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Further evidence as to the organ being “unlucky”, I’ve just remembered that a concert audience in the 1970’s witnessed the distressing spectacle of Frank Olsen suffering a massive heart attack when playing his opening number, causing him to fall off the organ bench on to the floor the orchestra pit, which was a long way down at this venue. Very sadly, Mr Olsen did not survive this.
I think you’ll find that the name of the organist who opened the Odeon Compton in 1937 was actually James Bell (not George). He was a Scotsman whose playing tended to reflect a rather classical approach (i.e. supremely competent and musicianly, but not very exciting to listen to). He remained at the Odeon for nearly ten years, his tenure being sadly cut short by collapsing immediately on completing a broadcast on 22nd September 1947 and dying shortly afterwards in hospital. His replacement was John Howlett, who sat in the ‘hot seat’ until October 1958, when he retired. He was followed by Gerald Shaw, the last full-time organist until his untimely suicide in April 1974. After this, Odeon declared that they could no longer afford the luxury of a full-time organist.
The instrument is maintained and has been played on an ad-hoc basis by various organists, the most recent being Donald MacKenzie, who now fulfills the role of “House Organist.”
As one can imagine, this instrument has a reputation of being “rather unlucky.”
The Plaza was commissioned by and built for Mr (later Sir) Halford Reddish, the Chairman of the Rugby Portland Cement Company Ltd., whose later office block can be seen to the right of the cinema (the tall modern concrete building with the mobile phone masts on the top). I believe this also has now been demolished and a Morrisons supermarket built on the site. At one time Mr Reddish owned three of the four cinemas in the town and sold all of them to Granada for a sum of money and a seat on the Granada board.
The organ is long gone, but in the thirties, for a time, the audience was entertained with organ and piano duets played by Kevin and Edith Buckley and at least one 78rpm record of their playing at this theatre was issued by HMV – Chopsticks on one side the the Gavotte (I think!) from Mignon by Ambroise Thomas on the other. In the sixties the BBC broadcast a weekly programme, “Melody for Late Evening” played on the Wurlitzer by Ronald Brickhill, the last resident organist.
Apparently, the Rialto’s Compton organ was not a success, said to be more a fault of the installation rather than the quality of the instrument. Somewhat pointedly, the Bernsteins never installed another Compton organ in any of their cinemas, although some were inherited in theatres acquired by them.
This is the first photograph I’ve ever seen of the interior of the Regent/Gaumont/Odeon/M.E.C.A. Swindon. It was a very rare event for the usually penny-pinching Albany Ward circuit to lash out on an organ, but they saved a little money by not installing a lift, siting the console on the floor of the pit. The instrument disappeared sometime after the second world war, what happened to it remains a mystery. Anybody any ideas?
I know that a considerable number of cinema organists in the U.K. had the christian name of Reg or Reginald (e.g. Dixon, Foort, Foxwell, Stone, and about twenty others!), but I think you’ll find that Mr O'Grady’s christian name was Rex.
Philip Morton Shand, in his book “Modern Theatres and Cinemas” published by Batsford in 1930, was extremely critical of the Apollo’s architect A.L. Snow and of this theatre in particular, comparing it most unfavourably with contemporary examples in Europe.
From a photograph I am looking at as I write this, the Conacher organ in Blackpool Odeon actually had four manuals rather than two and it was also equipped with an incredibly ugly (well, to my mind) “batwing” illuminated surround. As already stated, the instrument was transferred from the Ritz Southend in 1946.
Rumour has it that originally, a large 5 manual Compton organ had been ordered (shades of Leicester Square here?)and would have been installed towards the end of 1939 (thinks: were Comptons way behind with their workload here?). Apparently this mighty instrument had been dispatched by rail from London to Blackpool via Manchester, but whilst the train was left overnight in a goods yard, there was an air raid which destroyed both train and organ. Looking at the discrepancy in the dates, it does seem a little far-fetched and perhaps someone better informed than
I would care to comment on this.
When a section of the ceiling in the Odeon, Hereford, fell into the auditorium just before its opening date, Robert Bullivant of the Harry Weedon practice was called in to sort it out and very unkindly referred to Mr Satchwell as a “Pantomime Architect”!
Ah….One of my local cinemas when I was a lad. I think the screen tabs were unique, as I’ve never seen any other Odeon with tabs of the “dragonfly” design. The Mollo and Egan airbrush paint job on the walls had been obliterated by a redecoration scheme some time in the ‘40’s (I think) as I can only remember the place having a plain light brown interior. I loved the lighting troughs and I think these point to being the work of Robert Bullivant of the Harry Weedon office.
As was usual with most Odeons, no organ was ever installed, although one manager claimed that there were chambers. Odeons with organs were very few and far between, as Oscar Deutsch looked upon them as very expensive, unnecessary luxuries, only to be installed when there was competition nearby. Of course, Mr Deutsch may have been worried by the magnificent George Coles Regal being constructed at the same time, only a short distance away. And that ended up without an organ as well! (But a nice 3 manual 12 rank Compton with an illuminated surround would have made the Regal the perfect cinema!)
and his wife Lily is seated next to him……but I’ve no idea who the others are.
Surely a bit old-fashioned for 1929? It looks more like 1919.
I visited this place fairly frequently in the early to mid-60’s. It was a very strange cinema due to its “back-to-front” construction. Unfortunately, the screen was severely limited by the width of the building and in Cinemascope days it was like watching the film through a letter box as the top and bottom masking had to be cranked in so much – not a very enjoyable experience. In the left hand wall could still be seen the pierced ornamental grille of the single organ chamber with a matching pattern painted on to the right hand wall. On the teaser above the screen was the old Gaumont British logo, the letters GB in rather “spiky” capitals surrounded by crysanthemum petals (although those who know better inform me that it was a marguerite!)
I served my appreticeship in Leicester from 1961 to 1966 and this was my absolute favourite cinema. I was fortunate enough to hear the organ played by Clifford Birchall as a prelude to the film “Can-Can” in 1961 – perhaps the last time it was played in public. The instrument was not very loud (at least not in the balcony) and I began to wonder if it was installed out in the car park! To be fair though, it could just have been that Mr Birchall was being restrained, so as not to drive out the non-organ lovers.
I can’t ever remember this place showing films….It always presented plays, variety shows and live entertainment within my memory. Sadly, it resorted to nude shows in the late ‘50’s with titles such as, “Strip, Strip, Hooray!”. I think it was demolished about 1960.
The Forum’s Conacher organ didn’t have an illuminated surround. The console had a wooden surround shaped like an illuminated surround (very art deco with pleasing curves, similar to those manufactured by F. H. Pride) and painted white so as to reflect coloured spotlights playing on it. Real illuminated surrounds reputedly cost about as much as the organ itself, so I guess the circuit’s budget wouldn’t stretch as far as that. When the school bought the organ, this surround was scrapped, as it was reportedly riddled with woodworm.
It also had a very nice 3manual/11rank Compton organ with an illuminated surround
The “standing fan” is actually Gloria Swanson, who opened the place in 1927! (I think th opening film was “The Loves of Sunya” which starred this lady.)