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Whitehall farce

The Whitehall farces were a series of five long-running comic stage plays at the Whitehall Theatre in London, presented by the actor-manager Brian Rix, in the 1950s and 1960s. They were in the low comedy tradition of British farce, following the Aldwych farces, which played at the Aldwych Theatre between 1924 and 1933.

The five farces were as follows:

Rix built a company of regular players who appeared in some or all of these shows. They included Leo Franklyn, Larry Noble, Dennis Ramsden and Derek Royle, and members of Rix's family: his wife, Elspet Gray, his sister, Sheila Mercier and his brother-in-law, Peter Mercier. Others who appeared in one or more of the Whitehall farces include Terry Scott and Andrew Sachs. Rix starred in all five plays, in a range of roles: a "gormless recruit" to the army in Reluctant Heroes; a timidly crooked bookie's runner in Dry Rot; a street musician recruited as a secret agent in Simple Spymen; four identical brothers in One For the Pot; and a harassed civil servant in Chase Me, Comrade. From Dry Rot onwards, Rix and his authors developed a double act for the Rix characters and those played by Leo Franklyn, in which the two performers played off one another rather as Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls had done in the Aldwych farces of the previous generation.

Although the five plays had long runs and packed houses, most London critics were snobbishly dismissive of them. Looking back in 1980, Michael Coveney wrote of the Whitehall farces, "A tradition of critical snobbery has grown up around these plays, partly because they were so blatantly popular but chiefly because of our conviction that farce, unless written by a Frenchman, is an inferior theatrical species. Once the National Theatre has done its duty by Priestley and Rattigan and others teetering on the brink of theatrical respectability I suggest they employ Mr. Rix … to investigate the ignored riches of English farce between Travers and Ayckbourn." The few London critics of the 1950s and 1960s who did not take a lofty view included Harold Hobson, Ronald Bryden, J. W. Lambert and Alan Dent.

Title Author Premiere Closed Performances
Reluctant Heroes Colin Morris 12 September 1950 24 July 1954 1,610
Dry Rot John Chapman 31 August 1954 15 March 1958 1,475
Simple Spymen John Chapman 19 March 1958 29 July 1961 1,403
One For the Pot Ray Cooney and Tony Hilton 2 August 1961 4 July 1964 ~1,210
Chase Me, Comrade Ray Cooney 15 July 1964 21 May 1966 ~765



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