Billy Boardman

Brighton History Centre’s collection of rare materials contains many unique objects, including handwritten ledgers, albums and scrapbooks. One of the most fascinating examples recalls Billy Boardman’s time as manager of The Hippodrome Theatre in Middle Street.

Billy Boardman and members leaving for France
Billy Boardman and members leaving for France

Boardman came to Brighton in 1910 and presided over the Hippodrome during the golden age of variety performance, bringing stars such as Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt to town. Passionate about the stage, he was also committed to charitable work, taking the world’s first concert party to France during World War I. There, stars such as Gladys Cooper and Seymour Hicks entertained thousands of troops with their singing, acting and dancing.

At home, Boardman arranged entertainment for wounded troops, including the Indian soldiers being treated at the Royal Pavilion, and raised money to provide wheelchairs for the limbless men who were later cared for there. It’s all the more poignant, then, to discover that his only son, Albert, was killed in action in May 1918.

For King and Country
For King and Country
Hippodrome programme
Hippodrome programme

Boardman retired from the Hippodrome in 1924 and moved to France, but he returned to Brighton some years before his death in 1959. His obituary, published in the Brighton Herald, described him as ‘one of the outstanding personalities of the town. The life and soul of every party and always in the fore with any charity or benevolent appeal.’

If you’re interested in looking at the Hippodrome scrapbook, which contains correspondence, news cuttings and ephemera, see our website for details of how to access the rare collection. Boardman’s autobiography, Vaudeville Days, is also available for reference.

Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre

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