THEATRE ORGANIST OF
THE ODEON THEATRE CIRCUIT
In 1948, Gerald Shaw (1911-1974), the Theatre Organist of the Odeon Theatre Swiss Cottage, vacated this position to take up the post of Resident Organist at the newly built Rivoli Cinema in Cairo, Egypt. Interestingly, the Theatre Organ installed at the Rivoli Cinema was the last such instrument produced by The Compton Theatre Organ Company and was the only one installed in The Middle East.
The Rivoli Cinema together with the Odeon Theatre Chain was owned at this time by The Rank Organisation, as Mr. Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941), the founder of Odeon Theatres, had sold the chain to Mr. J. Arthur Rank in 1938.
When Mr. Shaw went to Egypt, John was offered the post of Resident Organist at the Odeon Theatre Swiss Cottage, which he accepted.
The Odeon Swiss Cottage
The Odeon Theatre Swiss Cottage opened in 1937 was one of the original Odeon Theatres that Oscar Deutsch had built for his circuit. It was also one of only nine Odeon Theatres that were installed with a Theatre Organ. Apparently Mr. Deutsch was not fond of the instrument. Theatre Organs were only installed at the Flagship Theatre (see next section), Theatres in seaside towns or where partners in a specific Odeon Theatre requested that one be installed.
The Odeon Theatre Swiss Cottage was equipped with a three-manual eight-rank Compton Theatre Organ, which included a Melotone, a Grand Piano and an illuminated console. The Theatre Organ was played at the time of opening by the Organist, Alfred Richards.
John found the Theatre Organ at this venue to be somewhat powerful, but what he did enjoy was the audience the Theatre attracted. He said that the patrons were, on the whole, more musically-minded than many he had played for in the past. This allowed him to present pieces by Bach, Handel and Tchaikovsky, which had been received less-warmly when offered to others elsewhere in his younger days.
John Howlett playing the Minuet in D Minor by Leopold Mozart (1719-1787) on the Compton Theatre Organ (10 Ranks) owned by Mr. Roy Troughton. This piece was recorded in 1971 and broadcast on the BBC Radio Two programme, The Organist Entertains, in December 1982.
I would like to thank Mr. John Leeming for his invaluable help in the preparation of this piece and for uploading the musical pieces to digital format.
Special thanks are offered to the family of Mr. Howlett, and in particular to Ms Amanda Ratcliffe and Ms Emma Coleman, for providing photographs and information on his life.
I would like to thank Mr. Paul Bland for providing a number of photographs and links.
Many thanks for allowing the reproduction of photographs, drawings and information are also due to: Mr. Gavin Jones of the Black Country Bugle; Mr. Adam Phillips of the Express & Star, Wolverhampton; Ms Emily Randall, Senior Membership Development Officer at the Historical Association, Bournemouth; Mr. Michael Stead, Heritage Team at Bournemouth Library, Bournemouth; Mr. Matthew Lloyd for allowing the drawing of the Putney Palace that is reproduced from his website; and Mr. Nick Smith.
Special thanks are offered to Mr. Anton Stromlund for providing a copy of his playing of a Danish children’s song.