & Salford Lifeboat Fund for 'the many and delightful entertainments that he arranged' for the thirteenth annual fundraising celebration. In 1912 when the Lord Mayor opened a fund to relieve the distress caused by the sinking of the Titanic, again Harry Leslie organized collections at the Pavilion. There were several occasions during the war when organised collections to help fund the war effort - a hospital bed was named after him at the Rusholme Military Hospital.
In 1917 William Royle chaired a committee to open a Day Nursery in Rusholme. Many women were now working as a consequence of the war - there were war widows needing help looking after their children. Harry Leslie undertook to raise the £40 annually needed to rent a suitable house where children under five could be fed & cared for all day for 10d until their mothers could return from work. It seemed to be very successful , at the end of the first twelve months the Nursery committee reported that,
"Started in November, 1917, the nursery, situated as it is in a residential district of the city, was regarded in some measure as an experiment. It is an experiment which has been justified by success in the first year. In the course of twelve mouths the number of children in attendance has risen from 11 to 37 and a nursery school teacher has been added to the staff of matron, staff nurse, and two probationers. In admitting children preference is given to those whose mothers are obliged to go out to work. Of the mothers using the nursery 76 are soldiers' wives, eight are widow of soldiers, six are widows of civilians, twelve are unmarried mothers, four are deserted mothers, and 19 are the wives of civilians. The Chairman spoke of the physical and intellectual wellbeing of the children, instancing cases of 'a sickly child's being restored to robust health and of the dull boy being made bright by patient and intelligent tuition."
In October 1934 various theatre managers in Manchester planned a testimonial for Harry Leslie and this extract below from a local paper perhaps indicated the high esteem in which Harry Leslie was held.
A special performance will be given at the Rusholme Pavilion, Manchester, on Friday evening, November 2, in aid of the testimonial fund for Mr. Harry Leslie, who completed thirty years of management at the Pavilion early this month. Having regard to Mr. Leslie's services to social and charitable causes in the city, it was decided that some testimonial should be presented, and a representative committee, by whom the special performance is being organised, is to be formed.
Although the Rusholme Pavilion was managed by Harry Leslie from 1903-04 until 1941 there were three periods when concert shows were not being performed. At a very early stage Harry Leslie started to show silent films, but he decided that movies 'would not catch on' - perhaps he proved better on his choice of artists for the concert shows than judging the future of the cinema. Then for a year in the 20's he tried repertory, but again he went back for his successful formula of concert shows. Finally in 1932 he thought that the competition from the cinema could only be met by opening a boxing ring - so the Rusholme Pavilion put on boxing matches. However after a short season he was back with his beloved concert parties until 1941 when he finally closed the doors.
Manchester Evening News Headline 1945
Below, unknown newspaper cutting of Harry Leslie's obituary.
Below are more examples of the programmes from 1908-09
If you like to read more about Concert Parties and the entertainers that were so popular in Rusholme there are two books that I found through the Abe book search website. I have reproduced the covers of the books below and trust that the publishers do not feel that this is to much of an incursion into their copyright rules..............
I was fortunately able to talk to the author of the above book, Bill Ellis, and would like to thank him for providing me with some new information about Billy Manders & the Quaintesques.
You may enjoy looking at the small advertisements which surround the programmes. I have put together a gallery below that you may find interesting.
Just click your mouse on any image & it will expand