Sullivan, William James - P16

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William James Sullivan better known as Bill Sullivan was born on Oct 7th 1912 in London as the fourth son of Thomas Sullivan and Margaret Beresford.

Thomas was a printers assistant while Margaret took care of the 8 boys and 1 girl at 39 Balmore Street Highgate.

When Bill was 15 he worked as a page boy at a rehearsal room and he had seen Charles B. Cochran and other great producers of the time. At this age he bumped into his old school pal Frank Pope, who he told about his exciting life with hunderds of Glamour Girls.

Frank went along to see the gentleman in charge of the rehearsal rooms, Mr. Summers Brown, who controled a circuit of theatres such as The Charles Gulliver group, Greater London Theatres and Cinemas Ltd. These houses included the Chapman Grand, Kilburn Empire, Islington Empire, Ilford Hippodrome, Camberwell Palace and Hammersmith Palace. As Bill anticipated, Frank Pope got the job.

In the meanwhile Bill establishing himself as a performer. He played in Tom Arnold's "This Year of Grace" and got a film contract with Geoffrey Benstead (possibly in Stepping Stones 1931).

"Talkies" (thats how they used to call movies) came and the theatre business slumped. Frank was transfered to the rehearsal rooms, taking over the booking in that department. That is where Frank met Wallace Parnell who mentioned that he needed a boy for the general office. Frank applied and got the job at age 18 and learned everything about the theatre world; How big shows are mapped out, how they are staged etc etc all under the guidance of one of the finest producers in the country. The company were the first to put on Non-Stop Revue at the old Prince of Wales and the Piccadilly and presented Revue and Grand Guignol at the Duke of York's.

Decline in the theatres made Frank take a job at a shoe factory as a clerk, but he was only holding that job for 1 day as Hyman Zahl, who was in partnership with Michael Lyon, offered him a job in his office. Later Hyman Zahl went into partnership with Jack Hylton and Frank Pope joined him on this venture. Things didnt go so well, so Frank persuaded Hyman Zahl to start on his own. he did and Frank was installed as his manager.

In the meanwhile Bill Sullivan had been with Debroy Summers and his band, but Bill was looking for a new challenge. Frank set Bill up as a return favor with Cecil Braham.

While being on tour with Hyman Zahl, Frank Pope met F. J. Butterworth. He gave Frank the big chance in life by giving all his booking arrangements to Frank. the second War arrived, with the famous theatre shut down. Hyman Zahl suggested to rejoin forces with Michael Lyon. F.J. Butterworth then suggested to open an office on his own in order to concentrate on the booking for the F.J.B Circuit. F.J.B Circuit had taken over 3 additional theatres ( Camden Town Bedford, Bristol Empire and Boscombe Hippodrome) and the chain was increasing as time went on.

And so it all started. Frank started the "Frank Pope Agency" later called "National Theatrical Variety Agency (NTVA)". However Frank got the call-up and he found it difficult to find someone to take over whilst he was in the forces. Luckily he thought of Bill Sullivan. Bill was turned down for militairy service due to health reasons, so Frank brought him in as manager and between the 2 of them they build up the largest independent circuit in the country.

Bill and Frank stayed together until Bill died on 9 Dec 1974.

Some of the famous people they managed or booked were:

  • Phyllis Dixey - Frank Pope spotted her in the chorus, knowing she was destined for bigger things. Her career was started by Frank Pope in a small show entitled "Footlight Inn", which they produced at the Savoy, Scunthorpe in 1940.
  • George Formby
  • Sandy Powell
  • Lucan and McShane
  • Alfred Thripp - B.B.C famous blind pianist and vocalist
  • Two Leslies
  • Cavan OÇonnor
  • Jenny Howard
  • Rita Atkins
  • Nellie Wallace
  • Ella Shields
  • Arthur Tracy "Street Singer"
  • Morecambe and Wise
  • Dame Shirley Bassey
  • Hylda Baker
  • Trixie Mason
  • Terry Doogan
  • Jimmie Smith - Bill Sullivan discovered him at the Elmar Hotel Music Hall in Bognor Regis. Jimmie became a drummer at the London Palladium with the Ted Heath orchestra
  • Terry and Adela Cantor
  • Max Miller - The Cheeky Chappie
  • Ken Barnes
  • Billy O'Sullivan - Ireland's Personality Comedian
  • Laurel en Hardy
  • Walter Donaldson - a Scottish professional snooker and billiards player

Shows they produced:

  • Those were the days by kind permission of Lew Lake
  • Our Victory Production - Written devised by Bill Sullivan
  • Funzapoppin - Witten devised by Bill Sullivan
  • Frank Pope's Cinderella - Bill Sullivan was Buttons in this show, which was held at the Bedford Theatre Camden Town 1946-1947
  • The Gandy Bros at the Sussex Club in Elmar Sands, direct from the Garrick Theatre London.
  • Old Time Music Hall - written by Bill Sullivan

According to Mister John Butterworth “Billy Sullivan and Frank Pope were both theatrical agents who worked with Frederick Butterworth. In the early years they worked with acts including Shirley Bassey and Morecambe and Wise. The theatre industry declined in the 1950’s and 1960’s and after they finished being theatrical agents Frederick Butterworth invested in hotels and kept some of his theatres. Billy and Frank worked for Frederick whenever they could.”

According to Best of British Magazine ” Frank Pope (agency) supplied acts to the Moss Empires circuits, owners of 24 large theatres, including the prestigious London Palladium and the infamous Glasgow Empire. Pope saw Morecambe and Wise in 1950, and took them on to busier times with appearances on variety shows, summer seasons, pantomimes and radio. Regular guest appearances on the pianobashing Winifred Atwell Show eased them back onto the screen, but they were determined to have their own show. One casualty of this determination was Frank Pope. His nine years of dedication was much appreciated, but he just didn’t have the contacts and wherewithal to progress the boys’ television career.”