THE THEATRE ORGAN

Robert Hope-JonesRobert Hope-Jones (1859-1914), Father of The Theatre Organ

PART TWO: BUILDERS OF THE THEATRE ORGANS

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

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PAGE TWENTY-NINE:
THE COMPTON THEATRE ORGAN

John Compton Collage BlueJohn Compton, Pioneer, Innovator and Organ Builder

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COLOURFUL CONSOLE CASES
CONTINUED

ILLUMINATED CONSOLES
A BRITISH INNOVATION

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09a - State Dartford - Glen with borderThe Console of the State Cinema Dartford installed with Illuminated Glass Side Panels 

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Despite the success of the wooden Console Styles, the most celebrated designs produced by The Compton Theatre Organ Company, and certainly their most spectacular, were those with Illuminated Glazed Glass Side Panels.

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Once Theatre Organs began to be featured at film séances, it was not uncommon to bathe them in spotlight.  In order to add some additional excitement to the scene, the light was often passed through coloured gelatin strips, which allowed the colour to be changed.

colour-wheelThe Colour Wheel

Frank Mitchell devised a method whereby the Console Case might be illuminated within the Pillar Side Panels, which were to be made of glass so as to allow the light to shine through.  The effect of Illuminated Pillar Side Panels proved to be extremely popular with both cinema proprietors and public alike.

Click here to see how Glazed Glass Panels are made

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The Company directors evidently liked this innovation since they took out a patent for the design of Illuminated Console Cases.  During the time that The Company offered such a feature, a number of designs were developed including the  Illuminated Sunburst, ABC (Reeded Glass), Cascade, Rainbow and Pillar & Vase.  In addition, a number of Special Console Cases were designed for installation at specific locations.

5 types of illumin. consoles collageTypes of Illuminated Side Pillars built for Compton Consoles
From Left to Right: Illuminated Sunburst, ABC (Reeded Glass), Cascade, Rainbow and Union (Pillar & Vase)

These photographs appear by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

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The Compton Illuminated Console Cases were equipped with Stop Tabs on the Stop Rail of the Console to control the lighting in the Side Pillars.  The organist was able to select the primary colours individually or select the Auto Stop Tab, which allowed the Changer Unit to pass through the colour sequences.

Stop Tabs CollageStop Tabs that control lighting in the Side Pillars

The photograph of the close-up of the Stop Tabs appears with permission of John G. Lidstone

Despite the immense popularity of the Illuminated Console Case, no American Theatre Organ was ever produced with one It was to remain essentially a feature of British Theatre Organs.

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The World’s First Illuminated Theatre Organ Console Case  was introduced to the public in September 1932 at the Capitol Cinema Forest Hill with Jack Courtnay as organist. Normally, Theatre Organs were installed in the centre of the orchestra pit, but here it was placed on the left-hand side.  Apparently the introduction of this new-styled Console was well received by the public.  The Theatre Organ chosen for this occasion was a new 3-manual model, which replaced the previously an earlier one 2-manuals and 8-ranks.

Capitol Forest Hill choppedThe Illuminated Console Case of The Theatre Organ of the Capitol Cinema Forest Hill

This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

Capitol Forest Hill CollageThe Erstwhile Capitol Cinema Forest Hill

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In October 1932, the first purpose-built Compton Theatre Organ built with an Illuminated Console opened to the public at the Plaza Cinema Stockport.  The Console Case was built in a Special Sunburst Style, and together with its Organ (3-manuals,11-ranks) is still installed at the cinema and regular concerts are given.

BBC Plaza StockportThe Console of The Theatre Organ of the Plaza Cinema Stockport

On the following evening, another Theatre Organ with an Illuminated Console rose up from the orchestra pit at the Princess Cinema Dagenham and opened to the public.  It is not surprising that such a spectacular site generated much excitement and audience appreciation.  Other such Theatre Organs with Illuminated Console Cases opened soon after at the Plaza Cinema Southampton and at the Mordern Cinema in 1932.

GlazedSunburst Kinema MordenThe Glazed Sunburst Style Console Case of The Compton Theatre Organ installed at the Mordern Cinema

This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

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A total of ten Engraved (Patterned) Sunburst-Style Console Cases were constructed for installations with Compton Organs.  The final Console Case produced in this Style was for the Organ installed at the Regal Cinema Byker (Newcastle) in September 1934.  Apparently the Organ was removed from the cinema in 1969 and sold and transported to the island of Majorca. In addition, according to The Compton List, three Reeded Glass Sunburst-Style Console Cases were produced and two in a combination Engraved/Reeded Style.

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Although The Company directors evidently liked this innovation since they took out a patent for the design of Illuminated Console Cases, they quickly realised that they were not in a position to produce the necessary Glazed Glass Side Panels, since their production would prove both costly and time-consuming.  As a result, the F.H. Pride & Company of Clapham Common, a renowned manufacturer of chandeliers and cinema electrical accoutrements, was commissioned to design and produce them.  The colour change mechanisms were initially supplied by Micklewright of Alperton, Wembley, but F.H. Pride Limited later designed their own slightly smaller unit.  However, Micklewright units were continued to be used.

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At this time, Charles Theobalds was the chief designer and technical head of the F.H. Pride & Company.  Since he had designed lighting fittings and equipment for most of the leading cinema circuits of the day, his was considered ideal to take on the job of overseeing the production of the glazed panels and for designing new styles.  He obviously did not disappoint either company, as he designed three of the most popular Console Case Styles, the ABC (Reeded Glass), Cascade and Rainbow, as well as a number of Special Styles for customers requiring an elegant and Unique Design.

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The first ABC-Console Style was introduced to the public in July 1933 following the installation of the Organ at the Regal Cinema Torquay.  The design appeared in a number of future cinema of the ABC Circuit.  The first Organ (3-manuals, 6-ranks) installed with an ABC-Style Console and with a Melotone Unit was at the Regal Waltham Green in August 1935.

Burtey Fen - permission given - Ritz Tunbridge Wells borderThe ABC-Style Console Case of The Compton Theatre  Organ (3 manuals, 7-ranks) of the Ritz Cinema Tunbridge Wells

The photograph appears by permission of The Burtey Fen Collection

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Reginald-Porter-Brown - Torquay redReginald Porter-Brown seated at the Illuminated ABC-Style Console Case of The Compton Theatre Organ installed at the Regal Cinema Torquay

Westover BournemouthThe  Illuminated  ABC-Style  Console  Case  of  The Compton Theatre Organ  (3-manuals, 6-ranks)  installed  at  the Westover Cinema Bournemouth

These photographs appear by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

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According to The Compton List, eighteen Engraved Glass and twenty -three Reeded Glass ABC-Style Console Cases were produced for installation with Compton Theatre Organs in cinemas including the 4-manual Organ (and 10-ranks and a Melotone Unit) of the Astoria Cinema Southend.

The final ABC-Style Console Case appeared with the installation of The Compton Theatre Organ (3-manuals, 6-ranks and Melotone Unit) at the Ritz Cinema Bradford in September 1939.

Ritz Bradford - DusashenkaThe Auditorium of the Ritz Cinema Bradford showing The Compton Theatre Organ

This photograph appears by the permission of the photographer, Dusashenka

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In May 1933, The Compton Theatre Organ of the Playhouse Cinema Windsor with a curved Illuminated Console Case was introduced to the public.  It was designed in an Art Deco style by Charles Theobalds, which would become known as the Cascade Style.  It was so-called since the Side Pillars consisted of large sheets of curved and bent glass.

Cascade Playhouse WindsorThe  Etched, Patterned  Cascade Style  Console Case of The Compton Theatre Organ of the
Playhouse Cinema Windsor (2-manuals and 3-ranks)

This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

State Dartford CollageThe Reeded Glass Cascade Style Console Case of The Compton Theatre Organ (3-manuals, 6-ranks & Melotone Unit) of the State Cinema Dartford installed in December 1935

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A total of fifteen Reeded Glass Cascade-Style Console Cases were produced while only one  with Etched, Patterned Glass was built (Playhouse Cinema Windsor) according to The Compton List. The final  Cascade-Style Console Case and Compton Theatre Organ (3-manuals, 8-ranks and a Melotone Unit)  were installed at the Ambassador Cinema Hounslow West in September 1936.

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2nd Cascade CollageOther Examples of Cascade Console Cases

Top Left: Console of The Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Havestock Hill (3-manuals, 6-ranks & Solo Cello)
Bottom LeftConsole of The Compton Theatre Organ of the Astoria Brighton (3-manuals, 8-ranks)

This photographs appear by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

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Although Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941) did not seem to be overly impressed with the merits of the Theatre Organ, he did allow some installations in his Odeon Theatres.   For his first Theatre Organs, he chose the Cascade Style of console, as exemplified by that of the Odeon Theatre Weston Super Mare.

