Revudeville at the Windmill

Image from the movie Mrs. Henderson Presents

In 1932, widowed Englishwoman Mrs. Laura Henderson, who had lost her only son in the Great War, occupied herself by buying a theatre and putting a producer named Mr. Vivian Van Damm in charge of it. Facing slow ticket sales, the Windmill began putting naked girls on the stage. To get approval from the censors, the naked girls were not permitted to move, but only to pose as background scenery while clothed girls danced or sang in front of them. As with other burlesque performances of the era, there were also comedy routines and genuinely choreographed dances, not the unplanned frenetic movement of today.

The Windmill was, naturally, exceedingly popular with young servicemen. The theatre boasted "We Never Closed" - meaning that they stayed open throughout World War II and the Blitz; indeed, during times of heavy bombing the performers often slept at the theatre, which was relatively safe because it was partially underground.

The Windmill was even immortalized in a movie starring Rita Hayworth, Tonight and Every Night, although they changed the name and took out the bit about nudity! More recently, the marvellous Dame Judi Dench (M in the most recent James Bond movies) played the title role in the very good, very moving Mrs. Henderson Presents. Bob Hoskins plays Vivian Van Damm.

To many today, the artistic gloss on this nudity seems hypocritical. I disagree. Even when we indulge our profane passions, we do not wish to forget that we have a divine aspect as well.

Image from the movie Tonight And Every Night


In later years, the no-moving regulations were relaxed, and the Windmill's performances continued until 1964, when vulgar nude dancing became permissible and the grand tradition of burlesque was dealt a fatal blow. This phase was the subject of the movie Secrets of a Windmill Girl, which includes several delightful burlesque style dance numbers. It tells the story of two Windmill girls who performed in the Revudeville until the theatre closed down. Symbolic of what happened to society in general when more blatant sex shows edged out the more demure burlesque, one of the girls turns to drugs and promiscuity, finally dying in a drunk driving accident.

Images from the movie Secrets of a Windmill Girl

With tragically apt symbolism, the building which once housed one of the world's most famous classy burlesque shows is now occupied by a strip joint that offers lap dances. Dens of iniquity just aren't what they used to be.
EDIT: I have heard that now old-fashioned burlesque is being performed at the Windmill again!

Note: aside from the pictures credited to movies, these are from my personal collection of Revudeville programs.

BBC Woman's Hour: The Windmill Girls
Mrs Henderson's house of delights
The Windmill: Always Nude But Never Rude

WolfLady's Graphics