Theatres in Bournemouth, Dorset, England
Also known as the Theatre Royal and Opera House / Twisters
Above - A Google Streetview image of the former Theatre Royal, Bournemouth - Click to Interact.
The Theatre Royal, in Albert Road, Bournemouth was constructed by W. Stanley of Bournemouth and opened on the 7th of December 1882. It was designed by the architects Kemp, Welsh and Pindar, also from Bournemouth, and W. Nightingale, from London. The Theatre took almost a year to build, a long time for the period, and cost the not inconsiderable sum of £10,000 to construct and fit out. The Theatre's stage was reported as being 34' wide by 44'6" deep, with a proscenium opening of 24' in 1910.
Right - A Programme for 'The New Boy' at the Theatre Royal, Bournemouth in 1910.
The ERA reported on the opening of the Theatre in their 9th of December 1882 edition saying: '...The decorations have been executed by Mr W. Bevis, of Bournemouth, from designs and under the direction of Mr R. T.. Sims, of London. The gas arrangements have been carried out by Mr B. G. Thompon, of Bournemouth. The upholstery has been supplied by Messrs Crooin and Son, of Bournemouth, and Mr C. Wadman, of Bath, and Messrs Hitchcock and Co., of London. The act-drop and complete stock scenery, including the set scenes for the opening, are from the brush of Mr G. Collier, of Hull, and assistants.
The general arrangements of the theatre have been carried out under the direction of Mr H. Nash, who has taken the most recently constructed theatres of London and the continent as his model. The stage is fitted with all the latest improvements and conveniences, and with a view to perfect safety from fire and accident, an unlimited supply of water from the water company's main is carried to various parts of the building, which is throughout fitted with Captain Shaw's regulation fire apparatus, ready for immediate use. The staircase and passages to all public parts of the theatre are fireproof, being constructed of concrete, and are all distinct and outside the theatre proper. All the precautions and regulations laid down by the Board of Works, London, for the safety of the public and for the prevention of fire, have in every case been adhered to and carried out.
Above - An early postcard depicting the Lounge and Promenade of the Theatre Royal, Bournemouth
It is a pleasure to be able to state that the entire building was completed without a single accident or mishap of any kind. The doors were opened for the first time on Thursday last, too late for a full report in this week's issue. The initial performance by the German Reed company passed off with the greatest enthusiasm, and was an immense success. Every available seat had been secured more than a week prior to the opening, and the demand and rush for places on the evening would have more than filled the theatre twice over. We congratulate the lessees and the manager, Mr Henry Nash, on the success, and wish the theatre a long and prosperous career.' The ERA, 9th of December 1882.
Above and Below Right - A Programme for 'A Woman's Reason at the Theatre Royal, Bournemouth in the 1890s.
The Theatre opened on the 7th of December 1882 but strangely only a few years later it was converted into Bornemouth's Town Hall in 1887. Five years later however, in 1892 the Theatre was refurbished with fittings from His Majesty's Theatre in London and reopened as a Theatre again. A larger foyer was added in 1909.
In 1962 the Theatre Royal was converted for Cinema use and then later, despite its Grade II Listed status, in 2008 the Theatre was painted pink and converted into a nightclub. Today it is in use as a Comedy Club called Twisters.
Formerly - The Arcade Pavilion / The Grand Pavilion Theatre / The Grand Theatre / Boscombe Hippodrome / Royal Ballrooms / Tiffany's / Academy / Academy 2 / Opera House
Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the former Grand Pavilion Theatre in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle
The O2 Academy in Boscombe, Bournemouth is a music venue today but the building's history goes back over one hundred years. The site started life way back in the late 1800s when it was in use as a venue called the Arcade Pavilion. Here various Music Hall style entertainments would be held including singers, comedians, sketches, and burlesque acts.
Right - The Auditorium Boxes of the former Grand Pavilion Theatre in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.
In May 1895 a new building opened on the site which was designed by the local architects Lawson and Donkin, and built by Archibald Beckett, who had previously been running the Arcade Pavilion. Construction cost some £15,000. The Grand Theatre and Pavilion, as it was now known opened on Monday May the 27th 1895, with a production of a burlesque extravaganza called 'Crusoe the Cruiser', with Sydney Cooper directing and the piece being conducted by one of its composers, Michael Coznelly.
The Theatre was lit by electricity from its opening and could accommodate some 2,000 people. It also housed a church organ, installed at a cost of £1,500 by Beales of Croydon, which contemporary advertisements said 'could be used in conjunction with the orchestra for special effects.'
Early appearances at the Theatre included some of the biggest names of the time including Sarah Berhardt, Charles Wyndham, Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, Charles Hawtrey, Edward Terry, Arthur Bourchier, and Wilson Barrett. The Theatre also produced an annual pantomime at Christmas.
Left - The Auditorium from the Gallery of the former Grand Pavilion Theatre in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.
In 1899 the Theatre had new Lessees and managers, Adria Hall and Robert Ayrton, and was renamed the more simple Boscombe Grand Theatre. In this incarnation it functioned as a Music Hall and was renamed again some years later to the Boscombe Hippodrome.
