Revue was a programme of light entertainments, largely musical but often including satiric sketches focusing on a topical theme or, especially, when presented in a periodic series, as at the Windmill Theatre, Piccadilly Circus London from 1931. Seasons of continuous, non-stop variety ran there daily from 1.30pm until 11.20pm, with singers, dancers, showgirls and speciality acts directed by proprietor Laura Henderson. At first, these were unprofitable; the theatre lost £20,000 in its first year.
A breakthrough occurred when the first Revudeville opened on February 3, 1932, featuring eighteen new acts, and a complete change of programme every four weeks. General manager Vivian Van Damm incorporated nude females on stage, inspired by the Folies Bergeres and Moulin Rouge in Paris. This coup was made possible by convincing the Lord Chamberlain, in his authority as censor for all theatrical performances, that the display of nudity in theatres was not obscene: since the authorities could not credibly hold nude statues to be morally objectionable. The theatre presented its nudes — the famous 'Windmill Girls' — in motionless poses as living statues or tableaux vivants.
The vision statement: if you move, it's rude.
The Windmill's shows became a huge commercial success and the Windmill girls took their show on tour to other London and provincial theatres. The theatre's motto, 'We Never Closed' (often modified to 'We Never Clothed') was a reference to the fact that the Windmill never closed, apart from the compulsory closure that affected all theatres for twelve days in September 1939. The Windmill remained open throughout the Second World War, entertaining Londoners during The Blitz.
When Henderson died in 1944, aged 82, she willed the Windmill to Van Damm, who continued with their legacy of revue. During this time, The Windmill was home to many famous variety artistes, and several famous comedians and actors had their first success there, including Alfred Marks, Jimmy Edwards, Tony Hancock, Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Barry Cryer. Van Damm ran the theatre until his death in 1960. He left the theatre to his daughter, Sheila Van Damm. She struggled to keep it going because, by this time, Soho had become a seedier area. The Windmill Theatre closed in 1964, unable to compete with massage parlours.
The Rita Hayworth film, Tonight and Every Night (1945) was a tribute to the Windmill. See also, Vivian Van Damm, Tonight and Every Night: the Windmill Story, London, Stanley Paul, 1952. For more, click here.
Thse images are from The Laughing Audience collection of a complete run of Windmill Theatre programmes.