Royal Variety Performance

For a general description of performances for the monarch, see Royal Command Performance.
Royal Variety Performance
Also known as Royal Command Performance
Genre Variety show
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 88 (list of episodes)
Original network BBC One
Original release 1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–38, 1945–55, 1957 – present
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. It is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family, usually the reigning monarch. The reigning monarch either attends in person or is represented by other senior members of the Royal Family.[1] 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 event is organized by the Royal Variety Charity of which Queen Elizabeth II is the sole life-patron.[2]

Televised media

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 Canada and 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.[3][4]

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]

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 EABF was then known. It was planned to be in the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, part of the vast Moss Empires group, but the building went 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.[6] 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 made her unfit to perform in front of royalty.[7] 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 became an annual event at the suggestion of King George V from 1921 and 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 BBC usually staged the show in a West End theatre, and ITV 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.

Almost every conceivable sort of act has at one time or another been presented to the monarch at the Royal Command Performance, including Laurel and Hardy in 1947, the Beatles in 1963, the Supremes in 1968 and the Blue Man Group in 2005. At the Beatles' show on 4 November 1963, John Lennon delivered a line to the well-heeled audience which has passed into legend:

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 Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund and its home, Brinsworth House, a home for retired members of the entertainment profession and their dependants.


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.[6]

In 1990, A Royal Birthday Gala to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Queen Mother, was staged at the London Palladium on August 4; replacing the traditional November/December Royal Variety Show that year. In place of the traditional show, a special programme Thirty Years of the Royal Variety Performance, shown on BBC One on 29 December 1990, hosted by Bruce Forsyth, was a look back at the BBC's television broadcasts of the programme over 30 years, with clips from the archives.[8] After this variation, from 1991, the traditional variety show returned.

Britain's Got Talent

Main article: 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 (Or app voting from 2013) which both cost money (5 app votes were made free each show from 2015 in the app) 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.

There have been a total of 17 theatres that have staged the 81 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance. Out of the total of 82 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.

Theatre No. Years Notes
London Palladium 40 1930–1937, 1946–1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1964–1978, 1980, 1987–1990, 2008, 2010, 2013–14
London Coliseum 10 1919, 1923, 1928, 1938, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 2004, 2006
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 7 1979, 1981–1983, 1985–1986, 1991
Dominion Theatre 7 1992–1996, 2000–2001
Victoria Palace Theatre 6 1927, 1951, 1955, 1960, 1984, 1997
Hippodrome, London 2 1921–1922
Alhambra Theatre 2 1925–1926
Opera House Theatre, Blackpool 2 1955, 2009
Prince of Wales Theatre 2 1961, 1963
Royal Albert Hall 2 2012, 2015 100th Anniversary (2012)
Hammersmith Apollo 2 2002, 2016
Palace Theatre, London 1 1912
Palace Theatre, Manchester 1 1959
Lyceum Theatre 1 1998
Birmingham Hippodrome 1 1999
Edinburgh Festival Theatre 1 2003
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 1 2005
Liverpool Empire Theatre 1 2007
The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford 1 2011

Royal Family attendance

A total of 16 members of the Royal Family have attended the 86 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance.

Name No. Years Notes
Queen Elizabeth II 39 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 (Blackpool), 1955 (London), 1957, 1958, 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 [9]
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother 26 1937–38, 1945–51, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991 [10]
The Duke of Edinburgh 26 1947, 1953–55 (Blackpool & London), 1957–58, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1987, 1989–90, 1993, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012
King George V 15 1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35
Queen Mary 15 1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–35
Charles, Prince of Wales 12 1968, 1977, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013
King George VI 8 1937–38, 1945–50
Princess Margaret 4 1949, 1951, 1968, 1990
Duchess of Cornwall 3 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013
Anne, Princess Royal 2 1968, 2011 [11]
Prince Harry 1 2015
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge 1 2014
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge 1 2014
Diana, Princess of Wales 1 1992
Sarah, Duchess of York 1 1986
Earl of Snowdon 1 1968
Queen Maud of Norway 1 1922


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.[12]

In the 1970s, the show top the annual rankings in 1975 and ranked 8th in 1970, 4th in 1971, 9th in 1976 and 3rd in 1977.[13]

Ratings sourced from BARB.

Airdate Viewers
Broadcaster Overnight share
20 December 1998 11.24 BBC1 N/A
4 December 1999 10.60 ITV 41.0%[14]
17 December 2000 7.92 BBC1 N/A
28 November 2001 11.55 ITV 47.0%[15]
15 December 2002 8.19 BBC1 30.9%[16]
26 November 2003 8.56 ITV 36.8%[17]
15 December 2004 6.60 BBC1 31.0%[17]
11 December 2005 9.82 ITV 36.8%[18]
12 December 2006 7.98 BBC1 33.7%[18]
9 December 2007 7.78 ITV 27.2%[18]
17 December 2008 7.75 BBC1 31.7%[19]
16 December 2009 9.56 ITV 37.4%[20]
16 December 2010 8.90 BBC133.0%[20]
14 December 2011 7.61^1 ITV 29.2%[21]
3 December 2012 9.24^2 ITV 33.7%[22]
9 December 2013 8.30^3 ITV 31.3%[23]
8 December 2014 7.64^4 ITV 28.7%[24]
8 December 2015 4.94 ITV TBD


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

Further reading


  1. "British Monarchy Official Website".
  2. "Royal Patronage of the Royal Variety".
  3. "Royal Variety Performance ABC TV network".
  4. "Royal Variety Performance in Canada on CBC".
  5. 1 2 "History of the Royal Variety".
  6. 1 2 Graeme Smith (2011) Alhambra Glasgow ISBN 978-0955942-01-3
  7. "1912, London Palace Theatre". Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  9. Attended in 1949 as Princess Elizabeth.
  10. Attended as Queen Elizabeth between 1937 and 1951 and as The Queen Mother from 1959 onward
  11. Originally Her Majesty The Queen was due to attend the 2011 show, but plans were altered.
  14. "OVERNIGHT RATINGS - Bee Gees and Macca still rocking viewers".
  15. "Royal Variety gives ITV1 peak-time crown".
  16. "Fame Academy shows the doubters".
  17. 1 2 "Royal Variety show draws 8.5m".
  18. 1 2 3 "Royal Variety performs for ITV1 with 7.4m".
  19. "Royal Variety Performance draws 8.7m". Digital Spy.
  20. 1 2 "Royal Variety performs to 8.3m".
  21. "Royal Variety Performance attracts 6.8m on ITV1". Digital Spy.
  22. "ITV's Royal Variety Performance enthralls 8.2m, peaks with over 9m". Digital Spy.
  23. "ITV's Royal Variety Performance attracts 7.3m, down from 2012". Digital Spy.
  24. "Royal Variety Performance attracts 6.5m, down from 2013". Digital Spy.

External links

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