The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson – top glamour girls at the old Empire

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

THE New Year is upon us and here to welcome us into 2019 is a selection of photographs of some of the glamorous girls who once trod the boards of the old Empire theatre in Dewsbury.

Their names are forgotten now, but once these lovely ladies were among some of the most talented women in show business at that time.

Exotic dancer Arimand Banu.

Exotic dancer Arimand Banu.

They were dancers, chorus girls, comediennes, acrobats, singers and fan dancers, too – including Phyllis Dixie – the most famous fan dancer of all time.

She appeared there in the 1940s, and according to one of the lighting technicians who worked there, she never showed an inch of naked flesh.

Other fan dancers were a little more daring and did show “all” but only at the precise moment that a thick muslin curtain descended.

Timing was everything – and all the expectant audience saw was a fuzzy silhouette – but the applause was still tumultuous.

Famous fan dancer Phylis Dixie.

Famous fan dancer Phylis Dixie.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s some of the country’s leading women singers also entertained there – but more of them in future columns.

They stayed at local boarding houses and often had tea parties with members of the band in the restaurant at the Playhouse Cinema.

The Empire Theatre opened on a warm summer’s night in 1909 and closed on a damp April evening in 1955, and so sudden was its closure that the stars booked for the following week didn’t even know.

Its sudden closure also struck a real blow to Mirfield Athletic Football Club, who for 12 months had been making plans for a Sunday concert to help pay for the cost of ground improvements.

Empire Star: Susie Majilor.

Empire Star: Susie Majilor.

They had already booked singer Ronnie Hilton and Vic Lewis and his Orchestra, and a cancellation would have meant a heavy financial loss for them.

But all was not lost, and after gaining permission to still use the theatre, they set about arranging to put the show on themselves.

With only a few days in which to do it, everyone at the club put their hearts and souls into making sure that the show would go on.

The club players, officials, supporters and friends acted as usherettes, stage hands, cashiers, and programme sellers to ensure the show did go on.

The only people they had to pay were the technical and lighting staff who had previously worked at the Empire.

I wonder if this particular Mirfield club is still going and if there are people still around who were among those who brought it all together.

The Empire theatre was one of the biggest and grandest theatres in the country, but competition from television and the silver screen took their toll and another proud theatre from the provinces was forced to close.

I hope in future to write more about some of the stars who appeared there, especially Charlie Chaplin who stayed at a local boarding house.

Do you have memories of the Empire you would like to share? If so contact tresham3@gmail.com.