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History Of The Royal Variety Charity
On December 4th 1907, The Music Hall Artistes’ Railway Association (MHARA), who offered reduced fares and other benefits to its members, proposed at its General Meeting, that a levy of one shilling be introduced with its annual subscription, to be used to begin a benevolent fund for the benefit of its members and fellow artistes.
This nucleus of funds was to be supported by many other sources including voluntary contributions, odd charity matinees, the proceeds of the Annual Dinner, and from collections on passenger liners to and from the USA, South Africa, and Australia by artistes travelling to and from engagements. Thus relief to performers from hardship, or ill health, could be available in many ways, including weekly pensions, grants, loans, funeral expenses, and finally for admittance to a Home for entertainers, who through old age, were unable to continue to earn from their livelihood.
This was the original conception put forward by Joe O'Gorman, but the idea of a Home for old performers, of both sexes, was also suggested by Joe Elvin of the Grand Order of Water Rats, in 1908. He had promised personal friends financial assistance if the scheme was approved by the profession. This was publicised in the professional papers of the day, and at the annual dinner of the MHARA, the idea was received with great enthusiasm and a considerable sum of money was immediately pledged. Shortly after, a committee was formed comprising of delegates from all the professional entertainment societies and various projects were devised in order to raise the additional finances required for the project.
At a General Meeting of artistes held at the Old Empire, Camberwell, the details of the project were unveiled and additional monies subscribed, until nearly £2,000 was raised. Architects’ plans were acquired for a proposed building and the estimated costs were set at £7,000, a huge sum of money in 1908. Joe Elvin generously promised to donate £500 for the purchase of some land, and a fête was held the following July, but owing to terrible weather conditions, the fund raising event made a considerable loss. Further unforeseen circumstances caused a lack of interest and enthusiasm, and Committee meetings were abandoned for a couple of years.
In March 1911, it occurred to the then Secretary of the MHARA, that it would be most unfortunate if £1,700 lay dormant at the bank, with little being done to set the scheme in motion and to carry out its original intentions. A Committee meeting was called and Joe Elvin was invited to attend. At the meeting, it was put forward that instead of building a new home, the money be used to purchase a property suitable for the intended purpose, within easy reach of Central London, and available for the reception of former artistes. Joe Elvin promptly agreed and the Committee endeavoured to find such a property. After looking at several houses that were unsuitable, particulars of a freehold mansion, with five acres of land, near Twickenham in Middlesex, emerged. The property appeared ideal and Joe Elvin was asked to view the house; he was delighted with what he saw. Negotiations started without delay and in August 1911, the property was purchased for £2,400, £1,000 paid in cash from the Fund's reserves and the remaining borrowed in the form of a mortgage. An enthusiastic Committee commenced preparations for the house's occupation. It was apparent that extensive alterations would be needed, including the installation of a new drainage system; the work was carried out at a cost of £500. The question of furnishing the House, estimated at £280, also needed to be considered, and the amount was promptly raised by a special 'Sixpenny Fund', organised by ‘The Performer’ newspaper. All this work was completed within two months and the house was ready by November, 1911.
A reception was held at Brinsworth House attended by a number of leading journalists and numerous members of the entertainment profession. Joe Elvin, the founder, put forward a scheme suggested by W.H. McCarthy, also a Member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, that the Order establish a Society to be known as the ‘Noble Six Hundred’, which would consist of artistes and friends of the profession, each of whom would make a donation of £2.10.0 (£2.50) to raise the £1,400 required to pay off the Home's mortgage. By the following April, the entire amount had been obtained and the mansion and land became the sole, freehold property of the Music Hall profession. A board was erected within the entrance hall of the Home, with the names of all of the ‘Noble Six Hundred’ inscribed; it still hangs there to this day.
In March 1911, it occurred to the then Secretary of the MHARA, that it would be most unfortunate if £1,700 lay dormant at the bank, with little being done to set the scheme in motion and to carry out its original intentions. A Committee meeting was called and Joe Elvin was invited to attend. At the meeting, it was put forward that instead of building a new home, the money be used to purchase a property suitable for the intended purpose, within easy reach of Central London, and available for the reception of former artistes.
Joe Elvin promptly agreed and the Committee endeavoured to find such a property. After looking at several houses that were unsuitable, particulars of a freehold mansion, with five acres of land, near Twickenham in Middlesex, emerged. The property appeared ideal and Joe Elvin was asked to view the house; he was delighted with what he saw. Negotiations started without delay and in August 1911, the property was purchased for £2,400, £1,000 paid in cash from the Fund's reserves and the remaining borrowed in the form of a mortgage. An enthusiastic Committee commenced preparations for the house's occupation. It was apparent that extensive alterations would be needed, including the installation of a new drainage system; the work was carried out at a cost of £500. The question of furnishing the House, estimated at £280, also needed to be considered, and the amount was promptly raised by a special 'Sixpenny Fund', organised by ‘The Performer’ newspaper. All this work was completed within two months and the house was ready by November, 1911.
During the early part of 1912, the Benevolent Fund took over the Music Hall home at Gypsy Hill, where around 12 former artistes were in residence and it was decided shortly thereafter to house all these residents, under just one roof, at Brinsworth House, and it was therefore proposed that an extension to Brinsworth House be built.
