Brighton Pageant 1951
- Cavalcade through the Ages
Place: Preston Park (Brighton) (Brighton, Sussex, England)
Number of performances: 8
30 July–6 August 1951[30, 31 July at 8pm; 1, 2, 3, 4, August at 8pm; 6 August at 2.30pm and 8pm]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Gilmore, A.L.
- Assistants to A.L. Gilmore: Leslie Lewis, Vincent Bayley, Sally Sherman, Peter Bagguley
- Secretary: Renee Bellm
- Costumes: C.I. Samuels, Ltd
- Scenery: H. Cox-Watson
- Lighting: Strand Electric Corp.
- Wigs: ‘Bert’
- Maypole Dances: Molly Ball School of Dancing
- Country Dancing: English Folk Dance and Song Society
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Alderman Eric Simms, the Mayor
- Ald. J. Horton-Stephens
- Councillor A.V. Nicholls
- J.G. Drew, Esq.
In Co-operation with the members of the Entertainments Committees of the Corporation of Brighton.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers1000
- Pageant Arena, Lighting and Grandstand Costs £8810
- Production Expenses £4620
- Pageant Master and Assistants £1730
- Bands, Printing, etc. £1630
Total Expenditure £7980
- Car Park £180
- Admissions and Sundry Income £4320
Total income £4500
Total Deficit: £34801
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
There was also Show-jumping and Fireworks in the arena as well as a Horse Show, a cycling meet and various concerts.
Episode One. 55BC: A Roman Camp: Coming of Julius Caesar: Chariot Races
A Roman camp is en fete in celebration of the visit of Julius Caesar, who has landed in Shoreham. A fanfare of trumpets announces Caesar’s entry on a dais, followed by a retinue of slaves. A chariot race is run, the winner receiving a laurel wreath. Caesar enters a chariot and leads his party in procession from the camp.
Episode Two: 1066: King Harold Collects Levies from Brightelmston to repel the Norman invaders.
Groups of men and women are gossiping as fishermen repair their nets. There is excitement as a messenger arrives announcing the arrival of the Normans. No one is quite sure what to do, as Harold has not yet arrived. Boys fetch axes. Gurth and Leofric ride in with a train and press on towards Hastings. They are swiftly followed by Harold who urges the men of Brighelmston to take up arms; he then leads them off to face the enemy.
Episode Three. 1313. A Charter is granted for holding a weekly market: the town is burned by the French.
There is a fair with wrestling and a Punch and Judy show. Merchants sell their wares, and await the reading of the charter obtained from Edward II. The Earl de Warenne arrives with a retinue. The Earl holds up the Charter for all to see and hands it to the Herald to read. As merriment is at its height, news comes that the French forces have attacked and are burning the town. The men leave to fight back the invaders.
Episode Four. 1651. Escape from Brightelmston of King Charles II after his defeat at Worcester
A church bell tolls. Puritans are making their way to the church. A hymn is heard as Parliamentary soldiers ride up to the Inn. Three Cavaliers mislead the Roundhead officer into believing one of their own is the King and Roundheads ride off with the prisoner. King Charles and others ride up to the Inn. Shortly after, a warning is given that the Roundheads are approaching, and the King escapes whilst others misdirect the pursuing Roundheads.
Episode Five. 1791. May Day Festivities and the arrival of the first mail coach from London
May Day celebrations with Maypoles and Country Dancing. A May Queen is crowned. A coach horn is heard announcing the mail coach arriving at the tavern. Passengers descend and the Postmaster descends to receive mail. The coach drives off amid cheers of the crowd.
Episode Six. 1854. Commissioners accept the Charter of Incorporation: Spirits of the Past.
The Commissioners are not wholly in accord in their desire for the Charter of Incorporation. The group is picked out by spotlights, leaving the rest of the arena in gloom. As the meeting commences, spirits of the past emerge through the gloom to form an audience.
Procession of characters. God Save the King.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Caesar [Gaius Julius Caesar] (100–44 BC) politician, author, and military commander
- Harold II [Harold Godwineson] (1022/3?–1066) king of
- Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey [earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne] (1286–1347) magnate
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
Band of the XV/XIX King’s Royal Hussars
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Sussex Agricultural Express
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Book of words
Other primary published materials
Brighton Pageant 1951; Cavalcade through the Ages [Programme]. Brighton, 1951.
