“There is no doubt about it, variety is coming back to Eastbourne,” Billy Merson declared at the Royal Hippodrome Theatre in February 1938.
He was speaking at the end of his “brilliant and amusing turn,” according to the Eastbourne Gazette, and commented: “I am delighted to see these large audiences tonight and I thank you for your most kind reception. This is only my second visit to Eastbourne, but I assure you that I should have been here many more times had I known how warm hearted you are.”
Eighty years on, Billy takes to the Eastbourne stage again in a new musical play If I Catch Alphonso, Tonight! which recalls the life of this famous music hall star and songwriter, and contains extracts from his comic songs.
It will be performed at the Lamb Theatre, High Street, Old Town, between May 9-12 nightly at 7.30pm. with an additional performance at 2.30pm on Saturday.
The play was written by Miles Jenner who takes on the role of Merson. He is accompanied by Roger Roser on the piano.
Born in Nottingham in 1881, Billy began his career while working in a lace-making factory, doing shows in the evenings. It took some time until he could make a living from his stage work. He commenced his theatrical career as an acrobat and circus clown before going solo as a comedian.
He composed and performed many songs, including The Spaniard That Blighted My Life. He first sang it in pantomime at Brighton and it played a very significant part in his fortunes thereafter.
He took London music halls by storm in 1909 before going on to perform in revue, musical comedies, theatre and cinema. He is credited with having made the first British ‘talking picture’ in 1926. Having reached the top of his profession, circumstances conspired against him and he returned to variety work, appearing at Bexhill, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings during the 1930s.
If I Catch Alphonso, Tonight! tells of a man who constantly found himself on the ropes but always bounced back. Tickets £11 from 01323 479732, Eastbourne Tourist Information, or online at TheLittleBoxOffice.com.