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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Big Business

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Big Business (1937 programme)

Big Business is a British 2-act musical play, directed by Ralph Reader, performed at the London Hippodrome (London, UK) from 18 february 1937 (124 performances), starring Wylie Watson as Sexton Holmes.

Jimmy Rackshaw, an impoverished commercial traveller, fails to sell any of his beauty products to Annabelle and Emmeline Ray, two wealthy sisters who own Beauty Creams Ltd. However, he does get to meet and fall in love with Mary Martin, who works for them as a beauty specialist. The sisters own a valuable painting, and Annabelle is worried that two suspicious Americans, Spike Morgan and his boss Lincoln J. Hopper, might be trying to steal it. So she hires Jimmy to act as a kind of security guard. The incompetent detective Sexton Holmes offers a bit of extra help whilst a charity pageant is taking place in the grounds of the sisters' mansion. During this pageant there is a blackface burlesque, and a Robin Hood show, with Annabelle as a buxom Robin Hood, Emmeline as Will Scarlet, Sexton Holmes as a tipsy Friar Tuck, and Jimmy as an undersized Little John. The picture is stolen and the innocent Mayor of Brighthaven is suspected while the real crooks hide in a taxidermist’s studio and escape disguised as a giraffe. Naturally, all is sorted out at the end and Jimmy and Mary are off to be married.

The Punch (3 march 1937) wrote: "There is a glorious passage here when he [Sexton Holmes] puts on an armchair and takes Miss Pearce on his knee; but whatever he does is worth watching." (see illustration below)



  • Miss Simcox : Jessica Bewan
  • Mayor of Brighthaven : Herbert C. Walton
  • Emmeline Ray : Bertha Belmore
  • Mary Martin : Enid Dixon-Orr
  • Annabelle Ray : Vera Pearce
  • Jimmy Rackstraw : Bobby Howes
  • Spike Morgan : David Burns
  • Lincoln J. Hopper : Richard Clarke
  • Sexton Holmes : Wylie Watson
  • Taxidermist : George Moon
  • Policeman : Frank Herbert
  • Linkman : Fred Gray
  • Butler : Ernest Freeman


  • Director : Ralph Reader
  • Music Director : Joseph Tunbridge
  • Orchestrations : W. Ternent



  • "Beauty for Sale" (Girls)
  • "Move" (Annabelle and Girls)
  • "I've Got a Thing about You" (Mary and Jimmy)
  • "I'm on Wings" (Mary and Girls)
  • "Limehouse Nights" (Annabelle, Emmeline and Holmes)
  • Reprise — "I've Got a Thing about You" (Mary and Jimmy)
  • "Mammy" (Annabelle, Jimmy and Girls)
  • "Robin Hood Pageant" (Full Company)


  • "New Faces" (Girls)
  • Reprise — "I've Got a Thing about You" (Annabelle and Jimmy)
  • "A Dance A Day" (Annabelle, Jimmy and Girls)
  • "Grandfather's Whiskers" (Annabelle, Jimmy and Holmes)
  • "One Man Band" (Wylie Watson and Girls)
  • Finale



  • Acknowlegements: Roger Johnson, Adrian Nebett.