THE THEATRE ORGAN

Robert Hope-JonesRobert Hope-Jones (1859-1914) Father of The Theatre Organ

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PART THREE

THE ORGANS & ORGANISTS
of
THE GRANADA THEATRE CIRCUIT

The Faces of SB CollageSidney Bernstein

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PAGE SIX

THE THEATRE ORGAN OF
THE GRANADA THEATRE TOOTING

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New View - Copy - Copy

The Mighty Wurlitzer of the Granada Theatre Tooting, the Flagship Theatre of the Circuit, was considered to have a special sound.  The Theatre opened on 7th September, 1931 and included in the events of the evening was an organ interlude performed by Alex Taylor.

Alex Taylor 2 Tooting with borderOrganist Alex Taylor at The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

The organ had originally been installed at the Majestic Theatre in Sacramento, Ca, in 1924 as a Model H Special of two manual consoles and 10 units of pipes.   At the time of opening of the theatre, the organ consisted of 12 units …. Tibia, Diapason, Flute, Violin Celeste, Vox Humana, Clarinet, Saxophone, Oboe, Kinura, English Horn and Tuba (the original 10 units) and during its installation at Tooting, a Brass Saxophone and English Horn were added together with a new four manual console (See GLOSSARY for definition of terms).  Harold Ramsey also added a second Tibia and a Gamba thereby bringing it to a total of 14 units.  The original two manual console was recycled and added to the Wurlitzer Organ installed later at the Granada Theatre Bedford.

Robinson Cleaver Tooting with borderH. Robinson Cleaver at The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here to hear Mr. Cleaver play The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting

Alex Taylor played regularly at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting until 30th April, 1932.  During his tenure at the theatre, he made a number of radio broadcasts and made several gramophone records for The Decca Record Company, as well as a couple of short films for Pathe.

Alex Taylor made the first recording released to the public of
The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting with the tune, Were You sincere

Other organists who made gramophone records at the organ were Sandy MacPherson and Vic Hammett.

Sandy-MacPherson-Collage1Sandy MacPherson

Click here to see and hear Sandy MacPherson at the BBC Theatre Organ (Compton)

Vic Hammett CollageVic Hammett  
The photograph of the Saga LP (Left) appears with permission of
the photographer, Leo Reynolds

Click here to hear Vic Hammett play the  Baldwin Electronic Organ

For the two weeks between 2nd and 14th May, 1932, a deputy played in Mr. Taylor’s place and was introduced to the audiences as Mr. X.    Alex Taylor returned to the Tooting Organ between 16th May and 4 June, 1932 and during this time it was revealed that Mr. X  was the organist Harold Ramsay who had joined Granada after working for Paramount in the U.S.  Mr. Ramsay returned to play the Tooting Wurlitzer Organ and remained there until 3rd September, 1932, when Alex Taylor returned to play his final term there from 5th September, 1932 until 19th November.  Following this, Harold Ramsey became the resident organist at the theatre and eventually became the Musical Director of Granada Theatres.  While acting in this capacity, he designed the first batch of Granada Special Wurlitzer Organs for installation in the purpose-built theatres beginning with the Granada Theatre Bedford.  Mr. Ramsey also made a number of gramophone recordings for both The Decca Record Company and Parlophone Records.

Harold Ramsay Tooting Sepia with border brownHarold Ramsey at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here to hear Mr. Ramsey  play the Theatre Organ

In 1933, Harold Ramsey oversaw changes to the Tooting Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  These changes included the addition of two further units of pipes, a Gamba and a Tibia, and top manual controlled percussions including the stage Grand Piano.  In May 1936, Harold Ramsey left the Granada Theatre Circuit and joined Union Cinemas.  Mr. Ramsay did return to the Granada Theatre Tooting for a final time between October 1946 and January 1947.

The Return of Harold Ramsay Tooting with borderThe Return of Harold Ramsay to the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Harold Ramsay playing St. Louis Blues

Geoffrey Keith was assistant organist to both Alex Taylor and Harold Ramsay and to other Granada-employed organists when they performed at the theatre.