Odeon WSM & Rober Wolfe CollageThe Cascade Style Console Case of The Compton Theatre  Organ (3-manuals, 6-ranks) of the Odeon Weston Super MareRight: Robert Wolfe at the Console

The Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Weston Super Mare opened in May 1935 and has 3-manuals and 6-ranks together with a Solo Cello.   It is the only Compton Theatre Organ still present in an Odeon Theatre outside London.  The Organ is preserved under the care of the West of England Theatre Organ Society.

Following these organ installations, Oscar Deutsch evidently developed a preference for Console Cases with Special designs, as can be seen with those of the Odeon Theatre at Swiss Cottage, Bolton, Worthing and others.  The first Melotone Unit fitted in a Compton Theatre Organ installed in an Odeon Theatre was that of the Odeon Bolton.

Specials for ODEONS Collage 2Console Case Specials for Oscar Deutsch

Top Left: Console of The Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Swiss Cottage (3-manuals, 8-ranks, a Melotone Unit & Piano and installed in September 1937)
This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

 Top Right:  The Auditorium of the Odeon Theatre Worthing showing The Compton Theatre Organ (3-manuals, 8-ranks and installed in August 1937)

This photograph appears on the RIBA wesbite

Bottom: Console of The Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Bolton (3-manuals, 8-ranks and installed in August 1937)
This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

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robinson-cleaver at a ComptonH. Robinson Cleaver at a Compton Theatre Organ

Click here to hear H. Robinson Cleaver play the The New Studio Organ (Compton)

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What is considered to be the most famous Illuminated Console Case was produced for The Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square.  This Console Case was designed by Charles Theobalds and Andrew Mather who was one of the architects of the cinema.  The Organ is the only Compton Theatre Organ built with 5-manuals; it also has 17-ranks and a Melotone Unit and was opened by the organist, George Bell.  A grand piano was once linked to The Organ, but was removed sometime ago.

As a point of interest, although The Duchess, as The Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square is affectionately called, was not The Company’s largest Organ in terms of number of ranks.  The Davis Theatre Crydon Organ was built with 24-ranks in total and 4-manuals.

Duchess CollageThe Compton Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square (known as The Duchess)

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The Rainbow Style Console Case was introduced with the installation of The Compton Theatre Organ (3-manuals, 9-ranks) at the Forum Cinema Ealing in April 1934 and a similar Styled Organ was installed at the Forum Cinema Kentish Town later in the year in December.  These cinemas were very similar in design and were built for Herbert Yapp, but were taken over within the year by the Associated British Cinema Circuit (ABC).  Today, the Forum Cinema Ealing has been demolished while the Forum Kentish Town functions as a music venue.  Unfortunately, I do not know what happened to their Theatre Organs.

In May 1930, a Compton Theatre Organ with 2-manuals and 6-ranks was installed at the Alma Cinema Luton.  In April 1934, a third manual and a grand piano were added to the Organ along with a Rainbow Style Console Case.

In January 1935, a Compton Theatre Organ with 2-manuals and 5-ranks and with a Rainbow Style Console Case was installed in the Queens Hall Cinema Grimsby and opened by Reginald Dixon. The Theatre Organ was removed in 1972 and is now at Louth Town Hall.

Rainbow Console Case Collage 2The Rainbow Style Console Case of The Compton Theatre Organs of Dreamland Margate (Top Right)
& Forum Cinema Kentish Town (Bottom Right)

These photographs appear by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

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According to The Compton List, a total of seventeen Rainbow Style Console Cases with Engraved Glass and twenty with Reeded Glass were installed with Compton Theatre Organ Consoles in Britain.

The final Rainbow Style Console Case to be built appeared in September 1938 at the State Cinema Grays.

State Grays CollageThe State Cinema and The Compton Theatre Organ

Left: Ron Hammond at the Console (this photograph appears by permission of Stephan Dutfield); Top Right: The Console (this photograph appears by permission of Peter Hammond); & Bottom Right: The State Cinema Grays today

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Doreen Chadwick at a Compton with borderDoreen Chadwick at a Compton Console

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Another popular Illuminated Console Case Style apparently offered by The Company was the Union (Pillar & Vase) and were made exclusively for Union Cinemas.  This Style was not designed by Charles Theobalds, but by Francis Beard and made by the company, R.R. Beard Limited, London and using Micklewright Dimmer Units.

According to The Compton List, a total number of seven Pillar and Vase Style Console Cases were fitted to Compton Theatre Organs installed in Union Cinemas in Britain.  The first  appeared at the Ritz Cinema Belfast  in November 1936 with an Mk I Style Console Case.

