Theatrical Past

Theatre List

The career of variety star Renée Houston was long and varied. 

Constantly on the move – her finger in many different pies!

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November Eastbourne Devonshire Park Theatre Little Women
Bournmouth Little Women
Swindon Little Women
Nottingham Little Women
October Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon Little Women RADIO (Radio 4) Open House
RADIO (Radio 4 Scotland) Spotlight on Scottish Humour
April TV Production Hughie’s Full House Richmond Theatre
March RADIO (Grampian) Second Profile
February RADIO (Radio 4) When Music was Magic
January RADIO (Radio 4) Petticoat Line – (Twelfth Series)

Patsy Blower, Lawrence Douglas, Janina Faye and Peter Clapham.

A marvellous company and a big success!






Stanley Pritchard, man of theatre, broadcasting and the Church, with Renée, Georgie Wood and the crew from Grampian’s ‘Second Profile‘ – a series about the changing face of entertainment.




Meeting at Night, Duke of York’s Theatre.

Renée and Wilfred Hyde White in a late classic by James Bridie




December RADIO (Home Service) Petticoat Line – (Third Series)
November RADIO (Home Service) Petticoat Line – (Third Series)
October RADIO (Home Service) Petticoat Line – (Third Series)
August Dundee Repertory Theatre Roar like a Dove FILM Release The Idol
June FILM Release Cul-de-Sac
May FILM Production The Idol
April FILM Release Secrets of a Windmill Girl
March TV Production Dixon of Dock Green
RADIO (Home Service) Petticoat Line – (Repeat of Second Series)
February TV Production ITV The First Thunder
RADIO (Home Service) Petticoat Line – (Repeat of Second Series)
January FILM Production Cul-de-Sac
FILM Production Secrets of a Windmill Girl
TV Production – ATV Knock On Any Door: The Dear Ones
TV Production – BBC2 Theatre 625 Dr Knock
RADIO (Home Service) Petticoat Line –(Repeat of Second Series)

Holy Island, Northumbria




Pauline Collins stars in ‘Secrets of a Windmill Girl’ directed by Arnold Louis Miller.

Renée is the girls’ dresser. Tough words do little to prevent girls making age-old mistakes.





The Marriage Brokers, The Mermaid Theatre, February 1965
John Moffat, Robert Eddison and Catherine Feller.

Below: Bernard Miles:





Backstage, Beneath the Wee Red Lums, Glasgow New Metropole Theatre, 1965


With John Grieve, Molly Weir, Alec Finlay and Jimmy Logan:

Beneath The Wee Red Lums by TM Watson





Above: October 1959:   Donald Stewart, Faith Brook and Renée in Roar like a Dove, Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road.

[My thanks to Juliana, for this fine photo]

The warmth of Renée and Donald (as well as their expert comic timing) make them favourites with the public once more. A Scottish castle – Houston and Stewart on tour – Lesley Storm’s brilliant comedy.

December The New, St Martin’s Lane, The Party
November The New, St Martin’s Lane, The Party FILM Release The Horse’s Mouth

FILM Release The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (Donald Stewart)

RADIO (Light Programme) London Lights

October The New, St Martin’s Lane, The Party
September The New, St Martin’s Lane, The Party
Adelphi Theatre, Auntie Mame (Donald)
FILM Release Them Nice Americans
June RADIO (Light Programme) The Clitheroe Kid
RADIO (Light Programme) Does the Team think?
May RADIO (Light Programme) The Clitheroe Kid
TV Production (ITC) The Adventures of Robin Hood
FILM Release The Key
April RADIO (Light Programme) The Clitheroe Kid
February FILM Production The Horse’s Mouth
January New Watergate Comedy Theatre, Panton Street
Cat on a hot Tin Roof
(leaves cast)


Time to pay a visit to the Comedy Theatre . . . but not many are laughing.

Sir Peter Hall, English Theatre Director and wife, Leslie Caron.


