I Have a Ticket for Love on the Dole at the Garrick! (January 1935)

Well, strictly speaking, it is not a ticket from the Garrick itself, but from the ‘Privilege Ticket Register Ltd’. Here it is:

It is attractively designed, using the image from the Garrick programme, which is a redrawn version of the unsigned original novel cover designed for Cape (which I think is by the poster-artist and illustrator J.Z. Atkinson). (1) The title resembles the design of the title on the novel dust-wrapper, but with much broader lettering, and staggered to allow some other text to be incorporated. This text includes the authorship: ‘A NEW PLAY By Ronald Gow and Walter Greenwood’ and the names of three leading cast-members. It is notable that Arthur Chesney, who played Sam Grundy in the Garrick production, gets top billing followed by Wendy Hiller (Sally Hardcastle) and Julien Mitchell (Mr Hardcastle). In most reviews of the Garrick production, Hiller in fact received most attention as Sally, and Julien Mitchel was often praised, while Arthur Chesney’s Sam Grundy received less attention than one might have expected. (2). Apart from the design specific to Love on the Dole, the Privilege Register elements of the ticket have also been carefully designed to attract subscribers. What would now be called the ‘logo’ is repeated front and reverse of the ticket, and shows a top-hatted man with a megaphone in one hand and a giant key with the letters PTR forming the portion which turns the lock (technically known as the ‘bitting’ of a key).

He stands in front of a box-office, and the implication seems to be that he will both publicise plays and open them up to subscribers – a message reinforced by the text underneath which tells the viewer/ reader that PTR is ‘The KEY to better entertainment VALUE’. The reverse of the ticket shows a large queue in the entire margin of the ticket all heading to the box-office via the PTR megaphone man. The small but detailed illustration shows an audience in which men predominate, though it includes a number of women too. The men mainly wear trilbies and lounge-suits, but a few are dark-suited and wear bowlers. The women wear cloche hats or in a few cases what may be berets. Overall, the impression is of a middle-class audience, which is presumably the kind of clientele the PTR wished to attract (for a more in-depth discussion of who actually went to Love on the Dole, see Who Went to See the Play in the Thirties? The Reception of Love on the Dole Revisited – Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole).

The ‘Privilege Ticket Register’ was a scheme which the Stage first notedas an item of financial news on the ninth of August 1934 (p.9). It was not enthusiastic:

It is not clear to what extent Privilege Ticket Register, Ltd. will operate. Its object is stated to be the business of dealers in and agents for tickets for theatres and other places of amusement. The ‘libraries’, for booking seats at a surcharge, we know; but the new ‘privilege tickets’ are on the basis of two tickets at the price of one.

The Garrick was clearly willing to be involved in the scheme to the extent of accepting Privilege Tickets in exchange for two half-price seats (and providing the image from the play’s programme for ‘PTR’ to use). They were presumably happy to benefit from any extra audience the Register could generate, even if it lowered their takings (perhaps especially at the beginning of a play’s run?). In December 1937, the ‘PTR’ was still up and running, as a further article in the Stage shows. However, the professional theatre paper is now certain that it is a bad scheme, from the point of view of the theatre as business. It argues that the scheme is likely to reduce theatre tickets to an unviable price, and also to undermine the faith of theatre-goers that they are being treated fairly by theatre-managements. The argument against the PTR is closely reasoned and based in a real technical knowledge of how West End theatre pricing worked. It also shows considerable indignation against the unfairness of the scheme, while conceding that at present London theatre-prices help exclude whole families or groups from attending:

