ABLE SEAMAN JOHN HOWLETT
In June 1941, John was conscripted into the Royal Navy where he was to remain until October 1945. He was to spend a year as a Radar Operator in the South Atlantic. During this time, he was given shore leave to give a few recitals, which included Freetown in Sierra Leone, Brazil and at the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town.
The recital given at Freetown in Sierra Leone took place in June 1942. While his ship had put in to load fresh supplies, John was given the opportunity to play an organ there. By the time he had finished playing, he found that his ship had sailed without him! He learned later that the ship had been torpedoed soon after sailing.
Apparently, on a second occasion, as a result of his being given permission to give a recital while his ship was in port , he again missed its sailing. Sadly, this ship was also torpedoed.
According to his family, John did not speak of his wartime experience. However, it is known that he was aboard another ship when it was torpedoed and sunk in the South Atlantic. Fortunately John was rescued, but there were a number of other seamen who lost their lives during this encounter.
From 1944 until the end of the Second World War, John was stationed in England where he was shore-based and attached to Admiralty Signals at The Radar Station located at Saltdean in Sussex. During this time, he was allowed to accept opportunities to make Radio Broadcasts at a number of Theatre Organs of The Granada Theatre Circuit. John said that he was very content with this arrangement and said that he would have been happy to remain a Leading Seaman for the remainder of his career!
RETURN TO CIVVY STREET
With the end of the war, John returned to his position at Granada Theatres Limited. However, the company was unsure whether to place John as an Organist or as a manager.
John admitted that he was no longer happy to travel the country and would much prefer a position as a Resident Organist at a cinema. Fortunately, Mr. Jimmy Bell offered him this position at the Regal Cinema Wimbledon, which he accepted.
Regal (later Odeon) Cinema Wimbledon
Click here to watch a video about the Regal Cinema Wimbledon
The Regal Cinema Wimbledon opened in 1933 and was built for the County Cinemas. Reginald Foort designed a special console to go with the four-manual 20-rank Conacher Theatre Organ that was installed at the cinema and which he played at the time of opening. This Theatre Organ was billed at this time as the Regal Wonder Organ. By the time John became the Resident Organist here, County Cinemas had been taken over by the Odeon Theatre Chain.
John Howlett seated at The Console of the Conacher Theatre Organ of
the Regal Cinema Wimbledon (1948)
John was the last Resident Organist of the Regal Cinema Wimbledon and said that he enjoyed playing its Theatre Organ and felt that it was the best of all the Conacher Theatre Organs that he played.
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.