Incomparable  –  Kim Stanley

Frustration turns to violence:  Paul Massie and Kim Stanley communicate a tense moment in the historic London production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.


Renée is billed as a supporting player in an original playbill for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

In January 1959, at the Evening Standard Drama Awards, Hall picks up the prize for Best Play of the Year on behalf of Tennessee Williams. Almost 60 years later the play, without the original controversy, revisits London’s West End.

Below: A less ground-breaking play is Jane Arden’s The Party although one underlying theme is as shocking now as in 1958.

Sophia Loren, Trevor Howard and William Holden in ‘The Key’ (1958)

Above, Joyce Carey, actress and writer, whose 1944 novel, The Horse’s Mouth is developed into a film by Sir Alec Guinness.


December Empire Theatre, Nottingham Rock n’ Roll Murder RADIO (Home Service) Mid-day Music Hall
November Garrick, Southport Rock n’ Roll Murder
Empire Theatre, Inverness
October Empire Theatre, Inverness
Town Hall, Dingwall
August Empire Theatre, Inverness FILM Release It’s a Wonderful World
July Metropolitan, London Thanks for the Memory
May FILM Release Ramsbottom Rides Again
TV Production ITV Television Playhouse: The Blood is Strong
March FILM Production It’s a Wonderful World
FILM Production The Big Money
FILM Release A Town Like Alice
February FILM Production Ramsbottom Rides Again
January FILM Production A Town Like Alice


In ‘The Big Money’ Belinda Lee and Ian Carmichael romance either side of the bar.




A stroll along Shaftesbury Avenue to the Saville Theatre . . .

Cecil Landeau’s new revue Cockles and Champagne

Can a show be too sensational?



A new comedy challenge for Renée and Donald.

the enchanting Fenella Fielding!!






December Cambridge Theatre children’s party (cast Sauce Tartare) RADIO (Home Service) Ladies’ Night
FAMILY Birthday Strawberry Hill (with cast ‘Sauce Tartare’)
October Cambridge Theatre,  Sauce Tartare ADVERTISING Services Sports Watches
September Cambridge Theatre,  Sauce Tartare RADIO (Home Service) Regional Round-Up
RADIO (Home Service) Variety Comes To Town
TV Production (BBC) movie ‘Sauce Tartare’
August Cambridge Theatre,  Sauce Tartare RADIO (Home Service) Talk Yourself Out Of This
RADIO (Light Programme)‘Sauce Tartare’ highlights
July Cambridge Theatre,  Sauce Tartare GUEST Twickenham Conservative Fete
June Cambridge Theatre,  Sauce Tartare
May Cambridge Theatre,  Sauce Tartare ATTENDS Theatrical Garden Party, Roehampton
April Rehearsals Sauce Tartare
March RADIO (Scottish Home Service) Heather Mixture
February Palace Grand Theatre, Folkestone
Thanks for the Memory Finsbury Park Empire
January TV Production (BBC) Rooftop Rendezvous

Renée, surmounting real-life struggles, returns to the West End as a lead performer in Cecil Landeau’s revue ‘Sauce Tartare’ at the Cambridge Theatre.

Just as she did in ‘Love Laughs’ she triumphs in some memorable comic scenes.

She’s in fine company, with Claude Hulbert, Ronald Frankau, Jessie Matthews, Muriel Smith, Zoë Gail, Marlana, Laya Raki and Audrey Hepburn.


