THE THEATRE ORGAN
BUILDERS OF THE THEATRE ORGANS
THE CONACHER THEATRE ORGAN SERIES
WRITTEN BY PAUL BLAND
THE NINE CONACHER THEATRE ORGANS
These Theatre Organs were installed at:
the Forum Cinema Coventry and
The nine Conacher Theatre Organs were produced between 1933 and 1935 and each one appears to have been fitted with an Illuminated Console Case, which was generally made of glazed glass.
Illuminated Console Cases were immensely popular with the British public and cinema managers and were used to decorate a number of other makes of Theatre Organs including Compton and Wurlitzer Theatre Organs. Despite their popularity with the British public, no American Theatre Organ was ever produced with one and it was to remain essentially a feature of British Theatre Organs.
Examples of Illuminated Console Cases manufactured for Wurlitzer Theatre Organs is shown below:
Union (Pillar & Vase) Console Cases for Wurlitzer Theatre Organs
1933 – THE INSTALLATION OF THREE
CONACHER THEATRE ORGANS
In 1933, three Conacher Theatre Organs were produced and were installed at :
The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Plaza Cinema Coventry was a 4-manuals/9-ranks plus a Steinway Grand Piano instrument.
The Organs of the Regal/Odeon Cinema Wimbledon and the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham were of 4-manuals/22-ranks, but were also equipped with a Steinway Grand Piano.
The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Plaza Cinema Coventry was opened by Reginald Dixon and remained in the cinema until 1959 when it was removed and broken up. The various parts were then used to supplement a number of church pipe organs.
Both Conacher Theatre Organs of the Regal/Odeon Theatre Wimbledon and of the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham were opened by Reginald Foort and were removed and broken up in 1958 and 1964 respectively.
The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham was perhaps the best known to the public mainly due to the recordings and broadcasts made by its long-time resident, Jack Helyer.
Click here to watch a short video of the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham and hear Jack Helyer play The Conacher Theatre Organ
I discovered most of the following information from the contributions of Kendaldrac to The Nottingham Forum. Unfortunately, I have not been able to contact him to seek permission to reproduce some of his comments.
Edmund (Jack) Helyer (1902-1973) was the resident organist at the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham from 1933 until 1950 when he was made redundant. However, he remained with the Rank Organisation, who had taken control of the cinema in 1935 , in a management capacity at the Gaumont Cinema Nottingham. Despite his change in occupation, Mr. Helyer continued to broadcast from The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham until 1960, as well as from the BBC Theatre Organ in London.
In 1964 the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham became the first cinema in the country to be divided into two smaller cinemas. This resulted in the removal of the Theatre Organ and it being broken up for parts. Following this, the console was reduced to two manuals and was added to a church organ in Surrey.
Postcard showing Mr. Jack Helyer at the Console of The Conacher Theatre Organ of the
Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham
Jack Helyer at the Console of The Conacher Theatre Organ of the
Ritz/Odeon Theatre Nottingham and playing I’m Happy when I’m Hicking
1934 – THE INSTALLATION OF FIVE
CONACHER THEATRE ORGANS
In 1934, five Conacher Theatre Organs were produced and installed at the:
- Regal Cinema Margate: The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Regal Cinema Margate was a 4-manuals/12-ranks plus a Steinway Grand Piano instrument and was opened by Reginald Foort. Tragically the cinema was severely damaged in an air raid in September 1941 and the Theatre Organ was destroyed. Neither the cinema nor the Organ were rebuilt.
- Regal/Odeon Theatre Southampton: The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Regal/Odeon Theatre Southampton was a 4-manuals/13-ranks plus a Steinway Grand Piano instrument and was also opened by Reginald Foort. In 1962, the cinema underwent modernisation and the Organ was removed and broken up.
- Regal/Odeon/Scala Cinema Rotherham: The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Regal/Odeon/Scala Cinema Rotherham was a 3-manuals/9-ranks plus a Steinway Grand Piano instrument and was opened by the organist, Thomas Dando.
Thomas Dando at a Compton Theatre Organ
The cinema was re-named Odeon in 1946 when it was leased to the Rank Organisation. However, the cinema was sold in 1975 and re-named Scala. It eventually closed as a cinema in 1983 and re-opened as a Mecca Bingo Club.
Contributed by Mr. David Ivory
The Theatre Organ was removed from the cinema in 1993 by Audley Minor Pipe Organ Builders and was re-installed in a private home at Alsager in Cheshire. Sadly, I note that the Organ, as of May 2014, was for sale on Ebay.
The Ex-Regal/Odeon Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ
I received recently the following comment from Mr. David Lowe regarding the former Conacher Theatre Organ of the Regal/Odeon/Scala Cinema Rotherham:
David Lowe seated at The Regal/Odeon Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ
Currently The Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ is installed at Audley, near Stoke on Trent, but is for sale. However, there have been no takers as far as I know.
I was involved with the Organ from about 1974, taking part in concerts, and then playing regular organ interludes from 1977.
The driving force behind saving and restoring the Organ was actually the Chief Projectionist, George Emblow, whose brother Jack was the well-known radio broadcasting accordionist. When the orchestra pit was boarded over in 1954 prior to restoration, it was George who persuaded the regional engineer to provide trap doors so the Console could rise once again out of the pit when it had been made playable. The engineer was ‘persuaded’ by being given the klaxon from the Organ’s toy counter!