References in secondary literature
- Musgrave, Clifford. Life in Brighton. London, 1970. At 397.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- East Sussex Records Office, Brighton
- BHBox14/37 Brighton Pageant Programme 1951
- BHBox3RARE/76, Brighton Cavalcade Programme 1951
- DB/D 62/60, Correspondence and Committee Records on the Festival of Britain
- DB/B/262/4 Council Minutes Relating to the Festival of Britain
- There was a film of the pageant made by British Pathe, accessed 5 July 2016, http://www.britishpathe.com/video/brighton-pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The 1951 Festival of Britain saw something of a revival of historical pageantry in a world in which it appeared increasingly outmoded when competing with cinema, theatre and—most of all—television. Though based on the London Southbank, home of the famous ‘Skylon’, the Festival also supported many local exhibitions, concerts and events, which were staged across the regions.2 The Festival, which embraced technological modernity, also harked back to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and sought to foster a spirit of communalism created by the shared experience of war and Britain’s welfare state; as such, it was ideally represented by historical pageants. These ranged from relatively large affairs such as the Three Towns Pageant at Hampton Court to relatively small village pageants, as in East Grinstead.
Brighton was one of twenty-three towns and cities across the country selected as Festival Arts Centres and given additional funding from the Arts Council.3 Brighton decided to put on a Regency exhibition at the famous Pavilion, which echoed the wider regency focus of the Battersea Gardens and the major architectural exhibition at Bath (which had cancelled plans for its own pageant).4 The Regency Exhibition, with a series of talks and concerts on the period led to the (perhaps unwarranted) omission of any such scenes from the Pageant.5 Whilst a number of the more highbrow journals and newspapers reviewed the exhibition, they gave only a cursory mention to the Pageant itself.6 The London Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian was invited to visit the dress rehearsal of the Pageant, but hardly mentioned it whilst lavishing praise on the exhibition, aside from noting that ‘its producer was once pageant master to the King of Siam.’7 Nonetheless, the columnist seemed to have enjoyed themselves: ‘An invitation to see the dress rehearsal of Brighton’s festival pageant yesterday made a fine excuse to see that sea which is only sixty minutes along the railway line from London. It was a brilliant day, the hottest of the year, and the sun shone down from a cloudless sky.’8
The Pageant had been proposed in December 1949, and a number of prospective Pageant Masters had applied for the job including Christopher Ede, fresh from the colossal failure of The Bradford Centenary Pageant (1947), and who produced pageants at Boston and Hampton Court in the Festival year; Peggy Neale, a decorative artist; Heath Joyce, who had done staging for Sheffield Pageant of Production (1948); H. de Kingston-Hughes, a Theatrical Manager; and the arch-pageantress Gwen Lally, who demanded 10% of gross takings plus expenses. A number of them proposed various scripts and outlines for the production which included scenes involving the Spanish Armada and the coming of the railways to Brighton.9 The job ultimately went to A.L. Gilmore, a local resident who had been stage manager for the 1914 Pageant of Bristol and the West, and had subsequently worked with the Entertainments National Service Association in the Far East. Despite his lack of experience, Gilmore didn’t come cheap, demanding a fee of £1000, plus £10 a week for two assistants.10 Nonetheless, Gilmore’s contract gave the council plenty of wiggle-room, stating that:
If in the reasonable opinion of the Corporation it should become necessary or desirable as a result of the Pageant Master’s inability to obtain sufficient and adequate voluntary players… and by reason thereof the Council shall decide to abandon the presentation of the Pageant then they shall be at liberty so to do and in the event of their so doing by notice…11
Many in Brighton believed (correctly) that the pageant would prove a costly mistake, paid for from the taxes of local people, with the local Brighton Herald predicting that the Pageant would prove a ‘fiasco’, and suggesting it should be abandoned.12 Whilst by 13 April 1951 only 539 volunteers had been recruited, the relatively small scale of the Pageant meant that ‘the Pageant Master did not anticipate any difficulty in completing the cast in time.’13
Gilmore’s pageant, whilst omitting Brighton’s most famous Regency period, differed from many Festival Pageants which consciously omitted accounts of kings and aristocrats in favour of the story of the ‘common people’ and the continuous growth of English society over time, following G.M. Trevelyan’s widely popular English Social History (1944). Unlike the Pageant of East Grinstead, which was narrated by a ‘Very Ordinary Man’, focused on everyday life and criticised the aristocracy, Brighton’s pageant was decidedly old-fashioned in its celebration of monarchy (and Roman emperors), as well as siding overwhelmingly with Charles II against the Parliamentarian cause. Whilst such presentations again returned during the wave of pageants to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, the Brighton Pageant was distinctly at odds with the overall mood of the Festival. Worse still, the pageant contained not one but two scenes where the town was awarded its charter, which would hardly have captured the imagination of the spectators.
