Mrs Hendersons Windmill Theatre
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Mrs Hendersons Windmill Theatre

Mrs Hendersons provocative Windmill Theatre was here.


This part of London has a rural history. A windmill stood here from the reign of Charles II until late in the eighteenth century. This gave its name to the footpath leading to the mill from Piccadilly at the top of the HayMarket over Windmill Fields.

Opened as the Palais de Luxe Cinema on 20th December 1909. A seating capacity of 600 was claimed in stalls and a stepped rear stalls area. It had a tiny corner entrance which remains to this day. In the late 1920 it became Britain's first art house cinema and was under the direction of Elsie Cohen.

In 1931 architect F. Edward Jones made alterations to the building to convert it into a live theatre. A new facade was added in the style of a windmill with turrets and balconies carried out in a traditional style and covered in white faiance tiles. The interior design was by owner Mrs Laura Henderson in tones of beige and brown.

It opened as the Windmill Theatre on 22nd june 1931 with the play Inquest by Michael Barringer starrring Mary Glynne and Hilda Trevelyan.

Unfortunately 'legit' theatre was not a hit here and in the autumn of 1931 it had returned to screening art house films.

Mrs Laura Henderson introduced London to a new kind of show which originated in Paris. Called 'Revuedeville' it featured 18 acts of non-stop variety turns which to start with was not a great success.

However, once naked girls posing was introduced into the programme, it drew large crowds and became one of London's must see attractions. Opening on 4th February 1932 it ran daily, continuously until 31st October 1964.

Theatre manager Vivian Van Damm proclaimed the Windmill Theatre slogan 'We Never Closed' as the shows and the theatre became famous through the war years.

The Windmill Theatre did actually close along with all other forms of entertainment when a compulsory closure order came into effect from 4th September until the 16th September 1939.

Mrs Henderson died in 1944 aged 82, but the show went on.

The famous sign on the front of the building depicted the sails of a windmill revolving around and this remained in situ for many years.

After closing as a live theatre in 1964 it was purchased by the Compton Cinema group and was renamed Windmill Cinema, opening on 2nd November 1964 with Nude Las Vegas.

It was sold to sex industry impresario Paul Raymond and he was operating it as La Vie en Rose Theatre Restaurant by 1984. In recent years it has reverted back to the Windmill Theatre, staging adult live entertainment for the gratification of men who like to have a naked girl in their lap!

The Windmill Theatre has been the mainstay of plots in at least two films: Rita Hayworth in Tonight and Every Night (1945) and Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins in Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005).

Location: 17 - 19 Great Windmill Street, London, W1D 7LF