The Theatre Girls’ Cub was set up during the First World War to offer a safe living space for young actresses, dancers, singers and variety artistes. It lasted until 1973, when the radical change in traditional attitudes to sexual morality, which had begun slowly after WW2 gathered unstoppable speed with the arrival of Women’s Lib and made safe living spaces for young women appear obsolete and offensive.
The Theatre Girls’ Club came out of the Girls Club movement, pioneered by the Hon Maude Stanley (an aunt of Bertrand Russell), but its originality came from its founder, the actress Virginia Compton. The daughter of the American theatre empresarios, H.L. and Sydney Bateman, who made Henry Irving into late Victorian England’s theatrical super star. Virginia was the sister of two other leading actresses, Kate and Isabel Bateman and she married into another acting family; the Comptons. Virginia was the mother of the film actress Fay Compton and the novelist and film writer Sir Compton Mackenzie. (Whisky Galore) In her youth Virginia had been a friend of Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor, in her older years, she became a committed Anglo-Catholic; and until the Second World War, the Theatre Girls Club had two chapels, where services were conducted on high days and holidays. Yet it was often full to the brim of high kickin’ Tiller Girls. And just outside, Greek Street teemed with prostitutes, pimps and strip clubs.
The death of Virginia during the Second World War saw the fade-out of religion, yet while the world moved towards the sexual revolution , the Tiller Girls still came, now mixing with students at RADA and encountering other ideas about what theatre was about.
Researching and writing the Theatre Girls Club, is a joint project with Catherine Howe, who like Deborah was living at The Theatre Girls Club in 1968. A seminal year of student sit-ins and riots, an almost revolution in France, huge world wide demonstrations against the Vietnam War, were the backdrop to the ending of theatre censorship and our need to get Equity cards and make sense of the world.
There have been hundreds of Theatre Girls, the House of Commons speaker, Betty Bothroyd is perhaps the most famous. She hated the place, while another Theatre Girl, the actress Amanda Barrie loved it.
If prior to 1973, you ever lived at the Theatre Girls Club, or if you had a Theatre Girl in the family, please get in touch