El Granadas and Peter

The history of a variety act.


These pages are dedicated to the history of the variety act “El Granadas” and later “El Granadas and Peter”

The theatrical world goes back several generations in the Prentice family to Cecil’s father, Albert Prentice who ran away from home in West Hartlepool at the beginning of the 20th Century to join a circus. He later formed his own act called “The Zemars” with his wife Minnie Prentice (nee Noble).


With two of his children, Kathleen (Kay) and Rhodes (Rocky) he developed an act called “The Pavians” and yet another act “Tiny Rhodes and Funny Foyle” with Rhodes and himself.


Cecil, Albert’s other son and my grandfather, was not far behind his father in attempting to get into showbusiness, running away to joining Gandy’s Circus, just as Albert had done, and learning there to spin a rope and handle a stock whip. One of Cecil’s early acts was a rope spinning duo with a partner called Cal McCord (who I recall seeing on a TV commercial in the 1960’s as a old western goldminer) before appearing in 1928 at Derby in a theatre where he met my grandmother Lila Darbon.







Peter baton spinning on a unicycle

Lila and Cecil went on to form “La Rope and Lady”, the act previously mentioned, before changing the name to “El Granadas”. My father Peter joined the act just as soon as he was old enough and Cecil taught him how to ride a unicycle, despite the fact that Cecil could not ride one himself. Very quickly Peter became very proficient at riding unicycles of all sizes and also baton spinning.


In 1946 El Granadas were appearing for a season at Blackpool Tower Circus where a girl who had been

transferred at the last minute from the Opera House caught his eye. Dorothy Croft was a local girl who’s mother had been a champion swimmer. She was a good dancer and ice skater plus she could swim well. These were  just the skills needed for the Ester Williams style routines in “Aquamarine” an under water ballet arranged for the Tower Circus by  two Americans, Leon Marco and Ambrose Smith. The Circus ring had a floor that could drop away to reveal a swimming pool.  Peter and Dorothy took to each other, soon began dating and in 1949 got married. Dorothy joined El Granadas prior to marrying Peter and began learning the tricky job of rope spinning and riding a unicycle. Prior to Dorothy joining the act another girl, Silva Harbord had joined El Granadas but a short time after Dorothy joined, Silva left.

What Cecil called “The Big Act” continued to grow in status and popularity playing many top variety theatres until Peter was called up for 18 months national service on 3rd March 1949.


By this time the act was known as a four person act and to continue commanding the same fees it had to remain a four person act.


The solution was to hire in an extra girl to take Peter’s place and so Silva Harbord from Sunderland, was asked to return to El Granadas.




The new line up while Peter was in the army

In 1951 Dorothy gave birth to her first son, Steven and this was followed by another son Richard and finally Paula in 1955. Taking all these small children from theatre to theatre, at home and abroad, soon became impossible and Peter and Dorothy decided to leave El Granadas and head back to Blackpool where Dorothy’s parents lived. A settled existence was the only way with children of school age. Cecil and Lila continued El Granadas by first trying to keep the act a four person entity, recruiting another two girls and further girls when the original two girls moved on. The El Granada   girls included a 16 year old Jean Purdy, Margaret Anita Bridge from Liverpool, Gloria Evelyn Kill from Portsmouth and Betty Sullivan who had been Dorothy’s chief bridesmaid. 



Later, Cecil and Lila decided they could keep income up by developing two separate acts, the original rope spinning and whip manipulation routines “El Granadas” and another act that Lila would do by herself “Lila and her Komedy Kanines”.


They started with a few dogs provided by another act and eventually ended up with ten dogs, as they kept dogs long after they were too old to work in the act.


Contrary to popular opinion about animal acts, the dogs were trained kindly by rewarding them with small pieces of cooked liver while they were trained and when they performed on stage. This was another time and another era when animal acts were acceptable on stage.     

The two acts continued through the demise of variety theatres working what was left of the circuit plus galas, parks and wherever work could be found. They were never  short of work.


In Paignton in 1971, when Cecil was making his way on to the stage from the auditorium, he tripped, fell into the orchestra pit cracking several ribs and died shortly afterwards. Lila, who was unable to drive, never worked the stage again. She lived on in retirement and died on the 4th January 2007 in the Variety Artist’s Benevolent Fund  retirement home, Brinsworth House.