Royal Variety Performance

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Royal Variety Performance
Also known as Royal Command Performance
Genre Variety show
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes91 (list of episodes)
Original network BBC One (1960–2010)
ITV (1960–present)
Original release1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–38, 1945–55, 1957 
Related shows Tonight at the London Palladium
External links

The Royal Variety Performance is a televised variety show held annually in the United Kingdom to raise money for the Royal Variety Charity (of which Queen Elizabeth II is life-patron). [1] It is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family. [2] The evening's performance is presented as a live variety show, usually from a theatre in London and consists of family entertainment that includes comedy, music, dance, magic and other speciality acts.


The Royal Variety Performance traditionally begins with the entrance of the members of the British Royal Family followed by singing of the national anthem, God Save the Queen, which was also performed by the participating acts as a traditional end to Royal Variety Performances.

Background and founding

The first performance, on 1 July 1912, was called the Royal Command Performance , and this name has persisted informally for the event. This was held in the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. After correspondence with Sir Edward Moss, the King said he would command a Royal Variety show in his coronation year, 1911, provided the profits went to the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund, as the Royal Variety Charity was then known. It was planned to be in the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, part of the vast Moss Empires group, but the building caught on fire a month before the show. After the death of Moss, Sir Alfred Butt was chosen as the impresario and it was staged in 1912. [3] This was a lavish occasion, and his London Palace Theatre was lavishly decorated, complete with some 3 million rose petals.

Artists and performers

Top performers included Vesta Tilley, Sir George Robey, David Devant, Anna Pavlova, Harry Lauder and Cecilia Loftus. The organisers did not invite Marie Lloyd, because of a professional dispute. Her act was deemed too risqué and her three public, unsuccessful marriages were thought to make her unfit to perform in front of royalty. [4] She held a rival performance in a nearby theatre, which she advertised was "by command of the British public". The name of the event was changed to prevent possible royal embarrassment. The Royal Variety Performance became an annual event at the suggestion of King George V from 1921 and from 1927 the British Broadcasting Corporation began to broadcast it on radio.

From 1928 through to 1938, the impresario-producer and manager of the London Palladium, George Black, took over the presentation of the Royal Variety Performance. He would also facilitate as compere at the shows. His first production was held on 1 March 1928 at the London Coliseum and from 1930 to 1937 he held the shows at the London Palladium. His 1938 show returned to the London Coliseum. Throughout World War II from 1939 to 1944 no shows were presented. The show resumed in 1945 after the war ended.

From 1960 to 2010, the BBC and ITV broadcast a recorded version of the show, alternating the production between their two main channels, with the BBC producing and televising the 'even years' and ITV televising the 'odd years'. In both 1976 and 1978, the BBC broadcast the show live. The show was staged mainly in a West End theatre. Prior to 1999, only two shows were staged outside London (1955 in Blackpool and 1959 in Manchester), but since becoming the exclusive broadcaster, ITV has staged the show in regional theatres outside London. From 2011, ITV have exclusive rights to televise the show. [5] The show has been frequently staged in the London Palladium theatre, and in the 1950s and 1960s a television show based on the same idea, called Sunday Night at the London Palladium and hosted by many entertainers, including Bruce Forsyth, ran for over 20 years.

A wide range of acts has performed at the Royal Variety Performance, including Laurel and Hardy in 1947, the Beatles in 1963, the Supremes in 1968 and the Blue Man Group in 2005. Max Bygraves and Cliff Richard are two of the most frequent performers, having appeared at least 14 and 13 times each respectively between 1950 and 2008. The Beatles appeared at the 1963 show, when John Lennon delivered the famous line:

For our last number I'd like to ask your help: Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery.

The money raised by the Royal Variety Performance provides most of the funding for the Royal Variety Charity (formerly the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund) and its care-home for retired members of the entertainment profession and their dependents, Brinsworth House. [6] [7]

In 1974, Noele Gordon presented the Royal Variety Performance making her the first female presenter of the show. [8]


After the first Royal Variety Performance on 1 July 1912 presented by Sir Alfred Butt, it was seven years before the next show, on 28 July 1919 held at the Coliseum Theatre presented this time by Sir Oswald Stoll. The orchestra was conducted by Edward Elgar. In 1921 it moved to the Hippodrome, and was held in November. It was the first time that the Royal Variety Performance became an annual event. In 1923 it moved to the Coliseum Theatre. Then after a gap in 1924, moved to the Alhambra Theatre in February 1925, where it remained in 1926, held on 27 May. It was the first Royal Variety Performance to be broadcast, with the BBC providing live radio coverage.

In 1927 there was another move, this time to the Victoria Palace Theatre, with J. A. Webb the compère. The 1928 show, on 13 December, was held at the Coliseum Theatre. The next show, on 22 May 1930, moved to the London Palladium with George Black and Val Parnell compèring. It was the start of seven successive years at the venue.

In 1935 the Royal Variety Performance was held in the Silver Jubilee year of King George V and Queen Mary. This was the last time King George V attended – he died three months later, in January 1936.

There have been two Royal Scottish Variety Performances, both attended by Queen Elizabeth, and presented by Howard & Wyndham Ltd in Glasgow's Alhambra Theatre, which Sir Alfred Butt had opened, in 1958 and 1963. [3] The Children's Royal Variety Performance was devised by entertainer Rod Hull in 1981 [9] and took place in London until 1994 in aid of NSPCC.

