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Here is a website with pages and pages of memorabilia and programmes at the Regent:
I worked at the Odeon Leicester Square in 1973 (and at the same time – The Leicester Square Theatre, now Odeon West End). At that time both cinemas were owned by the Rank Organisation. I had a great year working on the square and there are a lot of happy memories. I think I preferred working at the Odeon as it always seemed to have a buzz about it. Maybe this was in part due to the organ being played at interval by the then resident organist, Gerald Shaw. The highlight of the year was the Royal Film Performance in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. The film chosen that year was the forgetable musical remake of “Lost Horizon”. This was shot on 70mm film and I was the one who had to cart all the boxes up to the bio box! I also remember that Peter Finch made a speech before the picture and then had great difficulty finding his way through the curtain to get off stage. There were other wonderful nights such as the premiere of “A Touch of Class” with Glenda Jackson – they had a London taxi come up out of the orchestra pit for that, then there was the annual James Bond film premiere – that year it was Roger Moore in “Live and Let Die”. Joe Loss and his orchestra played at this premiere – I remember they had great difficulty with the theme from the film – but they got it right on the night. James Bond saw packed houses at every performance and there were about six performances a day. Another gala was the playing of the 1938 picture “Sixty Glorious Years” with Anna Neagal. The Queen Mother came along to this and I had the honour of opening her car door on arrival. The Odeon also used to show television pictures of major boxing matches and sometimes these would be on quite late. I often wondered how 2000 people could disappear so quickly from Leicester Square at three in the morning. The front of house staff had a rather bizarre uniform. The men wore a purple suit, with a pink shirt and a purple bow tie, the girls wore a pink dress with vertical stripes of differing shades of purple. I suppose it was one way of gaining customers' attention.
The State (the former name of the theatre) opened in February 1929. The opening films were Buster Keaton in “The Cameraman” and Clara Bow in “The Fleet’s In”. The daytime organist was Arnold Coleman with Frank Lanterman (from America) in the evening. I can’t remember the orchestra conductor – but I know the first one there was American.
The Wurltizer organ had two consoles, the one on the right was a ‘slave’ console – the registration came from the organist at the ‘master’ console. Apart from a few playings in 1929/30 the slave console was not used until some recordings were made with Aubrey Whelan and Laurie Wilson in the mid-fifties.
The auditorium was atmospheric and the ‘sun set’ behind the proscenium prior to the performance commencing. These effects as well as clouds in a night sky were supplied from a Brenograph projector. The “stars” were little lights in the ceiling.
There was apparently some consternation on opening night when a woman put up her umbrella thinking it was going to rain. This confusion was added to by live doves flying around.
There was some talk that Marriner theatres wanted to purchase the Russell Theatre behind the State and demolish it to allow expanding the State’s stage and fly-tower. He was also supposed to want to de-twin it and rename it The State. However I don’t know whether there is any substance to these rumours. I do know that they were not allowed to re-name it ‘'The State’ as one of the theatres in the Arts Centre now has this title.
The “concert hall” showed pictures through most of its life and was known as “The Auditorium”. Lon Chaney’s “The Phantom of the Opera” played here in 1926.
The Plaza opened in 1929 as a talkie only cinema and had a small 2 manual cinema organ. This organ ened up first in Darwin and is now in Adelaide. The original plans for the Plaza’s use as a cabaret/ballroom seem not to have been altered too much as the sides of the auditorium were flanked by very large colonades.
The first conductor of the Regent Orchestra was Will Cade who went on to form the first ABC Symphony Orchestra in Adelaide. (A film made by Efftee Pictures – Frank Thring’s organisation – and he was one of the original directors of Hoyts who built the Regent – features Will Cade and the Regent Orchestra in selections from “The Desert Song” and was photographed in 1931). Another conductor was Gustave Slapovski who was a pugalist in his spare time. Slapovski first came to Australia in 1913 to conduct the Ring Cycle by Wagner.
In 1931 one of the stage shows featured a full stage production number of Ketelby’s “In a Persian Market”, complete with camels, other assorted animals and two elephants on loan from the Zoo. In the orchestra at the time was a young Bernard (later Sir) Heinze who was to become a famous orchestral conductor.
The first organist was Stanley Wallace, followed very quickly by another American – Eddie
Fitch. Stanfield Halliday played there for many years and even when the orchestras finally went in the early fifties, the Regent still had a resident organist – Tony Fenelon, when it closed for the 2nd time in 1970.
The policy of Hoyts was to employ blondes as usherettes in the Regent and brunettes in the Spanish inspired Plaza below.
What most people remember about the Regent is the wonderful and comfortable leather armchairs which were a feature of the Dress Circle. Happily these were a feature of the current restoration.
A memory of the Regent that stays with me is that of being the only person in the auditorium for a performance of “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” back in the mid-sixties. The usherette came down to my seat and said the projectionist would like to know what music I’d like him to play prior to the show starting! Of course in those days there was an art to playing a film- dimming the houselights, playing the pageants, then the curtain battons as first the house curtain parted and then the screen tabs…
Thanks for the comments. I was trying to remember over 45 years back! However I had a look at the photos, and the ‘tunnel’ as I now recall enclosed the stairs going up to the dress circle . The roof of the entrance foyer looked as though one was in a cave. Again I may be wrong, but I seem to recall that the last picture I saw there prior to it being ruined was some rubbish “The 3 Stooges meet Snow White”? I was trying to find out on the Internet as to what-ever became of Jan Rubini? I know he was exceptionally popular. Maybe someone can fill us in?
The Capitol opened in November 1924 playing the original 1923 version of Cecil B. deMille’s “The Ten Commandments”. The orchestra was S.R. White’s “Operatic Orchestra” and the organist at the “25,000 pound” Wurlitzer organ was Horace Weber. This organ was originally polished wood and was the first in Australia to rise on a lift. (Later the organ was lacquered white and had gilded bits attached – it is now restored to polished wood condition and is installed in the Dendy Cinema, Brighton Vic).
In 1929 the violin virtuoso, Jan Rubini was imported from California via Sydney to front the Capitol Orchestra. Stage shows on the first half of the program were popular at this time and it is interesting to note that among the members of the corp de ballet was a young Robert (later Sir) Helpman.
The original house curtain was opulent and had a sort of peacock feather effect which was stunning when lighting effects were played upon it. On either side of the stage were huge electric candelabras, all wood and brass – they are now in the National Gallery of Vic.
The downstairs was quite novel architecturally as well, I seem to recall that you entered the stalls via a rounded ‘tunnel’. I also remember a very elaborate grand piano in the upstairs foyer that always had an illuminated picture of HM The King on it.