THE THEATRE ORGAN
PART TWO: BUILDERS OF THE THEATRE ORGANS
THIS PAGE IS WRITTEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLEN TWAMLEY (FRIENDS OF BEER WURLITZER)
THE THEATRE ORGAN OF
THE ABC CINEMA PLYMOUTH
The ABC Cinema Plymouth when part of the EMI Cinema Circuit
The Royal Cinema was opened in July 1938 and built on the site of the old Theatre Royal Plymouth, which had been designed by J. Foulston (1813-1937). The Royal Cinema was part of the ABC Circuit and was designed in the Circuit’s distinct Art Deco style by its architect, William Riddle Glen and had approximately 2,400 seats.
The Auditorium of the ABC Cinema Plymouth showing The Compton Theatre Organ
These photographs appear with permission of Peter Hammond
The Cinema had been equipped with a Compton Theatre Organ, which had an illuminated Console with three-manuals, eight-ranks and a Melotone Unit and was opened by the organist, Wilfred Southworth. The ranks of pipes and the Melotone Unit were housed in two chambers built on the right-hand side of the stage and covered with a grille.
Dudley Savage at The Compton Theatre Organ of the ABC Cinema Plymouth, (left) in 1938 & (right) 1968 who played this Organ for many years and who used make broadcasts for BBC Radio from here between 1948 until 1979
These photographs appear with permission of Peter Hammond
Click here to hear Dudley Savage play The Compton Theatre Organ of the ABC Cinema Plymouth during an excert from one of his weekly BBC Radio Broadcasts,As Prescribed
The Cinema was renovated and re-opened as the ABC in April 1958 and began to offer stage shows in addition to the screening of film. In 1976, the Cinema closed and reopened in 1977 following it conversion into a triple screen and a Bingo Social Club. The Organ remained in the Bingo Social Club in the stalls of the erstwhile single screen ABC, but seemingly was not often played.
The Console of the Theatre Organ stored under the floor of the Bingo Social Club until removed
This photograph appears with permission of Peter Hammond
Click here to hear and see Peter Hammond play the Console while still in place under the floor
The building was renamed each time ownership changed, but in the 1990’s it was once more named the ABC.
Gala Bingo took over operating the Club and continued to do so until 2006 when the Club was moved to a new location. The Theatre Organ was removed at this time and was to be installed in a new location, but it still remains in storage at this time.
In 2006, operation of the Cinema has been by the independent Reel Cinemas Limited. Although the Cinema was to close in October 2008, it remains open to the public at this time.
MEMORIES OF A VISIT TO PLYMOUTH &
THE CITADEL HILL LABORATORY
When I was a student, a classmate and I had to go to the Citadel Hill Laboratory (CHL) in Plymouth to study the fauna and flora of the beach and also learn about the goings-on at the Marine Laboratory. CHL has been established as the home of The Marine Biology Association of the United Kingdom since 1888 and considered one of the top establishments for marine biological research in the world.
Top: The Citadel Hill Laboratory and grounds; Bottom Left: The Laboratory Building; Bottom Right: The Founder Members of the Marine Biology Association of the UK in 1884 (reproduced from the Marine Biology Association website)
Unfortunately we were less than enthusiastic about having to visit the CHL at this time since we were about to sit our final examinations. I am now ashamed to say that neither of us was best pleased at having to pack up for a two week stint in the West Country. In addition, my colleague was to get married just a week following our return. I fear that neither of us were aware of the honour it was for us to be attending such a prestigious seat of learning.
Being a Londoner, and very urban, I was not used to going to such far flung places as Plymouth (!) and felt ill at ease at having to go. What did I know of the City of Plymouth besides being the place where Sir Francis Drake (El Draque) insisted on completing his game of bowls before engaging the Spanish Armada, as it sailed up the English Channel with plans to conquer England in 1588.
The funny thing was that although I had chosen to study Zoology, I had in actuality very little interest in the animals themselves. I preferred to read and write about them, but found no joy in observing them in the wild and had even less interest at all holding, touching or examining them and absolutely none in dissecting them! I liked comparing and contrasting systems in different animals, considering their adaptations to different modes of life and discussing evolutionary trends. Still, spending time at the Laboratory was considered an essential part of our course and left us no option but to grin and bear it!
(The reader might find it amusing to learn that despite my seemingly disinterest in Zoology, at a later point in my career I was invited to teach Comparative Anatomy, which required that I oversaw and had to take a role in not only the examination and holding of animals, but also their dissection!)
And so with heavy hearts, we took down our cutlasses and after consulting the wind direction, we set our course on a Sou-by-Sou-Westerly direction ……. and then aided by the receding tide and with a fair wind at our backs, we set sail – figuratively speaking – for parts unknown, but with our destination on our lips …….. Plymouth Ho!
We took the train to Plymouth, which proved to be a pleasant ride. We were booked into a Guest House within walking distance of the Laboratory and found other students there chatting in the lounge. They were nice enough, each dressed in the uniform of the serious Zoologist-in-waiting, which was a thick jumper, corduroy trousers and Wellington Boots. We, on the other hand, were decidedly not dressed for running about beaches and peering into rock pools.
