Obituary: Louis Benjamin
LOUIS BENJAMIN's face was familiar to millions who never really knew him. As the presenter of the Royal Variety Performances, and as the managing director of the London Palladium, he was often to be seen in the royal box greeting the Queen and in the reception line on special occasions at the Palladium, that his friends might be forgiven for using the old line: 'Who's up there in the box with Louis?' But then, Louis Benjamin had a fine sense of humour, and a great many friends.
Benjamin brought other stories to life as well: he personified the traditional story of the office boy who became the president of the company. When one considers that this company was Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd (owners of the London Palladium, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Victoria Palace, the Garrick, etc, etc), one can begin to see that he played a significant part in the history of the British theatre. Show business was business for Benjamin, and he loved making the most intricate and involved deals. He lived and breathed show business, enjoying to the utmost the contact it gave him with the stars; indeed, he brought them into his orbit. Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers and Liza Minnelli came to London from the United States and there were few of the superstars, including Elizabeth Taylor, who did not at some point find themselves working under his supervision. If he followed the Louis B. Mayer dictum of 'give the people what they want', few could quarrel with his success. He did not claim to have great artistic insights, but his own standards of decency and concern for family values were not a bad yardstick for the shows he produced for young and old, and for many charitable causes.
When Louis Benjamin came back from the Second World War, he had served in the RAC in India, Burma, and Singapore. He returned to work at Moss Empires. His sister was employed there, and had first obtained a lowly office job for him there in 1937; Louis from childhood had given needed support to his family. In 1945, he became the second assistant manager at the London Palladium. He moved steadily up the ladder: box-office manager at the old Victoria Palace in 1948; general manager of the Winter Gardens in Morecambe in 1953, where his varied activities included the management of the theatre, ballroom, and other events, learning as much from economic failures as from his successes.
He was transferred to the Pye Records company in 1959, where he moved from sales controller to general manager, managing director, and then to the chairmanship. Under his creative guidance, the fortunes of the company revived; and Louis moved it into a new area of inexpensive records (the Golden Guinea label). Again, he met the top stars in this field, developing some of them, and working with recording artists like Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw.
Benjamin's great sponsor and friend for many years was Lew Grade, who brought him into his companies (ATV and ACC) in recognition of Benjamin's creativity in the field of business. He saw that Benjamin's greatest talents were directed more towards what was happening behind the scenes rather than on the stage; Benjamin made things happen.
'I moved him from job to job, sometimes over unfair opposition within the companies, because I recognised his talents,' Lord Grade remembered. 'At the time when I would interview my top people every morning, between 7am and 9am, five days a week, Louis would always be one of the first in the office, and we worked well together. Louis was a quiet, decent, fine family man.'
Louis Benjamin was a quiet man, surrounded by a loving family which was his great support during an illness he concealed from his friends. Up to the end, he was involved in the charitable work of show business. He served on the executive of the Variety Club and was a Companion of the Grand Order of Water Rats where he could express the sense of justice and concern which he had inherited from his traditional home. He was one of the first members of the Westminster Synagogue and was proud of his religious tradition. The warmness of his home with his wife Vicky and their daughters Reica and Diana sustained him in a life of show business where he enjoyed every moment.
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