Review: The London Palladium
A history of London’s great showbusiness mecca, the Palladium, is a loving tribute to the place and its performers
By Chris Woodward
Jeremy Mills Publishing, £35
I don’t normally wish I’d been born earlier than I was. But I would love to have been old enough to witness the night in 1948 when Danny Kaye wowed the audience at the London Palladium. After a disastrous few shows with Mickey Rooney topping the bill, the virtually unknown David Daniel Kaminsky won Londoners’ hearts. London Jews soon regarded him as their own — his routine included drinking a cup of tea and, at one show, a woman in the audience called out lechaim and the place erupted.
The Jewish connection to the Palladium comes over loud and clear in Chris Woodward’s book. In 320 glossy pages, he tells the story of the Palladium almost as though every show there since 1910 were the one showing tonight.
Actually, I have to admit that I did go to the Palladium five years before Danny Kaye’s appearance. I was very small and my parents couldn’t get a babysitter. And so I saw Irving Berlin, son of a chazan, wearing a First World War US Army uniform bemoaning, Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning in the all-soldier This Is The Army show, part of a world tour that would raise $9million for military charities.
I never saw Sophie Tucker at the Palladium. I missed out on that iconic figure of British variety, Bud Flanagan. I would love to have seen Jack Benny or Dinah Shore. But I did catch Danny Kaye seven years after his first triumph. Al Jolson refused to go to the Palladium. “I like to set records,” he said. “Everyone’s a sensation there” — as indeed was the man who played him on screen, Larry Parks, who starred at the theatre with his wife, Betty Garrett. (I missed that, too — and Judy Garland.)
The power of the playhouse in those days was demonstrated when the non-Jewish Tommy Trinder (who would become the host of the legendary Sunday Night At the London Palladium on ITV) headed the bill at the Palladium and Yiddish posters advertising the show appeared all over the East End.
Going into the Palladium was a wonderful experience, lovingly evoked by Woodward. I did see Bob Hope there as well as an unforgettable rendition of Hava Nagila by Harry Belafonte. Seeing Joel Grey, the star of Cabaret, singing in Yiddish was also memorable. As was every night with that great favourite, Frankie Vaughan. And a personal thrill for me was to introduce two evenings of Jewish entertainment on that famous stage, which convinced me there really is no business like show business (Irving Berlin said that, too).
Michael Freedland’s next ‘Silver Lining’ column will appear in the JC on May 1