On November 25, 1952 what has since become the world’s longest continuously running play in history opened for the first time at The Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End. The world premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap had taken place just over seven weeks earlier in Nottingham, but it was at The Ambassadors and then, from March 25, 1974, next door at The St Martin’s Theatre, where it continues to this day, that the play has enjoyed it unbroken run.
The production’s first star was Richard Attenborough, whose contractual arrangements meant that the programme billed him as appearing “By arrangement with the Boulting Brothers”, the successful duo who had discovered him and helped make his name in the 1948 film version of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and would continue to put him on the screen for the next decade.
The programme also promoted other theatrical productions, including Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in The Sleeping Prince at the Phoenix Theatre and Trevor Howard in The Cherry Orchard at The Lyric, Hammersmith – Halcyon days for theatre indeed!
Occasionally one of these rare debut programmes comes onto the market. The original price was sixpence, or 2½p in new money. Now it is a very achievable £10 or so – still, a reasonable uplift of 40,000% over the intervening 65 years.