The Army Show

The Army Show. At first a musical revue produced during World War II for the Canadian army, and later the operational name for entertainment units serving with the army.

The Army Show

The Army Show. At first a musical revue produced during World War II for the Canadian army, and later the operational name for entertainment units serving with the army. Through the perseverance of Brig James Mess, the Dept of National Defence sanctioned the creation of a radio series produced in Montreal by Rai Purdy and known generally as the 'Canadian Army Radio Show'. It was broadcast weekly by the CBC from 13 Dec 1942 until 5 Sep 1943. Among the cast were the comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster (who wrote much of the material), and the singers Jimmie Shields and Raymonde Maranda. The orchestra and chorus were conducted by Geoffrey Waddington. The radio show's success prompted the creation of a touring stage version to entertain the troops, to promote recruitment by enhancing the army's image, to increase the sale of war bonds, and to bolster civilian morale.

Work on the touring show began during the winter of 1943 in Toronto. Wayne and Shuster wrote most of the skits, lyrics and music, the last in collaboration with Robert Farnon who, as music director, was responsible for all arrangements and orchestrations. (These and other arrangements were later recorded by Farnon in England and have been studied as models of the arranger's art.) Freddie Grant also contributed two songs, one with lyrics by Harold Walker. The cast included Wayne and Shuster, Peter Mews, and Mildred Morey, and the singers Roger Doucet, Brian and Dennis Farnon (who, with Denny Vaughan and Ralph Wickberg, performed as the Four Brass Hats), Jimmie Shields, Gordon Blythe, and Lois (Hooker) Maxwell. Aida Broadbent (of Vancouver and Hollywood) was the choreographer. The orchestra, again conducted by Waddington, included the violinists Frank (Francesco) Fusco, Jacob Groob, and Eddie Sanborn, the bassists Jean(double-bassist) Dansereau and Murray Lauder, the saxophonists Lew Lewis and Morris Weinzweig, and the trombonists Murray Ginsberg and Ted Roderman. The production was supervised by the veteran showman Jack Arthur.

The Army Show opened 2 Apr 1943 at the Victoria Theatre in Toronto and was an outstanding success. Time Magazine described it as 'a high-spirited, always likeable, often lavish soldier show' (19 Apr 1943). Two of the songs, 'That's an Order from the Army' and 'H'ya Mom,' enjoyed considerable popularity. The show toured Canada that spring and summer, visiting army camps and urban centres and giving a special performance at the historic Anglo-American War Conference held 10-24 Aug 1943 at Quebec City.

While the show was in Vancouver being refurbished for a projected run on Broadway, the Dept of National Defence decided to split the troupe into five units to be sent overseas, two as musical revues and three as variety groups. Wayne and Shuster again prepared the material. The five units reached England 21 Dec 1943 and there became part of the Canadian Auxiliary Services Entertainment Unit, with Rai Purdy as commanding officer. The units also were subdivided into small concert parties which could perform in hospitals. Tony Bradan, music director for all units, recruited additional musicians and provided arrangements. Stationed first at Aldershot and then at Guildford, these units entertained the troops throughout Britain and, after the 1944 Allied invasion of western Europe, at the front lines in Holland, France, Belgium, and Germany. (Unit B, with Eddie Sanborn as music director, had already been assigned to duty in Italy after the Allied invasion of that country in November 1943.)

A Saturday night variety show by unit musicians was broadcast by the BBC. Farnon was conductor/arranger, and Gerry Wilmot was master of ceremonies. After the Allied victory in Europe, units entertained troops awaiting repatriation and serving as occupation forces. A new show called Rhythm Rodeo was presented outside London in a gigantic tent before some 5000 service personnel. More than 20 entertainment units generically known as 'The Army Show' remained on active duty until 1947.


Further Reading

  • Stephens, W. Ray. The Canadian Entertainers of World War II (Oakville 1993)