Royal Variety Performance

The Royal Variety Performance is a televised variety show held annually in the United Kingdom to raise money for the Royal Variety Charity (of which Queen Elizabeth II is life-patron).[1] It is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family.[2] 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.

Royal Variety Performance
Also known asRoyal Command Performance
GenreVariety show
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes91 (list of episodes)
Original networkBBC One
Original release1912, 1919, 1921–23, 1925–28, 1930–38, 1945–55, 1957 
Related showsTonight at the London Palladium
External links

The Royal Variety Performance traditionally begins with the entrance of the members of the British Royal Family followed by singing of the national anthem, God Save the Queen, which was also performed by the participating acts as a traditional end to Royal Variety Performances.

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 Royal Variety Charity was then known. It was planned to be in the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, part of the vast Moss Empires group, but the building caught 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.[3] 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 were thought to make her unfit to perform in front of royalty.[4] 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 Performance 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.

A wide range of acts has performed at the Royal Variety Performance, including Laurel and Hardy in 1947, the Beatles in 1963, the Supremes in 1968 and the Blue Man Group in 2005. At the 1963 show, John Lennon delivered the famous line:

The money raised by the Royal Variety Performance provides most of the funding for the Royal Variety Charity (formerly the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund) and its care-home for retired members of the entertainment profession and their dependents, Brinsworth House.[6][7]

In 2017, Miranda Hart presented the Royal Variety Performance in the presence of the Duke of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cambridge making her the first solo female presenter in 105 years.[8]


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.[3]

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.[9] After this variation, from 1991, the traditional variety show returned.

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 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.



There have been a total of 17 theatres that have staged the 93 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance. Out of the total of 93 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
London Palladium 43 1930–1937, 1946–1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1964–1978,
1980, 1987–1990, 2008, 2010, 2013–14, 2017–19
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
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 17 members of the Royal Family have attended the 86 Royal Variety Performances, and the 1912 Royal Command Performance.

Name No. Years
Queen Elizabeth II[10] 39 1945–46, 1948–49, 1952–58, 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
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother[11] 26 1937–38, 1945–51, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990–91
The Duke of Edinburgh 26 1947, 1953–55, 1957–58, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969–70, 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 15 1968, 1977, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016
King George VI 8 1937–38, 1945–50
Princess Margaret 5 1949, 1951, 1968, 1988, 1990
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall 5 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge 3 2014, 2017, 2019
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge 3 2014, 2017, 2019
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex 2 2015, 2018
Anne, Princess Royal 2 1968, 2011
Diana, Princess of Wales 2 1984, 1992
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex 1 2018
Sarah, Duchess of York 1 1986
Earl of Snowdon 1 1968
Queen Maud of Norway 1 1922

Television coverage

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 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. In Canada, it has aired on CBC variously on Boxing Day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.[12][13]

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]


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.[14]

In the 1970s, the show topped the annual rankings in 1975 and ranked 8th in 1970, 4th in 1971, 9th in 1976 and 3rd in 1977.[15]

Ratings sourced from BARB.

BroadcasterOvernight share
20 December 199811.24BBC OneN/A
4 December 199910.60ITV41.0%[16]
17 December 20007.92BBC OneN/A
28 November 200111.55ITV47.0%[17]
15 December 20028.19BBC One30.9%[18]
26 November 20038.56ITV36.8%[19]
15 December 20046.60BBC One31.0%[19]
11 December 20059.82ITV36.8%[20]
12 December 20067.98BBC One33.7%[20]
9 December 20077.78ITV27.2%[20]
17 December 20087.75BBC One31.7%[21]
16 December 20099.56ITV37.4%[22]
16 December 20108.90BBC One33.0%[22]
14 December 20117.61^1 ITV29.2%[23]
3 December 20129.24^2 ITV33.7%[24]
9 December 20138.30^3 ITV31.3%[25]
8 December 20147.64^4 ITV28.7%[26]
8 December 20154.94ITV24.3%[27]
13 December 20165.13ITV22.0%[28]
19 December 20174.86ITV22.1%[29]
11 December 2018 5.01 ITV 21.7%[30]


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


  1. "Royal Patronage of the Royal Variety".
  2. "British Monarchy Official Website".
  3. Graeme Smith (2011) Alhambra Glasgow ISBN 978-0955942-01-3
  4. "1912, London Palace Theatre". Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund. Archived from the original on 31 May 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  5. "History of the Royal Variety".
  8. "Miranda Hart 'to smash glass ceiling' as Royal Variety Performance host". 31 October 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  9. "Thirty Years of the Royal Variety Performance". 20 December 1990. p. 120. Retrieved 21 March 2018 via BBC Genome.
  10. Attended in 1949 as Princess Elizabeth.
  11. Attended as Queen Elizabeth between 1937 and 1951 and as The Queen Mother from 1959 onward
  12. "Royal Variety Performance ABC TV network".
  13. "Royal Variety Performance in Canada on CBC".
  14. "Classic TV – Old UK TV Show Ratings – 1960s- FiftiesWeb". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  15. "Classic TV – Old UK TV Show Ratings – 70s- FiftiesWeb". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  16. "OVERNIGHT RATINGS – Bee Gees and Macca still rocking viewers".
  17. "Royal Variety gives ITV1 peak-time crown".
  18. "Fame Academy shows the doubters".
  19. "Royal Variety show draws 8.5m".
  20. "Royal Variety performs for ITV1 with 7.4m".
  21. "Royal Variety Performance draws 8.7m". Digital Spy.
  22. "Royal Variety performs to 8.3m".
  23. "Royal Variety Performance attracts 6.8m on ITV1". Digital Spy.
  24. "ITV's Royal Variety Performance enthralls 8.2m, peaks with over 9m". Digital Spy.
  25. "ITV's Royal Variety Performance attracts 7.3m, down from 2012". Digital Spy.
  26. "Royal Variety Performance attracts 6.5m, down from 2013". Digital Spy.
  27. "TV ratings: London Spy bows out with over 1.5m". 8 December 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  28. "The Ratings Thread (Part 68) – Page 701". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  29. "The Ratings Thread (Part 70) – Page 441". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  30. "The Ratings Thread (Part 72) - Page 284". Digital Spy. Retrieved 24 December 2018.

Further reading

  • Delfont, Bernard (November 1989). Curtain Up!: Story of the Royal Variety Performance. Robson Books Ltd. ISBN 0-86051-629-6.
  • Woodward, Christopher (3 April 2009). The London Palladium: The Story of the Theatre and Its Stars. Jeremy Mills Publishing. ISBN 978-1-906600-39-6.
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