THE THEATRE ORGAN

Sidney-Torch-CollageSidney Torch M.B.E. (1908-1990)
Pianist, Theatre Organist, Conductor, Orchestral Arranger and a Composer of Light Music

Click here to hear Sidney Torch play the Theatre Organ

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PART TWO:
BUILDERS OF THE THEATRE ORGANS

THIS PAGE IS WRITTEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH
GLEN TWAMLEY (FRIENDS OF BEER WURLITZER)

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PAGE FOURTEEN:

THE WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN OF
THE GAUMONT STATE SUPER CINEMA KILBURN

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In addition to THE FIRST, THE LAST and THE BIGGEST Wurlitzer Theatre Organ to be exported to the U.K., there were others that did not have superlatives to describe them.   Nonetheless, these Theatre Organs were sensational instruments that, when played, gave hours and hours of pleasure to a great many people.

There was a total number of 99 Wurlitzer Theatre Organs installed in the U.K., and of these instruments, I would like to discuss three final individual Organs:

  • the Gaumont State Kilburn Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, which now sits in the midst of the building, now a church, and is no longer played;

Click here to hear Sidney Torch play The Flying Scotsman at
the Gaumont State Kilburn Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

    • the second, which proudly sat in an East End cinema and holds special significance to me and is now played to much acclaim in a new and welcoming setting; and finally
  • The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Paramount/Odeon Theatre Manchester, which was affectionately known as The Queen.

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THE GAUMONT STATE SUPER CINEMA KILBURN

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The Gaumont State Kilburn Super Cinema was designed by George Coles for Philip, Sydney and Michael Hyams and opened on the 20th December, 1937.  The exterior was built in Art Deco style with a 120-feet high tower inspired by the Empire State Building and covered with cream-coloured ceramic tiles.

gaumont_kilburn1The Exterior of The Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn as it was (Top) & as it is now (Bottom)

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It is interesting to note that the Gaumont State Super Cinema was built on Kilburn High Road, part of the A5, which is itself part of the old Roman Road, Watling Street, that originally connected what is now Canterbury with St. Albans, and which crossed the River Thames at a Ford near Westminster.  The Romans paved this road and extended it in both directions.  The Street was the site in A.D. 60 or 61 where Queen Bodica led the Britons fought the Roman Army at what has come to be known, as The Battle of Watling Street.

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The interior of the Gaumont State Super Cinema was considered to be old-fashioned even at the time of opening and in contrast to the exterior, as it was designed in green Italian Renaissance style.

gaumont_kilburn2The Foyer, The Grand Staircase, The Chandelier (Top) & The Auditorium (Bottom)

Seemingly the foyer was modeled after a similar area in Buckingham Palace including a huge chandelier with 125 bulbs.

FoyerThe Foyer and Chandelier

Paul - State Kilburn CollageLighting of The Foyer

These photographs were taken by Mr. Paul Bland and others may been seen by Clicking Here

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The building included a studio for radio broadcasts in the tower, one of the largest and fully-equipped stages in the U.K., and a large number of dressing rooms to accommodate performers.  Entertainers from all areas of The Arts were to perform on its stage.  The cinema was the largest built in the U.K. with seating in the stalls and balcony for some 4,000 patrons and with a restaurant at the circle level.

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A Victor Silvester (1900-1978) Dance Studio opened in March 1957 in the former waiting space beneath the restaurant.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find out when the Dance Studio closed.

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In November 1975, this restaurant was converted into a Second Screen seating 202 that continued until 1981.  It was re-opened briefly from December 1985, but closed finally in June 1990.  For some part of the Second Screen’s usuage, it was named the Odeon Kilburn.

Entrance to the Second Screen – Odeon Kilburn, 1985-1990

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In January 1980, the Super Cinema was closed and the rear stalls converted into a Ballroom, which itself was later converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club.

Dancing at the StateDuring the days when Dancing took place at the State

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The main cinema closed in September 1980 and became a Top Rank Bingo Club, and later, a Mecca Bingo Clubwhich continued to operate until it closure in August 2007.

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The building remained empty until it was sold to Rauch Ministries in January 2008 and eventually re-opened was a church in July 2010.

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THE WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN

9. smaller with borderThe Console of The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ after restoration

The cinema was equipped with a 4-manual, 16-rank Wurlitzer Theatre Organ that was opened by Sidney Torch.

STATE 1 Sidney Torch red with borderSidney Torch at The Wurlitzer Organ of the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn

Click here to hear Sidney Torch play the Theatre Organ in 1937 and

Click here to hear him play in 1939

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The Organ was designed by Quentin Maclean and was reputed to be the most expensive built.  The cost resulted from the requirement of a number of features not present in other organs.  For example, there were several rare ranks, including the only Wurlitzer Harmonic Flute and 16-foot English Horn extension present in Europe.

