The other pierrots of Redcar.
Although Billy Scarrow's Optimists were probably the most celebrated pierrots in Redcar, they were not the first, nor were they without significant competition. The information and images below are courtesy of Peter Verrill and Peter Morgan.
The Minstrels, 1900
Entertainers who ‘blacked up’ were popular in the first half of the 20th century. This troupe of 1900 is very early for organised entertainment of this kind at Redcar. The concertina player is Jack Richardson.
J.W. Groves’ Royal Redcar Pierrots, 1904
The first pierrots to perform at Redcar were Johnny (Smiler) Groves’ troupe. Johnny Groves was a Scarborough man who began his career as a seaside entertainer. He originally ran a black face minstrel show on Scarborough sands in the early 1890’s when he was about 20 years of age. After a few seasons he left the beach and went on the halls, being particularly successful as a pantomime dame.
Around the turn of the century he came to Redcar with a troupe of pierrots who performed on the site of the old bandstand. There were six members of this all male troupe, with the traditional suits, ruffles & pom poms. The star turn was a lanky comedian (on the left of the picture) called Wearie Willie.
It was originally intended that Johnny Groves’ pierrots should entertain the old people of Redcar at a dinner in the central hall. The dinner was scheduled for June in honour of the coronation of Edward VII, but the coronation was postponed due to the indisposition of the king who had appendicitis and was unfit to attend the ceremony. By this time, plans were so far advanced for the dinner that it was decided that it should be held as arranged. Johnny and his troupe gave an enjoyable show, long remembered by those present.
They stayed at Redcar for several seasons and by 1907 had become Johnny Groves’ Royal Entertainers, having performed for royalty on one occasion. They now sported cropped waist-length jackets and white trousers with cummerbunds, topped with the popular straw boaters of the period. They maintained their popularity, despite the fact that other troupes were now appearing at Redcar to entertain the visitors.
Sam Paul’s Cleveland Cadets, 1911
Sam Paul and his Cleveland Cadets were popular with the Redcar audiences in the early years of the reign of George V, leading up to the First World War. They had their first show in the summer of 1910, and appeared in successive years until 1914. Sam Paul (pictured in the centre of the group, reading the newspaper) was, in fact, Robert Nesbitt Sample. In the 1910 season, he and his wife Florence were living at 42 Alfred Street, Redcar.
The Cleveland Cadets performed all the popular songs of the day in an alfresco which was set up on the beach. Sam, like many performers of the East Coast began his career as a pierrot with Will Catlin’s troupe at Scarborough. There were eight cadets who wore the now popular double-breasted blazers, white trousers and yachting caps. The climax of the show was a sketch which was always performed as a grand finale and so contrived as to include all members of the troupe.
Sam and his men always gave a very late show on Friday evenings, which was intended for the local people after the trippers, wearied with the excitement of the day, had returned to the station and the homeward-bound excursion trains. This show was much appreciated by the landladies of the boarding houses, whose guests kept them busy through the week.
After finishing with pierrot work, Sam hired the Central Hall (built on the site of Redcar’s first railway station) and opened a cinema – The Picture Palace. Sam, who was an expert on both the banjo and ukulele, is said to have taught George Formby to play the ukulele in the early 1920’s.
Harry Willat's White Stars Concert Party
Harry Willat's White Stars Concert Party were performing in the 1920's, to the delight of the holidaymakers.
Uncle Tom and Sunshine Corner, 1920s - 1939
Sunshine Corner was a stage and background which was originally placed on the central beach opposite the Royal Hotel in the 1920’s. It was organised by Uncle Tom (Mr. T. Thompson), an evangelist who arranged popular light entertainment and open air religious services there during the summer season.
He had a band of helpers. They sang songs which were presumably composed by Uncle Tom himself. There was a portable organ to provide accompaniment and the audience participated in a sing-along, complete with hand movements to illustrate the words. All the songs had a religious theme and children were encouraged to go to the stage and sing either a chorus or a solo, for which they were rewarded with a stick of rock. In the 1934 and 1935 seasons, Uncle Tom paid Redcar Council £15 rent for his pitch.
A typical chorus to start the singing on the beach ran:-
Sunshine corner, oh it’s jolly fine
It’s for children under ninety-nine.
All are welcome, seats are given free
Redcar sunshine corner is the place for me!
A cheerful sentiment, if not strictly true – standing room was certainly free, but a seat had to be paid for. The entertainers came round with a collecting box.
Sunshine Corner and other beach amusements were swept away one year by a high tide. It was rebuilt on Coatham beach and was in use until the 1950’s.
Redcar Ramblers Concert Party
Little is known of this concert party, but their photograph is shown below: