THE THEATRE ORGAN

67915-DIXONReginald Dixon, Mr. Blackpool

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

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PART TWO:
BUILDERS OF THE THEATRE ORGANS

THIS PAGE IS WRITTEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH
GLEN TWAMLEY (FRIENDS OF BEER WURLITZER)
AND
PAUL BLAND

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PAGE FORTY-SEVEN:

THE BLACKPOO
WURLITZER THEATRE ORGANS

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BLACKPOOL:
THE TOWER, THE BALLROOM
&
THE
WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN

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BLACKPOOTOWER

Blackpool Tower opened on the 14th May, 1894 and was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  It is 518 feet in height (158 metres) and has been designated as a Grade I listed building by English Heritage.  Each year, many visitors take a ride up to the summit of The Tower in order to enjoy the view.

The TowerThe Blackpool Tower

Today the Tower Building offers the visitor five separate attractions for their amusement and these are: The Tower Top, The Tower Circus, Jungle Jims, The Blackpool Dungeon and The Tower Ballroom.  

At one time, the Tower Building housed Dr. Cocker’s Aquarium, Aviary and Menagerie, which opened in 1873.  The Menagerie closed in 1973 just after the opening of the Blackpool Zoo; the Aquarium closed in 2010 and the space was used for The Blackpool Dungeon.

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THE TOWER BALLOOM BLACKPOO

The Tower Ballroom was built between 1897 and 1898 and was designed by Frank Matcham, who had also designed Blackpool Grand Theatre and was opened in 1899.   The Ballroom had been commissioned in response to the opening of the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens.  The Ballroom floor measures 120 feet by 120 feet and consists of over 30,000 blocks of various woods.  There is a large chandelier that can be lowered for maintenance.

Tower Ballroom in colour - borderThe Tower Ballroom Blackpool

The decor of the Tower Ballroom is best described as opulent,  ornate or even flamboyant and clearly has the stamp of Frank Matcham.  It is a classic example of Edwardian Theatre Decor although it was built during the reign (1837-1901) of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) albeit towards the end.  Although overly fussy and colourful and a touch too lavish for modern tastes, it was executed with remarkable style and is still of interest if only as a curiosity.

Tower Ballroom Collage

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THE Ballroom

For a more detailed description of the decor of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, please

Click Here

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THE FIRST TOWER BALLROOM
WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN

The first Wurlitzer Theatre OrganOpus 2037, was shipped from The Wurlitzer Factory on the 30th March, 1929.  The Organ had 2 manuals and 10 ranks and remained in place until 1935 when it was removed and reinstalled in the Empress Ballroom Blackpool.

It seems that the owners of the Tower Ballroom experienced difficulties before a suitable organist could be found.  Two organists had been employed before Reginald Dixon was auditioned.   Management required the organist to provide a strict tempo for dancing, which had proven difficult before Mr. Dixon arrived.  Apparently, had he not succeeded in offering the necessary tempo for dancers, both the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ and Mr. Dixon were to be dismissed from the Ballroom.

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

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The original 2-manual Console of the Tower Ballroom Theatre Organ was not discarded, but was recycled and installed at the Metropole Cinema in Victoria, London.

Metropole CollageThe Metropole as a Cinema (Left); the Foyer as a restaurant (Centre); the Foyer ceiling (Top Right); and the exterior as a Pizzeria (Bottom Right)

Unfortunately in March 2013, the remains of the Metropole and Cameo Cinemas were demolished as part of the extension to Victoria Underground Station.  The glass ceiling was saved and has been installed elsewhere.  At present, I have been unable to determine where this is.

The theatre organ had been removed from the Metropole Cinema in 1961 and some of its pipework was later reinstalled at a Town Hall in Buckinghamshire.  What happened to the Console remains a mystery to me.

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THE SECOND TOWER BALLROOM
WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN

One of the most famous Theatre Organs in the U.K. is the second Wurlitzer Theatre Organ installed at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool.

Tower-3The Tower Ballroom Blackpool Wurlitzer Theatre Organ – note the microphone on the left

Since the first Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Tower Ballroom did not suit Reginald Dixon, a replacement Theatre Organ was commissioned to his design.  This Organ, Opus 2187, had 3-manuals and 13-ranks and was shipped to the U.K. on the 8th December, 1934 and installed at the Tower Ballroom in early 1935.

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

(I defy any reader not to find him or herself smiling while listening!)

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Click here  to here an organ duet played by Reginald Dixon & Horace Finch

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The Tower Ballroom was damaged during a fire in 1956 and was closed for restoration until 1958 when it was re-opened to the public.   The total cost of the restoration of the Tower Ballroom was £500,000.  During this time, since Mr. Dixon was unable to play at the Tower Ballroom, he was able to resume his playing schedule at the Empress Ballroom.

Ballroom floor after fire, Dec 1956 2Repairs being made to the floor of the Ballroom damaged during the fire

Prior to the fire in the Ballroom, only some minor adjustments had been made to the Organ, and these included:

  • the addition of the Quint and Tierce Couplers towards the end of the 1940s;
  • the replacement of the Tuba Mirabilis in 1948 and the Solo String by the Gamba in 1951, both of which came from the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Opera House Blackpool. 

