Theatre Royal Drury Lane
London England - 1958 - 1982
George Hoare wasthe last of a breed of manager who worked and lived an entirelife in theatre and his employment with the Stoll Moss Theatrecompany for 68 years from 1929 to 1982 is a unique testament tothat.
This is asummary of his life and work in the business he loved.
George, William, Cedric andGwendoline Hoare - circa 1916
GeorgeWilliam Albert Hoare was born on 7th March 1911 at 23 StonefieldStreet in Islington North London. The oldest of the threechildren of William and Gwendoline Hoare (nee Lloyd), he had ayounger brother Cedric and there was a child who died in infancy.
|George's parents were Music Hall artistes known professionally as THE WILLENORS. They performed a trick cycling act with various Fred Karno companies in Europe and America and his father, William, played `the boy in the box' opposite Charlie Chaplin's 'drunk' in MUMMING BIRDS in America in 1910. His mother, Gwendoline, a dresser and seamstress, retired from the act after the children were born so his father took on a new partner whom George knew as `Uncle Fred'. They joined the Keystone Troupe of Comedy Trick Cyclists touring all over Britain and Europe, even playing circuses in Paris and Brussels. The family always toured with father, so much of George's early life was spent in theatrical digs and backstage but little time in school.|
In 1923,when George was twelve, his parents settled in Brixton SouthLondon, at that time a fashionable address especially for MusicHall artistes. Being settled, he was able to attend school for afew years and actually won some scholarships. But all he everwanted to do was to follow his parents into `the business'.Inevitably they were against the idea, particularly his mother.
He leftschool at fourteen and first worked at the Bluebird Laundry inClapham then took several office jobs, but in 1928, when he wasseventeen, through an uncle's contacts he got his first job in'show business' as a rewind boy at the old Croydon Hippodrome. Inthose days films were often shown as part of the variety bill buttalkies were just coming in and he remembered the first showingsof the original sound film, Al Jolson's THE SINGING FOOL.
The 29th ofApril 1929, when he was just eighteen, was a very important dayin George's life for it was the day that he joined Sir OswaldStoll's company as a rewind boy at the Stoll Picture Theatre inKingsway. For the next six years he gained a wide experience ofthe cinema side of the business and enjoyed the reputation ofhaving worked in every projection room on the London circuit,including the old Alhambra Leicester Square and the LondonColiseum. He became a projectionist and also worked as a stagehand.
In 1935,when he was twenty four, George was promoted to the front ofhouse, becoming Treasurer of the Stoll Picture Theatre andsubsequently Assistant Manager. While happily employed there, hemet June Brown who worked as one of his front of house staff whohad previously unsuccessfully auditioned as a dancer for theWindmill Girls and also an adagio act. Subsequently in August1938 she became his wife, the same year he had his firstappointment as manager at the Palace Theatre, Leicester. InSeptember 1940 the first of their two children, Jeremy, was bornin a city nursing home just after the Battle of Britain.
|Considered unfit for active duty, George had to give up the theatre in 1941 to do war work at the British Thompson Houston factory north of Leicester turning out munitions on a lathe. Part of his wartime duty was to be an observer armed with a machine gun looking out on the company's highest point for an attack by Luftwaffe bombers at night. But he was also retained by Stoll and still made his appearance at the theatre each evening as Assistant Manager.|
Released from war work in 1944, he managed the Floral Hall, Leicester, before returning to manage the Palace Theatre in 1945 when he and June had another child, a daughter this time, Linda. In 1947 the family moved back south to London to live in first in Haringey then Palmers Green when he was appointed Manager of the Frank Matcham designed variety theatre, Wood Green Empire which was subsequently demolished.
His interest was not solely confined to theatre though and in such spare time as he had, George made several television sets after broadcasting re-started following the war, the earliest being with a 9 inch green ex-radar tube. Turning them on for the first time was always an event for the whole family who would shield themselves behind the furniture in case the television caught fire, which it often did. But when he did get them going eventually, having a television then was almost unique in the street and many people came into the house to see it.
But theambitious George was keen to go further and so made arrangementsto emigrate to America in 1948 as he considered it would be aland of opportunity. His mother Gwendoline preceded him toFlorida the year before to look after her father and George'sgrandfather, Freeman Lloyd, who lived in Tampa. He had been aprolific journalist and writer who started with the 'LondonShooting Times' then emigrated to Australia where he had a columnin the 'Sydney Morning Herald', on to South Africa and the'Evening Star' before arriving in America. Along the way he hadbecome a world class canine judge who introduced the Borzoi intoAmerica and became Kennel Editor of 'Field & Stream' magazine.
