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ROH Collections Item of the Month: Queue Tickets

A new donation to our Collections reveals a historic passion for that most archetypally British of things - queuing.

By Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections)

17 July 2015 at 10.22am | 8 Comments

ROH Collections recently received a donation of two items that once formed part of the Royal Opera House’s regulated system for that most British of past times – queuing. The donation of two Royal Opera House queue tickets came from Peter Brown, a long-time patron of the Royal Opera House. Peter remembers coming to the Royal Opera House in the 1950s and 1960s in the early hours to collect his queue ticket – a significant souvenir for those who recall ‘the old days’ long before the advent of online booking.

The Queue Ticket System was introduced at the ROH in 1949. Its aim was to reduce queuing time on booking days to a minimum, as patrons previously ‘had to wait some hours’ to reach the Box Offices. In those days, each seating area had its own Box Office – for example, the Amphitheatre Box Office – and the Box Office staff could serve only a limited number people per hour.

The Queue Ticket System had three rules; the queue tickets were issued at the discretion of the Box Office Management; they were issued at 8.30am on the opening day of a new booking period; and each queue ticket was numbered and featured the time at which the queue should be re-joined. So you did not forget, these rules were published in the form of a handy leaflet, which is also archived with ROH Collections.

Just over two decades later the ROH believed the Queue Ticket System had ‘outlived its usefulness’. In July 1974 General Administrator John Tooley issued a letter to patrons stating that a new booking system was to be introduced in order to offer a better and speedier customer service. The new system, which involved opening an hour earlier than usual (9am) on the first day of booking for a new period, was introduced on 2 September 1974 and did indeed serve more people per hour than had been previously possible.

However, the old Queue Ticket System appears to have been favoured by many patrons. Less than three weeks later another letter was sent out stating that ‘it was clear from comments made on the day and subsequently from letters, that while the new arrangement was satisfactory to some, many found it less than welcome, and since it is clearly our concern to make ticket purchase as easy as possible, the Queue Ticket System will be re-introduced from October 1st [1974]’. The Queue Ticket System remained in place for several more years, and is believed to have been finally put to rest in February 1977.

We would love to learn more about the queue tickets, people’s experiences of using them and why people felt so strongly about the Queue Ticket System when it was first axed in 1974. If you have any memories of using the Queue Ticket System in order to secure that much wanted ticket to a performance, please let us know in the comments section below, or for further contact details please visit the ROH Collections page.

By Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections)

17 July 2015 at 10.22am

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged archive, history, Item of the Month, John Tooley, Queue Ticket System, queueing, ROH Collections

This article has 8 comments

  1. Stuart dixon responded on 18 July 2015 at 2:56pm Reply

    There is still a queuing system. It's called online booking, where you are in a holding pattern, and you listen to music , on a boring loop, forever.!

  2. Lynda responded on 20 July 2015 at 8:45pm Reply

    Receiving your queue ticket from Sergeant Martin at 8am was a magical moment after a night sleeping on the pavement. If you were the first person in the overnight queue you had responsibility for checking that others really did sleep on the pavements around the opera house and didn't slip away to sleep in a car or go home and come back. If they disappeared for more than a reasonable time they could be struck off the list of names. The market was alive then and everyone knew of places they could find a drink, food or toilets. When I got my queue ticket I would go back to my bedsitter and set my alarm for my return to book my tickets at the allotted time - at student prices I could afford more then than I can now . .. it was wonderful.

  3. Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections) responded on 22 July 2015 at 11:08am Reply

    Hi Lynda,

    Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your memories. Your description is so vivid that you get a real sense of what the process of receiving your queue ticket was like, and why it was so significant for many.

    Many Thanks,

    Archivist, ROH Collections

  4. Liam Mansfield responded on 24 July 2015 at 10:42am Reply

    There was an informal queuing system still in place in 1978/79 for sitting on the floor tickets in the summer . A Paul hamyln charity initiative .
    Rembering seeing Joam Sutherand in Lucretia Borgia

  5. Michael Webb responded on 11 November 2015 at 3:17pm Reply

    I queued many times as a youngster in the 1950s. Can't actually recall queue tickets, but I remember clearly the unforgettable and majestic Sergeant Martin, Head Doorman, resplendent in maroon livery and top hat, supervising us all - especially the day I came to the R.O.H. in 1958 during my second year at Cambridge desperate to get two seats for the historic production of 'Don Carlos' with Tito Gobbi, Boris Christoff, Jon Vickers, producer Zefirelli, conductor Giulini...ah, the memories...Yes, I got my tickets - and was amused, while queuing, to observe a taxi drawing up and an American leaping out and marching towards the ticket office.
    Sgt Martin blocked his way. "I'm sorry, sir, but there is a long queue you may not have noticed..." The irritable newcomer snapped, "For Christ's sake, I've flown over from Tokyo to see this!" Sgt Martin was unimpressed and pointed silently towards the end of the very long queue far away around the corner.

  6. Before I went to my first times in Royal Opera House in 2010, I look on my website and book my first ticket to see La traviata and the red books . I have many tickets with the red books since my first time to opera. Never stop buying the red book except in 2011, my ticket is missing. Might be drop somewhere and I didn't buy the red book!! Oh well. I don't how possible to stop buy the red books. I have been visit on my own 33 times!! (I think!) Still my collection the tickets with the red books.

  7. Neville Marsh responded on 20 October 2016 at 12:04am Reply

    Yes, I still have my Amphitheatre Opera queue ticket from the mid-60s (I'm not sure why Sgt Martin didn't take it off me). I remember sleeping outside the ROH at least twice, once to get tickets for Maria Callas' last performance at the ROH in "Tosca" with Tito Gobbi, a monumental production by Zefferelli, and the world premiere of Macmillan's "Romeo and Juliet" with Fonteyn/Nureyev. Does anyone remember the 30-odd curtain calls with daffodils showering the stage from the Gallery Slips? I still treasure all the newspaper cuttings. However, my most vivid memory of queuing (and sleeping) was the water trucks coming round in the early hours to wash away the fruit and veg debris. If you were too near the pavement edge, you got a wash too!

  8. Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections) responded on 15 November 2016 at 4:39pm Reply

    Thank you everyone for continuing to share your wonderful memories of queuing, Sergeant Martin, and iconic performances.

    They are a delight to read, please do keep sharing them.

    All the best,
    Archivist, ROH Collections

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