Adding to the cost was the special Console, which was of a unique design by George Coles.  The Console is narrower than that of other Consoles since it was required to fit on a 6-foot turntable located at the far right of the orchestral pit.  As a result of its narrowness, a special Howard Seat had to be used to also fit within the turntable.

State Howard CollageThe Console with a Howard Seat (note the turntable that it sits on) and …….

State Ordinary Seat Collage……. The Console with regular stool (and now removed from the turntable) after restoration

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Click here to see and hear Sidney Torch seated at the Howard Seat play

The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn

Note, the Organ rises up and turns at the start of the video

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The placing or sitting of the Console also gave problems for the Organist.  As a result of it being at the extreme right side of the orchestral pit , there was a time lag between the Chambers and the Console.  A loudspeaker was installed in the music rest to allow the organist to have a properly balanced impression of the sounds heard by the audience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Keyboards

Click here to hear Sidney Torch play the Theatre Organ

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Andrew Gilbert at the State Kilburn red.Andrew Gilbert at the Console of The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn

This photograph was taken by Ms Andrea Easton Gilbert

-oOo-Kilburn piano - via Alan AshtonThe piano console of The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn  

This photograph, taken during the 1950s, comes from the collection of Mr. Alan Ashton and appears with permission.

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LIFE AT THE STATE AFTER CINEMA:
MOVING THE THEATRE ORGAN INTO THE AUDITORIUM

In 1960, the rear stalls area of the auditorium under the circle was converted into a Ballroom by the building of a wall across the underside of the circle while the front stalls and the circle continued as a cinema.  At some unknown time, the ballroom was closed and converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club.  In 1975, the former restaurant was converted into a Second Screen.

Gaumont State Bingo Collage

In 1980, the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn was granted Grade II Listing Statuswhich was later upgraded to Grade II*.

The screening of films came to an end in the main auditorium in September 1980 and in the Second Screen, the erstwhile restaurant area, in October 1981.  Film was to return to the smaller screening area in December 1985 when it was reopened as the Odeon Kilburn, but was discontinued once more in June 1990.

Once the front stalls and the circle ceased screening flms, the wall under the circle was removed and the whole of the stalls was converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club.  When the Club opened, it was operated by Top Rank and later by Mecca until August 2007 when the building was closed and offered for sale.

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With the conversion of the auditorium into a Bingo Hall, the Theatre Organ Console was moved from its turntable and placed on a fixed platform just before the stage on the left side adjacent to the organ chambers (hidden from view by the grillwork).  At this time, the grand piano was lost from the original installation.

New placeThe Wurlitzer Theatre Organ in its new position – note the grille to the top of the photograph

While the building functioned as a Bingo Hall, the Theatre Organ was maintained by the London Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society and regular concerts were given to the public.

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In 2008 the building was bought by Ruach Ministries who planned to convert it into a church.  However, It was not until July 2010 that the church finally opened, as it took two years for planning permission to be granted for the building conversion.

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There have been no Organ recitals since the building closed as a Mecca Bingo Club in 2007 and today the Console sits on the platform to the left of the stage where it had been moved to during the conversion of the building into a Bingo Club.  The Console is seen by those who attend services (as I did in 2014) and on Open House London days when the building may be viewed by the general public.

Whether Organ concerts will once again be given here, awaits to be seen.

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Glen - Advert red.

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There is an interesting story associated with The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn:

During the early 1990s, the Organ’s Console disappeared for a while, much to the consternation of its guardians, The ATOS London Chapter who maintained it in working order.  Apparently the Console was taken to Northampton to become part of Turner’s Musical Merry-Go-Round and, if found suitable, the remainder of the instrument would have joined it.

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All was going well and both parties were obviously happy with the progress of the sale and the move until some diligent person noted that since the Gaumont State Super Cinema Kilburn had been granted listed status (Grade II; and later Grade II*), nothing associated with the building could be removed or altered without permission!  And this, therefore, meant that The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ had to remain in place.

Once this was realised, the Console was returned to the State Kilburn and Turners looked elsewhere for a Theatre Organ.  After concluding that The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Granada Theatre Kingston was too small for their needs, the company eventually purchased The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ (3-manuals, 19-ranks), originally installed at the Paramount-Odeon Cinema Newcastle.

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It is of interest that the twin of The Wurlitzer Theatre Organ of the Paramount-Odeon Newcastle, also with 3-manuals, 19-ranks, was originally installed at the Paramount-Odeon Leeds, and is now installed at Thursfordwhere the world’s largest collection of Steam Engines and Organs are housed.  Robert Wolfe is the resident Organist at this venue.

Click here to hear Robert Wolf play this Theatre Organ

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Mr. Paul Bland for his help in the writing of this page and for providing a number of photographs.  I would also like to thank Mr. Alan Ashton for allowing one of his photographs to appear here.

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