George'smother did some research for him in Florida and wrote back sayingthat opportunities were slim for theatre managerial employmentand he could become just a cinema manager, so it might be betterif he stayed in England. In the end he decided against emigratingand went on to further his career here to a level not possible inthe USA.
He wassaddened not to go to America but George did visit several timesover the years to follow. On his first trip however he wasappalled by the racial segregation with many "Whites Only"signs in the deep South. His grandfather Freeman Lloyd died in1953 aged 93 and George fulfilled his wishes by bringing theashes back and scattering them into the river at Haverfordwest inPembokeshire where hehad been born.
Wood Green Empire
"George shut himself in the office after the finalcurtain last night...",
but thestory got about that George had 'shot' himself, even though thenewspaper went on to say the reason for his seclusion was todrink a silent toast to the ghosts of the past. This versionspread to his colleagues and their reactions were,
"Poor old George - what a tragedy. Fancy him takingit as hard as that!".
Later in1955 George returned to the Stoll Theatre in Kingsway as Managerwhere he had started as a rewind boy twenty six years previously.The beautiful production of KISMET was then running, but sadlythat theatre closed soon afterwards, the final production beingLaurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in TITUS ANDRONICUS. TheOlivier's were gracious enough to throw a party afterwards attheir home Notley Abbey in Thame which was greatly enjoyed as abittersweet finale by cast and theatre staff alike.
George found overseeing theStoll Theatre'sdemolition very depressing, but always being interested inhistory, he salvaged a multi windowed door from the Dress Circleand got a chippie to install it as the front door of his PalmersGreen house. It is still there today, although it is mostunlikely successive owners have any idea of its provenance.
As aninterim job, a short spell managing the Phoenix Theatre followedand then came George's big chance and what was to be the pinnacleof his career, the move to managing Stoll Moss's jewel-in-the-crown,the magnificent Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
When inearly 1958 the Broadway smash hit musical MY FAIR LADY was aboutto go into the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, a new General Managerwas needed. George at 47 years old was appointed as he was themost experienced manager of large Stoll theatres in London at thetime. His Assistant Manager was Ernest Kingdon, the residentstage staff were Jack Miller, Lou Walton (still at that timeJulie Andrew's father-in-law), George Wright and George Sinclair.It was said that no theatre was ever run more efficiently, bothfront of house and back stage, or a more friendly theatre existed.
As befitsthe General Manager of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, George was astaunch royalist. In the late 1950's and 1960's almost all themembers of the Royal Family made visits to the Lane and Georgewould meet them and look after them whilst they were in thebuilding. When he escorted the Queen to the Royal Box on officialoccasions she would ask,
"Are we ready Mr Hoare?",
once shewas seated, and then the show could begin. Besides officialvisits there were the unofficial ones too. The Queen wouldsometimes take her children to a matinee by slipping in at theside door and sitting in the stalls rather than the Royal Box.George took it upon himself to apply to Buckingham Palace forpermission to place the Prince of Wales crest above his box andhe was delighted when his request was granted. Once when PrincessAlexandra took her children to a show at the Lane, she askedGeorge whether he thought it a good idea for her daughter Marinato become a dancer, as that was what she wanted to be at the time.
"I wouldn't let her if I were you", saidGeorge, "they are too often out of work".
Sheobviously heeded his advice but in a strangely ironic twist,George's granddaughter, also named Marina, became the fourthgeneration of the family in showbusiness not only as a dancer butwith her own dance school at sixteen years old. Now even that hasbeen upstaged by his great granddaughter Georgy, who at the ageof four has become the fifth generation by appearing intelevision commercials.
