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The Empire,Sunderland has never been known as the Civic Theatre. It is true that Sunderland Corporation rescued the theatre but the name ‘Empire'was retained.
In Darlington, the ‘Hippodrome’ was taken over by the Town Council and the ‘Town fathers’ , in their ultimate wisdom, had it renamed ‘Civic Theatre’.
I once asked them why they would not reinstate the theatre’s original name as in my – and other people’s – opinion the name ‘Civic’ conjured up an image of a concrete 1960’s edifice rather than the atmospheric Edwardian theatre which it is. Their response was that ‘Hippodrome’ is a ludicrous sounding name – although this view is obviously not held in the major cities of Birmingham and Bristol….
I am sorry to labour the issue of Darlington but I am guessing that the writer has been thinking of that location re theatre renaming…..
Peter Lish (as opposed to Peter MacRae) died a few years ago – just in case there is any confusion. I trust that Peter MacRae is still alive and well.
Peter Lish left the ABC South Shields in July 1980 and I (who had followed him into ABC Sunderland as A/M) took over as Acting Manager, subsequently Manager until I handed over the theatre to Peter MacRae, CEO of Brent Walkers Cinema Division, in May 1981. I knew Peter MacRae from his ABC days when he was Manager at ABC Bradford and it was quite a pleasant hand over.
I remember there was a rather surly Internal Auditor who had managed the old Grimsby Odeon, a venue which Brent Walker very quickly disposed of. I suspect that his dour demeanour may have been exacerbated by Peter MacRae’s statement to his District Engineer, a pleasant, avuncular chap whose name I do not recall,viz:
“I told you that you would find this as an ABC Theatre to be in better condition than the Rank places we took over!”
I felt like saying that they must have been in one hell of a state because very little money had been spent on the ABC South Shields for years – see my article about the Savoy (ABC) re the reasons for this.
Peter did indeed die at an early age a few years ago and I am now the only remaining member of the team at the Haymarket Newcastle where I first met him in the early 1970’s………..
The Essoldo was a 7 day cinema operation until its closure (together with the Essoldos in Shildon and Crook) in 1969. It reopened after a couple of months or so, having been refurbished for the purpose of Bingo.
The Arcadia Cinema closed early in 1963 and became the ‘Arcadia Bingo’. In the 1980’s it was acquired by The Noble Organisation who split the building into a smaller Bingo Hall and an amusement arcade. The impressive main entrance was abandoned and relocated to the side of the building.
It briefly sported the name ‘Essoldo Bingo’(Nobles had taken them over and used the name at certain venues. This must have confused the natives as the original Essoldo was just a few yards away………
I attended a few reunions in Bournemouth which were arranged by my friend and former colleague, Richard Roper.
Many people present were, as you aptly put it, Real ABC, although a number were there purely on the basis of having worked for the Company that simply bore the relaunched name.
Bob Parsons had moved to pastures new by the time I had anything to do with the North West but I knew Gordon Chadwick and Brian Wrathall very well at the A B C ( Gordon’s wife, Joan Chadwick was Bar Manager and had managed a number of A B C theatres including the Empire Stockton and Regal Bridlington) as well as Chuck Walker at the Princess.
Gordon Chadwick had managed the ABC Globe Stockton which was another important and large ABC live venue and, I am pleased to say, is currently undergoing restoration.
I see your point also; I did, however, say that the auditorium of the A B C bore no resemblance to that of the Hippodrome whilst I am aware that much of the shell of the original building was retained.
I am also ex A B C and managed the ABC’s South Shields, Chester, Newcastle upon Tyne (Haymarket and Westgate Road) and Darlington. The latter, like Blackpool, was a partial rebuild (of C J Phipps' Theatre Royal) and much of the old superstructure remained.
Please caption the photo ‘HIPPODROME BLACKPOOL’.
The 1963 A B C auditorium bore no resemblance to this at all. It would be even better if someone with extensive knowledge of the Hippodrome were to compose a separate article about the place and the photo were to be used in conjunction with same.
The last name this cinema was known buy was the A B C.
I used to do managerial relief stints here in the 1970’s whilst based initially at A B C Wigan and subsequently A B C Huddersfield. This was still a single auditorium then with stalls and circle and the stage still had occasional use.
Firstly, I understand that the final name of a venue is the one used on this site.
M G M was the penultimate name as A B C was reintroduced latterly. It therefore closed with the name by which it was known in its glory days, namely the A B C, which was an extensive rebuild of the old Hippodrome, the auditorium of which is shown at the top of this page.
I never was in the Hippodrome but it would appear, by the photo, that when in use as a cinema, the screen was forward of the theatrical proscenium which is heavily masked by drapery. It seems that screen tabs were not used – unless, that is, they were either out of action or away being cleaned when this photo was taken.
Amazingly, whilst many photos of the Front Of House of the A B C Blackpool exist, few of the very impressive auditorium do; at least they are never made available if there are any. The only one I have seen is within the In House journal for the staff of Associated British Cinemas, A B C News, viz May 1963, when extensive coverage was given to the opening of ‘Europe’s Most Luxurious Theatre’ – as it was billed at that time.
