Showing 1 - 25 of 29 comments
For me, this beautiful cinema was ruined in 1967 and I heap opprobrium on those responsible. OK, efforts have been made to restore some of the magic, but I’m afraid that the place no longer holds much attraction for me.
Hooray! They kept the organ, which in its specification is closer to a concert instrument than a pure cinema one. Funnily enough, the Melotone never sounds quite right to me – perhaps because it speaks through BTH loudspeakers rather than the more usual Vitavox horns.
A bit of nit-picking now, the first organist was James Bell (not George Bell), a classically trained Scottish gentleman whose playing, while not very exciting, was superbly musicianly, his having studied under Sir Walter Parratt at the Royal College of Music. He collapsed on completing a broadcast from the theatre in 1947 and died in hospital shortly afterwards. His place was taken by John Howlett who stayed until 1958, when Gerald Shaw took over until his untimely death in 1974.
Not so much of a mistake Horatio, as the film ‘Blue Denim’ was released in the U.K. under the title ‘Blue Jeans’. I remember seeing it in about 1959/60. Although she was not in the film, I seem to recall Joan Crawford introducing the trailer (or was it the film itself? – after all we’re going back about 55 years here!).
Apparently, during building, part of the site was found to be unstable and this was overcome by building the Odeon (or at least part of it) on a concrete raft. The bomb which fell on 11th May 1941 penetrated the raft and exploded beneath it, rendering the structure dangerously unstable and beyond economic repair, as rebuilding would have entailed demolition and completely clearing the site before rebuilding could commence – certainly not an option in war-time and obviously not thought worthwhile in peace-time either! A great pity as I thought that Canning Town was one of the best designs on the circuit.
I would question the address given above, as the cinema was actually in Eskdail Street, Kettering, which was a side street off Montague Street. The cafe was in Montague Street, but it was nothing to do with the cinema.
Apparently the Empire was built for a Mr Bamford who had a photography business in the town. The land was part of the garden of a large house where lived a Mr Newman, who owned a local hardware shop. I don’t think it left much garden for Mr Newman to enjoy!
I would question the date of 1942 as it becoming the New Empire, as I seem to remember a significant refurbishment and internal reconstruction taking place in 1949 and the name changing then.
The refurbishment included erection of splay walls either side of the proscenium accommodating emergency exit doors with attractive grille work above; the installation of a suspended ceiling, with bronze grilles for air extraction; new seating in the stalls; a new screen with half-festoon tabs; and the interior being painted in a pleasing shade of apricot. All of this made for a very comfortable environment in which to see a film. A new neon sign on a vertical fin proclaimed, “New Empire” and a nearby shop opened as the New Empire Cafe (complete with a Ditchburn juke-box – remember them?). I don’t know whether there was any tie up with the cinema, as the people who owned and ran the cafe were a Mr and Mrs George Glover.
Unfortunately, within a short time, the cinema screen was ruined when an ice cream was thrown at it and the stain was visible until the day the place closed. Although the projection standards were reasonably high, the ports were set rather low down in the rear wall of the balcony, so that when a tall person used the cross aisle either coming in or going out, the top of their head would impinge with the beam, obliterating part of the image on the screen. Now I must confess that, as children, my friend and I would deliberately use this cross aisle and jump up with arms and hands stretched up to see if we could achieve similar effect. We could. But we were never told off, which leads me to think that the projectionist must have quite often sloped off somewhere to have a crafty cigarette. And from this, you will have gathered that the Empire had a pretty lax attitude to children using the balcony!
Do my eyes deceive me, or has it had a rather basic illuminated surround added at some time? But never mind that, it was one of those lovely sweet-sounding early Wurlitzers and it’s good to know that it’s being cherished and looked after in the URC church at Beer in Devon.
A Robert Morton organ – OK, 4 manuals – yes, but only 7 ranks? Surely not! I thought all these Robert Morton “Wonder Organs” had 23 ranks? Probably the Midnight Organ Pipe-Removal Company had paid a visit!
Although Harold Ramsay (note the spelling, his surname was really Ramsbottom) was born in Great Yarmouth in England, he was actually Canadian as his family had emigrated to Canada when he was three years old and taken citizenship.
This was my local cinema from 1961 until it closed in 1964. Aesthetically, it was stuck in 1926 until the day it closed. The upstairs foyer was furnished with dusty Lloyd Loom wicker chairs and tables, complete with aspedistras! Tickets? No, you were issued with an octagonal metal token with a square hole in the middle – I’d never seen anything like this before or since. The intermission music was always, but ALWAYS, “Windows of Paris”. That said, the standard of projection was high, the sound good, the auditorium warm and comfortable, and most importantly, for an impecunious apprentice, much cheaper than the city centre cinemas. I remember the Westleigh with great affection and was sad to see it go.
The Paramount Baton Rouge had a very nice 2 manual 7 rank Robert Morton theatre organ. It was recorded by Dalton McAlpin in the 1960’s and issued on a couple of Concert Recording LP discs
Sad to say, none of the four manual, twenty-two rank Conacher organs survived. Bits do appear on the second-hand market from time to time.
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.