TWO-FOR-ONE Since our references last week, the controversy on the privilege ticket plan has elicited many opinions. In the bulk they are adverse to the plan. This result is not surprising, because the plan is essentially unsound. It means deflation of the face-values of seats by a middleman operation, and in addition it means unequal treatment from the point of view of the public. What, briefly, is the plan? There is a central organization, of which Victor Payne Jennings is the managing director. This organization, Privilege Ticket Register, Ltd., has established for some time past a register, and playgoers who wish to take advantage of its service pay a nominal subscription of half a crown. The name of each subscriber is entered in the register, and seats, usually for all parts of the house, then become obtainable by him at given West End theatres on the basis of two for the price of one, with the further advantage that entertainment tax is not chargeable on the second seat. Privilege cards, exchangeable at the box-office for vouchers, are sent out in bulk to subscribers, who– it is important to note — can transfer them at large. That is to say, one subscriber who receives, say, a batch of ten or twenty privilege tickets, can distribute any or all of them to persons who are not registered playgoers. Seats are not guaranteed unless reserved in advance by the holders of the privilege cards. Otherwise, the recipients must take their chance of admission. But in this respect they are no worse off than ordinary playgoers who do not reserve seats at the box-office. Such is the plan. Superficially it may appear to have its recommendations. It provides means of cheap play-going for a vast proportion of the playgoing public that is ruled out by the regular West End prices. The usual device of papering a house when business falls off yields nothing at all; and it is further a bad advertisement for a particular theatre, and in an insidious way is detrimental to paid playgoing generally. The two-for-one gives the management half a loaf instead of no bread. The real point, however, is whether a management could exist on the half loaf from registered playgoers and their friends, or whether it would have to make up the full weight from the other playgoers, paying full prices, to an extent that would enable the management to keep going. If the two-for- one shows a profit by itself, it may be asked why managements should not deal with playgoers on this basis, and deal directly at the box-office? That is to say, purchasers of two seats– or four or more — would become entitled to a rebate on the price of the single seat, a rebate that would not necessarily be as much as 50 per cent. The present theatre prices may not be prohibitive for members of the public individually, but they are a serious handicap on family playgoing, which is capable of giving the West End stage the best sort of stability. But here a practical difficulty arises. A recognized rebate of this kind would lead individual play goers to pass each other in tendering for two or more Even if that difficulty were overcome, individual play goers might resent the fact that they were charged relatively altogether out of proportion to the auditorium space they occupied. This objection is of course greatly aggravated by the preferential treatment that the presently registered playgoers and their friends enjoy under the two for-one plan. A person paying 25s. for two stalls feels himself unconscionably dealt with when he finds two other persons paying only 12s. 6d for similar accommodation Unfair discrimination is a matter to which the public Is sensitive in any circumstances, and particularly in so susceptible a resort as the theatre; and here it is obvious and gross. As Bronson Albery says bluntly, methods of this kind tend to undermine the confidence of the public in West End theatrical management. Hence the action of leading managements in announcing at their theatres that the productions there will not be seen at reduced prices at any other West End theatre. There are other reasons for this course. One is that playgoers are coming more and more to hold back their attendance in the expectation that if they wait long enough they will be able to see this or that play at half rates. Another is that those theatres which have adopted the plan will find it difficult to return to full rates. They will be regarded by the public as half-price houses, even though they have been running only to a certain extent on that basis. The position would be simplified if Mr. Jennings stated the proportions of receipts at the two-for-one houses derived from the half-price and the full-price payments. The challenge put to him is that it is an economic impossibility, taking the costs and risks of production into account, to run West End theatres at less than the present prices. The two- for-one transfers avoid the costs and risks; but, making this allowance, is it practicable to run the houses at half-prices? If so, why trouble about any register, why adopt an inherently vexatious procedure? Why not, on the contrary, frankly adopt a half- price tariff, or at all events adopt it for playgoers who come in pairs to the pay boxes? The fact remains that more than a single tariff is required to satisfy the needs of the London public as a whole. The public falls into various very big sub-divisions, of which the single-tariff caters only for the sub-division that is numerically the smallest. To suppose that members of the sub-divisions can all be provided for in any one auditorium at one standard tariff is to lose sight of the practical issue that the controversy has at the least brought to the front (16/8/1937, p.8, unsigned; I have not been able to locate the previous week’s reference to the scheme). (3)

Despite the Stage’s carefully justified dislike and distaste, the PTR scheme was still in business until at least 1939, when it issued Privilege tickets for Uneasy Living (in May) and The Desert Song (June).

Uneasy Living was a new middle-class comedy by Florence Kilpatrick about a family living in Hampstead: ‘NICE PEOPLE, NICE WORK, NICE EVERYTHING’, as the Star review says – perhaps exactly the kind of standard fare of West-End theatre in the thirties to which Love on the Dole was such a contrast? (4) The Desert Song was a revival of a successful 1926 Broadway operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel. It had the unlikely-seeming setting of a Rif uprising against the French colonial powers in Morocco in 1925 (see The Desert Song – Wikipedia). Again, this inhabited a romanticised world alien to Love on the Dole (despite the operetta’s origins in a real and deadly conflict between the colonised and their colonisers). The reverse of each ticket shows changes in design since the earlier Love on the Dole Privilege Ticket, probably mainly motivated by a desire to get more advertising text on, but alas removing the attractive border of eager theatre-goers. The text also tells us, though, the extent of PTR’s work over the period 1934-1939, with Privilege tickets covering ‘over 150 first-class productions’.

So, what I have is not so much a theatre ticket as a voucher to be exchanged at the Garrick box-office for two-for-the-price-of-one seats (in a slightly dubious marketing scheme). Still, I would like to have seen the first production and would gladly have taken a friend. Like other items in my Walter Greenwood collection, this ‘Privilege Ticket’ is in some ways a piece of (attractive) ephemera, but is also another primary source which gives some insights into Love on the Dole, and London theatres and audiences in the nineteen-thirties.


Note 1. See Walter Greenwood’s Dust-Wrappers and Covers 1933 to the present – Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole – Section 1.1.

Note 2. See Love on the Dole: the Actors (1934 – 1937) – Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole

Note 3. Bronson Albery (1881-1971) was an important London theatre director and impresario. Wikipedia has a rather brief entry for him: Albery family – Wikipedia .

Note 4. The Stage gives a plot summary and not very enthusiastic account of the play (2/2/1939, p.9).