November RADIO (Scottish Light Prog) St Andrew’s Day Music Hall
September Theatre De Luxe, Hastings
Glasgow Empire
RADIO (Light Prog) Worker’s Playtime
August Exeter Theatre Royal
July Manchester Hippodrome
Palace Theatre, Leicester
Wolverhampton Hippodrome
June Lewisham Hippodrome RADIO (Light Prog) Worker’s Playtime Listen
May RADIO (Light Prog) Music Hall
April Brighton Hippodrome RADIO (Light Prog) Variety
RADIO (Light Prog) Worker’s Playtime Leeds
March RADIO (Light Prog) The Show Must Go On




December Tivoli Theatre Aberdeen RADIO (Light Prog) Henry Hall’s Guest Night
November RADIO (Scottish Light Prog) Heather Mixture
RADIO (Light Prog) Worker’s Playtime
September Coventry Hippodrome
August Glasgow Empire
Bristol Empire
June Blackpool Palace Taylor Made
May Glasgow Pavilion
Queensberry All Services Club (Old Compton St)
RADIO (General Forces) Strike A Home Note
RADIO (Light Prog) Worker’s Playtime
April Brighton Hippodrome The Merrier We Shall Be’
March RADIO (General Forces) Atlantic Spotlight
February Coliseum, Portsmouth Robinson Crusoe RADIO (Light Prog) Worker’s Playtime
January Empire Theatre, Ilford Robinson Crusoe
Empire Theatre Croydon Robinson Crusoe





With Donald Stewart – that guy who’s ‘100% American and half Scotch!’

Houston and Stewart tour South Africa.

“Personally, though I know Miss Houston’s patter, her impersonations and her “rubbish” from A to Z, I found them just as attractive last night. She can change that speaking or singing voice into half a dozen different accents, apart from her native Glasgow dialect. She has a charming mezzo which can burlesque (in the way Gracie Fields does) or which she can use for a straight number.”

The Cape Times, 1938


Appearances at Cape Town and later Johannesburg’s Empire Theatre (now the Kine Centre)


October: It’s red carpet time and the elite of British Films, various lords and ladies and crowds gather at the Carlton Cinema in Haymarket, for a London Premiere.


On the wireless Renée Houston compliments the gay occasion with a little light commentary. Rex Harrison and Alfred Hitchcock attempt to express their opinions too. The film ‘St Martin’s Lane’ stars newcomer Miss Vivien Leigh and Mr Charles Laughton in a typically powerful, although tragic role.



December Portsmouth HippodromeMerrily We Go
Birmingham Hippodrome Merrily We Go
November Finsbury Park Empire Merrily We Go
Holborn Empire Merrily We Go
Nottingham Hippodrome
Ceremony opening of Alexandra Palace
September London Hippodrome Certainly Sir Pathé News ‘Caught By The Camera’ Watch
August Royal, BirminghamCertainly Sir New Empire Review ‘Renée Houston at home’ Watch
RADIO (National Prog.) Music Hall
July Shepherd’s Bush Empire
June FILM Production: Fine Feathers Beaconsfield Studios
May Paramount Astoria London
Hackney Empire
Lewisham Hippodrome
Cafe de Paris
Chelsea Palace
FILM Production: Fine Feathers Beaconsfield Studios
Comedy Club – Lady Ratlings dinner
April Empire Theatre, Edinburgh Billie Houston film contract with Dave Bader
March Brixton Empress RADIO (National Prog.) Variety
FILM Release Happy Days Are Here Again
February Prince of Wales, Birmingham Babes In the Wood
Institute of Cancer Research in presence of HRH Duke of York
Contract with British Lion
Park Lane Hotel – Lady Ratlings Annual dinner
Columbia Studios Gramophone Recording
January Prince of Wales, Birmingham Babes In the Wood RADIO – (Regional Prog.) ‘Excerpts Babes in the Woods’


The Babes with Horace Kenney and with Con Kenna and JH Graham.


Leslie Fuller (and his twins Anne and Sheila) are entertained by Gracie.

Miss Houston insists on good table manners.


The Finsbury Park Empire

It’s gone now and so has Arsenal F.C’s old stadium – all except the Art Deco exteriors of its East and West Stands. The Finsbury Park Empire is now a place called ‘Vaudeville Court’


The fortunes of a Scotchy socialite:


Not quite what the butler ordered  . . .

With George Robey at the London Hippodrome.