His titleGeneral Manager meant just that. When George took over at theLane, within the building his control was absolute and HeadOffice employed him to run everything, there were no ranks ofmiddle managers like today, he was very cost effective. Besidesseeing the audiences in and out of the Theatre for everyperformance dressed immaculately in Evening Dress, he supervisedthe staff, arranged all the functions, organised Press and PublicRelations work and would hire out the Theatre to television andfilm companies and other bodies. The day-to-day ordering ofeverything needed in the theatre was up to him, he would playsuppliers off against each other and enjoyed haggling over prices.He was ultimately responsible for whatever went on in the entiretheatre and for guidelines had to ensure that all the GreaterLondon Council Rules & Regulations were carried out bothfront of house and backstage. On one nerve wracking night, healso had to take the decision to continue with a ROYAL VARIETYSHOW with the Queen already seated in the Royal Box after a bombthreat had been passed to him by the police which he rightlyconsidered to be a hoax, something today which a manager wouldnever be left responsible for.
During histime, the Lane was always known as a happy theatre and the stafffelt that he was always approachable. He never seemed to lose histemper but expected everyone to be as dedicated as he was. He didnot delegate easily, preferring to do things himself, but he hadthe respect of all his staff.
Whenever anew company arrived to rehearse, whether for a large musical or aSunday concert, George felt that it was part of his job towelcome them to the Theatre and during the longer runs he madenumerous friends amongst the casts. During the run of MY FAIRLADY all the crowned heads of Europe visited the Theatre atdifferent times and George conducted some of them backstage tomeet the cast. During his twenty four years there he was honouredto greet and entertain hundreds of VIPs from all over the world,from the Shah & Empress of Persia and the King & Queen ofThailand to Sir Winston & Lady Churchill and Sir Charles& Lady Chaplin. Winston gave George one of his famous cigarsand no doubt he chatted to Charlie about his father and FredKarno.
CharlesStapley, when playing the role of Professor Higgins in MY FAIRLADY, had a personal experience of one of these VIP visits. Onthat occasion the King of Burundi, his nephew and a couple of hisministers were the guests. It was the custom then for two orthree leading members of the cast to be invited to meet theseguests and have a glass of champagne with them during theinterval in the Retiring Room behind the Royal Box. They werealways accompanied by the Head of Protocol from the ForeignOffice, who whispered to Charles that this was the seventh timehe'd seen the show!. George's diplomatic skills were necessaryduring the interval because the King of Burundi said that hewanted to buy Eliza, played then by Tonia Lee, and take her backwith him! He was politely informed that she couldn't take up theoffer and besides, `Binkie' Beaumont would never have let herbreak her contract.
Georgealways liked the Union Jack to be flown from the main mast of theTheatre but there is a another flagpole and he began a newtradition for the Lane by flying a second flag which heconsidered suited to the current production. So, for GONE WITHTHE WIND he flew a Confederate flag, A CHORUS LINE had the Stars& Stripes, for THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (a titlehe particularly enjoyed!) he found a Texas Lone Star flag and forPIRATES OF PENZANCE the Skull and Crossbones. The flagsespecially pleased the American visitors, but then he always hada soft spot for them as his mother had lived then for many yearsin Tampa Florida, and they always loved to hear all about thehistory of the Theatre. George carried on the highly successfultours of the Lane which had been started by historian MacqueenPope and these gave him the opportunity to regale his audienceswith all the interesting facts that he had at his fingertips.George especially enjoyed chats with anyone who had worked at theLane before his time. Ivor Novello had appeared in several of hisown productions there and after his death a bust was placed inthe Rotunda. Every year on Novello's birthday and the anniversaryof his death, his great friend Olive Gilbert would visit thestatue with a little bunch of flowers and George, alwaysthoughtful, would see that a vase of water would be waiting forher and afterwards would arrange for her to have tea in theTheatre.
George hadalways been interested in theatre history and theatricaltraditions and one of his greatest disappointments was that hewas not able to become a member of Drury Lane Theatrical Fund.This historic fund is over 200 years old and was started in 1766by David Garrick to give help to members of the permanent companywho join it. He really wanted to be part of this tradition butunfortunately for George, only members of the cast and stagemanagement team are eligible to join.
However hedid make stage appearances throughout the run of THE FOURMUSKETEERS. Harry Secombe was the star of the show and not longinto the run had a throat infection which meant George having togo on stage and tell the audience Harry could not sing. This wasgreeted by audible dismay from the audience but George went on toexplain that Harry would still be performing and miming to thesongs. This gave Harry the opportunity to get a lot more comedyout of the songs, not having to sing them, so George went onevery night after that and it became part of the show.
