67915-DIXONReginald Dixon (1904-1985), Mr. Blackpool

Click here to hear Reginald Dixon M.B.E. play his signature tune and other seaside tunes











The Conacher Theatre Organ  of the Odeon Theatre Blackpool was originally installed in the Ritz Cinema Southend in 1934.  The Ritz Cinema was part of the County Cinemas Circuitwhich in 1933 consisted of thirty cinemas, but was eventually taken over by the Odeon Theatre Circuit in 1937.

Odeon & Ritz CollageLeft & Top Right: The Odeon Theatre Blackpool; Bottom Right: The Ritz Cinema Southend




I used to love going to Southend-on-Sea as a child.  Southend was very popular at the time of my childhood and many Factory Owners took their workers here for the annual Day-Out, known as a Beano in those days.   Southend was an ideal choice for such events, as it was close to London and offered lots of entertainment that appealed to the visitors.  The Owners often hired a Char-a-banc, which is what we inhabitants of the East End of London still called Motor Coaches, and would buy a number of crates of Brown Ale to be consume en route to the destination.

Brown Ale Collage

A Beano generally meant a great deal of pub-crawling, where most of the men ended up drunk and followed by a number of bouts of vomiting, while the women wandered the Promenade, or Front, as it was called, linked arm-in-arm and singing popular songs-of-the-day while wearing supposedly funny hats made of paper with comments such as, Kiss Me Quick, on the brims written in glitter.  Everyone seemingly had a great time and many a romantic liaison was said to have began during such trips.

Beano CollageCockney Beanos
These photographs are reproduced from


We went to Southend by a variety of transport modes including coach, train and bus.  I liked the train and bus, but was always ill with Travel Sickness when I traveled by coach.

We often took Grey-Green Coaches and I was usually ill mostly on the return journey


The bus was also interesting, as we took the London Transport Underground to Hornchurch and then took the bus.  I was very interested in London Transport Buses at this time and was delighted to find that the vehicle on the route to Southend was an RLH-type, which was a small series of buses used on routes with low bridges.  The bus we took was in red livery, but many were produced in green, which I found elegant and preferred.

The RLH CollageRLHs had an upstairs gangway which dipped down into the lower deck 
Reproduced from Ian’s Bus Stop



We also took the train from Liverpool Street Station, which was an electrified line to Southend Victoria Station (Great Eastern Main &, Shenfield-Southend Lines), but I much preferred the route from Fenchurch Street Station to Southend Central (originally The London, Tilbury & Southend Railway), which went through the East End.  I also preferred this route since the train was pulled by a steam train.



Kursaal BeforeThe Kursaal Amusement Park as I remember it
This photograph was reproduced  from George Plunkett’s Photographs

Kursaal TodayThe Kursaal Amusement Park Today
This photograph appears with permission of Mr. Paul Bland

I always enjoyed a Day Out at Southend.  We would spend time at the Kursaal Amusement Park, where I enjoyed some of the rides including a small railway, which I enjoyed the most!  The Park had, to me, a huge and deep Scenic Railway, which my parents said that I was too young to ride it.

Scenic RailwayEntrance to The Harton Scenic Railway (1910-1973)

I also wanted to go and see the motorcyclists ride The Wall of Death, but again, I was not allowed.

Kursuul Poster


We also took the long green train used by the Railway, which ran 1.25 miles (2.01 km) from the entrance to the Pier Head of the World’s Longest Pier (1.35 miles; 2.16 km) , where we played the Penny-Slot-Machines.

The Pier TrainThe Southend Pier Train, as I remember it, in green and cream livery introduced in 1949

Southend pier entrance from Royal Hill [B690] 1933-08-00The Pier in 1933 

old-penny-machines-008Penny Slot Machines
This photograph is reproduced from the Merrivale Model Village Penny Arcade


In the late afternoon, we would always go to Westcliff-on-Sea, which was a much more classy part of Southend , and sit and enjoy looking at the sea.  I would go into the sea here and later tried hard to make a sandcastle, which my father always seemed to take over!

Essex, Westcliff-on-Sea, Promenade 1900'sWestcliff-on-Sea Promenade c 1900
My mother loved to sit here and would do so for hours when given the chance


Occasionally we would stay the night in Southend and when we did we often went to the cinema in the early evenings.  I remember well the Ritz Cinema with the gardens in front of it and proximity to the seafront.  I liked its design, the sweep around the corner, and I recall seeing Walt Disney’s Peter Pan there.  I didn’t have the heart to tell my parents that I had already seen the film, as I could see that they were eager to see it.  Actually, I enjoyed it again, I have to admit.