December FILM Production: First A Girl Warner Brothers
November Lewisham Hippodrome
Claridges Cabaret in presence of HRH Duke of York
FILM Production: Happy Days Are Here Again, Sound City Shepperton
Ball Dorchester Hotel Andre Charlot’s Midnight Cabaret
Columbia Studios Gramophone Recording
October RADIO (National Prog.) Gala Variety Programme
Le Jardin de Fleuri Mayfair Hotel, Stratton Street
Edinburgh ‘Down in the Forest’ (Billie Houston)
Royal, Birmingham ‘Down in the Forest’ (Billie Houston)
September Golders Green Hippodrome Love Laughs
London Hippodrome Love Laughs
FILM Production: No Monkey Business British and Dominions Studios
Royalty Theatre, London Closing at Sunrise (Shirley Houston)
August London Hippodrome Love Laughs Wedding Mickie Brantford Irene Hunter
FILM Contract from Cecil FILMs / Hermann Fellner (3 Pictures)
July London Hippodrome Love Laughs
June London Hippodrome Love Laughs
Royal, Birmingham Love Laughs
May Blackpool Palace Love Laughs
New Theatre, Oxford Love Laughs
RADIO (National Prog.) Music Hall
April Brighton Hippodrome More Dam Things
Holborn Empire More Dam Things
Gaiety Theatre Down and Outs Matinee
March Tivoli, Hull More Dam Things
Edinburgh Empire More Dam Things
Glasgow Empire More Dam Things
FILM Release Variety – Romance Of The Music Hall
Television Experiments for The Baird Company, Crystal Palace
February Sheffield Empire More Dam Things
Sunderland Empire More Dam Things
January Stratford Empire More Dam Things
Birmingham Hippodrome More Dam Things
Birthday Party for Earl of Shrewsbury
FILM Production: Variety Cricklewood Studios
FILM Contract John Argyle



The Birmingham Hippodrome’s Moorish tower was removed in 1963.



Houston matriarchy – at the wings


The Gaiety Theatre, London

The old building struggled on, hoping all the time for a restoration.

It was demolished in 1956

. . . but not before a return visit by Auntie Renée. Prizes were distributed to clever children.



December Kingston Empire
Holborn Empire
Nottingham Empire       More Dam Things
Birmingham Hippodrome More Dam Things
RADIO (National Prog.) Variety
Christening St Alban’s, Teddington
November  FILM Release: Mister Cinders
October London Alhambra
Coronation Nights Trocadero
Pleasure Gdns, Folkestone
Golders Green Hippodrome
Belfast Radio Exhibition
RADIO (Regional Prog.) Music Hall
RADIO (National Prog.) Variety
September Glasgow Pavilion
Alexandra, Stoke Newington
London Alhambra
Empress Theatre, Brixton
August Kursaal Theatre, Geneva
Casino, Juan-les-Pins
Hollywood Cafe, Juan-les-Pins
London Alhambra
Alexandra, Stoke Newington
European Tour
July London Alhambra
Palace, Chelsea
London Trocadero
Shepherds Bush Empire
Palace, Blackpool
June Holborn Empire
Palace, Chelsea
Golders Green Hippodrome
London Alhambra
Golders Green Theatre
White Rock Pavilion, Hastings
May Paramount, Newcastle
Holborn Empire
Starlight Ball at the newly reopened Hammersmith Palais. The Houston Sisters are mobbed by crowds.
April FILM Production: Mister Cinders
March Chiswick Empire London Pavilion: Variety Artistes Ladies’ Guild Cabaret
FILM Production: Lost In The Legion Welwyn studios
February Hackney Empire
January Brixton Astoria
Trocabaret, Coventry Street
Billie Houston’s Novel ‘Twice Round The Clock’ serialised National Newspaper

Touring Europe



Come Dancing!

It’s May, 1934. 1000 dancers inaugurate the Summer dance season at the Hammersmith Palais.