During the lengthy period of the Hippodrome’s reconstruction, hoardings on Church Street advertised that the new theatre would present Number One Stage Shows, TV Shows,Pre- Release film runs and Cinerama presentations. Whilst the latter failed to materialise, the venue did indeed present the very best in Stage, TV and film entertainment until its conversion to a triple screen venue in 1981.
Many A B C Cinemas were converted using the ‘drop wall’ principle – IE the Circle and Front Stalls would be used for the main auditorium whilst 2 ‘minis’ would be constructed within the under hang (Rear Stalls).
As the 2 ‘minis’ at Blackpool did not utilise the Front Stalls, this method of conversion could have been adopted here but,sadly, this was not the case and the famous stage (with revolve) together with the sixty feet wide proscenium, fly tower, Front Stalls and dressing rooms were all sealed off.
The conversion, however, was still carried out in a manner whereby the alterations were reversible and the stage could once again be brought back into use should the fortunes of live shows ever improve (as I think can safely be said applies today). Unfortunately, the people who bought the A B C from ODEON for conversion to ‘The Syndicate’ Nightclub ripped out the entire interior of the building – and, in the process, any realistic hope of the building ever being restored to its former glory. This is very sad, I know, but I am afraid that the hue and cry now being made about the proposed demolition of the building should have taken place before the Night Club owners did their handy work.
Recently, BBC 2 transmitted a one hour documentary about the hey day of Blackpool’s Entertainment Industry, and, I am pleased to say, this included many clips of shows at the A B C Theatre :–
The third segment commences with the opening of the A B C Theatre in 1963.
Tony Hancock took over from Mike and Bernie Winters as compere of the weekly tv variety show at the ABC Theatre, but he was on the wane by this time and did not fare very well – Bruce Forsyth took over from him for a few shows.
I actually think this clip is very funny…………………….
Here is the link to The Beatles live at the ABC Theatre (as it was then) in 1963:–
……..and here is a clip of the British premiÃ¨re of ‘Hell is a City’ at the ABC Apollo (as it still was) in 1960:–
The circle seated 648, not 468.
The Wurlitzer was still in situ when my predecessor, Richard Roper was A/M there.
My former Manager, John McIntosh was A/M there in the early 1960’s when it was still a major live venue; his Manager, George Skelton (whom I followed as Manager at 3 theatres, namely ABC Chester, Haymarket Newcastle and ABC Darlington) transferred to the ABC Globe, Stockton on Tees, an even more important live venue.
The cinemas on Teesside ranked in size as follows:–
1) ABC (Globe) Stockton:2429 seats (the circle alone seated 1188).
2) Hippodrome Middlesbrough (a GB house):2296 seats
3) Odeon(Regal)Stockton:2082 seats
4) ABC (Elite) Middlesbrough:1843 seats
5) Odeon Middlesbrough: 1761 seats
Therefore, the Odeon Middlesbrough ranked 5th largest when using seating capacity as the yardstick as opposed to the size of the sites. The 2 ABC’s and the Hippodrome,having deep stages (with fly towers),most probably were still the 3 largest buildings by site size.
The Odeons Stockton and Middlebrough had shallow stages and no flies, although the original Odeon Stockton did ‘muscle in’ with live shows in the 1960’s along with the ABC (Globe) and the Essoldo/Hippodrome Stockton.
Strange that 3 Stockton cinemas had frequent live shows and yet the cinemas in neighbouring (and larger) Middlesbrough did not.
I used to do relief stints at the ABC prior to its conversion and it was 100% ABC design throughout with no ‘Union’ features at all. The plans had the architect’s name logged thereon:William R Glen – ABC’s ‘in house’ architect.
This was the only ABC in the North East designed by him; all other purpose builds were by Percy L Brown of Hartlepool. There were many other acquired theatres in the North East which became part of the vast Associated British Corporation.
The ‘twinning’ was carried out using most of the circle for screen 1( 550 seats with a new screen and tabs positioned forward of the ballustrade; rows A, B & C of the front circle were lost in the process). Screen 2 (212 seats)occupied the actors' left section of the rear stalls and the public house occupied the length of the stalls at actors' right.
I spent a short time as Assistant Manager here after the twinning and, in addition to the loss of the ‘big cinema’ atmosphere, the foyers also lost their style and grandeur by being boxed in and reduced vastly in size – such was ‘progress’ in the 1970’s
There was a third ‘sister’ Majestic theatre in West Hartlepool (now simply Hartlepool); the Head Office for all three (Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Hartlepool)was in High Row, Darlington.
Not all the side walls of the Theatre Royal were retained, as in order to widen the building, it was necessary to demolish the south elevation.
The circle originally seated 628 and was reduced to 590 in 1977 when the built out section from the circle (to accommodate the screen areas of the 2 minis below) encroached upon the sightlines; so the front row of the circle was removed.The 590 seats were reduced to 578 when I was manager there and some larger seats from my former theatre (Newcastle) were installed in the front circle.
