THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF AN ERA
In 1953, the number of television sets present in family homes in the U.K. rose dramatically. This was a result of the availability of receivers and the lowering of the sales price. Also causing a surge in the sale of television sets was the proposed showing of The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by the BBC on the 2nd June, 1953. Although there were only 2.7 million television set in the country at that time, people packed around them with approximately 20.4 million people watching part of The Coronation that day. Of course not everyone who watched some of the event did so via television: 3,000 people watched at the Royal Festival Hall and others also packed the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square.
Click here to watch the J. Arthur Rank produced film of The Coronation
Click here for a shorter video of The Event
With the continuing increase in sales of television sets to the British public, cinema ticket sales began to decrease. The habit of going out for an evening at the cinema was giving way to staying home and watching television offerings, which once the licence fee was paid, was essentially free.
Cinema ticket sales continued to decline throughout the 1950s and 1960s. With the decline, cinemas began to close from lack of support. One of the first cinemas to close was one of my favourites, the Odeon Theatre Hackney Road, which screened its last film on the 20th May, 1961. This Theatre like many others became a Bingo Hall and would continue as such for an additional fifty-four years, until it finally closed on the 16th June, 2015 with plans for the site to be redeveloped.
During the 1950s, musical tastes also began to change and the Musical Interludes offered at cinemas with the playing of the Theatre Organ also became less popular. Soon Theatre Organs were being removed from cinemas and either sold for installation elsewhere, broken up and used as spare parts or else sold as scrap. The owners of cinemas looked for any cost-cutting scheme available.
THE END OF AN ERA
In 1958, Odeon Theatres now employed only four organists in London. John said that it came as no surprise to him when he and two other Theatre Organists received letters from their employers stating that owing to a policy of rigid economy it is no longer possible to enjoy their services in the West End. He was given three months salary and thanked for his loyalty and service. And thus a period in Theatre Organ history came to an end.
Extracts from Mr. Howlett’s last broadcast for the BBC Light Programme (1958) made from
the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square
Announcement by Mr. Howlett
In Olden Tymes
Announcement by Mr. Howlett
Tell Me I’m not Forgotten
Dance of the Icicles
Radio Announcer informing of the end of the programme followed by Mr. Howlett playing his signature tune – please forgive the poor quality of this recording.
Although John was no longer the Musical Director of West End Theatres and the Resident Organist of the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square, the Musical Interludes offered to the public were to continue at this venue, but now under the direction of Gerald Shaw who held the position until his death in 1974. Mr. Shaw was, to say the least, a character, and was responsible for naming the Theatre Organ of the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square, The Duchess, and also for giving Mr. Howlett the nick-name of The Bishop. John and Mr. Shaw were. and remained. good friends and colleagues throughout their lives.
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.