When the Tivoli theatres in Sydney and Melbourne closed in 1966, the genres of erotic performance found audiences elsewhere, in theatre restaurants like Melbourne’s lavish Lido and in the night clubs of Sydney’s Kings Cross.
From October 1965, at the Lido Theatre Restaurant in Melbourne, producer David McIlwraith presented revues ‘in the continental style’ with a chorus of showgirls, some nude, and with talent drawn from both television and stage – including comedian Johnny Lockwood, singer Denise Drysdale and drag artiste Tracey Lee.
Reviewing the Lido’s Hello Australia in 1967, Geoffrey Hutton observed that these new venues were considerably smaller than the variety theatres and the audience was, somehow, ‘not quite the same’. ‘Food and conversation’, he continued, ‘take the place of the gagman and his assistant’. But continuities in design and choreography were strong. Angus Winneke’s sets and costumes from the Tivoli were ‘fitted into the smaller stage without any loss in effect’ and ‘the whole performance is as fast as it is spectacular’.
The Lido choreographer was Felicia Hallmark, also known as Tuppy Downs. Described as ‘an old hand behind the glamour’ by the Age, Hallmark had been a Tivoli ballet mistress and dancer on the Fullers circuit. Her ‘biggest success’ had been the 1958 Tivoli show she choreographed for Sabrina; mention of the British starlet in pre-opening publicity endowed the Lido’s erotic appeal.
In a short-lived venture, Harry Wren booked McIlwraith’s Lido Revue for the 1967 gala opening of a theatre restaurant in Adelaide, with the Honourable Don Dunstan, Premier of South Australia suitably delivering the opening address, since Dunstan’s reform of liquor licensing had, according to Wren, made the venture possible.
By June 1970, McIlwraith had handed control of the Lido to Ferdinand Nemeth, who renovated the venue with claret and gold wallpaper, a midnight blue ceiling, and ‘a computerised fountain, complete with fairy lights’ imported, at a cost of $100,000, from the Mikado nightclub in Tokyo. Shirley Bassey performed at the renovated Lido later that year.
Choreographers carried the Tivoli traditions of showgirl revues into night clubs in Sydney as well. Sheila Cruze – who had worked on Harry Wren’s variety shows in the 1950s – was ballet mistress at Sydney’s Chequers nightclub in the 1960s and also choreographed the Les Girls drag queens at Kings Cross. Such glamorous, revue-style choreography and designs were standard fare at Sydney nightspots of the 1960s, such as Sammy Lee’s Latin Quarter, the Pigalle and other clubs.
Choreographer Judd Laine – who, in the 1950s, had worked at the Tivoli (Chez Paree 1951) and with Harry Wren (Thanks for the Memory 1953) – also applied his practice to the new venues of the 1960s. Alongside his choreography for the Graham Kennedy Show, Bandstand and other television shows, Laine choreographed revues for the Pink Pussycat and Pink Panther clubs in Kings Cross.
As the entertainment industry adjusted to the advent of television, audiences adjusted their relations to the erotic. Once happily presented among the varieties of ‘family’ entertainment, erotic performance would only come to confirm the gendered conventions of erotic spectatorship – whereby women perform for male spectators — as it transitioned in the 1960s into the ‘adult’ world of night club entertainment. Only after television had re-constituted variety entertainment for public broadcast into private homes did the media discourse on erotic entertainment assume the spectacle of moral debate.
When a newsreel in the 1940s offered to take viewers behind the curtain for a glimpse backstage at a Tivoli showgirl’s life, erotic fantasies are doused and moral outrage quelled as Joyce Smith turns out to be a girl-next-door leading a regular, respectable, work-a-day life. Yet by 1967 the prospect of topless girls at Melbourne’s Lido – reported in Melbourne’s Truth as if it were something new – saw advance bookings cancelled in their hundreds, drew the attention of the Acting Chief Secretary of the Victorian Parliament, and required the attendance of two vice squad detectives at a dress rehearsal before the show was pronounced ‘not offensive’ and given license to proceed.