It’s changed it’s name again, having been briefly been converted into the Ice Drome  –  one late 20s experiment that turned out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.

The Palais has just been refitted with a new dance floor.

It’s made of gorgeous bird’s-eye maple – the joins of each piece of wood are clamped with rubber springs.

The floor weighs 80 tons and permits 3000 dancers to dance in comfort.

The Palais was conceived in 1919.

Welcome to the Starlight Ball – a charity event to raise funds for the West London Hospital.

Beautiful evening clothes. The fur coats stretch all the way to Shepherd’s Bush.

Thank heavens it isn’t raining.

Famous names – John Stuart the actor.

The beautiful, the mad, the dangerous of London.

Tonights cabaret features some of the most popular stars of the day.

The Houston Sisters are mobbed on arrival.

A frightening moment for Renée and Billie.

The much loved Hammersmith Palais – gone to make way for a block of flats.

A beautiful old dance hall where happy folks did the Tango, the Cha Cha . . .

Learnt a step from Victor Sylvester, saw Joe Loss, Glenn Miller. Buzzed to the jazz of Stan Kenton.

Not forgetting Bill Haley & His Comets, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, David Bowie . . .

. . . the Starlight Ball . . .





December Coliseum
Victoria Palace
Palace, Cork
Lady Stoll’s Christmas Party
FILM De Forest Phonofilm at Cranmer Court, Clapham
November Royal Hippodrome, Belfast
Argyle, Birkenhead
October Palladium London
East Ham Palace
Royal Opera House Seventh Variety Ball
FILM ‘Eve’s Film Review’ Pathé Periodical Wardour Street
September Portsmouth Hippodrome
Islington Empire
The Kit Cat Club
The Piccadilly
Camberwell Empire
Camberwell Palace
Clapham Grand
Holborn Empire
Gramophone Recording for ACO at Hayes, Middlesex.
August Alhambra London
London Shoreditch
The Stork Club Dinner
July Coliseum
La Scala Saltcoats
Alhambra London
June Victoria Palace
Alhambra London
May Coliseum
Alhambra London Royal Command Performance
The Cosmo Club
Victoria Palace
Alhambra London
South London Palace of Varieties
Blackpool Palace
RADIO: 2LO Broadcast from Alhambra London
April Royal Hippodrome, Belfast
Dublin Theatre Royal
Argyle, Birkenhead
Wood Green Empire
March Coliseum VABF GALA
The Metropolitan
The Cosmo Club
Hackney Empire
February Coliseum
Coliseum Charity Night
Plymouth Palace
Nottingham Hippodrome
Liverpool Hippodrome
January Edmonton Empire
Watford Palace
Holborn Empire
Birmingham Hippodrome




Touring the Theatres of Britain

The Empire, Nottingham and the Theatre Royal


Halls of London


Above: London’s Metropolitan Theatre of Varieties, floor-plan and location


Above: The Holborn Empire




At The London Coliseum

In a year that signalled the meteoric rise of the Houston Sisters.


In a one-act play at the Coliseum John Gielgud and Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies play to a full house on a dazzlingly pink balcony.

“How cam’st thou hither, tell me and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”


Variety King of the Coliseum Theatre

Sir Oswald Stoll: brilliant, big-hearted and brave.

He set the standards of taste in the big London halls. Nothing that didn’t make the grade got ‘passed’ by him.  Naughtiness was ok, but nothing shamelessly lewd or crude. All-powerful . . . a little puritanical

“Still – he was a wonderful man.”

