Adam Leslie

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Adam Leslie (1916-1979) was a designer, couturier, restaurateur, columnist, director, playwright, lyricist and performer of socio-political satire.

Not to be confused with the American stand-up comedian, Adam Leslie (1956-2009)[1]


Born Leslie Jacobson in Salisbury on 22nd May, 1916.

Having trained in Paris and London as a designer, lyric writer and actor, he worked as a designer and writer in England for a number of years, starting out as a newspaper journalist and editor for Hutchison and book reviewer for Michael Josepeh publishers, then moving on to theatre.

During his London sojourn he wrote lyrics for songs in a number of musical revues, including Take a Peep ()[], The Gaieties (1945)[2], Sauce Piquante (a musical review by Cecil Landeau, featuring an uncredited Audrey Hepburn among others) and a stage version of the The Wizard of Oz. He also played character parts in a number of films for M.G.M., Warner Bros., Associated British and Ealing Films, and did cabaret performances in venues such as London's Savoy and Berkeley Hotels, the Bagatelle and Ciro's.

During the run of Cage Me A Peacock by Noel Langley and Eve Lynd, for which he was writing the lyrics in 1948-9 (including the songs Time alone will tell, Hocus Pocus and Hey ding-a-ding-ding[3]) he met Joan Blake, with whom he would do many shows later in South Africa.

Leslie returned to South Africa in 1956 and is credited with establishing the intimate revue in South Africa. Between 1956 and 1977 he not only devised and directed more than thirty revues and cabarets which toured South Africa and both northern and Southern Rhodesia, but was also a mentor for various performers, a vocal commentator on the theatre industry, and - in the Adam Leslie Theatre - created one of the major theatrical showplaces in the country.

He died in Johannesburg on 25th April 1979.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

As writer/performer/producer

Through his many productions, an astringent blend of topical satire and entertainment, that reflected the social, political and theatrical issues of the time, Leslie established intimate revue as a popular theatrical form in South Africa in a critical time.

Between 1956 and 1977 he and his company, Adam Leslie Theatrical Productions, contributed to, devised and/or directed more than 30 revues, cabarets and music-hall productions, many put on in the Adam Leslie Theatre in Johannesburg.

He started his local career when he starred in the cabaret Adam and Joan at Cicero's, the fashionable nightclub in Johannesburg with Joan Blake in 1957 and contributed lyrics for Sextet by Anthony Farmer and Ralph Trewhela's (1957).

This was soon followed by a series of popular revues, among them:

Let Your Hair Down (1958),

I Spy (1959)

For Love or Money (1960)

Two's Company (1960-1961)

Two's Company Again

Adam's Rib (1963)

Stop the World – I Want to Get Off (as producer, 1964)

Adam's Apple (1966)

The Merry Minstrel Show (1966)

Music Hall Revue (1967)

Adam Leslie Repeats (1967)

Strike it Rich (1968)

Strike it Richer

Hair Hair (1970-1972),

As a mentor

Over the years, Leslie also promoted many outstanding performers, including Joan Blake, Heather Lloyd-Jones, Diane Wilson, Richard Loring and Shelagh Holliday.

As designer

In South Africa he was also known as a dress and costume designer. His costume and other designs include those for shows such as Auntie Mame (1965), Don't Stop the Carnival; Excuse Me; You Can't Fool Mrs Levene; Music Hall Revue; Strike It Rich, Strike It Richer and a musical version of Moliere's The Miser.

In South Africa he wrote and appeared in Adam's Apple, Snake in the Grass, the sensationally successful Let Your Hair Down, Tongue in Aspic and Nothing Sacred. ' (Programme of a run of Adam's Rib directed by Ricky Arden and starring Diane Wilson in July 1963)

He starred in the cabaret Adam and Joan at Cicero's, the fashionable nightclub in Johannesburg with Joan Blake in 1957. This led to a series of revues which took the town by storm.

The beginning of 1959 saw the continuing success of Leslie’s smash hit revue, Let Your Hair Down. It was staged at the Intimate Theatre (formerly the YMCA) as 1958 drew to its close, starring Leslie himself, Joan Blake, Hilda Kriseman, visiting American Eric Micklewood, and a three-girl chorus. He joined forces with Anthony Farmer and composer Ralph Trewhela to create the satirical revue I Spy in 1959. He wrote and starred in For Love or Money which was the inaugural production of the Playhouse in October 1960. Michael Finlayson directed this show also starring Joan Blake, Olive King, and comedian Garth Meade. He staged Anthony Newley’s revue Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, starring Anna Quayle and Michael McGovern for the Reps in 1964. Albert Ninio directed this production which ran for fourteen weeks and formed part of the Johannesburg Festival.

He did costumes for Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Auntie Mame which Taubie Kushlick directed at the Brooke Theatre in 1965. Shirley Hepburn starred in the title role. He presented The Merry Minstrel Show at the Intimate in September 1966. Circa 1967 he had been presenting shows almost continuously for roughly a year, including Adam Leslie Repeats. He staged the revue Strike it Rich in 1967, starring himself, Joan Blake, George Korelin and Judy Layne.

As journalist, critic and commentator

Among other contributions, for a number of years he wrote a vitriolic column in the Sunday Express, called Eavesdrop With Adam.

The Adam Leslie Theatre

In 1967 he and his partner, Bill Hudson converted the building of the old College of Music of Johannesburg in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, originally designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1906, into the Adam Leslie Theatre. The venue opened its doors on 27 August 1967 with the show Music Hall Revue, starring Adam Leslie and Joan Blake, directed and designed by Anthony Farmer. (Marjorie Gordon replaced Joan during the run.)

Until its closure in 1975 this theatre was the only permanent venue for intimate revue in South Africa.


Hair Hair programme notes, 1969.

Programme notes for Adam's Rib (directed by Ricky Arden with Diane Wilson in July 1963)

Tucker, Percy 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

Mervyn McMurtry, 1995. Adam Leslie and his contribution to satire in intimate review in South African theatre. South African Theatre Journal, 9(1):3-27.

Ian Gray 1973. There's a theatre on the way upstairs. In: Showbiz South Africa. June, 1973: p.42.

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