The exchange in moral responsibility between televised entertainment and live performance is well-indicated by a placard advertising Sydney’s Pink Pussycat in the late 1960s. The placard invited the attendance of passers-by on the basis that they will recognise the appeal of the Pink Pussycat’s ‘international […] revue’ from its appearance on all four television stations in Sydney.
On Channel 7’s 7 Days, viewers taken on a tour of the Pink Pussycat, the Strip Palace, the Paradise Club and Les Girls, were asked to judge whether goings on inside are ‘Sophisticated – or Sick?’. Thus what television producers declined as too hot to deliver as family entertainment on variety shows was served up cold as investigative exposés of seedy nightlife on prime-time current affairs – which, as it turned out, were just the thing to draw a crowd to St Kilda and Kings Cross.
A journalist records that business had been lacklustre at Les Girls for quite some time, ‘until out of the blue came television with their ‘Glittering Mile […]’ and hey presto, you had to book a week in advance to get a table’.
Here is a short-list of some of the Lido revues. A longer list with details on cast is collated at AusStage.
- High Time (1965) – The Bernard Brothers
- Harlem Express (1966)
- Champagne on Ice (1966)
- Blue Magic (1966) A Revue in the Continental Style – Programme – Bounjour Paris, a gay fantasy with all the joie de vivre of the city of light, interpreted by Irene Bevans, Buster Skegges, Noel Hanlen, Paul Gavin, Miss Lido, and the Fabulous Lido Girls – Ken Littlewood and Toshi, aristocrats of magic, from the Mikado Theatre Restaurant, Tokyo – Polynesian Mood, echoes from the pacific isles, blue lagoon, native dances, sunswept beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, with Buster Skegges, Danse Primitive. Irene Bevans, Noel Hanlen, Paul Gavin, Miss Lido and the Lido Dancers and Showgirls – English comedy: Boby Dennis, England’s master of mirth from TV’s Jimmy Hannan Show and the Prince of Wales Theatre, London or Johnny Lockwood, Australia’s favourite English funster. Star of TV’s Sunnyside Up from HSV7 and original West End production of Oliver – Nuit Exotique, Finale featuring Miss Lido and the fabulous Lido Girls, with the entire company in the elaborate extravaganza presentation.
- All the Best (1966) – Think Pink, a distingue serenade to the glories of colour romanticism with a special accent on the spirit of Christmas, interpreted by Irene Bevans, Paul Gavin, Noel Hanlen, Miss Lido and the fabulous Lido Girls; Duo Revells – international acrobatic equilibrists – from Hansa Theatre, Hamburg; Mexican Fiesta – A gay Latin fantasy down South of the Border, echoes from the home of the Aztecs, and the elegance of colonial Spain, with Lido Harmony Duo, Irene Bevans, Noel Hanlen, Paul Gavin, Miss Lido and the Lido Dancers and Showgirls; Freddie Bamberger and Pam – English comedy duo from London Palladium; Rhapsody in Gold – finale, featuring Miss Lido, and the fabulous Lido Girls, with the entire company in an elaborate extravaganza presentation; Antonio Rodrigues – credited as ‘Brazilian King of Go Go and Conga Drummer’
- Hello Australia (1967) – A History of Australia. Prologue: Hello Australia – Stockman, Ron Lees. Scene I: Corroboree, An Australian Ballet, inspired by the primitive paintings and carvings found on the walls of caves around Alice Springs and throughout the Northern Territory. This sequence is choreographed in the modern jazz revusical dance idiom with Miss Lido, Noel Hanlen, and the fabulous Lido Girls. Scene II: Gold Fever – A re-cfreation of the turbulent, tempestuous gold rush era in Ballarat, when Lola Montez etched her name in Australian history as she captivated the miners with her provocative dances and filled her purse with untold riches, with Rosina Himing and the fabulous Lido Girls and Goddesses. Scene III: Memories of Melba. Intepreted by Valmai Johnston. Scene IV: Naughty Nineties. Music Hall Frolics with Shirlene Clancy. Ladies of the Town, the Fabulous Lido Girls, Bartender, Noel Hanlen. Scene V: Miss Lido introduces Montego, the international juggling virtuoso from New York. Scene VI: Over the Waves. A surf extravaganza dedicated to the sportsmen of Bondi, Coogee, Torquay and other famous Australian surfing resorts, interpreted by Shirlene Clancy, Ron Lees, Rosina Himing, Noel Hanlen, Miss Lido, and the fabulous Lido Girls and Showgirls, with representatives of Victoria’s premier Lifesaving Clubs. Scene VII: Tracey Less. Controversial Impressionist and Singing Personality. From Madame Artur’s Amsterdam. Scene VIII: King’s Cross ’67: Finale, featuring the entire company in the an elaborate presentation depicting Australia’s most cosmopolitan district with its gay ways and melting pot of humanity.
