Royal Variety Performance

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For a general description of performances for the monarch, see Royal Command Performance.
Royal Variety Performance
Also known as Royal Command Performance
Genre Variety show
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 84 (List of episodes)
Original channel BBC One
Original run 1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–38, 1945–55, 1957  – present
External links

The Royal Variety Performance is a gala evening held annually in the United Kingdom, which is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family, usually the reigning monarch. The reigning monarch either attends in person or is represented by another member of the royal family. Queen Elizabeth II and The Prince of Wales have alternately attended the performance for the last few years. The evening's performance is a variety show consisting of family entertainment, including comedy, singing, dancing, magic and other speciality acts, and many of the performers and hosts are celebrities. The event is organised on behalf of the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund of which Queen Elizabeth II is patron. All proceeds are donated to the fund.

The performance is broadcast on television and is considered by many to be a tradition of the Christmas season, as it is held in late November or early December each year. ITV is now the sole broadcaster, having shared that responsibility with the BBC from 1986 to 2010.[1]


The first performance, on 1 July 1912, was called the Royal Command Performance, and this name has persisted informally for the event. This was held in the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. After correspondence with Sir Edward Moss the King said he would command a Royal Variety show in his Coronation Year 1911, provided the profits went to the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund, as the EABF was then known. It was planned to be in the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, part of the vast Moss Empires group, but the building went on fire a month before the show. After the death of Sir Edward Moss, Alfred Butt was chosen as the impresario and it was staged in 1912.[2] This was a lavish occasion, and his London Palace Theatre was lavishly decorated, complete with some 3 million rose petals.

Top performers included Vesta Tilley, George Robey, David Devant, Anna Pavlova (ballerina), Harry Lauder and Cecilia Loftus. The organisers did not invite Marie Lloyd, because of a professional dispute. Her act was deemed too risqué and her three public, unsuccessful marriages made her unfit to perform in front of royalty.[3] She held a rival performance in a nearby theatre, which she advertised was "by command of the British public". The name of the event was changed to prevent possible royal embarrassment. The Royal Variety became an annual event at the suggestion of King George V from 1921 and the British Broadcasting Corporation began to broadcast it on radio.[when?]

From 1960 to 1975, ITV broadcast a recorded version of the show, switching to live broadcasts in 1976. From 1986 until 2010, production and broadcast of the show alternated each year between the BBC and ITV, with the BBC usually staging the show in a West End theatre, and ITV in regional theatres outside London. From 2011, ITV have exclusive rights to televise the show.[1] The show has been frequently staged in the London Palladium theatre, and in the 1950s and 1960s a television show based on the same idea, called Sunday Night at the London Palladium and hosted by many entertainers, including Bruce Forsyth, ran for over 20 years.

Almost every conceivable sort of act has at one time or another been presented to the monarch at the Royal Command Performance, including The Beatles in 1963, The Supremes in 1968 and The Blue Man Group in 2005. At the Beatles' show on 4 November 1963, John Lennon delivered a line to the well-heeled audience which has passed into legend: "For our last number I'd like to ask your help: Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry ..."

The money raised by the Royal Variety Performance provides most of the funding for Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund and its home, Brinsworth House, a home for retired members of the entertainment profession and their dependants.


After the first Royal Variety Performance on 1 July 1912 presented by Sir Alfred Butt, it was seven years before the next show, on 28 July 1919 held at the Coliseum Theatre presented this time by Sir Oswald Stoll. The orchestra was conducted by Edward Elgar. In 1921 it moved to The Hippodrome, and was held in November. It was the first time that the Royal Variety Performance became an annual event. In 1923 it moved to the Coliseum Theatre. Then after a gap in 1924, moved to the Alhambra Theatre in February 1925, where it remained in 1926, held on 27 May. It was the first Royal Variety Performance to be broadcast, with the BBC providing live radio coverage.

