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Folies Extravaganza - 9 Oct 1961

Strip Strip Hooray!

Depending on your age, you may or may not know about The Varieties’ notorious history as a strip theatre in the 1950s & 1960s.

For National Nude Day we have delved into our double life as the home of family favourite The Good Old Days and as a host of shows such as Peeparama and No Binoculars By Request.

Written by Bryony Jameson.

Nowadays it may seem a surprise that The Varieties was once the go-to destination for strip shows, but in the 1950s and 1960s, then-owner Harry Joseph opted for the risqué programming in an effort to compete with the rising popularity of cinema and television.

Admittedly an act of desperation to keep the theatre going, they actually proved a great hit with audiences. When we have mentioned this part of our history on Facebook, we have been inundated by  audience members sharing their fond memories of the decades!

Those who were children in the 1950s have told us that they would sneak in with their friends to see the show and cause mischief. As the performers were under strict instruction not to move, (moving props and scene changes were utilised to create the illusion of movement), children would smuggle in peashooters hoping to make the poor performers move! We’ve even been told that parents (and even grandparents!) took children as a ‘rite of passage’ into adulthood!

Young men who sought to ‘woo’ their prospective girlfriends with a night out at the ‘theatre’, would discover their company didn’t quite share the same view of the entertainment. Another comment we hear a lot is that The Varieties entrance on The Headrow would have a display of upcoming attractions featuring – you guessed it – images of the performers and outfits (or lack of) that they would be wearing. People would gather around to enjoy the view before deciding to spend their earnings on a proper ‘peep’. At some shows exclusive postcards of the acts would be handed around.

As well as the strip acts, the bills were mixed with a large variety of performers, from comedians (starting the careers of Barry Cryer, The Patton Brothers and more), to musicians, magicians, clowns, hire wire acts and much more. The only ever-present genre of performer during the time was the strip acts.

These shows however began to lower the reputation – especially when compared to the increasingly popular The Good Old Days. As ownership moved to Joseph’s sons, Stanley and Michael, they stopped the strip shows in 1968, favouring family-friendly pantos. It did take a while though for audiences to be convinced that The Varieties had changed its ways.

Stanley explained: ‘We’ve decided to change our image. When we put on our first pantomime last Christmas, families had to be assured there were no nudes in Cinderella before they’d bring the kids’ (Daily Sketch, 1969).