Alan Hodkinson spent a life time in entertainment and appeared in the last show at the Hippodrome under his stage name, Alan Clark. 


The show I was with at the Hippodrome in the theatre’s last week was Virgil and Julie's "Magicana", a very big, full evening, magic show, starring the American illusionist, Virgil. 

The show was on a year’s tour of the U.K.. Wolverhampton was only our fourth week into the tour.

It was freezing cold when we got there on the Sunday, 12 February 1956.  I think there was snow about on the ground.   The lads in the show had all come by road, with all the props, from York.  The rest of the company went by rail.  We had played the York Empire the week before and, as it was a short trip, we had moved the show out on the Sunday morning into furniture wagons and then straight off to Wolverhampton. 

Wolverhampton was the first week I started going out with my future wife, Jackie.   I can remember when we arrived at Wolverhampton on the Sunday, after settling in to my digs, I had arranged to meet the girls outside the theatre front of house.  From there we went to the cinema (the usual thing when we got to a new town on a Sunday).  And that was the start of getting to know Jackie.Jackie’s stage name was Jackie Medlock.  She had started with Florence Whiteley's Zio Angels, a very famous dance troupe, then was with a Sherman Fisher troupe, then was Head Girl for Herbert De Vere.  

It was to Herbert De Vere that Virgil (or rather his Manager Jack Phillips) went to for a troupe for the British tour and so Jackie became part of Magicana.  Jack Phillips had contacted me some time before to join the tour.  I had already worked with Jack with the Great Levante, an Australian illusionist.



I can remember the week being bitter cold, and on the Thursday (or it may have been Friday) we had just started the second half of the first house, when all the power went off.   I think it was a substation failure nearby. The only lights left in the theatre were the emergency exit lights that were lit by gas.  

A search was done around the theatre to find as many candles as we could.  These were put in jam jars or beer glasses and were placed along the front of the stage and in the orchestra pit.  The orchestra struck up and we led the audience in community singing.  After some considerable time the power came back on.  We finished the first house and started the second house very late and I think we cut a bit of the show to try and catch the last buses.

It was always a thing to get the curtain down in time for the last buses from the town centres.  You always asked the resident stage manager on Monday morning what time he wanted the show down, and you would adjust your show to fit it in;  you knew how long the show normally ran so you would speed some things up or you would cut something.
It was normal to load the show out on Saturday nights if there was a long trip to the next venue. 

 We had opened the British tour at Halifax, then moved on to Huddersfield, then to York, the fourth week being Wolverhampton. They were all short trips so we could load out on Sunday mornings and straight on to the next venue.  The week after Wolverhampton we were booked for Nottingham Empire, another short trip;  but, the week after Nottingham we were booked for the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.  That would have to be done by rail and so we would have to load out Saturday night to the railway station.  So we decided to have a practice get out on Saturday night at Wolverhampton. 

As it turned out it was a decision that would save the show.

Me and my mime act which I performed in the early 60s. I did a mime comedy act using sound effects instead of the actual props; all I had on stage was a chair - and the imagination of the audience.

The cannon routine which would have appeared in the Hippodrome show. Jackie is far right.

I didn't leave the theatre until about 2 a.m. on the Sunday morning as we were getting the show out. We had the fire curtain down all the while we were packing up.  Then we took the load to the railway goods yard, loaded the goods wagon, and then went back to our digs, by now it was about 3.30am.


The first we knew about the fire was when the taxi picked us up from our digs about 8.30 a.m. to take us to catch our train.  Our taxi driver said, "You left the theatre in a bit of a mess last night didn't you?"   


I could only think about the animals we had;  I thought Percy, who looked after the ducks, had not cleared up the mess that they made - but he was usually very scrupulous in his cleaning up. 

But then the taxi driver told us about the fire.  The fire must have been burning in the auditorium whilst we were still backstage.

When we got to the station Vigil and Julie were on the platform.  Virgil was holding some feathers he had picked up from the stage on Saturday night.  They had come off the girls’ African costumes.  He said “If we had lost the show in the fire, this is all I would have left of the show.”

Opening of Jungle scene. Jackie is second from left.  It's the feathers from these costumes that Virgil had with him at the station on Sunday morning.

Virgil and Julie were wonderful people to work with.  We stayed in touch by letter and audio tapes after they left these shores in November 1956, right through until Julie died in 1998.  Virgil had died in October 1989.   Julie decided after a while to write a book called “The Great Virgil”.  She kindly sent Jackie and me a copy.  This extract from Julie’s book shows that Virgil found out about the fire in much the same way as I did.

“From York, we moved on to Wolverhampton, [where] a strange thing happened to us. We loaded out on the Saturday night and the next morning when our taxi arrived to drive us to the train, the driver asked us if we had left anything in the theatre.  When we asked why he was asking, he said the theatre had burned to the ground!  When we checked we found that just fifteen minutes after our last load of equipment left the theatre was when it happened.  All week we had been noticing an odour that we associated with hot electrical wiring, but since our dressing room was right under the switchboard we thought that might be the reason for it.  A bobby was passing the theatre just fifteen minutes after our last load left and noticed smoke coming under the door.  The fire was well under way at that time, so they figured it must have started in the walls before we ever left the theatre. The theatre was about one hundred years old and once the fire started it was impossible to stop."

The Big Cat routine that opened the Magic Circus finale.  Jackie is the first elevated girl on the left.
If we had lost the show the company would have broken up, we would have gone our separate ways and I would not have continued going out with Jackie - we may not have come across one another again in the business.  But as it was, and thanks to the chance of practising getting the show out on the Saturday night, we went on to the end of the year and Jackie and I got married when the show closed.  It will be our Golden Wedding anniversary on November 24th 2006.  We had toured for 39 weeks with that show.

Webmaster's note:  I have heard from Mike Halpenny that his mother, Val Halpenny (nee Epps) was one of the dancers in the show.  She is the girl with the whip in the photo of the Big Cat routine and is one of the girls in the front of the photo with the feathers.

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