The Theatre was taken over by the Butterworth family in 1945 and they ran it as a touring Theatre until 1957 when it was converted into a Dance Hall called the Royal Ballrooms. This continued until 1972 when it was leased to Mecca and used as a disco. Mecca were later taken over by Rank and they ran the building as a nightclub called Tiffany's.
In 1982 the Theatre was taken over by The Accademy who also ran it as a Nightclub, which won several awards for 'Best UK Club'. Later this became Accademy 2 and then the Opera House in the 1980s when acts such as Franky Goes to Hollywood and the Sisters of Mercy performed there.
Above - The Auditorium of the former Grand Pavilion Theatre in 1985 - Courtesy Ted Bottle
In 2006 John Butterworth took back the Lease of the Theatre and started a major refurbishment of the building. This took six months and cost £3.5 million. The venue reopened as The Opera House and was used a venue for all kinds of entertainment.
Today the Theatre is known as the 02 Academy and, despite its long and involved history, and its various uses, is still recognisable as a Theatre, and is protected as a Grade II Listed Building. You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.
|The Winter Gardens (Shown Left) at this time had not been rebuilt and was a concert hall with an open platform for Symphony concerts that took place every Thursday and Sunday Night. We did variety shows on the other nights and converted the concert platform into a theatre stage for the purpose. It was hard work we used to haul tracks with curtains and drapes on them and lighting bars with the lamps already fixed to them to the ceiling hand over hand on ropes through holes in the roof and tie them off on girders in the ceiling void. We put this up twice a week and then took it down twice a week. I think even to this day I still have traces of the calluses on my hands that this work caused. The shows were good and presented even under these difficult circumstances to the same standard as they would have been in any number one theatre in the country.|
The lighting board was in a cubby hole underneath the concert platform. From there you peered through a small window and had a wonderful view of the backs of the artistes and the switchboard was out of the ark and consisted of a long row of large leavers. But the lighting changes were as quick and brisk as at any Moss Empire. They had to be otherwise we were all in trouble from that great producer responsible for the shows, Harold Fielding. The only way that some of the lighting changes could be made by the electrician Barry Kemble was to push them with his forehead as well as his arms and legs. He developed a deep furrow in his forehead as a result of this that was still visible even thirty five years after the board had been retired. Above - Right - Bournemouth Pier - From a postcard 1960s
I was the stage manager and worked all the shows dressed in a dinner jacket as was required but I did get a number of complaints about the dry cleaning bills from Harold Fielding because I used to have to re thread greasy wires through winches that pulled the curtains when they came out of their tracks during the performances due to stretching through their continual fitting up and pulling down. The concert platform was high and almost semi circular at the front. With no orchestra pit so we rigged a curtain waist high to the musicians around the front of the stage. During the height of the season the band consisted of twelve plus the musical director and because of the curve on the front of the stage it was difficult for the musicians to follow the beat of the conductor's baton. He used to stand on two beer boxes to give him a bit more height and sometimes stepped backwards and fell off them but they managed somehow.
The season started the first week in June and finished the second week in September. For the early and late part of the season we did variety bills and these were the most enjoyable to me with Legendary tops of the bill such as Arthur Askey, Anne Zeigler and Webster Booth and Billy Cotton and his band. Billy's spot always ended with the band playing "I've got a luvverly buch of cocoa nuts" during which the band and audience pelted each other with balls made of tissues that were held in their round shape by two rubber bands. As you can well imagine this meant that a lot of tissue balls had to be manufactured during a week of twelve performances. Fred Coolbar his manager used to obtain tissues direct from the manufacturers that had been rejected for boxing and we all used to sit in the Winter Gardens Café that was also open to the public during the morning and make these balls and put them in large cardboard boxes. You can imagine the funny looks we got from some of the customers. I never see a box of tissues without thinking of Billy Cotton.
Left - A programme for Russ Conway and Guests appearing in 'The Happy Holiday Show' at the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth in 1965 - Courtesy Carol Faccini.
Ted Ray always came down for a week during the early or late season and we used to have wonderful weeks the entire bill orchestra and stage staff all going to the beach together every day. It was a wonderful family atmosphere. During the sparse first houses Ted would put special gags in to make the band and stage staff laugh much to the dislike of Harold Fielding. My Favourite was about the dog who used to collect for the Railwayman's Orphanage on Waterloo Station. He was a lovely friendly enormous Airedale and had a collecting box strapped to his back and he wandered around the station. Ted used to say 'I came here by British Rail from Waterloo, that station has been modernised you know. That dog that goes around collecting has a new collar.'
