El Granadas and Peter

The history of a variety act.

Cecil’s Life


Cecil Prentice was born on the 24th August 1903 to Albert Prentice and Minnie Prentice (nee Noble) in West Hartlepool, England. His parents were living at 3 Freville Street and his father was, at the time, working as a timber measurer at H.M.C. but with ambitions to go on the stage as an acrobat.





The family later moved to 94 Sandringham Road where Cecil attended Elwick Road and Church Square Schools. Leaving School he served an apprenticeship as an electrician at Richardsons Westgarth Ltd in 1918, a company that manufactured marine engines for ships, and also worked at pipe work contractors and engineers Dixon Barker. By this time, Cecil’s father had managed to start his show business career in Bronco Bills Circus with Cecil’s mother Minnie (nee Nobel).





Cecil’s Parents Albert and Minnie Prentice “The Zeimars”  in Bronco Bills Circus c1914 

Cecil  never completed his apprenticeship as he was already looking to follow his father on to the stage but due to being unable to raise his right arm above his head could not be an acrobat.


When Cecil was 14, his father left his mother for an American woman taking Cecil’s savings of nearly £100. Cecil never saved again for the rest of his life. “The Old Man” as Cecil called him, was never truly forgiven for deserting Minnie and Cecil.  


Albert had two further children by the American woman; Katheline and Rhodes.  Some years afterwards their mother died unexpectedly leaving Albert with the two small children to bring up by himself.  Albert took the children to Minnie, and admirably, she took them in and brought them up as her own.  


In the meantime, Cecil had obtained his first job in the theatre was as an electrician at The Empire, West Hartlepool . It wasn’t long before Cecil had progressed to Gandy’s Circus where he worked with Bronco Bill and “The Un-ridable Mule” and with his friend George Garbutt (Geordie) began to learn the skills of rope spinning and manipulating a stock whip.




Cecil’s Dog Pancho 

Life was very tough in the 1920s and work in the business was not easy to come by. Cecil teamed up with Cal McCord, another good rope spinner. Sometimes, busking or even trying to combine busking with selling razor blades in London was the only way to survive. Cal and Cecil would start rope spinning to draw a crowd then attempt to sell them the razor blades.


Cecil also busked in the northern mill towns of Lancashire with violin player Verno Caselli and Verno’s father. Cecil would go through the streets cracking his stock whip to draw attention, then Verno would play the violin and Cecil would spin ropes. Verno’s father would “bottle” the audience, going round and collecting scraps of change.


Sometimes the takings were virtually none existent and on one occasion, Verno’s father was put into bed at the lodgings where they were staying and his suit was pawned. This gave them just enough money to travel to another town where the takings were better before returning to redeem the suit, get the old man out of bed dress him and move to yet another town to busk again.



Eventually, Cecil joined an act that specialised in eccentric bicycles called “The Daimlers”. Bicycles made of a brass bed head or one with square wheels were the stock in trade of this act and they performed in variety theatres across Britain.


One such engagement was to prove fateful for Cecil when they accepted a booking in Derby in early 1928. This is where he met Lila who had recently returned from Palestine and a failed marriage. She had restarted her career on the stage as a dancer and Cecil took a shine to this headstrong woman. His chat up line of “I’m going to get you drunk tonight” was at least direct, and led to Lila’s pregnancy and the birth of their son, Peter. 


As soon as Lila and Cecil got together, they began to plan an act of their own. Initially called “La Rope and Lady”, Cecil came up with another name which was to take them through the rest of their stage careers; “El Granada’s”.


El Granadas started as a bicycle, rope spinning and stock whip cracking act, but the bicycle side was gradually dropped in favour of more spectacular rope spinning and ribbon spinning.    

At one stage the act even included a dog “Pancho”. Cecil made a scooter for him to perform with. Unfortunately, the dog was run over in the street and it was a many years before dogs were to appear again as part of Cecil and Lila’s repertoire. 

These “Manipulative  Marvels” photographs were probably taken in 1936 

As a child, Cecil had run down the stairs with a pair of scissors in his hand and tripping, had punctured his eye. This showed a small grey spot in one eye. 

Astonishingly, he also was born slightly crippled and could not raise his right arm above shoulder level, so to become an expert rope spinner was an extraordinary feat. He was quite a gentle man who lived to be the best he could be at what he could do. The contrast with Lila’s character left him as the quiet, sensible council who could change Lila’s attitude if he felt she was being too difficult with anyone.


Lila and Cecil made the act better and better and the crowning glory came when their son, Peter joined the act. El Granadas and Peter introduced Peter on unicycles, baton spinning by Peter and a spectacular finale. By now they were playing the “Number Ones” of the Moss Empires circuit and the icing on the cake was when they received a telegram from  their agent saying; “hold everything — Royal Command Performance possibility”. This led to their appearance in the 1946 Royal show at the London Palladium. Quite a journey for the stage electrician from West Hartlepool.



For a man with a dream, Cecil followed it relentlessly and saw astonishing success, playing all over Europe and appearances at the London Palladium and before his king and queen in his lifetime. His act was, arguably, the best in the business at the height of his career.


He never made any real money and never bought any property. At one stage he was offered their rented house at 41 Bolton Road for £100 and turned it down. Everything they earned went on the best costumes, which Lila would sew and make and the best props, many of which Cecil would design and construct. What little money was left went on quality publicity material.


After his father ran away with his savings as a boy, Cecil never saved any money and died comparatively poor but with a full date book with 9 months work solidly booked.


Cecil’s final resting place is in Torquay. He had died “on the road”.      


El Granadas had entertained the troops waiting for D day and after the second world war was over with Dorothy joining the act, work started to come from Europe and Soon Cecil and the act were touring France, where they appeared at the Moulin Rouge, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Lapland, Finland and Norway.


Cecil celebrated his 50th birthday appearing with the Circus Troll Rhodin.

The Act toured at first on trains and stayed in digs but as the Continental work became futher afield, they settled on a convoy of cars, trucks  and caravans to take them to different engagements. The act went down very well in a war torn but now liberated Europe. Although some incidents in Germany led them to keep a loaded gas gun in one of the caravans at night.


It was an exciting life but very wearying, especially for Dorothy and Peter who had to take care of their young children.

El Granadas tour the continent

After Peter and Dorothy left the act to settle down Cecil and Lila continued with a number of young girls joining the act and then eventually developed their dog act so that between the two of them they could do two acts on any bill.


At one stage in 1966 Cecil intimated that he would like to retire the El Granadas act and become a background man for his wife’s dog act. 


This was never to be and Cecil and Lila continued with both acts until the fateful day in Paignton in 1971. Lila and Cecil had arrived early at the Palace Theatre for the show. With 10 dogs and two acts to organise it was always their way to have plenty of time for preparation. 


Unfortunatly, on this occasion the stage door was locked and so Cecil went round to the front of the theatre to gain entrance. Walking through the auditorium he was making  his way onto the stage when he missed his footing and fell into the orchestra pit. He cracked several ribs and died a few days later in hospital.