- Tropicana (1967) – a Latin-American Revue Extravaganza – Prologue: Tropicana. Robert McPhee, Miss Lido, and the fabulous lido Girls invite you to take an excursion to Chile and enjoy the haunting South American rhythms and joie de vivre; Scene I: Girl from Ipanema. What a senorita? From the pampas to rio De Janiero those Latin lovers are all aflutter. Her vibrant personality and exotic charms are highlighted in a gay extravaganza featuring: Zaid Afiff, Robert McPhee, Miss Lido, John Litchen, Noel Hanlen, with the fabulous lido Girls and the controversial Lido Goddesses; Scene II: The Two Leslies. Adagio Dance Sensationalists. Driect from the Tropicana, Las Vegas; Scene III: Havana. A visit to Cuba where pre-Castro echoes of highlife and gaiety are recaptured by Miss Lido, Robert McPhee, Zaid Affiff, John Litchen, Antonio Rodriques, Noel Hanlen, with the fabulous Lido Girls, and Goddesses; Scene IV: The Flattops. Australia’s International Star Pantomimics. From Mikado Theatre Restaurant, Tokyo, Tropicana, Las Vegas, and Mandarin Hotel, Hong Kong; Scene V: Mardi Gras. A thrilling South American carnival featuring the entire company in a representation of this typical Latin-American traditional celebration. A time for friendship: a time for love: a time to get together and really enjoy the pleasures of life and amour.
- Tropicana (1967) presented by Harry Wren at the Celebrity Theatre Restaurant (formerly the Majestic Theatre), Adelaide – devised and directed by David H. McIlwraith – Gala opening – Friday, November 24, 1967, by the Hon. The Premier, D.A. Dunstan, Q.C., M.P. – Prologue: Tropicana. Ron Lees, Miss Lido (Narelle Johnson) and the fabulous Lido Girls invite you to take an excursion to Chile and enjoy the haunting South American rhythms and joie de vivre. Scene I: Girl from Ipanema. What a senorita? From the pampas to Rio De Janiero those Latin lovers are all aflutter. Her vibrant personality and exotic charms are highlighted in a gay extravaganza featuring: Antonio Rodrigues, Ron Lees, Miss Lido and the fabulous Lido Girls. Scene II: Joe Martin. Australia’s sophisticated humorist from Chequers night club, Sydney, introduces – Scene III: Ken Littlewood and Toshi, international illusionists from Latin Quarter, Tokyo. Scene IV: Havana 1800. A visit to Cuba where pre-Castro echoes of high-life and gaiety are recaptured by Miss Lido, Ron Lees, Antonio Rodrigues, with the fabulous Lido Girls. Scene V: The Flattops. Australia’s international pantomimics returning to Australia are American and Far east show biz success. Scene VI: The fabulous Lido Girls present a glamorous introduction to June Bronhill, Australia’s international operatic and musical comedy star.
