Women in 1930s Musicals: Anne Croft

This is another entry for an ongoing dictionary of women who worked in musical theatre in the 1930s in the UK. It is an evolving document – for more please get in touch via Twitter.

Anne Croft (b. Hull 1896 – d. 1944)

An image of Croft from a local Hull newspaper in the early 1930s, finally – there’s a photo!

Croft was an actor, producer and director: her career raises intriguing questions about the relationship between twice nightly variety and musical theatre, that at the very least, is far more complicated than you might think.

Croft began her career as a performer in The Cinema Star (1914), and later The Follies of 1919, a touring variety revue with her soon-to-be husband, Reginald Sharland. (The Stage, 28/07/1919, 3). She had two sons, and had a break from the West End before she returned to stage in a revival of the Edwardian musical Maid of the Mountains (London Hippodrome, 1930).

Her earlier work was somewhat forgotten, she was described as a newcomer in her role in Meet My Sister (Glasgow, 1931). She announced she was to revive the operetta The Chocolate Soldier, the Strauss adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw Play. Likely in order to do this, she established Anne Croft Ltd – with a registered capital of £10,000 ‘to carry out the business of theatre proprietors and managers, agents and entrepreneurs, for the engagement of artists etc’ (‘Financial News’, Stage, 16/04/1931, 10).

The Chocolate Soldier (dir. Charles Maynard, M.D. Ernest Irving, later dir. Gordon Rennie) toured extensively across the UK before the production went into the Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End (April 1932). The Stage review describes her as an ‘accomplished musical theatre actress vocalist’ (07/04/1931, 10). The operetta ran in London throughout the summer, before touring again, sometimes as a twice nightly performance. She continued to return to the production throughout 1932 and into 1933, eventually selling the production onto Sidney Foster.

Croft also played in variety in London and beyond (including at the London Palladium), as well as in radio broadcasts including one alongside celebrated Black performer Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson in 1932. She performed in Frederick Whitney and Frederic Austin’s Prudence (1932), but she continued her business throughout this work.

She produced various musicals including Sweet Seventeen (Brighton, 1932); Happy Weekend (also produced by a woman Violette Melnotte, 1934). She formed a new partnership, Anne Croft and Ray Turner Marshall Ltd in 1934, to fund her next big show, Tulip Time. This musical, first produced in 1935, also played twice nightly on tour. This shift to twice-nightly musicals and operetta demonstrates the lure of cinema in the mid-1930s, and the need to make as much profit as possible. She sold this touring production on too – though no financial details survive, it seems at least plausible that there was some benefit to her for doing this.

By the time Tulip Time arrived in the West End, Sir Oswald Stoll was listed as the producer, and Croft the director (The Stage, 22/08/1935, 10). The production was clearly revamped for the West End, key Black choreographer Buddy Bradley was hired to choreograph the dance sequences, with Wendy Toye in the company (who would herself go onto become such a key choreographer and director in the 1940s). Tulip Time still played twice nightly though – something which caused serious problems with Equity (Hull Daily Mail, 11/07/1935).

One of her two sons in her first marriage to Reginald Hanson Sharland, an actor, was David Croft, born 1922. David was the writer behind many beloved British sitcoms such as Dad’s Army and Are You Being Served?. Peter Croft, her other son, was also an actor who appeared in at least one of her tours.

There’s much still to learn about Croft, and her shrewd producing practices. As a performer turned producer, turned director, she displayed an incredible professional versatility.

Year Production TheatresRole
1914The Cinema StarShaftesbury TheatreActor
1919Follies of 1919UK TourPerformer
1926Cochran’s Revue of 1926LondonPerformer
1930Maid of the MountainsHippodrome, LondonActor
1931Meet My SisterGlasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, WimbledonActor
1931The Chocolate SoldierDevonshire Park, Newcastle Empire, Birmingham Prince of Wales, York Theatre Royal, Bradford Alhambra, Leeds Theatre Royal, Sheffield Lyceum, Belfast Opera House, Glasgow Kings, Bristol Prince’s, Leicester Opera HOuse, Kings Hammersmith‘Nadina’ (Actor), Producer
1932PrudenceRoyal Opera House, LeicesterActor (character of ‘Prudence’)
1933Sweet SeventeenBrighton, RoyalProducer
1935Tulip TimeExtensive UK tour before reaching The Alhambra, LondonProducer, then Director
1939Belle of New York (revival)Regional UK tourActor (character of ‘Belle’)

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