The 1937 Vic-Wells Coronation Ball

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‘Fancy dress preferred.’

On this day in 1937, the seventeenth annual Vic-Wells Fancy Dress Coronation Ball took place at The Royal Albert Hall in aid of the ‘Vic-Wells Building Debts Fund and the Five Year Plan for a School of Ballet at Sadler’s Wells.’

Hosted by Lilian Baylis, the evening was held under the Patronage of Her Majesty the Queen and had dancing from 9.30pm – 3.30am with Bobby Howell and His Augmented Dance Orchestra.

There was a special coronation fancy dress theme of ‘Kings and Queens Through the Ages’ and entrants were judged by Charles B Cochran and Ivor Novello with prizes awarded by Edith Evans and Laurence Olivier. The  programme also featured ‘Divertissement’, choreographed by Ninette de Valois and danced by Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Michael Somes and Leslie Edwards.

Tickets were 10/-6 (exclusive of refreshments) and ‘all applications should be accompanied by a stamp for reply. Evening dress permissible.’ There was also a ‘get you home Coach Service’ at 2/- per head thanks to Samuelson’s New Transport Co.

Actress Dorothy Drake wrote a programme introduction:

This Ball to-night is absolutely the biggest, grandest, and most splendid up to date! We know that we always claim that the last is the best, but in this case there’s no question. After all, we don’t have a Coronation every day; indeed, to lots of us this is the first we’ve known, so that fact alone is enough for us to want to surpass ourselves. More wonderful stars, more celebrities to help in the judging etc., headed by Mr Cochran, more lavish prizes – in every particular this evening is out to break existing records, and the record that the Organisers long to beat beyond all others is in the amount of money they are eventually able to hand over to Lilian Baylis.

Many Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells patrons will smile when reading this begging appeal, and surely a vision will cross their minds of Miss Baylis in cap and gown, on first and last nights, and other memorable occasions, walking on the stage, and making a speech which invariably, at some point, emphasises the necessity of ‘bigger attendances and larger receipts! We ought to have houses like this every night in order to pay our way. Please tell your friends to come; you must all make greater efforts.’ Etc.. etc.

When the audiences hear these familiar words, there is an amused ripple – the same old cry, they say, turning to each other! Yes, but that’s Miss Baylis’ misfortune; she simply has to beg because her work is not free from financial embarrassment; she doesn’t like asking people for money – who does? But money has to be found, so now, even to-night, in the midst of the laughter and dancing, there will be an appeal, and here’s your chance! Give generously! Give in proportion to your enjoyment! That’s a safe exhortation, because nobody ever came to a Vic-Wells Ball who didn’t have a perfectly wonderful evening, so the more you’ve liked it the larger let your contribution be! You know the money’s for a good cause; that in itself is a good incentive for giving!

And now for you folks who keep the programme as a souvenir, to be read carefully the next day or week, but anyhow, not at the present moment. To you then, in case you haven’t followed the example of your fellow revellers whom you saw showering coins down on to the floor, this is addressed. Send a trifle to Miss Baylis – to the Dance Organisers – as a thank-offering for the evening’s fun! Do you appreciate the time and energy that has been expended on to-night’s programme? The letters, telegrams, messages which are sent out in hundreds – don’t think it’s arranged in a week or so. No, ever since the opening of the season last September, the Organisers have spent hours each night on the work, and the actors and dancers who have been busy all evening – now, instead of going home to a quiet supper and bed, here they are presenting the prizes. So you see, everybody connected with this function gives as much as lies in their power. You, the public, have the least to do; give then, as your contribution to the cause of the Vic-Wells Debts Fund and the School of Ballet, and give liberally, please!

81 years later we continue to rely on the generosity of our supporters to keep our theatre going. If you would like to ensure The Old Vic is enjoyed for generations to come, join in. Make a donation, become a friend, leave a legacy or find out how you can help here.

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