Performance TitleThe Chelsea Arts Club Ball 1985 - Venetian Masked Ball
Performance Date11 October 1985
Performance DayFriday
Performance Time20:00
Main PerformersAlan Halliday,
Barry Grantham's 'The Intention',
Barry Smith Theatre and Jane Gingell's Timedance,
Arts Educational School,
Chinatown Lion Dancers

George Melly - vocal
Orchestra or BandThe York Waits,
Ramon Gallo and His Italian Band,
Trinity College Swing Band,
The Esterhazy Orchestra,
John Chilton's Feetwarmers (John Chilton - trumpet, flugelhorn, Collin Bates - piano, Chuck Smith - drums, Barry Dillon - bass)
ConductorsCarl Davis,
Michael Lloyd
Set List'Julio and Romietta', Goldoni (Barry Grantham's 'The Intention'),
'The Battle of Punch, the Devil and the Apes of Hell' (Barry Smith Theatre, Jane Gingell's Timedance),
'Danse Tricolore' (Arts Educational School),
'Chinese Lion Dance' (Chinatown),
'Venetian Acrobatic Extravaganza', arr. Franki Anderson,
'Grand Carnival parade Finale' (The York Waits)
Performance NotesThis was also attended by Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach and John Hurt.

Founded in 1891 The Chelsea Arts Club is a members club for artists, which for 50 years from 1908 held an annual costumed New Year's Eve ball, which was an infamous part of London's social calendar. After two years at the Royal Opera House the extravagant ball proved so popular it moved to the Royal Albert Hall where it stayed until 1958. The balls attracted media attention with their lavish theatrical sets, multiple orchestras, raucous midnight carnivals and balloon drops and crowds of up to 10,000 socialites, bohemian artists, actors, and ordinary Londoners in elaborate and often scandalous fancy dress dancing until 5am.

Each year a theme was chosen such as Egyptian, Dazzle, Noah's Ark, Prehistoric and Sun Worship around which guests could create flamboyant costumes. London art schools participated by decorating huge carnival floats, which were driven around the auditorium floor and which, at the stroke of midnight, would be destroyed by revellers. The balls were well-known for reports of public nudity, drunken displays of affection, fighting and unadulterated fun. In the vastness of the Hall with its gas lit corridors, curtained boxes and dark staircases naughtiness was the order of the day.

Similarly to the annual Lady Malcolm's Servant's balls (1930-1938) these events were a safe space for the queer community to meet and express themselves with unbridled creativity and little inhibition. There were no scrutineers denying entry or undercover police. LGBTQ+ party goers could feel (relatively) free to be themselves without the scrutiny and surveillance they underwent in their daily lives. For many men especially they could wear drag, dress outrageously, and socialise unashamedly while never appearing to be anything out of the ordinary.

It was New Year's Eve 1958 that was to be the final Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall. As well as minor damage to the building fabric, a partygoer dispatched a smoke bomb that exploded on the dance floor and ultimately became the straw that broke the camel's back. The Chelsea Arts Ball was asked to take out insurance indemnity against further damage to the Hall and they didn't return. The Ball has returned three times since - in 1984, 1985 and 1992 - although the elaborate costumes and floats didn't make the return trip. The extravagant, eccentric originals remain part of the history of the Capital's social calendar.
Related Archival MaterialProgramme and Menu (RAHE/1/1985/128, RAHE/1/1985/129),
18 small colour photographs (RAHE/3/1985/4)
RAHE/1/1985/128Chelsea Arts Ball 1985 - Venetian Masked Ball11 October 1985
RAHE/1/1985/129Chelsea Arts Ball 1985 - Venetian Masked Ball11 October 1985
RAHE/3/1985/4Photographs of the Chelsea Arts Club Ball11 October 1985
Ref NoTitleNo of Performances
Owhat_Tik_GeakThe Chelsea Arts Club Ball 1985 - Venetian Masked Ball1
CodeName of Performer(s)
DS/UK/104Chelsea Arts Club; 21 March 1891-; British arts club
DS/UK/9555Melly; George (17 August 1926-5 July 2007); English jazz and blues singer, critic and writer
DS/UK/17122Chilton; John (1932-); English jazz trumpeter, writer
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