In 1927 there was another move, this time to the Victoria Palace Theatre, with J. A. Webb the compère. The 1928 show, on 13 December, was held at the Coliseum Theatre. The next show, on 22 May 1930, moved to the London Palladium with George Black and Val Parnell compèring. It was the start of seven successive years at the venue.

In 1935 the Royal Variety Performance was held in the Silver Jubilee year of King George V and Queen Mary. This was the last time King George V attended – he died three months later, in January 1936.

There have been two Royal Scottish Variety Performances, both attended by Queen Elizabeth, and presented by Howard & Wyndham Ltd in Glasgow's Alhambra Theatre, which Sir Alfred Butt had opened, in 1958 and 1963.[2]

Britain's Got Talent[edit]

Main article: Britain's Got Talent

Since 2007, one act of the Royal Variety show has been selected by the British public through the ITV1 television talent show Britain's Got Talent.

A public telephone vote decides the most popular act in each semi-final, which then progresses to the final, along with a second act chosen by the judges. The grand final is then broadcast live and all the acts perform again for the public vote.



There have been a total of 17 theatres that have staged the 81 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance. Out of the total of 82 shows, 75 have been in London theatres and seven in other cities and towns.

Note: Where no town or city is noted in the theatre column in the following table, the venue is situated in London.

Theatre No. Years Notes
London Palladium 39 1930–1937, 1946–1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1964–1978, 1980, 1987–1990, 2008, 2010, 2013
London Coliseum 10 1919, 1923, 1928, 1938, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 2004, 2006
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 7 1979, 1981–1983, 1985–1986, 1991
Dominion Theatre 7 1992–1996, 2000–2001
Victoria Palace Theatre 6 1927, 1951, 1955, 1960, 1984, 1997
Hippodrome, London 2 1921–1922
Alhambra Theatre 2 1925–1926
Opera House Theatre, Blackpool 2 1955, 2009
Prince of Wales Theatre 2 1961, 1963
Palace Theatre, London 1 1912
Palace Theatre, Manchester 1 1959
Lyceum Theatre 1 1998
Birmingham Hippodrome 1 1999
Hammersmith Apollo 1 2002
Edinburgh Festival Theatre 1 2003
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 1 2005
Liverpool Empire Theatre 1 2007
The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford 1 2011
Royal Albert Hall 1 2012 100th Anniversary

Royal Family attendance[edit]

A total of 13 members of the Royal Family have attended the 81 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance.

Name No. Years Notes
Queen Elizabeth II 37 1949, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 (Blackpool), 1955 (London), 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964-65, 1967, 1969-71, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989-90, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012 [4]
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother 26 1937-38, 1945-51, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991 [5]
The Duke of Edinburgh 25 1953-55 (Blackpool & London), 1957-58, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1987, 1989-90, 1993, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012
King George V 15 1912, 1919, 1921-23, 1925-28, 1930-35
Queen Mary 15 1912, 1919, 1921-23, 1925-28, 1930-35
Charles, Prince of Wales 12 1968, 1977, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013 [6]
King George VI 8 1937-38, 1945-50
Princess Margaret 4 1949, 1951, 1968, 1990
Duchess of Cornwall 3 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013
Anne, Princess Royal 2 1968, 2011 [7]
Diana, Princess of Wales 1 1992
Earl of Snowdon 1 1968
Queen Maud of Norway 1 1922

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b Graeme Smith (2011) Alhambra Glasgow ISBN 978-0955942-01-3
  3. ^ "1912, London Palace Theatre". Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund. Retrieved 11 January 2010. 
  4. ^ Attended in 1949 as Princess Elizabeth.
  5. ^ Attended as Queen Elizabeth between 1937 and 1951 and as The Queen Mother from 1959 onward
  6. ^ Finch, Christopher 'Of Muppets And Men The Making Of The Muppet Show' book in the chapter 'Steve, Louise & Kathy'
  7. ^ Originally Her Majesty The Queen was due to attend the 2011 show, but plans were altered.

External links[edit]