The Organ was played for organ interludes and pre-show music from 1970 by a number of organists both professional and otherwise – apart from myself these included Charles Randolph and Geoff Stephenson (who also broadcast it I think), Edward Dent and John Longley. I recorded the Organ for the Cinema Organ Society (COS 104) and also broadcast it in 1984 (after the cinema’s closure in September 1983).
The cinema re-opened for Bingo shortly after my recording sessions and the Organ console was placed in the balcony, but not re-connected so the it became unplayable. The Organ was eventually removed in 1993 by Audley Minor Organ Builders and re-installed in Audley.
Mr. Lowe was the house organist at the Bradford Gaumont Cinema between 1967 and 1970 and was the Custodian of the Trocadero Super Cinema Elephant & Castle for some years during its time of installation in Edric Hall, South Bank University. This Organ originally had 4-manuals and 21-ranks, and Mr. Lowe saw it increase to 24-ranks. He said that an extra-rank has been added during its installation at the Troxy Theatre and says that it sounds wonderful!!!
Click here to hear Peter Hayward play the Ex-Regal/Odeon Rotherham Conacher Theatre Organ
- Regal/ABC/Cannon Cinema Kingston-Upon-Hull: The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Regal/ABC/Cannon Cinema Kingston-Upon-Hull was a 4-manuals/22-ranks instrument. I am unable to find any information regarding the addition of a Grand Piano with the Organ. It was designed, and opened, by Reginald Foort in 1934 and the Organ pipes were stored in the space above the proscenium. Unfortunately, the Organ was damaged during the Second World War. The console was removed in 1954 while the remainder of the Organ was removed in 1959 and then broken up. The cinema had been taken over by Associated British Cinemas in 1937 and renamed as the ABC in 1959. In 1989, the cinema was taken over by Cannon, but surrounded by real estate confusion, it was closed and was eventually demolished in 2004.
The Regal/ABC/Cannon Cinema Kingston-Upon-Hull
This photograph was taken by Mr. Peter Church and reproduced here from Wikipedia.org
Regal/ABC/Cannon Cinema Kingston-Upon-Hull was built in 22 weeks and opened in 1933.
Click here to watch a short video on the building of this cinema
- Forum Cinema Coventry: The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Forum Cinema Coventry was a 3-manuals/8-ranks plus a Marshall & Rose Grand Piano instrument. The cinema was built by the Pilpot Cinema Circuit, which consisted of a local group of cinemas, and was opened in November 1934 with Reginald Foort at the Organ, which he had also designed. The cinema remained as part of the Pilpot Cinema Circuit until it was closed in May 1962. At this time, the organ was sold, and removed together with the Grand Piano, and installed at the Northampton Grammar School. The Organ remained at the school until 2006 when it was sold and removed to F.H. Browne & Sons, Organ Builders, Ash near Canterbury where it is believed to be in storage.
The Ex-Forum Cinema Conacher Theatre Organ with Miss Betty Mitchell at the Console
For those readers wishing to learn more about the former Forum Cinema Coventry
Conacher Theatre Organ once it was sold to Northampton Grammar School, please
1935 – THE INSTALLATION OF NINTH & FINAL
CONACHER THEATRE ORGAN
In 1935, THE NINTH AND FINAL Conacher Theatre Organ was installed at the:
- Ritz/Odeon Theatre Southend-on-Sea: The Conacher Theatre Organ of the Ritz/Odeon Theatre Southend-on-Sea was a 4-manuals/12-ranks plus a Steinway Grand Piano instrument. The Organ was played at its opening by Quentin MacLean in February 1935 and remained at the cinema until 1946 when it was moved to the Odeon Theatre Blackpool. The Organ remained in Blackpool until 1969 when it was removed and taken to Hayes, followed by Yeovil. Apparently it is now in Norfolk where it is undergoing restoration.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO PLAY A
CONACHER THEATRE ORGAN?
SIMON GLEDHILL said:
I played the 3/9 Conacher at the Regal/Odeon/Scala Cinema in Rotherham on two occasions. This organ has since been removed and is now in private ownership.
LEN RAWLE said:
The Conacher Company was certainly a fine pipe organ manufacturer. They constructed but a few theatre organs, however for my 21st birthday I asked Ralph Bartlett if he could organise for me to get my hands on one. I was able to play the organ at an event arranged by the Theatre Organ Club at the Forum Cinema Coventry where there was a fine 3-manual 8-rank Conacher Theatre Organ.
The organ was in excellent condition and I found it easy to play. Tonally it was a cross between a Compton and a Christie. The 8 ranks were Diapason, Tibia, a pair of Strings, Flute, a Tuba, Clarinet and Vox Humana.
The Coventry Organ was later installed at a boys’ school but lacked professional attention to detail and thus was not a musical success – it has since been moved elsewhere but I have no direct knowledge of this.***
I’m afraid my one and only time at the Conacher was prior to my interest in recording thus I’m sorry to say I have no recordings I can help you with.
*** For those readers wishing to read more of this organ at Northampton Grammar School, please CLICK HERE.
PAUL KIRNER said:
I’m afraid I haven’t played one myself but have heard a couple “live”. Can’t say I was impressed – they look good on paper (specification) but somehow the different ranks don’t seem to blend with one another as they should do on a unit organ. That said the pipework was a very good quality.
ANDREW GILBERT and DAVID IVORY both said:
I’m afraid that I never got to play one.
I would like to thank those that have contributed comments and photographs to the writing of this piece.