Guest organists began to make appearances at the Granada Theatre Tooting in 1933.  The first to appear was the Canadian organist, Don Baker who later returned for a second longer appearance that began on 19th February, 1934.  Another guest organist was Leo Webber, an organist from the U.S., who played here during October 1934.

Click here  and  also here to hear Don Baker play the Theatre Organ

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The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting proved to be the most popular of all Circuit Organs for BBC broadcasts.  The organ was also featured on numerous recordings including: the 78 rpm recordings made by Stuart Barrie, Lloyd Thomas, Reginald Dixon and H. Robinson Cleaver; long playing records (L.P.) released by H. Robinson Cleaver, Bryan Rodwell, Jackie Brown, John Madin and Stuart Barrie; and on a 45 rpm-Extended Play (E.P.) recorded by William Davis.

Stuart Barrie playing The Little Shepherd

H. Robinson Cleaver - LPClick here to hear H. Robinson Cleaver play a track from this album

William Davis CollageWilliam Davies’s 45 r.p.m-Extended Play (E.P.) recorded at the Granada Theatre Tooting
and released by Embassy Records
Top Right: William Davis at the ……….
Awaiting permission to show this photograph here

Click on the titles to hear William Davis play Comedian’s Gallop and
The Whistler and His Dog, both tracks from this E.P.

Photo: http://theatreorgans.com/southerncross/radiogram/ukfiles.htm

Lloyd Thomas playing Donkey Serenade on The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting

John Madin TOOTING GRANADA + contrast 2John Madin at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here and here
to hear John Madin play The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting

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A host of other famous organists made broadcasts while playing The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting.  Such performers included Donald Thorne, Dudley Beaven, Harry Farmer, Reginald Porter-Brown and Neville Meale.  Reginald Dixon was also featured as a Guest Star.

Donald Thorne Tooting 2 with borderDonald Thorne at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Donald Thorne Tooting 1 more contrast 2

Donald Thorne at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here to hear Mr. Thorne play The Wurlitzer Organ of
the Granada Theatre Clapham Junction

Dudley Beaven & R. Dixon CollageLeft: Dudley Beaven; Right: Reginald Dixon
These photographs appear here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Dudley Beaven - Wandsworth with borderDudley Beaven at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Clapham Junction
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany
Mr. Beaven was to work on the radio with Sandy MacPherson during the war

Click here to hear Mr. Beaven play The Wurlitzer Organ of
Granada Theatre Clapham Junction

Harry Farmer Tooting with borderHarry Farmer at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Reginald Porter-Brown with border & SepiaReginald Porter-Brown at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here to hear Mr. Reginald Porter-Brown play the BBC Theatre Organ, St. George’s Hall

Neville Meale CollageNeville Meale at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
These photographs appear here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Other organists that were known to have played the Granada Tooting Organ included the assistant and house organists Howard Jennings, Geoffrey Roy, Frank Todd, Reginald Stone, Jack Dowle, Laurence James and T. Francis Nicholson.

Reginald Stone smallerReginald Stone at the Kimball-Wurlitzer Organ at the Fox Theatre Vancouver, B.C.
This photograph appears courtesy of the Puget Sound Organ Society

Lawrence JamesLaurence James at the Kimball-Wurlitzer Organ at the Buckingham Town Hall,
which had been installed at the Metropole Cinema Victoria

Awaiting permission to reproduce this photograph

John Madin was the final solo organist to perform at the organ with Bryan Rodwell and Bernard Worster being retained to accompany variety acts and any other duties deemed necessary.  Sadly, John Madin’s contract was terminated in 1958.  The relative newcomer, John Platford, was contacted by The Granada Theatre Circuit to perform for Special Events once Messrs Rodwell & Worster had left.

RODWELL BRYAN GRANADA TOOTING cropped and contrasted 2Bryan Rodwell at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Bryan RodwellClick here to hear Bryan Rodwell play The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Odeon Leeds
and click here to hear him play the Elka Model A 1000

A series of public concerts were given on The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting in the early 1970.  These concerts were given by guest organists including Reginald Foort, Reginald Dixon and, following his return, from Canada, Harold Ramsay.

