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Remembered Musicals: “Nippy” (1930)

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I recently discovered a Twitter account called Lottie’s Diary quoting from a rediscovered diary of a North London chorus girl, Lottie Fisher, who performed in successful, but now largely forgotten, musical comedy, Nippy. There’s a podcast of the diary itself and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the glamour of 1930s theatrical life. I’d not heard of Nippy, so thought I’d have a look at the show and some of the people involved.

What Was a "Nippy"?

‘Nippies’ was the name given the waitresses at the J. Lyons & co cafes and tea shops. Known for their clean, wholesome image and in particular their speed of service, by the 1930s they were an instantly recognisable figure. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the ‘Nippies’ were given the Musical Comedy treatment!

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About The Show

1894’s The Shop Girl (composed: Ivan Caryll and Lionel Monckton, produced: George Edwardes) and its “belligerently modern”1 use of brand-names began a trend of deliberately ‘up-to-date’ settings for musical comedies and by 1930, a frothy romantic comedy about a working girl was a well-established trope. Nippy starred Binnie Hale, fresh from her leading role in Mr. Cinders, as a Lyons’ Corner House waitress alongside Clifford Mollison as “a young wastrel who steals policemen’s helmets on Boat Race night” and Arthur Riscoe as “a maker of film stars”2. You can probably guess the plot!

Highlights from the score of Nippy played by Debroy Somers and his band. I really like ‘Two of Everything’.

After a tour, the production landed in the West End for 137 performances at the Prince Edward Theatre, now home to Mary Poppins. The music for Nippy was composed by Billy Mayerl with Arthur Wimperis collaborating on the book and lyrics with Austin Melford (book) and Frank Eyton (lyrics). The music was performed by Debroy Summers and his Band. The production was produced by Julian Wylie and Lottie Fisher appeared as part of ‘Mr Wylie’s Chorus Girls and Boys’. Wylie was known as ‘the King of Pantomime’, partly due to his collaboration with fellow producer James W. Tate, who I’ll write about another time.

17th November 1930. Today is first day of Monday matinees – no compensatory increase in stipend. Boo! Such is life for “Mr Wylie’s Chorus Girls and Boys.”

Lottie Fisher’s Diary,

About The People

Billy Mayerl (1902 – 1959)

Mayerl deserves a post of his own, but by 1930 he was a celebrity pianist and songwriter whose career involved dance bands, recordings, and even performing the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Mayerl was an early adopter of American ragtime (and got into trouble for using it while training at Trinity College of Music) leading to the establishment of his ‘School of Syncopation’.

Arthur Wimperis (1874 – 1953)

Wimperis is probably best remembered as the lyricist of the Edwardian musical comedy The Arcadians (1909) but was also an Oscar-winning screenwriter in the 1940s. During his career he contributed lyrics to numerous revues and musicals, including The Gay Gordons, alongside P G Wodehouse.

Binnie Hale (1899 – 1984)

Hale’s most notable leads roles included No, No, Nanette (the show that introduced ‘Tea for Two’) and Mr. Cinders (her recording of ‘Spread A Little Happiness’ her most enduring ) as well as a string pf ‘principal boy’ roles in pantomimes. During her career she worked with C B Cochrane and Frankie Howard (in his own stage debut).

Where to watch it

I haven’t been able to find any sheet music for Nippy, but footage does remain of the show and a really worth a watch – the cast seems enormous!

Film from the number “Toy Town Party”. Is that Mickey Mouse they bring on half way through? 

From Pathé News, a full scene from the run at the Prince Edward Theatre complete with a car and a song! 

I’ve really enjoyed discovering what sounds like a gem of a show. Are there any musicals you think deserve remembering? Let me know in the comments.

1 Pearsall, Edwardian Popular Music, David & Charles
2 News Chronicle review
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