One of theceremonies connected with the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund becameone of the highlights of George's year, the Cutting of theBaddeley Cake on Twelfth Night. The Cake is arranged by the Fundbut the Punch is provided by the Management and he was very proudof the fact that the age old secret recipe for the Punch servedat the ceremony had been passed on to him by his first assistantmanager, Ernest Kingdon.
Every 6thJanuary George and his assistant would `brew the negus' and serveit from a beautiful silver punch bowl given for the purpose bythe MY FAIR LADY company. He presided over more than twenty suchceremonies and was deeply upset when the Theatre was `dark' on acouple of occasions and consequently no ceremony could take place.
He triedhard not to acknowledge his increasing deafness but during the1970's the company's chairman, Prince Littler, had to threaten tosack him in order to persuade him to wear a hearing aid. He hadnever learnt to drive but his wife June did, so that she woulddrive up to the Lane to meet him every evening. He was at theTheatre every day from 10am till 11pm and she liked to drive himhome in order to see a little more of him!
On Sept 18th1978, June his wife of forty years, died following a strokeearlier in the year while they were having a holiday in Devon.After her funeral he continued living at their Palmers Greenhouse until four months later Stoll Moss offered him one of thecompany flats in Drury Lane adjoining the Theatre, so that hecould almost live 'over the shop'. After moving, he loved livingin Covent Garden, and Ambrose, the last Theatre cat and anexcellent mouser, was delighted with the arrangement too. WhenAmbrose was not strolling about the Theatre, (sometimes acrossthe stage during performances to the consternation of theperformers but delight of the audience) or being looked after byeither actress Avis Bunnage or lighting console operator JohnnyEades, he would go across the roof to George's flat, shout to belet in then curl up on the bed for a snooze.
Many peoplewere given their first employment in theatre by George. Oneperson in particular, whose job was was to clean and polish thebrasswork around the Theatre's entrance, has done very well inthe business. He is Sir Cameron Mackintosh who readilyacknowledges this first rung on the ladder of success, which inturn he has subsequently turned into employment for numerouspeople with his sharp eye for good productions.
On April 29th1979 George celebrated fifty years with Stoll Moss when he wasgiven a party and presented with a beautifully engraved watch intribute to his long service.
After hiswife June died George seemed to age a lot, he had lost thesparkle and smartness in all his grieving and sadness. Quite atime went by until George appeared to be his old self again, assmart as ever, straight backed and with a definite sparkle andtwinkle in his eye. The reason for the change was that on 12thJuly 1982 he married Jennifer Batchelor. She had known him since1959 while working in the H.M.Tennent offices for 'Binkie'Beaumont and met George when she was arranging party bookings forMY FAIR LADY.
George hadfour more `boys' as he called them who were his assistantmanagers, Jolyon Jackley, Kelvin Allen, Chris Edwards and ChrisIsherman. When Jennifer married George she `adopted' the 'boys'and became very attached to them. George was Godfather toJolyon's daughter Louise and Jennifer is Godmother to theiryounger daughter Michelle.
In 1982George decided that he would take early retirement at the age of71 and once again there was a party at the Lane, this time both acelebration of the marriage and a tribute to him on hisretirement as General Manager.
But hedidn't completely retire, he became full time ConsultantHistorian and Archivist for Stoll Moss Theatres and beganseriously to build up the "George Hoare Theatre Collection"at Theatre Royal Drury Lane which is housed in the old TreasuryRoom and subsequently used as a dressing room. He answerednumerous letters from all over the world asking questions of allsorts about productions and people who had played at the Lane andother London theatres. Never one to give up, he taught himself touse a computer at seventy three years old and for the ten StollMoss Theatres in London wrote a history of each building fortheir programmes, which are still being used today.
But Georgehad a special place in his heart for the members of the MY FAIRLADY company, so he was delighted to help arrange a ThirtiethAnniversary Celebration on 1st May 1988 at the Theatre. Asurprising number of the original company were traced andattended, some coming from as far away as New Zealand. Anothersmall tradition that he began connected to the show was theobservance of Eliza Doolittle Day. This falls on May 20th, as inthe song from the show, and each year he would make sure all hisstaff were well aware of this obscure anniversary!
In 1989Stoll Moss gave George yet another party in the Grand Saloon tocelebrate his sixty years with the Company. The then ChairmanLouis Benjamin gave a speech commending this rare and possiblyunique achievement.