Although the Guest House was clean and tidy and the lady that owned it was delightful, I disliked staying at such establishments. I dislike the idea of set times to eat and we were to be provided with breakfast and evening meal. I would have preferred to get some stuff from a supermarket and eat in my room with my colleague, or better, alone. We were also required to be back inside the Guest House by a set time, as after that, the door would be locked and we were not given a key to it!
I have little memory of the Laboratory, but I do remember that the authorities did their best to make us welcome and provide an atmosphere conducive to study and fit our needs. The staff organised tours of the various areas, answered all questions posed and provided us with an endless supply of specimens of both fish and non-vertebrate variety to help us be suitably proficient for the examinations that were to come. We were encouraged to stroll along the shore, study the animals that we found and observe the life in the numerous rock pools that formed when the tide receded. All very interesting I am sure, but it was not yet spring and the wind that blew in from the Atlantic was a bit too cold for me since, unlike the others, my colleague and I were not suitably dressed for such shenanigans.
Despite our lethargy, we did dissect the specimens provided and walked along the shore where we inspected the rock pools. On the whole, in spite of our earlier misgivings, we actually enjoyed ourselves!
However, the most tortuous part of our stay was about to come when we were invited to board a trawler and sail out into the English Channel and observe the crew trawl.
We were going to be allowed to inspect the Trawl and then asked to choose more specimens for dissection! Quell joie! This was considered to be a special treat for us! I have to admit that it did prove to be quite interesting, but it was the crew who made the trip fun since they were amusing folk and very kind to us. Naturally they teased us – especially the girls – but gave us endless cups of wonderfully strong tea and cigarettes and tried to be as helpful as possible. Despite this, I had a well-founded premonition that that the trip would end in total disaster and embarrassment for me!
One of the great sadnesses in my life is that I am not a natural sailor. I have a long history of suffering whenever I travel on the sea. I have been sick immediately upon stepping a-board a boat in a harbour; I have been on the verge of death while sitting on a houseboat moored on the River Seine; many times I have been violently struck down and wishing for death when getting off the Dover-Calais Ferry on the calmest of days; the list goes on and on. It is as if Neptune himself had singled me out for suffrage.
I stepped on that little trawler and by the time we reached the harbour wall marking the edge of the Port, and before we even entered the open sea, I was sick! The crew was understanding and asked had I not taken a tablet! A tablet? No I hadn’t! I knew nothing of such tablets. I was somewhat embarrassed, as I was the only land-lubber who was ill. Everyone else including my colleague gave the outward appearance of being natural sailors and strolled about the deck with authority. Many had pipes sticking out of their mouths and periodically puffed out clouds of foul smelling smoke. The more ill I became, the more I disliked by mates. Jealousy is a powerful emotion!
The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
Once I was less green and feeling well enough to venture about the boat, I questioned these hearty mariners and discovered that each one had taken a tablet prior to boarding including my friendly colleague. Natural sailors, my foot!
After this dance with death, no matter whether I venture on sea or lake or river or into the air, I never do so without first taking a tablet. Trips are now pleasant and I appear to all around me to have gained my sea legs at long last. Later in my life, I discovered that a good stiff drink before leaving a port had a similar effect!!!
Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the Globe between 1577 & 1580 in his ship, The Golden Hind
What annoyed me the most about this trip had nothing to do with being forced to come to the Laboratory or to suffer the trip to sea! What annoyed me actually occurred on the way to the Guest House. While making our way from the station to the Guest House, I noticed a cinema that looked very interesting. Although it was called The Drake, obviously inspired by Sir Francis Drake (El Draque), it was in fact an Odeon Cinema and part of the Circuit.
Sitting above the canopy that extended over the cinema entrance was a model of a Spanish Galleon, which must have been inspired by The Spanish Armada. I wanted very much to go and spend some time looking at this building and also to go inside. However, we had come for work reasons and our time was fully occupied during the day and our evenings were given over to study. Sadly I was shrouded in gloom and despair since the coming examinations loomed on the horizon and this spoiled any idea of going off and actually enjoying myself.
I have always considered missing the opportunity to visit The Drake to be a major tragedy.
Recently I learned that the Drake Cinema had been built in 1958 and was operated by 20th Century Fox until 1961 when it was taken over by the Rank Organisation and became an Odeon Cinema. I was surprised to learn this, as I did not know that 20th Century Fox operated cinemas in the U.K. although I did know that the Company had leased the Carlton Haymarket and Rialto Coventry Street in London to showcase their films released during the mid-1950s and 1960s.
The Drake-Odeon Cinema was tripled in 1975, but sadly, it closed in 1999 and was demolished in 2002 and a Grosvenor Casino was built on the site and opened in 2003.
I also learned that there were other cinema gems in Plymouth among which was the ABC, and to make things worse, I was to read that this gem was home to a Theatre Organ of some significance. Life can be so cruel at times!
I would like to thank Paul Bland for help in the production of this page.