1 9 4 7 – 1 9 5 5 (UK)
Broadcast live from the BBC’s studios at Alexandra Palace, North London, Café Continental was the first televised variety show in the UK.
Café Continental was presented in the round, with the audience situated on tables around the wall of the set.
Al Burnett was the Master of Ceremonies who welcomed the television audience to a sophisticated international cabaret and dining club by saying “your table has been reserved by the Maître d’hôtel” (played by both Claude Frederic and Pére Auguste, a real-life Kensington restaurateur). Hélène Cordet also hosted as ‘mistress’ of ceremonies. Sydney Jerome was the orchestra leader.
The 45-minute show (eventually an hour) was broadcast on Saturday evenings at 8 pm and attracted many famous singers and dancers of the day, as well as many stars of the London theatre.
Probably the biggest name to appear behind the cafe’s smart swing doors was Folies Bergère star Josephine Baker (in 1948).
At the end of the show, the opening segment was reversed, and the viewer would be ushered back to their carriage, with the closing caption being written on the blind.
The gloved hand that came into the shot to pull the blind shut was invariably that of a burly scene shifter, rather than a continental lady of leisure.
Episodes of the series also aired in the US where it was sponsored by Conmar Zippers. An Australian version of the show was produced between 1958 and 1961.
Master of Ceremonies
Mistress of Ceremonies