Express & Star

Ken Dodd to Tommy Cooper, and a Roy Orbison finale: Proud history of Dudley Hippodrome

Concerned the variety show at Dudley Hippodrome was running over time, Maurice Kennedy ordered that a young stand-up comic’s act should be cut to just five minutes.

Maureen Bowler, Tommy Cooper and Eve Boswell at the Dudley Hippodrome in 1954 for the production King of Hearts.

Eager to get on in his career, the young man was only too happy to oblige.

“You just give me a signal by stamping on the stage, and I’ll go into my closing routine,” he replied. His name? Bruce Forsyth.

Brucie was one of a hatful of young, up-and-coming stars who made their name at the Hippodrome when it was one of the leading variety theatres in the country. While it attracted some of the world’s biggest stars – Bob Hope, Laurel & Hardy and Bing Crosby all played the Hippo – it was also a springboard for little-known performers who would go on to glittering careers.

Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd all cut their teeth on the Hippodrome’s vast stage, before going on to find fame in that newfangled medium of television.

The Hippodrome is no more. The bulldozers have demolished what was the West Midlands’ largest theatre. But while the building makes way for a new university campus, its legacy will live on.

Opening the week before Christmas 1938 by Dudley Joel MP, Dudley-born Wimbledon champion Dorothy Round was also in the audience, along with deputy mayor Alderman J L Hillman, architect Archibald Hurley Robinson, and builder A J Crump.

Laurel and Hardy at Dudley Hippodrome in May 1947
Comedians Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise present their collection of beer mats in their dressing room at Dudley Hippodrome in Worcestershire. With them is 17-year-old Ann Harris.