“You could make a fortune on the Variety Stage!” Toy Soldiers and Advent Calendar Toy Theatre

Six press out characters, Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbine, the Fairy, Toby Dog and sailor Boy

Each year we have a new advent calendar, as part of our recent family Christmas traditions. Other families like Marvin at the Subterranean, sorry Suburban Militarism blog have their Army of Advent Christmas figures. You might have some odd Christmas traditions of your own!

Our 2018 advent calendar from Art Angels designed by the fabulous British illustrator Emily Sutton was a fabulous toy shop.

This year’s advent calendar by Emily Sutton is a fabulous 3D Toy Theatre by Emily Sutton complete with stage and press out cardboard figures. She has previously done a tribute Pantomime print in Benjamin Pollock toy theatre style.

A stage? Victorian figures? I know a few talented toy figures (maybe even ex-soldiers) who seek such a venue.

Lawe and Awder, The Two Singing Bobbies, “Always on The Beat” … (my Prince August Home Casts)

It is an odd saying in our family that if someone has a peculiar or unusual talent or even embarrassing mishap that “if they could do that, they could have made a fortune on the variety stage”.

Alas those speciality acts and Variety stages are largely no more. The music halls have fallen silent, largely killed off by television and radio. Variety theatres, music hall and revues were the origin of many of the comic performers of the 1950s and 1960s that I admired on the radio and television whilst growing up, ranging from The Goons to Danny La Rue and Morecambe and Wise.

My beloved Muppets Show was set in a variety theatre with often desperate old time Vaudeville acts and hecklers. One of my first 45 rpm childhood records was The Muppets, Kermit and Miss Piggy singing Old time music hall – did anyone else find her a little disturbing in an undefined way?

The cheerful comic song of the old flower girl “Who’ll look at my lovely bloomers?”

A more serious tragic recitation by an acclaimed ‘Ac-tor’ of the proper ‘The-a-tre’

I like how Emily Sutton has captured the colourful “tuppence coloured penny plain” style of the old Victorian and Edwardian Toy Theatre sheets. I also notice how well the pink cheek dots of the old toy soldier figures works on the pit orchestra and audiences in the boxes.

This dapper old soldier with ‘tache could be a lively female impersonator like Vesta Tilley

Street Songs of Old London Town:The Musical Muffin Man, Lucky Sweep and Blind Fiddler.

The “Fan Mail” sketch from Fred the Singing Postman and Fanny our Variety Comedienne

William Shaxbeard’s dream of a magnificent theatre of the future …

The ‘skin’ role – Urson Wells our fine dancing & singing ‘bear’, musicians and Fido the singing dog …must be hot in that bear costume (new Tradition of London and old hollowcast figures)

A fine Military Band to lift the spirits! Mostly plastics of various makers
Man of TIN salutes and sings a fine patriotic song! (My home cast Prince August ‘avatar’ )
Man of TIN with small Guards Marching Band: my shiny painted Lone Star / Harvey plastics
“The Relief Of Mafeking” a patriotic song by the “Three Jingo-ling Johnnies
A jaunty Scottish musical number from Mac on the Pipes
Whistling Bob Nobbler, the Genial Gentleman of the Road and his comedy patter

“Aww, My Aching Feet!” A comedy musical number from Tweeny our “Maid of All Work”.

Figures are a mixture of plastic, my home cast Prince August metal, old lead hollowcast from various makers including newer metal figures from Asset Toy Soldiers, Tradition of London, Dorset Toy Soldiers.

Next post – some of the paper cut outs from my Suffra-fiti game tread the boards, with a little more on toy soldiers, early Wargamers and Toy Theatres (Theatres of War?)

