In the 1880s the site of the present theatre was home to Hengler's Circus. The current theatre was built in 1910 for Walter Gibbons by Frank Matcham and presented an ever changing programme of music-hall style variety with a huge seating capacity of some 5,000. It was originally named The Palladium before changing to the now familiar name The London Palladium in 1934.
At the turn of the century Music Halls were very popular but had a rather 'working class' rough reputation, and not therefore generally viewed as the best place for 'gentlefolk' to visit. Walter Gibbons therefore endeavoured to fill this gap with what was viewed at the time as being a 'middle-class' music-hall.
When it opened with two performances on Boxing Day Monday 26 December 1910 it was described as being "one of the most magnificent places of entertainment in the world. The only modest things about it are the prices of admission. All else is on a scale of Gargantuan grandeur. And yet, in spite of its almost overpowering immensity, there is an atmosphere of cosiness about the place which in itself is calculated to bring success. This is owing, doubtless, to the nearness of the stage of two enormous circles, which bring the audience of 5,000 listeners into close companionship with the performer. Cosines is also the note of the upholstery and decorations, with their warm Rose du Barry effects and general colour scheme of bright marbles and panelling of white and pink and gold. Another outstanding feature of the new hall is its extraordinary brightness. The auditorium blazes with thousands of electric lights, and broad shafts of limelight are concentrated on the stage from a dozen different angles - from the wings, the boxes, the backs of the circles, and even from the roof. Two ceiling pendant lights alone have fifty lamps apiece, every lamp of 120 candlepower. The result of these elaborate devices is that even in the most distant part of the house the entertainment can be seen to absolute perfection." The week before opening Walter Gibbons highlighted to the visiting press that "the stage can be raised in sections by electric lifts, and it is so huge - 90 foot by 50 foot - that we can produce anything." The safety of the audience was also of great concern to Gibbons - "The place has nineteen exits, and they are 6 foot wide, so the house can be emptied in a minute."
As a music hall, the bar areas outside of the actual auditorium were important to the success of this new venue, hence a Palm Court, a spacious retreat at the back of the stalls running the entire width of the house was incorporated into the designs. "What I have aimed at is correctitude on the stage and the Continent in the Palm Court. I want people to come here, not merely, to listen to the performance, but to meet each other - to enjoy themselves in the Continental fashion," explained Walter Gibbons. "It is to be a colossal rendezvous. I am aiming at something a little less severe than the orthodox auditorium. The Palm Court will be dotted with small tables with shaded lights in all directions and the number of twists and turns, the alcoves and retreats will ensure privacy for those who want to discuss their business or their pleasures."
One commentator joked prior to the opening that "as an evidence of the luxury of the Palladium the management announces that a box-to-box telephone has been installed, by which occupants of one box can chat with friends in another box. Let us hope that the Palladium will never give performances as bad as this suggests!"
The London Palladium became familiar to many millions in the mid-1950s with the weekly television variety show Sunday Night at The London Palladium - a format that was revived some years later in the late 1980s with Live From The Palladium. The theatre has also been used for concerts - perhaps the most famous one being the 1960s Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli concert which was televised on television. Other American stars that have headlined here include during the 1950s and 60s include Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Liberace and others.
In 1931 the London Palladium saw the emergence of a group of comedians who together formed what became to be known as the famous Crazy Gang who occupied the theatre from June 1931 through to October 1939.
From the 1980s in particular the London Palladium become associated with large scale musicals - The King and I with Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna, Barnum with Michael Crawford, Singin' in the Rain with Tommy Steele, the short lived Ziegfeld with Topol, La Cage Aux Follies with George Hearn and Denis Quilley, the Opera North/Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Show Boat, Oliver! with Jonathan Pryce and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang starring Michael Ball. Unfortunately, it was in order to accommodate the mechanism to allow the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to fly out and over the audiences seated in the stalls that the famous drum revolve under the stage had to be removed.