Wartime Entertainment

Naval signal promoting Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) show, around 1940

Naval signal promoting Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) show, around 1940

World War II (1939 - 45) saw a surge of interest in the arts. Many civilian and military audiences experienced drama, opera and ballet for the first time. Unlike audiences in World War I (1914 - 18) who needed escapism, the audiences of the 1940s were looking for something more.

CEMA, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts, was set up to provide war time entertainment and money was given to ballet, opera and drama companies to perform in military camps and to civilians.

During the war Sybil Thorndike and her husband Lewis Casson toured the mining villages of Wales performing Shakespeare and Greek tragedy and the Sadler's Wells Ballet, Sadler's Wells Opera and symphony orchestras performed in military camps across the country.

In London's West End serious plays were performed to full houses and at the Arts Theatre there were four ballet performances a day - Lunch Ballet, After-Lunch Ballet, Tea Ballet and Sherry Ballet when audiences could eat during the performance and then return to work.

The interest in the arts during World War II led to the first government subsidy of the arts in Britain with the founding of the Arts Council in 1946, championed by Jenny Lee.

The naval signal on the right is an advertisement for a show put on by the Grant Anderson Company for the troops in Tunisia. Throughout World War II, an organisation called Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) coordinated entertainments all over the world, wherever allied troops were stationed.

The Grant Andersons were recruited and sent all over the world. Many performers had to live and work in harsh, uncomfortable conditions. Performances might take place in a purpose-built theatre or on portable stages in the open air. There were shows in submarines, on the decks of ships, in aircraft hangers and there were usually several shows a day. ENSA shows went on through sandstorms in the desert, snowstorms in Italy, rainstorms in the Pacific and sometimes very close to the front line.

ENSA playbill for Two's a Crowd

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