In 1990, A Royal Birthday Gala to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Queen Mother, was staged at the London Palladium on 19 July, replacing the traditional November/December Royal Variety Show that year. In place of the traditional show, a special programme called Thirty Years of the Royal Variety Performance aired on BBC One on 29 December 1990. It was hosted by Bruce Forsyth and took a look back at the BBC's television broadcasts of the programme over 30 years, with clips from the archives. [10] After this variation, from 1991, the traditional variety show returned.

Britain's Got Talent

Since 2007, one act of the Royal Variety show has been selected by the British public through the ITV television talent show Britain's Got Talent .

A public telephone vote decides the most popular act in each semi-final, which then progresses to the final, along with a second act chosen by the judges. The grand final is then broadcast live and all the acts perform again for the public vote.



The London Palladium, where the performance has most often been held. London Palladium Theatre.jpg
The London Palladium, where the performance has most often been held.

There have been a total of 17 theatres that have staged the 93 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance. Out of the total of 93 shows, 75 have been in London theatres and seven in other cities and towns.

Note: Where no town or city is noted in the theatre column in the following table, the venue is situated in London.

London Palladium 431930–1937, 1946–1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1964–1978,
1980, 1987–1990, 2008, 2010, 2013–14, 2017–19
London Coliseum 101919, 1923, 1928, 1938, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 2004, 2006
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 71979, 1981–1983, 1985–1986, 1991
Dominion Theatre 71992–1996, 2000–2001
Victoria Palace Theatre 61927, 1951, 1955, 1960, 1984, 1997
Opera House Theatre, Blackpool 31955, 2009, 2020
Hippodrome, London 21921–1922
Alhambra Theatre 21925–1926
Prince of Wales Theatre 21961, 1963
Royal Albert Hall 32012, 2015, 2021
Hammersmith Apollo 22002, 2016
Palace Theatre, London 11912
Palace Theatre, Manchester 11959
Lyceum Theatre 11998
Birmingham Hippodrome 11999
Edinburgh Festival Theatre 12003
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 12005
Liverpool Empire Theatre 12007
The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford 12011

Royal Family attendance

A total of 17 members of the Royal Family have attended the 86 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance.

Queen Elizabeth II [11] 391945–46, 1948–49, 1952–58, 1960, 1962, 1964–65, 1967, 1969–71, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985,
1987, 1989–90, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother [12] 261937–38, 1945–51, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990–91
The Duke of Edinburgh 261947, 1953–55, 1957–58, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969–70, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1987,
1989–90, 1993, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012
Charles, Prince of Wales 161968, 1977, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2020
King George V 151912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35
Queen Mary 151912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35
King George VI 81937–38, 1945–50
Princess Margaret 51949, 1951, 1968, 1970, 1988, 1990
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall 52006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge 32014, 2017, 2019
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge 32014, 2017, 2019
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex 22015, 2018
Anne, Princess Royal 21968, 2011
Diana, Princess of Wales 21984, 1992
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex 12018
Sarah, Duchess of York 11986
Earl of Snowdon 11968
Queen Maud of Norway 11922

Television coverage

The performance is broadcast on television throughout the world and is considered by many to be a tradition of the Christmas and New Year holiday season, particularly within the 53 countries of the British Commonwealth. For example, in Norway the programme is broadcast following the chimes of midnight each New Year's Eve and in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean Islands and the Bahamas it is broadcast during the afternoon of Christmas Day, every year. In Canada, it has aired on CBC variously on Boxing Day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. [13] [14]

ITV is contracted by the Royal Variety Charity for TV production and in the UK is the sole broadcaster, having shared that responsibility with the BBC between 1960 and 2010. [5]


In the 1960s, the televised edition of the show was the number one rated show for the entire year in the UK in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967 and 1968, with the show ranked 6th in 1964, 3rd in 1966 and 2nd in 1969. [15]

In the 1970s, the show topped the annual rankings in 1975 and ranked 8th in 1970, 4th in 1971, 9th in 1976 and 3rd in 1977. [16]

Ratings sourced from BARB.

BroadcasterOvernight share
20 December 199811.24BBC OneN/A
4 December 199910.60ITV41.0% [17]
17 December 20007.92BBC OneN/A
28 November 200111.55ITV47.0% [18]
15 December 20028.19BBC One30.9% [19]
26 November 20038.56ITV36.8% [20]
15 December 20046.60BBC One31.0% [20]
11 December 20059.82ITV36.8% [21]
12 December 20067.98BBC One33.7% [21]
9 December 20077.78ITV27.2% [21]
17 December 20087.75BBC One31.7% [22]
16 December 20099.56ITV37.4% [23]
16 December 20108.90BBC One33.0% [23]
14 December 20117.61 ^1 ITV29.2% [24]
3 December 20129.24 ^2 ITV33.7% [25]
9 December 20138.30 ^3 ITV31.3% [26]
8 December 20147.64 ^4 ITV28.7% [27]
8 December 20154.94ITV24.3% [28]
13 December 20165.13ITV22.0% [29]
19 December 20174.86ITV22.1% [30]
11 December 20185.01ITV21.7% [31]
10 December 20195.06ITVN/A
8 December 2020Less than 4.37ITV


1 6.75 million on ITV, 564,000 on ITV HD and 293,000 on ITV +1.
2 8.05 million on ITV, 767,000 on ITV HD and 422,000 on ITV +1.
3 7.07 million on ITV, 832,000 on ITV HD and 398,000 on ITV +1.
4 6.31 million on ITV, 919,000 on ITV HD and 413,000 on ITV +1.

See also

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Further reading