RLS – “Penny Plain and Tuppence Coloured” famous essay on Toy Theatre –


Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, December 2020


15 thoughts on ““You could make a fortune on the Variety Stage!” Toy Soldiers and Advent Calendar Toy Theatre”

  1. What fun! If it wasn’t six fifty two in the morning I might attempt a Leonard Sachs type introduction but the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet! A lot of effort has gone into this post , well done.
    I recall my granny in the sixties introducing me to three of her tv favourites- wrestling on a Saturday afternoon, Gaelic singing ( not that she had a word of it but she was born a Mackay) and The Good Old Days from the Leeds Variety Theatre.! I didn’t particularly like it but liked the way people dressed up and their reaction of ohhs to Mr Sachs,s vocal virtuosity.


    1. His verbose virtuosity! His spendiferous spontaneity! His nonsensical notoriety! (It’s an hour later than your comment and the coffee bag has kicked in.)

      I think your Granny Mackay’s tastes should all be included in the same Goon Show style Variety act of Gaelic singing wrestlers with a Leonard Sachs introduction.
      I was tipped off as a child that the Saturday wrestling on TV “Live from The Fairfield Halls Croydon” (which I had once visited to see Sooty) was all an elaborately worked out choreographed wrestling show of masked villains and characters so that nobody got hurt.
      In my next post I will look at the overlap of toy theatres and early Wargamers from RLS onwards. http://archive.org/stream/memoriesandportr00stev

      Wargamer / actor Peter Cushing had a collection of toy theatres but I think these may have been theatre set designs.


    1. “I thang you!”
      It’s good to have an outlet for my more civilian figures and oddities – you start seizing them all in an all new light (footlight, limelight?)
      At some point I shall produce a more drab theatrical affair for my WW2 service and civilian figures to celebrate the WW2 version of ENSA (Every Night Something Awful), inspired by the Greasepaint and Cordite book by Andy Merriman.

      Add in the concert parties of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, The Virgin Soldiers, the camp pantomime theatricals of the RAF POW camp in Allo Allo etc. Some of the Dad’s Army cast like Clive Dunn earned their “rackety theatrical” stripes acting in POW camps (source: great book – The Barbed Wire University). At last the converted but still very masculine Airfix footballer conversions into chorus / saloon girls (inspired by Featherstone) won’t look out of place in a POW camp chorus line up …


  2. The Subterranean Militarism blog was very well entertained by all the fabulous performers on this bill! Was particularly pleased to see the old Man of Tin avatar himself take to the stage too. I think my recently painted 20mm laurel and hardy foreign legion duo would be perfect for doing a little song and dance on that stage.

    I used to love the Muppet Show and had a copy of an album they produced which was great.

    In a kind of modern homemade variety show, my daughter has been putting together a socially-distanced extravaganza for Christmas using her smartphone skills for all the family featuring jokes, songs, craft-making and more. She’s also asked for submissions from family members, so I guess I’m up ‘on stage’ doing something for it. I was thinking maybe a short Christmas message video featuring my Army of Advent but I’m not sure what yet!


    1. An Army of Advent and Christmas Fusiliers film sounds just the thing as your contribution for the socially distanced family Christmas variety show.
      When I think of the Sons of The Desert, I also think of Wilson Keppel and ‘Betty’ in their Sand dance.
      I think your Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin and the rest of the clowns and performers of the “We are Fred Karno’s Army, (“the ragtime Infantry, we cannot shoot, we cannot fight, what bleeding use are we!”) were all products of Variety and Music Hall with some making the successful transition to radio and film. Not to mention the pierrot-ters of the Sixties “Oh What a Lovely War!” Film.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I arrived very late and had to stand at the back for the first half but thoroughly enjoyed the show. Inspired stuff and I loved the names/puns. That’s an excellent collection of figures. I could imagine Wldorf & Stadtler heckling from a box “You’re standing too close to the audience, stand further back!” “How far back?” “About three blocks should do it!”
    Thank you kind sir.


    1. Thanks Brian. Good old Waldorf and Stadtler. The Muppets were (and remain) a major inspiration in my TV and film life. The Muppet Christmas Carol film with Michael Caine is up there with the great film versions.


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