His Majesty King George V, and Her Majesty Queen Mary, agreed to attend a 'Royal Command Performance' at London's Palace Theatre in July 1912, in support of the proposed plans and to raise the required funds to build the extension. Frank Matcham, the eminent architect who had designed many of the leading Theatres and Music Halls of the era, generously consented to prepare the plans for the erection of the New Wing free of charge. The work commenced in June, and was completed by October. This first Royal Variety Performance, was a lavish occasion, and the theatre was decorated with 3 million roses draped around the auditorium and over the boxes.
His Majesty attended a further Royal Command Performance in 1919 to thank the variety profession for their tremendous efforts during the Great War, and then in 1921, Harold Bishop, Secretary of the VABF, organised the first in a long line of Royal Variety Performances, and His Majesty King George V agreed to become Patron of the Fund in the same year.
His Majesty King George V, decreed that the Monarch, or a senior member of the British Royal Family, would attend an annual performance in aid of Brinsworth House and the Benevolent Fund, once a year thereafter. Harold Bishop, Secretary of the Fund for 37 years, was responsible for all the Royal Variety Performances until 1956, when Arthur Scott took over as Secreatry and took over the responsible task of organising the annual show. The annual Royal Variety Performance has been the financial bedrock of the Fund ever since, and now forms a major part of the entertainment industry's calendar with over 150 million viewers worldwide.
1974 marked an important year for the Fund; the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund (the VABF), changed its name to the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund, marking its help for a wider spectrum of show business.
Two new wings have been added over the years and Brinsworth House was honoured on both occasions by the presence of one of its most ardent patrons, the late HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who performed both opening ceremonies, and in 1995, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, a magnificent supporter of our annual Royal Variety Performance, opened our new conservatory. Today, we are honoured to have Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as our Patron.
The profession has established a real Home for the aged where they may spend their days in safety, peace, happiness and tranquillity. Brinsworth has rightly been named ‘The Pro’s Paradise’ and now accommodates 36 residents, who are cared for by a dedicated team of nurses and carers.
However, the Home is only part of the work of the charity and we continue to devote further resources to helping entertainers, from all branches of the industry that still live in their own homes, but have for whatever reason fallen upon hard times, or ill health, and just need a little financial assistance or advice.
In an industry where professional artistes are asked to use their many talents to help with fund-raising for other charitable organisations outside of their profession, it should never be forgotten that there are considerable demands within the profession itself, to help past performers who through age, illness, or ill fortune, look to their fellow artistes for assistance.
On Friday 26th June 2015, the Executive Commitee of the EABF voted unanimously at their AGM and Extra-Ordinary Meeting to change the name of the charity from Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund (EABF) to the Royal Variety Charity, after obtaining approval from the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, The Palace and the Cabinet Office.
Chairman of the Royal Variety, Giles Cooper, issued the following statement, to mark the historic occasion:-
Chairman's Statement: Friday 26th June
“This is an historic day in the 107 year history of our charity; the oldest and most well known of all charities in show business. In recent years, the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund (EABF) has become better known, through television shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, as the Royal Variety Charity and today’s official name change marks a landmark occasion for us and the beginning of a new era.
The entertainment industry is constantly evolving and similarly the needs of those who need support in our business has changed and altered dramatically since our foundation. It is therefore so important that a thriving charity such as ours also evolves and develops at a pace in tandem with the modern era. I am delighted to announce that the Royal Variety Charity will be widening its criteria of help to all those who have served the entertainment industries, both young and old; to all those who have worked in front of a camera, or behind it, on the stage, or in the wings, as well as all those who have spent their lives working in the numerous support industries dedicated to entertainment. We will not only be offering support to those who have found themselves struggling as a result of ill health, financial hardship or old age, but to talented youngsters from impoverished backgrounds who need assistance to pursue their dreams of entering performing arts education.
Our annual fundraiser, the Royal Variety Performance, is enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity in the UK and throughout the world and I would like to thank our sole Patron, Her Majesty The Queen, and indeed all of the Royal family and their staff for the continued support of our charity and annual show.
This year’s Royal Variety Performance will be held at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 13th November in the presence of senior members of the Royal family and our full line-up of artists will be announced in the Autumn. We once again look forward to working with our friends at ITV Studios in producing another spectacular night of entertainment from around the world.”
Giles Cooper - Chairman, Royal Variety Charity
Accompanied by: NILESH RUPAREL - Finance Director • CATHRYN TOMLINSON - PA to Chairman • TATREE PREECE - Matron of Brinsworth House • BERNIE WATSON - HaysMacIntyre auditors
Above (Left to Right): Bernie Watson (auditor from HaysMacIntyre), Vicki Michelle MBE, Nick Thomas, Giles Cooper, Laurie Mansfield, Wyn Calvin MBE, Babs Powell, Nilesh Ruparel
Above Left to Right): Babs Powell, John Logan, Vicki Michelle MBE, Ian Freeman,
George Muranyi, Laurie Mansfield, Kenny Earle, Giles Cooper, Keith Simmonds, Phil Dale, Keith Lascelles, Pat Church, Gordon Peters, Wyn Calvin MBE, Nick Thomas, Joy Francois, Fawn James, Dee-Dee Crosher, Rev Canon Roger Royle, Sheryl Garland, Val Garland
With a team of 64 staff, Brinsworth House is a dual registered nursing home for members of the entertainment profession... read more
Facilities at Brinsworth
The history of the Royal Variety Performance is breathtaking; 80 shows over 100 years; a feat unsurpassed... read more
Royal Variety Archive
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