Music Hall War – success or folly

 

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Florrie Forde

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Living Statuary

 

Following on from the previous blog we find the music hall artistes determined to stand their ground and the music hall managers refusing to recognise the Variety Artists’ Federation as the mouthpiece of the industry. In late January 1907 it was announced that a group of artistes had signed a twenty-one year lease of the Scala Theatre.

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Annie Purcell

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Jane May

 

The theatre would be run as a music hall with one house a night and the programme ‘comprising the cream of star talent’  with the ancillary buildings being used as the headquarters for music hall associations and as a music hall exchange. The performers hoped to control their own destinies but the trade paper The Era was of the opinion that the VAF had taken a very daring step.

The ‘housewarming’ at the Scala for artistes was fairly well attended but many performers were absent on picket duty. As proprietors they would act fairly and were sure that the theatre would be packed to the doors every night. On the opening night there was mention of Mr Oswald Stoll who had barred an artiste  from appearing at Crouch End for two and a half years and also had sent a representative to ask performers the question, ‘Are you in favour of a strike?’ It was assumed that an affirmative answer would mean the artist would not be employed by his syndicate. This was considered mean and despicable.

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Gertie Gitana

Despite the excitement and enthusiasm both sides were suffering financially in the dispute and there was a feeling that the executive committee had rushed into action without sufficient consultation. The ‘stars’ had a meeting with the managers and announced they had made headway with their demands but the VAF felt sidelined and were not in favour of a settlement. Eventually the dispute went to arbitration, chaired by Mr Askwith from the Board of Trade. The strikers were not to perform at the Scala or to picket the halls and the managers were to drop any legal proceedings against individual performers. The Alliance closed the Scala, having leased the premises for four weeks at a cost of £1,200. There were three interim awards and a final award, made more complicated by the fact that musicians and stagehands had joined the strike and employment needed to be found for them.

Improvements were made to the hated barring clause, each matinée would be paid for and artistes would have definite appearance times so that low paid performers could rely on appearing in two halls a night rather than the manager changing the order of the bill on a whim. Both sides agreed to abide by the points of the arbitration agreement but later it was suggested that some managers were trying to go back to their old ways. In fact in 1908 Oswald Stoll threatened a lock-out of performers over a dispute with the VAF over charity matinées but it was pointed out this went against the terms of the arbitration award. Again in 1914 the same owner/manager dismissed members of some London music hall orchestras who refused to sign an eighteen month no strike contract. The orchestras of two Manchester music halls walked out in sympathy leaving only the conductor and a harpist. A court case ensued with the judgement going in Mr Stoll’s favour and the musicians paid damages and costs with Oswald Stoll agreeing to accept payments of five shillings a month. In the London halls he said that as many of the men would shortly be joining the army he had made arrangements for women’s orchestras to take their place. The newspaper headline reads ‘STRIKE OF MUSIC HALL MUSICIANS? Places to be taken by women.’  Hmmm.

I haven’t been able to find a full list of strike supporters but the artistes in the above postcards were performing at the time, may have supported the strike or been affected by the picketing of the halls.

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

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