Llandudno and Scarborough Impresario
I recently came across a Dalesman publication entitled ‘Pompoms and Ruffles’. Small paperback and legacy from Sheila’s aunt and uncle who, for many years, lived next door to The Crown, South Cliff, Scarborough. It’s a history of the popular entertainers who played the early theatres. The story starts in the late nineteenth century and covers all the towns and cities of the North and North Wales. The choir’s interest must be in Will Catlin, an impresario who worked in Scarborough and Llandudno. His story is the prequel to ‘The End of the Pier Show’ featured in the last magazine.
Catlin’s company was all male and known as Favourite Pierrots (concert parties are pierrot shows by any other name). Pierrot, in the familiar white baggy costume, was created by Frenchman Giuseppe Giratoni. The first English Pierrot troupe began in 1895 at Henley Regatta. The following year, Will Catlin’s troupe was performing on Scarborough’s south bay where sand pitches were auctioned by the council every year.
Catlin’s men were not allowed to be seen arm-in-arm with women and were expected to be in full costume and make-up when they went to the beach from their digs. There were three shows a day, five on bank holidays – ‘weather and tides permitting’. Their shows consisted of songs, dances, comic sketches and occasional monologues, initially accompanied by harmonium (shrill) and banjo. Eventually they wheeled out a wooden platform and a piano onto the sands. Money was collected by troupe members who took turns to walk round the deck chairs with boxes. Bags on long poles were used for the promenade audience.
When the rents exceeded £1000, Catlin bought forshore land known as the Blands Cliff (where The Futurist Theatre is today). His theatre started as a lean-to and platform, improving in 1909 to a wooden theatre called Arcadia. Three years later he built The Palladium Cinema next to it along with hotel, billiard hall and licensed bars.
As competition stiffened in Scarborough, Catlin looked further afield and, in 1915, bought The Victoria Palace on Llandudno’s promenade and renamed it Arcadia.
Pierrot shows flourished in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. During this period Catlin built Scarborough’s Futurist Cinema and demolished the wooden Arcadia, transferring the name to The Palladium. The Arcadia/Palladium was home to concert parties during the season and reverted to films in the winter.
They waned in popularity with the rise of the summer show, which featured television stars, dancers and big bands. The Pierrots persisted for a while as Redcoat entertainers at Butlin Holiday Camps, and the Black and White Minstrel Show.
The Futurist was remodelled in 1958 as a theatre and the new building incorporated part of the structure of the Arcadia / Palladium Theatre (the proscenium arch of the old theatre forms the side wall of The Futurist).
Catlin spent his later years in Llandudno and died there in 1952. The Arcadia closed in 1994.
There are still Catlins about in the seaside entertainment business. The Futurist remains a premier seaside entertainment venue and the council now provide free music spectaculars down on the sands during the summer season.
Pom-poms and Ruffles: the Story of Northern Seaside Entertainment, C.J. Mellor, 1966.