Ritz Belfast - Stanley WyllieStanley Wyllie at the Console of The Compton Theatre Organ (4-manuals, 10-ranks & Melotone Unit) installed at the Ritz Cinema Belfast

This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

Subsequently Console Cases in this Style were fitted to a variety of Compton (1-, 2- and 3-manuals) and Wurlitzer Theatre Organs (3-manuals).  Two variants of this Style were built, Mk I and Mk II:

  • The Mk I Style Console Case was built for Compton Theatre Organs installed at Belfast, Warrington, Woking, Cleethorpes, Nuneaton, Oxford (later moved to Keighley) and Hereford.  It was also produced for The Wurlitzer Theatre Organs installed at Aldershot, Barnsley and Chatham.

Joseph Storer - Ritz Hereford redJoseph Storer at The Organ of the Ritz Cinema Hereford showing the MK I Style Console Case

This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

  • The Mk II Style Console Case had wider pillars that had pierced metal running down the centre. This appeared with four Wurlitzer Theatre Organs installed at Hastings, Stockport, Richmond and Luton.

Roy Bently - Ritz Stockport - Wurlitzer redRoy Bentley at The Organ of the Ritz Cinema Stockport showing the MK II Style Console Case

This photograph appears by permission of Stephen Dutfield (The Compton List)

Wurlitzer Union Console CollagesUnion (Pillar & Vase) Console Cases for Wurlitzer Theatre Organs

This is discussed in the pieceDecoration of the Wurlitzer Organ Console

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Some organs were installed with Illuminated Benches, which could often prove to be too hot for comfort.  As a point of interest, during his residency at the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square, Gerald Shaw substituted the original glazed, illuminated bench, for a conventional wooden one.   Following his untimely demise, the hot-seat was returned to glow again!

Click here to see and hear Donald Mackenzie playing The Duchess

Please note the Illuminated Bench

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As a point of interest, there was an impetus to develop the Pipeless Organ.  Laurens Hammond (1895-1973) patented his system of electronic tone generation, which became the Hammond Organ.  This found its way into a few cinemas as the Hammond Lafleur, which was basically an electronic organ with an Illuminated surround.

Hammond - borderThis picture was provided by Paul Bland

Click here to hear Harold Ramsey play his Hammond Lafleur Organ

Illuminated Console Cases produced by The Pride Company soon began to be associated with other makes of organs including the Hammond Organ.  Examples of Hammond Organs with Illuminated Consoles were installed at the Essoldo Cinema Newcastle-Upon-Tynethe Flagship Cinema of the Essoldo Cinema Circuit, the Crescent Cinema Leatherhead and the Regal Cinema Kennington.

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During the heyday of the Theatre Organ, fabulous and exotic Illuminated Console Cases were designed and most certainly added to the excitement generated by the sound made by the Organ, as it rose from the orchestra pit.

RomfordHavana SpecialThe  Exotic Console Case of The Compton Theatre  Organ (3-manuals, 6-ranks & a Melotone Unit) installed at the Havana Cinema Romford in January 1936

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EnaBagaGranadaSutton-small with borderEna Baga at The Compton Theatre Organ (3-Manuals, 10-Ranks) of the 
Granada (Plaza) Theatre Sutton 

This photograph was provided by Mr. Ian McIver

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Today, there are a number of Compton Theatre Organs still present in their original installations.  Although a number of the original installations are no longer cinemas, there remain three Compton Theatre Organs still present in working cinemas where they may still be heard.  These cinemas are the Plaza Cinema Stockport, the Odeon Theatre Weston-super-Mare and the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square.

Click here

to read more of these Theatre Organs and several other Compton Theatre Organs of interest

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Mr. Ian McIver for providing information and photographs.  I would also like to thank Mr. Stephen Dutfield for allowing the reproduction of some photographs from The Compton List here and for the information provided there.

Many thanks are also due to Mr. Peter Hammond (Taylor-Hammond Associates Ltd.) for allowing his photograph to appear here.

I would like to thank Mr. Alan Ashton for allowing the photograph of Mr. Albert Brierly at the Console of The Compton Theatre Organ of the Apollo Cinema Arwick Green.

I would like to thank the North Lincolnshire Theatre Organ Preservation Society (NLTOPS) providing a photograph of their Compton Theatre Organ and of the Louth Town Hall; and to Alex Smith for allowing the reproduction of some of his photographs of The Organ and Town Hall.

Very special thanks are given to Mr. Paul Bland for providing photographs, musical interludes and information and without whom this piece would not have been possible.

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