ABC Blackpool

130-140 Church Street,
Blackpool, FY1 3PR

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ABC Hippodrome Theatre

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The Empire Theatre & Opera House opened on 4th July 1895 and was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by Manchester architect John Dent Harker. In 1900 it became the Hippodrome Theatre and presented a circus. A raked floor was added in 1910 and it became a cine/variety theatre, seating 2,500. It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas(ABC) in April 1929, and the seating capacity was increased to 2,820. Plans were proposed to rebuild the Hippodrome Theatre in 1939, but the outbreak of World War II halted this. The Hippodrome Theatre closed in 1960.

Much of the old theatre was demolished, except the outer walls and the new ABC Theatre was rebuilt in the shell of the old. The ABC Theatre opened on 31st May 1963 with the summer season stage show “Holiday Carnival” starring Cliff Richard and the Shadows. It was designed by architect C.J. Foster with seating for 1,934 in stalls and circle, it was a very modern theatre with gold seats and tabs. It was used for stage shows during the summer months, with films and concerts during the winter seasons. It was permanently wired up for TV transmissions and during the 1960’s ABC Weekend Television transmitted their ‘Blackpool Night Out’ shows from the ABC. The popular summer shows starred the likes of Frank Ifield, Morecambe & Wise, Cilla Black, Tommy Steele and Englebert Humperdink. The Beatles also played in concert here in 1963. It was one of the few theatres in Britain to have a permanent revolving stage.

The ABC Theatre was closed for conversion into a triple screen cinema in January 1981, completely ruining a fine modern theatre. Re-opening on 30th April 1981, ABC 1 (in the former circle) seated 728, ABC 2 & ABC 3 (in the former stalls area) seated 321 & 231. No more stage shows were possible after the tripling, although the old stage with revolve and safety curtain remained unused behind the conversion and was used for storage. Renamed the Cannon in 1986, then MGM from May 1993. Final closure as a cinema came in December 1998, by which time it had been re-named ABC again.

After four years closure, it reopened as the Syndicate Night Club in December 2002, with none of the 1963 designed interior remaining. The Syndicate Night Club closed around 2010.

Contributed by Richard Roper (abcman)

Recent comments (view all 30 comments)

terry on January 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm

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.

davidstirzaker on February 10, 2013 at 5:10 am

As a little boy I lived in Fleetwood and was taken to the old Hippodrome to see David Whitfield.

terry on March 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm

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.

Mike_Blakemore on March 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I can see you point.. But under normal practice on this site.. A LEGAL FACT.. ABC Theatre was not a NEW Theatre as such. The 4 Walls of the original theatre, where used in building of the Refurbed theatre.. This apart from cost.. Was a contrivance to legally get round the planning laws. Interior was gutted and old roof removed. New spans where installed on the Original Walls. Exterior got make over.. Internal. Had new steelwork and refit etc etc… One here a great number of theatres have had such a make over.. and not had seperate entires..
I am Ex ABC and knew members of the design team and even met Jack Foster) As I was interested in design. He explained what work was done..

terry on March 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

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.

Mike_Blakemore on March 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I did cover at the ABC Chester.. when it was moved to our Zone.. I was able to do a Full Theatre Advance Booking. So I got lumbered. Morcombe & Wise Show and an Orcestra Concert.. for the Chester festival.. We at least we worked for the Real ABC company :o)

Mike_Blakemore on March 15, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I remember the First Manager of the of the Facelift Theatre.. Bob Parsons the following one was Frank Chadwick. If my memory is correct..

terry on March 15, 2013 at 5:02 pm

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.

70mmbobbyj on July 12, 2014 at 10:54 am

According to the Facebook page the local council which borrowed money to knock it down and will have to pay back £4.5 Million all so they can have a “SMALL” car park have “RUN OUT OF MONEY”. They can no longer afford to demolish it.

Also there are problems with the adjoining buildings who are worried about the party wall, and the company which owns the telecom equipment on the roof has not found another suitable location yet.OOPs

Mike_Blakemore on July 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I forgot to mention from my notes Modernisation Ltd., The Freize-Greene company did the interior decor and fittings. I believe it was Hall Stage that fitted out the stage house

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