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.]

35 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

      • Darci March 18, 2022 / 2:09 pm

        my grandmother was also a topper and i have been trying to find as much info i can on them, her name is Gillian Michell

      • charlesfoster March 18, 2022 / 2:29 pm

        Hi Darci — do you know if your mother was in the line-up used in the film? — Charles

      • GillianVaughan March 18, 2022 / 3:34 pm

        . I worked a year with Dicky Aftons ‘Toppers’
        I was also in the film of the ‘DamBusters’ !
        It was a prestigious job at the time It payed better and we were introduced by our names Hence we received fan mail It was all very exciting
        I left whenJacky Billy’s left because I disliked his replacement Mr Roberts forget his first mane but he was a very unpleasant man
        Sending my love to Roma and Jackie
        GillianVaughan

      • GillianVaughan March 18, 2022 / 3:34 pm

        . I worked a year with Dicky Aftons ‘Toppers’
        I was also in the film of the ‘DamBusters’ !
        It was a prestigious job at the time It payed better and we were introduced by our names Hence we received fan mail It was all very exciting
        I left whenJacky Billy’s left because I disliked his replacement Mr Roberts forget his first mane but he was a very unpleasant man
        Sending my love to Roma and Jackie
        GillianVaughan

      • Darci March 18, 2022 / 3:02 pm

        i have no clue, all i know is she was in the group some time in the 50s,
        i have only 3 photos from when she was in it but i can’t tell what year they are from

      • alessandra James March 18, 2022 / 4:54 pm

        I’ve only just seen this reply.

        Do you have any photos? My husband has only managed to find a few on Getty images.

    • GillianVaughan March 23, 2022 / 11:30 am

      Do remember me to your Mother inn law Allesdandra .

      • alessandra James March 23, 2022 / 1:06 pm

        Dear Gillian,
        Thank you for the reply. I have asked my husband to have a look in on this chat at some point. Sadly Roma is in care with advanced Alzheimer’s. I wish I had discovered this blog years ago. Although, my husband has said that she didn’t have fond memories of this period and never like to talk about it. She had quite a few photos which we hope to find one day. It’s easier to identify her on the TV but I think she is third in from the right in this photo.
        I hope yoh are keeping well.

    • GillianVaughan March 29, 2022 / 2:06 pm

      So sorry to hear Roma is in Care.
      Do you know if any of theToppers are still active and well or am I the only one left still strutting my stuff.👯

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

    I thought the singer in The Dambuster was Jean Baliss

    • GillianVaughan March 18, 2022 / 3:35 pm

      . I worked a year with Dicky Aftons ‘Toppers’
      I was also in the film of the ‘DamBusters’ !
      It was a prestigious job at the time It payed better and we were introduced by our names Hence we received fan mail It was all very exciting
      I left whenJacky Billy’s left because I disliked his replacement Mr Roberts forget his first mane but he was a very unpleasant man
      Sending my love to Roma and Jackie
      GillianVaughan

      • charlesfoster March 18, 2022 / 4:20 pm

        Thanks for this information, Gillian. Very glad to hear from you. Can you pick yourself out in the line-up? I don’t think there are any close-ups so it might be difficult. If you have any photos please email them to me — charlesjfoster@gmail.com

      • Gillian Vaughan March 18, 2022 / 5:20 pm

        And my brother worked for Barney Wallace

      • Gillian Vaughan March 22, 2022 / 4:28 pm

        I was second from the left
        Toppers I remember when I was under contract
        jacky , Roma Dale !AnneTalbert !
        ThelmaBaker
        Thank you for your interest
        Gillian

    • Tim Powell March 18, 2022 / 7:55 pm

      No, it was definitely my late Aunt June Powell. I have further details I can tell you about the film, but I would rather speak to the owner of this blog before commenting further. I can also shed further insight into June’s career in showbiz if so desired.

      • charlesfoster March 18, 2022 / 8:27 pm

        Hi Tim — I’m the owner of the blog, so please get in touch. I’m sending you an email. Best wishes — Charles Foster

  8. Gillian Vaughan March 18, 2022 / 3:40 pm

    I have lovely photos taken of the girls taken at a day at the races when we were working a theatre in Stockton on tees with Harry Secome .

    • alessandra James March 18, 2022 / 5:02 pm

      Is there any chance of sending a photo of Roma Dale (Rosemary) if you have any?

      • Gillian Vaughan March 21, 2022 / 12:23 pm

        Anne Tolbert ,Thema Baker,
        Jacky Lane ,&Roma Dale ,we’re two Iremember

      • Gillian Vaughan March 21, 2022 / 11:49 am

        I joined the TVToppers in the Summer of ‘1954 Makes me sound old but have no fear .I’m still strutting my stuff as usual

      • Gillian Vaughan March 21, 2022 / 12:01 pm

        Another’ I-remember on the extreme left was Anne Talbert
        Your aphotoattached showed the line of girls just after I left I was not in it sinse it was soon after I left
        From G V

      • Gillian Vaughan April 18, 2022 / 11:43 pm

        In that photo Anne Talburt was First on right Thema Baker was fifth .
        I wasn’t there in that line up just fifth right in the film . We were under contract, to Dicky Afton The TV series called ‘Quite Contrary ‘ filmed at Shepards Bush Empire ,and the Shepards bush TV Centre .
        lady Bowl was compare. Amundo Ross resident orchestra

  9. Gillian Vaughan April 18, 2022 / 11:25 pm

    Correction I was fifth from the right Fourth from the right was Topper Thelma Baker

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