This theatre was chosen as the venue for the 3D films which were all the rage in the mid 1950’s. The Kings' box office record was broken for all time with ‘The House of Wax'in 1953…….
The large neon EDEN fin sign on the front of house was very distinctive and below it was another neon sign which incorporated two arrows one pointing south (“TO THE HIPP”) the other pointing north (“TO THE KINGS). Brilliant marketing there!
It was one of the theatres commissioned by the famous entrepreneur, Signor Pepi:–
He started building a chain of theatres. After Barrow came Blackpool(acquired by ABC as the Hippodrome and rebuilt in 1963 as the ABC – ‘Europe’s most luxurious theatre’ and from where many lavish live shows were televised) and then Carlisle. Then, early in 1907, in partnership with the Birmingham theatre specialist George Ward, he began work on an “Opera House and Empire” on some recently-cleared land in Parkgate, Darlington.
Within seven months, the theatre was complete and, named the New Hippodrome and Palace Theatre of Varieties, it opened on September 2.
Even as Pepi received the opening night acclaim, building was beginning on another of his hippodromes, this one in Middlesbrough, on top of an old Quaker burial ground.
After Middlesbrough came Bishop Auckland Hippodrome in 1909 followed by Shildon in 1910.
But even as it was growing, Pepi’s empire was crumbling at its peripheries. He sold off Middlesbrough after just eight months, losing Â£10,000 in the process. Shildon lasted a year, its disposal coinciding with the Bishop Auckland Hippodrome being declared bankrupt in 1911.
By the outbreak of the First World War, our principal character owned just two theatres: Darlington and Barrow. To make matters worse, on December 7, 1915, his wife Mary, Countess de Rossetti, died at their modest mid-terrace home in Barrow. She was only 46.
The stage is about 30 feet deep and certainly not 48 feet.
The last film to play here in 1966 was ‘Around The World Under The Sea'starring Lloyd Bridges, Shirley Eaton and David McCallum.
It closed in 1961 and in 1966 the front of the premises (ie the arcade , cafe etc) was converted to a Broughs supermarket with most if not all of the auditorium behind being demolished; for years a side elevation remained with typical olde worlde cinema decor still on it.
I don’t know anything about the Kings Auction Room, but the last time I visited the town of my birth and Grammar School days (King James I School where a certain boy to become known as Stan Laurel had attended), in November 2004, the front of the Kings was still there with the original cafe windows etc (although minus the sandstone motifs at the top which were removed in 1966) and the entrance doors led to – guess what – a supermarket
It actually closed (as a cinema) in 1964 and went straight to Bingo (leased to Lucky 7 by owners ,Essoldo and not operated by them). When the Essoldo converted to bingo in 1966, this was actually run by the Essoldo company who declared that they were going to return the Eden to cinema use when the lease to Lucky 7 expired. There was a notice to this effect on the Eden front of house for years, but it was never again to show a film or present a live show.
It closed in 1969 together with the Essoldos in Crook and Spennymoor; the Manager, Mr C Watson, whom I got to know quite well in later years (he went to manage the very busy Durham Essoldo after Shildon) told me that he and the Managers of the other two doomed cinemas received telephone calls from Head Office advising that “You are closing next Saturday!”. Typical of Essoldo!
The Hippodrome had been a Blacks' theatre at one time, but for most of its life it was owned and operated by the Middlesbrough based Thompsons Enterprises (aka North of England Cinemas)and this was the Company who operated it when it closed in late Summer 1962 with the Shildon Amateur Operatic Society stage production of ‘The Desert Song’
It was a very large building (stadium plan) for the size of the town and whilst it could not be described as elaborate, it had a big cinema feel to it and the cinemascope screen was impressive. I saw ‘King of Kings’ (Jeffrey Hunter) and ‘The Young Ones’ (Cliff Richard) there, amongst others. I also remember well its fancy ‘house tabs’ which had theatrical style satin stripes at the foot of them and the projectionists had a habit of showing the BBFC Certificate (a practice frowned upon by the BBFC) onto them!
My sister’s father-in-law ( a well known citizen of the town who owned the main joinery business and was also the Master of the Town Band)lived close to the Hippodrome and he could not resist having a peek inside the building as the demolition team moved in in 1996.
Surprisingly, for its vintage it was steel framed and the demolition squad said that the building was so well constructed that it would have stood for another 100 years even in its neglected condition.
What a great pity that Shildon Council did not save the place for use as a multi purpose auditorium………they also flattened the Essoldo which was originally a Mechanics' Institute built by the Stockton and Darlington Railway, no less! What is Shildon’s pride and joy these days? Locomotion, part of The National Railway Museum. In Timothy Hackworth’s house (Hackworth was a contemporary of George Stephenson)there is a section devoted to the town’s cinemas including huge photos of the Hippodrome which was showing ‘A Kind of Loving’ at the time.