During the restoration of the Ballroom, some additional changes were made to the Organ, which included the exchange of two of the ranks with those of the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Blackpool Opera House and the addition of a second Tuba Mirabilis.  The addition of this rank increased the total number to 14.

Paul - Tower after fire red.The Damaged Console after the fire

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Click here to hear Ernest Broadbent play Strauss’ Thunder & Lightening Polka on the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ; recorded in 1970

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Today, the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ has the following ranks: 2-Tibias, 3-String Ranks, 2-Tubas, Diapason, Flute, Krumet, Saxophone, Orchestral Oboe, Kinura and English Horn.

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The Console was also severely damaged during the fire of 1956 and was rebuilt using parts from that of the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, Opus 2228, that had been installed at the Gaumont Cinema Holloway.  This Theatre Organ had been removed from the cinema following bomb damage during the Second World War.

Prior to the fire, the Console of the new Wurlitzer Theatre Organ glided forward on rails.  Once the replacement Console was built, it was placed on a lift, which could be lowered and so enabled it to be stored safely in the pit when not in use.

The rails are used today to transport the Tower Ballroom’s Electronic Organ from the rear to the front of the stage.

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wurlitzer TowerThe Wersi and Wurlitzer Theatre Organs of the Tower Ballroom

Click here to watch the Organs change over at the Tower Ballroom where one has the opportunity to see the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ rise up on its lift from under the stage and observe the electron organ slide back on the rails

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DIXON-REGINALD-GRANADA-WOOLWICH-reducedReginald Dixon at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Granada Theatre Woolwich

Reginald Dixon was the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom between 1930 until Easter Sunday 1970 when he gave his last Sunday Concert at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Tower Ballroom.  In 1956, he had been made an M.B.E.

Mr. Dixon was greatly appreciated by the public and was known by his audiences as Mr. Blackpool.  He made many broadcasts and grammophone recordings both at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Tower Ballroom and other Theatre Organs throughout the country.   Mr. Dixon died on the 9th May, 1985 and was cremated at Carleton Crematorium, Blackpool.

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Click here to hear Byron Jones play the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

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Reginald Dixon was replaced by Ernest Broadbent as the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom.  Unfortunately, his tenture proved to be short-lived, as he had to withdraw in 1977 from ill-health 

Ernest BroadbentThis photograph of the organist, Ernest Broadhent,
at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Free Trade Hall, Manchester,
comes from the collection of Alan Ashton and appears with permission.

Click here to hear Ernest Broadbent play the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

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When Mr. Broadbent left in 1977, Phil Kelshall became the resident organist and continues to be so at present.  He was awarded the M.B.E. in 2010.

Phil Kelsall 2Phil Kelshall

Click here to hear Phil Kelshall play the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Organ

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The Wurlitzer

It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that almost every Theatre Organist of note has played the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ and those that have not ……. probably long to!

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Nigel OgdenNigel Ogden

Click here 

to see the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Organ rise up from it storage site and up onto the stage
and also to hear it being played in a tribute to Reginald Dixon by Nigel Ogden

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nicholas-martin-redThis photograph of Nicholas Martin at the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Organ in 1982
was provided by Mr. Alan Ashton of the Organ lst Radio Website

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INFORMATION ON
THE WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN
OF THE TOWER BALLROOM BLACKPOOL

FROM MR. PAUL KIRNER

kirnerPaul Kirner

Click here to hear Paul Kirner play the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

The Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of 1935 was supplied with Wurlitzer Upright Piano and installed in the chambers.  After the fire in the Tower Ballroom in 1956, the Grand Piano from the Opera House Theatre Organ was transferred here.  Unfortunately this piano is no longer operative and is in need of a complete overhaul. The Tower Ballroom Upright Piano remains in situ, but is not used.

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Towards the end of the 1940’s GREAT TO SOLO Couplers were added to the organ.  These were: Sub-Octave 16 feet; Unison 8 feet; Octave 4 feet; Quint 2 2/3rd feet; and Tierce 3/5th pitches.

To accommodate these extra stops, five tuned Percussion Stops were deleted from the Upper Solo Stop Rail. A fourteenth rank was also added to the instrument at this time and was a Tuba Mirabilis, which was made by Rogers of Leeds.

During the restoration after the fire of 1956, two of the ranks, the Solo String and the Tuba Mirabilis, were exchanged with the Gamba and Tuba Mirabilis of the Opera House Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.

At some point, probably 1956, the Vox Humana rank was replaced by a WurlitzerOrchestral Oboe.

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In addition, also in 1956, the Tower console was placed on a slow rising lift in the centre of the stage.  Originally the console moved forward from the rear of the stage on a motorised platform, which is presently used for the Ballroom’selectronic organ.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Mr. Alan Ashton of Radio First Organ for providing the photograph of Mr. Nicolas Martin at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Tower Ballroom.

I am indebted to Mr. Paul Kirner for providing information on the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Tower Ballroom.  Many thanks.

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