Obituary: Charles Reading

THE MANY-FACETED Charles Reading was a successful actor, designer, writer and director, but will be best remembered for being an important part of a truly golden era of show business - that decade following the Second World War when the London Palladium headlined the cream of America's entertainers.

Reading was right-hand man to the impresario Val Parnell, and advised on the stars who should be approached and the best way in which to present them to the British public. There were a few failures (notably Mickey Rooney), but most of them triumphed, none more so than Danny Kaye, who broke box-office records and was a sensational hit with both the public and the Royal Family. He was to remain a lifelong friend of Reading, who two years ago recounted the story of Kaye's phenomenal 1948 success at the theatre in a Radio 2 documentary Knock on Wood - The Danny Kaye Story.

If any performer could be said to have surpassed Kaye it was Judy Garland, whose 1951 appearance at the Palladium led to the restoration of her career after her firing by MGM and a suicide attempt. Betty Hutton, Jack Benny, the Andrews Sisters, Carmen Miranda and Frank Sinatra were others who entranced the British public, and many of these stars had praise for Reading - Jack Benny insisted that Reading accompany him on his subsequent tour of Britain. Reading could also claim to be the only man to have directed the Duke of Edinburgh in a film, and was earlier a distinguished actor and scenic designer.

Born in Ealing, west London, in 1911, Reading attended Acton High School, where his father was headmaster, and as a youth acted with local amateur groups. He made his professional acting debut at the Tavistock Little Theatre in London, then appeared at the Q Theatre on Kew Bridge before joining the Stratford-on-Avon Memorial Theatre, where he played many leading roles including Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1939), and also designed sets.

The latter talent brought him an offer from Sadler's Wells to design for their opera and ballet productions - Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin were the company's top ballet stars at the time. From there he moved to the Old Vic to work under Lilian Baylis, then proved himself capable of more commercial work by designing pantomimes, along with several West End shows, for the producer Tom Arnold. Val Parnell, manager of the London Palladium, then signed him to be a both a designer and his right-hand man.

In addition to his sterling work with the acts which headlined the music- hall bills, Reading also staged the Palladium pantomimes with such stars as Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers and Max Bygraves, plus six Royal Variety Performances at the same theatre. In 1955, ATV started to relay Sunday Night at the London Palladium every week on a mould-breaking innovation, commercial television, but Reading left at that time to join Associated Rediffusion as a television director.

He moved back into West End theatre briefly in 1958 when he staged a new musical, Mr Venus, with a score by Trevor H. Stanford (better known as the pianist Russ Conway) and book by Ray Galton and Johnny Speight. Starring Frankie Howerd, with Anton Diffring as a man from space, it was an unmitigated disaster greeted with catcalls of derision from the first- night audience - in the Fifties it seemed that nothing was quite as bad as a bad British musical.

Reading also staged variety shows at the Winter Garden, Blackpool, and continued to work in television, where at an audition he met the singer Sheila Matthews, who was to become his second wife. In 1942, when playing Oberon again at Stratford, he had fallen in love with his Titania, Christine Adrian, and the two married. Christine Adrian later died of cancer and in 1957 Reading married Sheila Matthews and they had two daughters.

One of the most successful television shows produced by Reading was Friday's Girl, a fondly remembered late-night musical show starring his wife, who had a beguiling way with song standards which made her a great television favourite of the time.

In 1957 Reading was hired to direct short films for Rank Screen Services and one of his projects was a film promoting the children's charity Unicef in which Reading directed the Duke of Edinburgh in his only cinema appearance. In the Sixties Reading became less active, though his enthusiasm for opera (which started when he designed a production of Don Carlos at Sadler's Wells) led him to amass a large collection of rare recordings which was often called upon by the BBC, along with Reading's own services as a consultant.

In 1992, he wrote a stage show, Glamorous Nights at Drury Lane, which told the story of the theatre through the reminiscences of its resident ghost. It provided a vehicle for Evelyn Laye's farewell tour, and she also appeared in the show at the Palladium. When Laye fell and broke her hip, the leading role was taken over by Pat Kirkwood, who said: "Charles was an outstandingly creative man of the theatre. He acted, wrote, directed and designed - all at the very highest level. We simply do not have that sort of mega-talent around these days."

Tom Vallance

Charles Reading, actor, theatre director, designer and writer: born London 15 February 1911; married 1942 Christine Adrian (deceased), 1957 Sheila Matthews (two daughters); died Southwick, West Sussex 17 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'