Vivian Van Damm

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Vivian Van Damm (28 June 1889 – 14 December 1960) was a prominent London theatre impresario from 1932 until 1960, managing the Windmill Theatre in London's Great Windmill Street, which was a British institution, famed for its pioneering tableaux vivants of motionless female nudity, and for its reputation of having 'never closed' during the Blitz.

Van Damm, known as 'VD', came from a middle-class London family of Dutch Jewish origin. He left school at fourteen to work in a garage, and later[when?] abandoned the motor trade to manage West End cinemas.

In 1931, Laura Henderson opened the tiny, one-tier Windmill Theatre as a playhouse, but it was not profitable, and she soon resorted to showing films. She then hired Van Damm, and they produced Revudeville, a programme of continuous variety, comprising eighteen entertainment acts. That was also a commercial failure, so they added the dimension of nudity to emulate the Folies Bergère and the Moulin Rouge. The key element was Van Damm's exploitation of a legal loophole (or zone of tolerance), that nude statues could not be banned on moral grounds. This led to the legendary "Windmill Girls". The girls had to remain motionless, the Lord Chamberlain's ruling being, "If you move, it's rude". To ward off criticism he used his own beautiful daughter, under the stage name of Betti Talbot, as one of the nudes. The Hollywood film Tonight and Every Night, starring Rita Hayworth, told some of the story of the Windmill, though it contained no nudity.[1]

A 1949 film called Murder at the Windmill (Mystery at the Burlesque in the U.S.A.) featured Diana Decker, Jon Pertwee, and Jimmy Edwards and was directed by Val Guest.

Van Damm's flair for public relations created the legend of the theatre that "never closed". Newspapers carried pictures of plucky Windmill girls in tin hats on fire-watching duty, and stories of showgirls giving V-signs to German bombers. Indeed, except for a twelve-day period in 1939, when all London theatres were ordered closed, the Windmill remained open throughout the Blitz.

Laura Henderson bequeathed the Windmill Theatre to Vivian Van Damm in 1944, and he ran it until his death in December 1960. He left it to his daughter, Sheila van Damm, a leading international rally driver. The Windmill Theatre officially closed on 31 October 1964.

Vivian Van Damm was[when?] the Vice-President of the London based Magicians' Club which held charity shows at the Windmill Theatre.

Van Damm was portrayed by Bob Hoskins in the film Mrs Henderson Presents (2005).


  • Life magazine Vol.12 No.11. London's Windmill Theatre. 16 March 1942.
  • Have You Been to the Windmill Theatre?. Film and Art Reel. Vol.6 No.1. 1949.
  • Pat Raphael: Extracts from the Diary of a Windmill Girl. Film and Art Reel. Vol.6 No.2. 1949.
  • John Chillingworth: "Non Stop Peep Show". An article in Picture Post Vol.52, No.3. 21 July 1951.
  • Vivian Van Damm: Tonight and Every Night. Published by Stanley Paul, London. 1952.
  • Vivian Van Damm: "Three Goons for the Price of One, the Windmill Story". An article in Illustrated 5 May 1956.
  • London Life July,1958. Photographs of Artistes.
  • "The Windmill". Fiesta Vol.7 No.4. March 1973.
  • Tony Clayton: "We Never Closed". Yours. May 2004.
  • Maurice Poole: "Tonight and Every Night". An article in the Soho Clarion magazine. Issue no.136, Spring, 2009.
  • Jason: Blonde and Brunette. Published by Chapman and Hall,London,1940.
  • British Pathe films.
  • Murder at the Windmill [1949] film. In the U.S.A. titled Mystery at the Burlesque. Directed by Val Guest.
  1. ^ Val Guest 'So you want to be in pictures' p.97-98