From 1991onwards, when he became eighty, George's health began todeteriorate and he developed shingles. Afterwards he went in tothe Theatre less often and eventually gave up going inaltogether, indeed for the last two years of his life he didn'tleave the flat at all but sat in his chair watching televisionall day, something he actually enjoyed as he'd never been able todo it before.
Althoughhis short term memory became badly affected he could stillremember the past very clearly and always seemed content. Then inthe Spring of 1997 he suffered a fall which put him into hospitaland he died four months later on 17th August at UniversityCollege Hospital with his wife Jennifer sitting quietly at hisbedside.
The nextevening, Mark Hayward, then General Manager of Drury Lane, putout the front of house lights and lowered the Union Jack flag ontop of the building as a tribute, a unique event for a TheatreManager.
George Hoare wrote about his beloved Theatre:
"Patrons will get the feel of this pleasant, gracious and friendly place: a theatre which inspires love, affection and pride in all who work and play here: Theatre Royal Drury Lane - the first and still the most Royal Theatre in the world"
WhenGeorge and Jennifer were walking near Box Hill in Surrey someyears ago, he picked up a fallen conker from a horse chestnuttree and took it home. It grew and flourished in a pot on theroof garden of the flat in Drury Lane. So much in fact that whenit became too big he offered it to St Paul's Covent Garden andplanted it there himself with the aid of his grandson Warren. Herequested that when the time came his ashes be buried under itand hoped that a seat would one day be placed there in his memoryso that he can drop conkers on friends who come to sit there! On24th September 1997, George's request was granted and his asheswere buried under the tree.
As atribute to George, on Twelfth Night, 6th January 1998, theBaddeley Cake featured a picture of George together with aportrait of Robert Baddeley and included titles of the sixteenproductions at Theatre Royal Drury Lane which have had a BaddeleyCake during George's time there.
Today the"George Hoare Theatre Collection" is being continuedand maintained by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really UsefulTheatres company which acquired Stoll Moss Theatres from JanetHolmes 'a Court's Heytesbury Group in early 2000.
On October2nd 2000 the eminent name of Stoll Moss Theatres, together withits theatrical logo of hands applauding, was consigned to thehistory books. On that date, the new owners formerly renamed thecompany Really Useful Theatres with a logo of a Swiss Army Knife
born 7th March 1911 - died 17th August 1997
"The most thorough Gentleman who ever ran atheatre".
Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage)
Miss Saigonprogramme 1997
TheatreRoyal Drury Lane
MY FAIR LADY
THE BOYS FROMSYRACUSE
POLISH SLASKDANCE COMPANY
THE ROYAL BALLET
THE GREAT WALTZ
GONE WITH THEWIND
NO NO NANETTE
MONTY PYTHON'SFLYING CIRCUS
A CHORUS LINE
THE BEST LITTLEWHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS
NOT IN FRONT OFTHE AUDIENCE
This website is based on the eulogy given by CharlesStapley at George Hoare's funeral. It was compiled from; George'sown notes, research by Jennie Walton who talked to his friends,other information supplied by Jennifer Hoare and presented asthis website by Jeremy Hoare.
CharlesStapley played the role of Professor Higgins in MY FAIR LADYat the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for 1,850 performances.
JennieWalton performed as a dancer in MY FAIR LADY at the TheatreRoyal Drury Lane and is the Secretary of the Drury LaneTheatrical Fund.
JenniferHoare continues to work for Really Useful Theatres (previouslyStoll Moss Theatres) at their head office, Manor House in SohoSquare London.
JeremyHoare was a television cameraman with ATV Network for 23years, a lighting director with Central Television for another 8years and is now a freelance travel photographer and writer.
In due course a properguestbook will appear here but in the meanwhile if you have anycomments or observations please e-mail them to:
ReallyUseful Theatres: www.rutheatres.com
I am looking into expanding thiswebsite, possibly into a book. If you have any stories oranecdotes about my father that could be included I would bedelighted if you would contact me with them by email at:
This website and its contentsare copyright
with the exception of someimages, the owners of which I have been unable to trace.
Contents of this website may beused for non-profit making and academic purposes only but withdue acknowledgement and credit given.
Any commercial use whatsoever isstrictly forbidden without prior written agreement.
November 18, 2000
Thiswebsite is constantly being updated and improved over a period oftime so please bear with it for now as it will change for thebetter. Thank you.