Ritz & Pedro Pan CollageThe Ritz Cinema Southend reproduced from Cinema Treasures & Posters of the Film

Click here to see the You Can Fly segment from Walt Disney’s Peter Pan


What allows me to recall the Ritz Cinema Southend with both affection and clarity was the audience with whom we shared the seance for the Second Feature.  Unfortunately, its name escapes me, but I do recall that it was a short Walt Disney Animated Feature.  We came into the cinema at the start of this feature while most of the audience had entered earlier and had already seen the main film.  The audience consisted of a huge number of Teddy Boys who were in roarous mood and yelled and shouted at the characters when they appeared on the screen.  The Youths around us, although loud, were actually polite, as I remember that when one of the group accidentally kicked my mother’s seat, the whole group immediately apologised for annoying her.  I remember the gang well, as the comments they shouted were actually apt and very funny.  My mother smiled too, but my father, as usual, was totally lost in the plot and did not seem to notice the merriment around us.

Unfortunately, I do not recall the Theatre Organ being played!





Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941) considered Theatre Organs to be an unnecessary luxury and believed that they detracted from the main business of a cinema, i.e. showing films.  His attitude explains why very few original Odeon Theatres were installed with theatre organs.  The Odeon Theatres at Leicester Square, Swiss Cottage, Wealdstone, Haverstock Hill, Weston-Super-Mare and Worthing were the exceptions and only Compton Organs were installed in them.

Odeon-Overlay-CollageOscar Deutsch & Some Odeon Theatres

Some Odeons had become part of The Circuit, either as the result of a takeover of an existing cinema with an organ already in place or by a partnership where contracts with the builders had already been agreed.  Thus other makes of Theatre Organ were found in cinema of The Circuit, as in the case of the Odeon Theatre Blackpool with its Conacher Organ.

It is an unfortunate oversight that no organ was originally installed at the Odeon Theatre Blackpool given the popularity of the Theatre Organ in the resort.  Space was included for an organ, but none appeared.

However, there is a story that a large 5-manual Compton Theatre Organ was ordered and dispatched to the Odeon in Blackpool, but that the train in which it was traveling was destroyed in an air-raid.  As the Compton records were lost, it is impossible to verify this. However, it seems likely as, in the spirit of competition in Blackpool, a 5 manual Compton would rather dwarf the 3-manual WurliTzers installed at other venues, and so would have been good for publicity.


Andrew Fenner at Ritz Conacher 1933Andrew Fenner at the Ritz Southend Conacher Theatre Organ c 1933

Why the Ritz Southend Conacher Theatre Organ should have been chosen as the organ for the Odeon Theatre Blackpool remains somewhat of a mystery!  It is conceivable that some of the Circuit Local Managers, Area Managers etc might have resisted attempts to remove the Theatre Organs from their cinemas.  As a result, this rather obscure instrument from the Ritz Cinema Southend was chosen.

Odeon Blackpool Conacher2The Former Ritz Southend Conacher Theatre Organ after its move to the Odeon Theatre Blackpool


The Ritz Cinema Southend Conacher Theatre Organ
was opened by Quentin MacLean in February 1935


R.Holland via Alan Ashton from originalReginald Holland following an interview with Mr. Alan Ashton
during the 1980s at his home in Blackpool.  

This photograph comes from the collection of Alan Ashton and appears with permission.


The other large cinema in Southend, the former Astoria, also had an organ , a 4-manual Compton Theatre Organ. This cinema was part of the County Cinemas Circuit and was acquired by the Odeon Circuit and re-named Odeon in 1940.  The organ was also removed and was restored and preserved.


The Ritz Southend Conacher Theatre Organ re-installed at the Odeon Theatre Blackpool was a 4-manual/12-rank plus Grand Piano Instrument which remained in place until 1969.  Following its removal, it was sold and transported to Hayes, then Yeovil and thence to Norfolk where it is privately owned. Seemingly, the Organ is now close to being operational once more.

Ralph Reed at Con. B'Pool with Eric Lord standingRalph Reader (1903-1982) of The Gang Show seated at the
Odeon Blackpool Conacher Theatre Organ with Eric Lord standing


The Ritz Southend Conacher Theatre Organ is one of only three surviving Conachers.  The other two organs that have also survived  are:

  • the ex-Regal/Odeon Rotherham was installed with a 3-manual/9-rank Instrument; it was removed in 1993 by Audley Minor Pipe Organ Builders; the organ is now privately owned and in working order at Alsager; sadly, I note that the Organ, as of May 2014, was for sale on Ebay.

    RegalOdeon Rotherham Conacher2The Ex-Regal/Odeon Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ


Click here to hear Norman Scott, who played
The Ex-Regal/Odeon Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ in 1989, and now here.


Click here to hear more of Norman Scott playing this Conacher Theatre Organ


  • and the ex-Forum Cinema Coventry 3-manual/8-rank Organ was opened by Reginald Foort (1893-1980) in 1934; it was removed in 1962 and re-installed at Northampton Grammar School; in 2006, the Organ was  sold to F.H. Browne and Sons, Organ Builders.  Currently the Organ is in storage at their works near Canterbury.

Forum Coventry Conacher2The Ex-Forum Cinema Conacher Theatre Organ with Miss Betty Mitchell at the Console 


When I enquired after it, I was told it was the Company’s intention was to restore it to as near its original condition as possible in order to, hopefully, install it in a suitable venue in Kent.


Click here to hear Dorian Collins play The Ex-Regal/Odeon Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ


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