The Festival across Britain sought to boost the national mood in the context of post-war austerity. Brighton itself had experienced its fair share of post-war blues and high unemployment.14 The Manchester Guardian columnist noted the general mood of pessimism in an era when few people seemed to be visiting the seaside as they had done during the interwar period: ‘Some say that the seaside resorts are not doing as well this year as they had hoped (as if they ever did!)’. However, the reporter when on, ‘if the pessimists are right it is not because Brighton has spared effort to entertain its guests.’15 Unlike the Regency Exhibition, the Brighton Pageant would be guaranteed by ratepayers’ money in the hope that the event would make an overall profit whilst simultaneously boosting the mood of the city. The Festival Committee put aside guarantees of £5775 against losses.16 This was to prove inadequate.
The concerts alone lost £2000, and the Pageant lost a total of £3480. This was further compounded by the cost of the fireworks displays, the military tattoo and the cost of renovating Preston Park, which had been significantly damaged in the construction of the arena, bringing the overall deficiency for the Festival to £18420.17 This severely damaged the finances and credibility of the local council.
The Festival of Britain had been widely criticized from its inception, both by the Conservative party and much of the press (particularly that part of it owned by Lord Beaverbrook, proprietor of the Daily Express, the London Evening Standard and a number of provincial papers). It was attacked as, at best, an unaffordable expense at a time of continuing rationing and austerity and, at worst, a form of socialist anti-capitalist propaganda intended to sway a population tired of the drabness of the ‘Queuetopia’ of Austerity Britain into voting Labour.18 The Conservative Party, which won the 1951 general election, proceeded to dismantle much of the Southbank site.19 Whilst many historians have convincingly argued that the Festival of Britain was a major cultural moment in British society, in which visions of the past and future mingled under a vision of a more just society based on collectivism and shared striving, the Brighton Pageant was a lesson in over-exuberance and Council waste at public expense which for many came to characterize the Labour government, and which the Conservative party played upon to remain in power for the next thirteen years.
- Council Minutes, 15 October 1951, East Sussex Records Office, DB/B/262/4
- Becky Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester, 2003), 88–104. See also Mark Freeman, ‘‘Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle’: Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Social History 38 (2013): 423–55.
- Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’, 89.
- Ibid, 206-7.
- ‘The Story of Brighton’, in Brighton Pageant 1951; Cavalcade through the Ages (Brighton, 1951), 4-5.
- E.g. Spectator, 19 July 1951, 13; Times, 17 July 1951, 3.
- Manchester Guardian, 30 July 1951, 4.
- Minutes of Miscellaneous Entertainments Sub-Committee, Proposed Pageant 12 December 1949, East Sussex Records Office, DB/B/262/4.
- Memo, 24 May 1950, Council Minutes, East Sussex Records Office, DB/B/262/4.
- Agreement with A.L. Gilmore, 11 September 1950, Council Minutes, East Sussex Records Office, DB/B/262/4.
- Quoted in Clifford Musgrave, Life in Brighton (London, 1970), 397.
- Minutes Festival of Britain Publicity Sub-Committee, 13 April 1951 DB/D/62/60.
- Manchester Guardian, 30 July 1951, 4.
- Minutes of the Brighton Festival Committee, [September 1950?], East Sussex Archives, DB/D/62/60.
- Council Minutes, 15 October 1951, East Sussex Records Office, DB/B/262/4.
- Barry Turner, Beacon for Change: How the 1951 Festival of Britain Helped to Shape a New Age (London, 2011), 106–109.
- Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’, 232–6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Brighton Pageant 1951’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1266/