- Soir de Paris (1967) – Revue de-luxe concue et realise par David H. McIlwraith – Choreographie de Felicia Hallmark – Costumes et decors de Angus Winneke. Programme – I (a) C’est Paris! (This is Paris) (Les images de Paris) avec Les Chanteurs du Lido, Wayne Godfrey, Garcons du Lido. (b) Champs-Elysees. Mademoiselle Mirielle Rubin avec Les Lido Girls et Les Mannequins du Lido. II Nino Frediani, international juggling virtuoso, from Crazy Horse, Paris. III. Paris 1800 Une Soiree chez Maxims (An Evening at Maxims) presentant Madamoiselle Mirielle Rubin, Wayne Godfrey, Les Chanteurs du Lido, Les Lido Girls, Les Mannequins du Lido. IV. Wallace Brothers. Stars of Ed. Sullivan TV Show, U.S. entertainers deluxe. V Final (Finale) Folies Bergere. le Grand Escalier avec toute la compagnie.
- Say it with Music (1968) – A revue with an accent on melody – Say it with Music – A new Lido extravaganza. Programme. Scene I: Rhapsody in Rhythm (a) A colouful spectacle of melody and movement in a rhythmical mood depicted by Denise Drysdale, Wim Jonker, Quentin Irving and the fabulous Lido Girls. (b) Violins in the Night. Our Lido ballerina Robyn Himing, with Wayne Godfrey, premier danseur, with the Lido Girls and Goddesses. Scene II. Arlene Bailey, international chanteuse, from Thunderbird Hotel, Las Vegas. Scene III. Way Out West. Down where the sage brush grows, and men are men, and women are women, and a man’s best friend is his gun, and those honky tonk girls are so voluptuous, featuring Denise Drysdale, Wim Jonker, Quentin Irving and the fabulous Lido Girls and Goddesses. Scene IV. Des Lane. The Penny Whistle Man. From Dorchester, Savoy Hoetls, London. Scene V. Le Jazz Hot. The fabulous Lido Girls and the entire company are caught in a rapture of melody in the jazz idiom and the tempo builds to a thrilling finale.
- Gay’s the Word (1969) – Yvonne Barrett, Frances Faye, Ron Less and Antonio Rodriguez
- Jesse Davis (1969) – Fantasy revue, a new adventure in light and colour
- Theatre program collections at the Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne and the Special Collections, Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide.
- Geoffrey Hutton, ‘Lavish Lido revue’, The Age, 2 February 1967, p.6.
- ‘Old hand behind the glamour’, The Age, 16 October 1965, p.6.
- ‘Day in the Life of a Ballet Girl’, Cinesound Review no. 0749, 8 March 1946, NFSA title no. 236836
- ‘Champagne Flowed like water at party bare-tops too daring? Show regulars cancel bookings’, Melbourne Truth, 21 January 1967, p.23, in Tracey Lee papers, SLNSW; ‘Minister to see ‘topless’’, The Age, 24 January 1967, p.1; ‘Police stage critics’, The Age, 1 Feb 1967, p.3.
- ‘Four Corners – Channel 2, Glittering Mile – Channel 9, 7 Days – Channel 7 [and] Telescope – Channel 10’. Four Corners episode, ‘Michael Charlton looks at Sydney night life’, was broadcast on 17 November 1962. Channel Nine’s The Glittering Mile dates from 1964 and the episode of 7 Days from 1966.
- Michael Charlton looks at Sydney’s night life’, Four Corners, ABC Television, Sydney, transmitted 17 Nov 1962.7 Days: Sophisticated or Sick? (NFSA Title 221923).
- ‘Is it Tom, Dick or Harriet’ [no publication details], c.1967, Tracey Lee papers, SLNSW, Box 5 scrapbook. See also Carlotta 1994 He Did It Her Way, Sydney, Ironback.