Reggie Foort 1971 Tooting 1 c & c 2Reginald Foort at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here to hear Mr. Foort play His New Wonder Organ, the Moller Organ

Click here to hear Mr. Foort play the Moller Organ

and

Click here to hear Mr. Foort play and describe
the features of the BBC Theatre Organ at St. George’s Hall

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The Wurlitzer Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting continued to be employed for BBC Radio broadcasts both for solo programmes and latterly during The Organist Entertains until disaster struck the area causing severe damage to it.  In July 1973, London suffered severe rains and parts of Tooting became flooded.   Once the rains stopped, it was found that the theatre had suffered damage from the storms and that the organ remained under three feet of dirty water.  Unfortunately, as a result of this tragic event, the organ was not played again throughout the remainder of the building’s use as a cinema.

In the early 1970s, as a result of falling patronage to the cinema, Sidney Bernstein had sought permission to have the building demolished to make way for an office block with a smaller cinema in the basement.  However, the local Council refused permission and, after much debate between the interested parties, the building was granted a local council listing in 1971 in order to preserve the building.  The building later received a Grade II* listing in June 1972, which was eventually upgraded to Grade I making it the first cinema to be granted such status.

Despite becoming a listed building, this was not able to save the building as a cinema and the Granada Theatre Tooting closed in November 1973.  The debate over its future continued to rage between the Council and Sidney Bernstein until 1976 when permission for it to be converted into a Granada Social Club was granted.  Bingo was first offered to the public on 14th October, 1976 and continues to do so today.  The club went on to become the most successful in Britain.  In May 1991, the Granada Social Clubs were sold to Gala Bingo, which operates the building today.

Meanwhile the long and difficult task of restoring the Granada Theatre Wurlitzer Organ had began and was to take a number of years.  The restoration was finally completed in early 2007 and to celebrate this achievement, a grand re-opening was held where Len Rawle and Kevin Morgan played it with Doreen Chadwick as a surprise guest organist.  Ms Chadwick had been a circuit-organist as a young woman and mentioned that she had not only not played this organ in over 50 years, but had not seen it during this time.  The evening was said to have been a rousing success and memorable for all of those lucky enough to have been in attendance.

Doreen Chadwick - Tooting contrast 2Doreen Chadwick at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting
This photograph appears here with permission of Mr. Wayne Ivany

Click here to hear Ms Chadwick play the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Gaumont Cinema Manchester

Kevin Morgan & Wurlitzer CollageKevin Morgan at the Wurlitzer Organ of the Royalty Cinema Bowness-on-Windermere
The photographs of Kevin Morgan & of the Wurlitzer appear at The Furness Organ Project 
Top Right: The erstwhile Rex Cinema Stratford  once the home of the restored Wurlitzer Theatre Organ (Bottom Right)

Click here to hear Kevin Morgan play the Wurlitzer Theatre  Organ of
the Royalty Cinema Bowness-on-Windermere

tootingdvdThe DVD was produced by the London & South East Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society

The joy of the restored Granada Theatre Wurlitzer Organ was, however, short lived.  On 20th July, 2007, the area suffered yet another severe rain storm, which overloaded the sewer system.  Unfortunately one of the main sewers burst and brought flooding once more to the cramped underground pipe chambers at the theatre.  Although sump pumps had been fitted and the chambers were heated, the revenges caused by the elements had taken their toll on most of the 80-year old components of the organ including the all-important relay system.  Today, the organ remains in an unplayable state.  Although now safe and complete, a total rebuild will be is necessary before it can be heard again.

Len Rawle TOOTING + contrast 2Len Rawle M.B.E. at the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Granada Theatre Tooting

Click here to listen to Mr. Rawle’s interview on Brockley News, on Radio Brockley,
the Hospital Radio Service of the Royal National Orthopaedic Society

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Mr. Wayne Ivany for providing many of the photographs that appear in this piece and also for providing a number of the facts that form the basis of it.

I would like to thank Mr. Trevor Lee for providing the photographs of the gramophone record of William Davis.

I would also like to thank the  Puget Sound Organ Society for allowing several of their photographs to appear here.

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