Renée Houston, 1975



December Victoria Palace (debut performance)
London Shoreditch
Exeter Hippodrome
Cardiff Empire
Gallery First Nighters’ club dinner (late 1925)
November Holborn Empire (debut performance)
Ardwick Green Empire
October Royal Hippodrome, Belfast
London, Shoreditch
September La Scala, Saltcoats Scotch Broth
August La Scala, Saltcoats Scotch Broth
July La Scala, Saltcoats Scotch Broth Watch
June Pavilion Theatre, Ayr
Argyle Theatre, Birkenhead
May Theatre Royal, Chester
Argyle Theatre, Birkenhead
Belfast Hippodrome
Lawrence Wright’s Toy Drum Major
April Hippodrome, St Helens
Argyle Theatre, Birkenhead
March Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen Bright Spots
February Pavilion, Glasgow Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son
January Pavilion, Glasgow Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son Greens Playhouse, Glasgow Cinema Ball
Ritz Palais de Danse, Berkeley St Actors Association Dance


The Scala, Saltcoats



To be part of a travelling show – sometimes a kind of circus, relying on whatever resources a local venue can offer. You carry everything yourself or take everything in wicker boxes on a covered truck. Every night is different. The only thing that matters is that you bring yourself. If there’s music, all the better for it – and it matters that the piano is tuned to perfect pitch. You have a triumph followed, as so often happens in show business, by hard times. You go on without any prior publicity and you make a success of it. It’s the sheer risk of it all. It’s electrifying and terribly free. Nothing could be more creative.





Beauty and youth – put through the mill.


A time of chorus lines and cheap digs.

And if you are lucky, there might be a spot in Cine-variety.

Halls and Cinemas         By R.Guy-Reeve
“When moving pictures first came out
There’s not the slightest room for doubt
That everybody flocked to see
What, then was just a novelty;
At first but crude affairs were they
Which got more perfect day by day
And as from year to year they’ve grown
They’ve but a public of their own.
The Halls, as everyone can tell,
Have their stanch devotees as well
Who do not really care a bean
For pictures on the silver screen.
The best thing, therefore, we can do
Appears to be to join the two
And strive the public taste to teach
To like an equal share of each
If this were done it seems to me
T’would stop all talk of rivalry
And side by side they’d swiftly press
Along the highroad to success.”



December Olympia Theatre, Dunfermline
November Picture House, Falkirk
September St Andrew’s Hall, Glasgow (James Houston & Company)
Bandstand,Rothesay ‘Summer show’(Fyfe & Fyfe Co)
August Falkirk Electric Theatre
Bandstand,Rothesay ‘Summer show’(Fyfe & Fyfe Co)
July Bandstand,Rothesay ‘Summer show’(Fyfe & Fyfe Co)
June Bandstand,Rothesay ‘Summer show’(Fyfe & Fyfe Co)
May Bandstand,Rothesay ‘Summer show’(Fyfe & Fyfe Co) Watch
Empire, Motherwell (James Houston & Company)
January Hamilton Hippodrome (James Houston & Company)


Travels in the Firth of Clyde.

Over the water to Rothesay . . .

Where young Renée Houston is a seaside entertainer quite like no other.

Renée and Billie Houston came from a theatrical family.

Their parents were artistes established in variety with a great reputation.

One reviewer called James Houston & Company the ‘Scots Comics of the Century.’

A talented variety act with a core of at least three players, it made the most of the musical and theatrical talents of James and Lizzi Houston. They toured Scotland, England and Ireland throughout the years of the Great War and were regulars at the liveliest and most popular halls in Glasgow and its suburbs, returning again and again with an act combining song, domestic drama and social comment.

James Houston & Co. took advantage of new and lucrative opportunities in Variety.

There was an upsurge in the building of halls and cine-variety theatres in Scotland during the first two decades of the 20th Century.


The Olympia at Bridgeton Cross in Glasgow was one variety theatre where they always received a warm welcome.

Here’s a photo of James and Lizzi before they went professional.


Perfect in Mama’s eyes?


The young Houston Sisters had a perfect and in some ways tough, apprenticeship in theatre and performance.

They retained a love for Glasgow and Scotland.

Renée’s myriad theatre appearances were always her mainstay – alongside film, radio and television work.


Evidence here gathered from theatre programmes, trade press and elsewhere.