On 3rd September 1939, the Surrey Theatre was opened by then Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Gordon Menzies. (Surrey Hills: In Celebration of the centennial 1883-1983) According to the The Surrey Theatre, “No story from the screen was ever going to match the drama of that first night.”
On 3rd September, 1939, Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain declared war against Germany. This was a retaliation to the German invasion of Poland. On the opening night of the Surrey Theatre, Prime Minister Robert Menzies was to be informed of this decision. There are various interpretations of the series of events that led to Menzies announcing the fateful decision. An article in the Cantebury Courier claimed that Robert Menzies informed the audience of the Surrey about Britain’s declaration of war before making his official broadcast in the city.
Robert Mitchell, manager and part-owner of the Surrey claimed that while the Prime Minister was making a speech, the telephone rang. An unidentified caller was asking to speak with Mr Menzies. Mitchell explained that the Prime Minister could not speak with him as he was in the middle of an important speech. The man, however, insisted, saying “You tell him it is Arthur Fadden on the phone. I think he will want to answer”. (The Surrey Theatre)
Robert Mitchell claimed that Deputy PM and Treasurer Arthur Fadden was forced to wait until the Prime Minister had finished his address. Mr Menzies, after speaking with Fadden, returned to the stage and announced Britain’s declaration of war to the audience. (The Surrey Theatre) “I have not given up hope for peace” [Mr Menzies] said. “Every hour gained with the world in its present state is a real hour gained.” (The Argus, 28 August 1939) Mr Menzies was able to demonstrate a rational and sensible state of mind in the unfavourable circumstances. Although he had second thoughts, he did not work himself into passion and prejudice. He was optimistic and not angered. (The Argus, 28 August 1939)
Menzies believed that through the Surrey Theatre, the audience would have the opportunity to escape from the real world into a “romantic world of moving pictures” – a notion that he was greatly in favour of. (The Argus, 28 August 1939) Upon returning home, Mr Menzies claimed he would maintain his vigil beside his telephone “wondering what programme awaited the world.” (The Argus, 28 August 1939)