50 Mitcham Road,
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Located in the south London district of Tooting. The Granada Theatre opened on 7th September 1931 for Sydney Bernstein’s Granada Theatres. The opening film was Jack Buchanan and Jeanette MacDonald in “Monte Carlo” and Alex Taylor on the Wurlitzer organ. Over 2,000 people were turned away on the first night!
The architect of the building was Cecil Masey who designed a Moderne Italianate styled towering entrance with four tall pillars topped by Corinthian capitals. The entire interior of the theatre was designed in a Gothic style by famed Russian stage set designer Theodore Komisarjevsky. On the side walls at balcony level are a series of panels with painted murals of medieval figures painted by Alex Johnson from small originals by Lucien Le Blanc.
The theatre was fully equipped for stage shows as well as movies and it had a Wurlitzer theatre organ (4 Manual/12 Rank) which was originally installed in 1926 in the Majestic (later Mission) Theatre, Sacramento, California, USA as a 3 Manual/10 Rank instrument. In 1932-33, the instrument was enlarged to be a 4Manual/14Ranks specification, which remains today. There was also a cafe located over the entrance, which gave great views of the magnificent foyer. The cafe was closed by 1954, and the space has been unused since then. The Granada played mostly films on the Gaumont circuit release, but occasionally obtained Odeon circuit release films. In 1948, the stage was brought fully into use when productions of “Goodnight Vienna” starring Bruce Trent, and “The Dancing Years” starring Barry Sinclair both played for one week runs. From January 1934 and at this time of year for the following four years, a circus (with real elephants) took to the stage supporting the film programme. From 1936, pantomimes were also staged, usually for two week runs around Christmas, and these continued into the early-1950’s.
Many stars played one day concerts at the Granada including Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Guy Mitchell, Eddie Fisher, The Andrews Sisters, Betty Hutton and Carmen Miranda from America and David Whitfield, Max Bygraves, and Dickie Valentine from the UK. In the late-1950’s/early-1960’s pop singers such as Johnny Ray, Frankie Laine, Pat Boone and Jerry Lee Lewis, and on 1st June 1963, The Beatles were supported by Roy Orbison, and played to two packed houses. The last live show on stage was The Bee Gees on 28th April 1968. The Granada was equipped to screen closed circuit television and in August 1966, a live relay of the Mohammed Ali v Brian London fight from Earls Court, west London was screened. Occasionally live wrestling was staged.
With only an average audience of 600 patrons a week attending by 1971, the writing was on the wall and applications were made to demolish the theatre to build an office block. The local Council stepped in and served a local preservation notice on the building. This eventually led in June 1972 to a Grade II* listing being placed on it. However this didn’t help the fate of the theatre and it closed suddenly as a cinema on 10th November 1973 screening Richard Crenna and Stephen Boyd in “A Man Called Noon”(aka Un hombre llamado Noon) and Ursula Andress and Stanley Baker in “Perfect Friday”. The following weeks' advertised film was Clint Eastwood in “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, but patrons turned up that week to find notices in the display frames stating ‘Due to a lack of public support this cinema is now CLOSED’.
It remained closed and un-used until it re-opened as a Granada Bingo Club on 14th October 1976. Taken over in May 1991 by Gala Bingo it remains in operation today.
In 2000, the listed status of the Granada was upraded to Grade I by English Heritage. This is the highest Grade Listing that any building in the UK can receive and it puts the Granada Theatre on the same scale as the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge etc. It is the first 1930’s cinema building to be given this honour.
The Grade I Listing now gives the owners more clout to apply for public funding to maintain the building and work is in progress to ‘open up’ the orchestra pit again (long covered over by the bingo callers podium). In the pit still on its lift and still playable, is the Wurlitzer organ. The organ chambers are under the stage, so no sound has been heard in the theatre from the pipes ‘live’, apart from being amplified by microphones and played via the PA system.
Restoration work on the Wurlitzer organ was completed in Spring 2007 and the first public concert since the early 1970’s was held on 22nd April 2007. Sadly, the organ chambers were flooded in July 2007, when heavy storms hit London. Again, repairs are currently being carried out to the instrument.
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