Television Toppers under the spotlight

It has recently emerged that the musical theatre sequence in the 1955 film The Dam Busters was performed by the Television Toppers dance troupe and filmed in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.

The information comes from one of the dancers, Jackie Lee, whose daughter Susie Ball has recently posted some comments on an earlier post on this blog. Jackie is seen second from the right at the start of the routine and second from the left at the end. Unfortunately she can’t now recall the name of the singer. Update: Michelle Powell, in a comment below, has said that the singer was her husband’s aunt, June Powell.

The whole routine was filmed in a day: the dancers were given their routine to learn when they arrived. They shot the first half before lunch, and the other half afterwards. They were introduced to Richard Todd, playing Guy Gibson, who is seen in the film in the audience. During the song and dance routine, Gibson notices how the spotlight operators on each side of the stage move their lights to follow the singer as she moves from side to side. This is supposed to give him the idea for using intersecting spotlights on the Dams Raid aircraft to keep to a fixed height while approaching their targets. In truth, the idea of using spotlights came from a scientist at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and they had been installed several weeks before the raid.

In the 1950s, the Television Toppers were one of Britain’s best known female dance troupes and were contracted to the BBC. They first appeared on television in 1953 and are probably best remembered for their appearances on BBC TV’s Black and White Minstrel Show, which ran from 1958 until 1978. The Toppers were also much in demand for personal appearances and openings. Jackie Lee left them in 1958 when she got married.

Jackie also remembers that the soldier-style costumes worn by the dancers were borrowed from the Empire Leicester Square and made by the well known West End wardrobe suppliers, Berman’s. Costumes in this style were very popular during the war, and would have complemented the music used in the sequence. Earlier research published by this blog has revealed the song to be “Sing, Everybody Sing” by John P Long.

[Thanks to Jackie Lee and Susie Ball for their help.]

11 thoughts on “Television Toppers under the spotlight

  1. Robin Pearn October 4, 2017 / 3:25 pm

    I really enjoyed this scene and the whole film. I used to love to see The Television toppers on TV, years ago.

    • Michelle powell November 18, 2017 / 7:53 pm

      The name of the singer was June Powell my husbands Aunt

  2. The Mohne October 4, 2017 / 10:18 pm

    Ben Lockspeiser supplied the spotlight altimeter method for the Dambusters raid I do believe .

  3. Philip Johnson October 5, 2017 / 1:10 am

    Thanks as always for maintaining the Dambuster blog with so much enthusiasm!

    Son of Flt.Lt. E.C. Johnnie Johnson SDC

    • Philip Johnson October 5, 2017 / 1:12 am

      Should read:DFC – apologies for typo!

  4. richard hickmott October 27, 2017 / 10:04 am

    One of the many highlights of the film. The switch from a studio train carriage to actual theatre footage of the troupe is a wonderful contrast, and the perfect link to Gibson supposedly discovering how to fly the Lancasters at 60 feet (even though we all know now Gibson had nothing to do with this aspect)

  5. Michelle powell November 18, 2017 / 7:53 pm

    Can you post the scene?

  6. Alessandra james April 15, 2018 / 11:24 pm

    My mother in law was one of the Television Topeers Dance Troup “Roma Dale” stage name.

    • Gillian Vaughan February 17, 2020 / 9:39 am

      I was a Topper back in the 50s
      I knew your Mother Roma Dale
      very well We danced at the Astor Club

  7. Gillian Vaughan February 17, 2020 / 9:42 am

    I thought the singer in The Dambuster was Jean Baliss

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