50 Mitcham Road,
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Located in the south London district of Tooting. The Granada Theatre opened on Monday 7th September 1931 for Sydney Bernstein’s Granada Theatres and became the flagsip of the circuit. The opening film was Jack Buchanan and Jeanette MacDonald in “Monte Carlo” and organist Alex Taylor opened 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 decoration 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 stage is 58ft wide and 30ft deep and has a fully equipped fly-tower. It has a Wurlitzer theatre organ. Originally a 4 Manual/12 Ranks instrument which was opened by organist Alex Taylor. The instrument 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. It had an ‘all electric’ kitchen. The cafe was closed by 1954, and the space has been unused since then. The Granada Theatre has a large car park and also originally had a pram park for mothers with children!
The Granada Theatre 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 Theatre including Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra (2 shows on 14th June 1953-his first UK performances), 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, Little Richard and on 1st June 1963, Dusty Springfield, The Rolling Stones, 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 Theatre 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 unused 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.
On 28th September 2000, the listed status of the Granada Theatre was upgraded 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 gave the owners (Gala Bingo) more clout to apply for public funding to maintain the building and work was completed to ‘open up’ the orchestra pit again (long covered over by the bingo callers podium) which blocked the sound of the organ which has its chambers under the stage.
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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