Jimmy Edwards was another regular visitor his most important piece of baggage was a travelling cocktail cabinet because Jimmy was a legendary drinker. He would never leave the theatre on Saturday night with anything left in it. This was against his religion and I used to help him finish the contents after the second house on Saturday night. One of Jimmy's gags was. 'As I was coming in through the stage door tonight one of the band asked me if I could play the violin pitzicato. I told him I could play in any condition.' Amongst the support were a number of comedians who were later to become big names and included Norman Vaughan, Ted Rogers, and Reg Varney. There was also a sprinkling of older comics such as Scott Saunders, Billy Russell, and Ossie Morris and we had great nights at a local pub with lock ins after the show.Some older Artistes appeared on the bills who had been legends of the thirties and included Hutch and Turner Layton who were charming cultured men. Hetty King, the famous male impersonator, came every year she was almost eighty then and had a wonderful act. I fixed her up at my digs and she stayed there on every visit. We used to sit up late into the night with bottles of guiness whilst she regaled me with stories about when Music Hall was at its zenith at the turn of the twentieth century.
There were also magnificent continental speciality acts and musical attractions on these bills. I was a very lucky young man to have worked on them. For the main six weeks of the season in July and August we had a static summer show with girl dancers and all the usual production scenes with tops of the Bill such as Dickie Henderson, Hughie Green, and the Beverley Sisters and for three of these weeks the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was on holiday and we did not have to take the settings and lights up and down but did Sunday concerts. Harold Fielding refused to pay me for these Sundays because he said he did not ask me for money back from my salary for the nights off I had when the Symphony Orchestra was on. He seemed to forget the putting up and pulling down but I forgive him and thank him for employing me during those great days.
Right - A programme for Harold Fielding's 'Star-light Roof', with Lance Percival, Ronnie Carroll and Winifred Atwell among others, at the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth in 1963 - Courtesy Carol Faccini.
The last season I did at the Winter Gardens was for Bernard Delfont in 1967 and by this time the theatre had been rebuilt but was still used as home for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and still had the orchestra tiers at the back of the stage. But we no longer had to do the fit ups and take downs. It was a season that was split between two Bill Toppers Frankie Vaughan and the Seekers. We had a cyclorama cloth hung to hide the concert tiers for the show but Frankie Vaughan did not like this because it deadened the sound. The place was always a nightmare with sound problems. He decided to have the back of the stage open to the concert tiers which were painted a dull green. Bill Roberton the director and myself stayed up all night in order to paint them light blue. I did not want to see another paint brush for months after that. One season, when I was at the Pavilion with Bruce Forsyth for George and Alfred Black, Matt Monroe was topping the bill at the Winter Gardens and on the bill was an excellent girl singer who was rather too fond of the bottle. That year there was a high staircase at the back of the stage and her entrance was down this. One night after a little too much sauce she fell arse over tip from top to bottom of this staircase. Needless to say she made her entrance from the side of the stage after that.
It will be a pity too see the Winter Gardens go if the present re development plans go through but unfortunately Bournemouth has too many theatre seats in this day and age of vastly changed holiday habits. I would sadly say goodbye Winter Gardens and thanks for the memories.
Donald Auty 2003.
The Theatre's Trust say in their listing for the Winter Gardens that: - 'n 1999, the local Council invited private developers to put forward proposals for the entire site, retaining the Winter Gardens, but no application was successful. In 2007 demolition consent was granted for the Winter Gardens, and the site cleared in preparation for a new mixed use development, incorporating two new auditoria.' The Theatres Trust.
However, this project never reached fruition and the site is still empty and awaiting an unknown future. There is more on this situation here.
Above - The Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth during the run of 'Can-Can' on the 6th of August 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins
Harold Fielding, the great West End producer, was responsible for the summer shows and I was fortunate to stage manage two of them. The first starred Ken Dodd and Alma Cogan and a number of international specialty acts including Kazbek and Zari an adagio act where the male partner wielded a whip and as well as the spectacular lifts and throws spun his female partner on the thong and appeared to flay her with it. Kazbek was very skilled. To the audience it appeared that the girl was being thrashed but never a slight welt appeared on her body from the whip all the years I worked with them. There were however plenty of injuries on both sides from fights and arguments that constantly erupted off stage. The sadistic masochistic element of the act was also present in real life and I had to break up many a bloody fight.
We had a spectacular cruise scene where a gigantic liner on a wipe track crossed the stage and dissolved into an on deck scene that ended with a storm and the deck pitched and tossed. We also had a tilting mirror that was flown at an angle over the stage for a spectacular ballroom scene and the audience saw an over head image of the dancers as well as that on stage. Unfortunately the mirror was very heavy and it got dropped during the get out and caused a lot of damage to the stage. Harold Fielding was not best pleased.
The second show starred Joan Regan and we had a spectacular water scene based on the war time dam busters incident and the dam used to burst and hundreds of gallons of water used to rush down shoots at the front of the stage. Fortunately for all of us the orchestra pit lift had to be at its lowest level for the water, which was really not in such great quantities as it appeared to be, to circulate through the system. You really saw the same lot of water time and time again. But there was still quite a lot of water.
On the technical dress rehearsal with the orchestra in
the pit the dam duly burst but the circulation system for the water
got blocked and hundreds of gallons of water poured into the orchestra
pit and I have never seen a band depart so quickly not even if the curtain
came down two minutes before the pubs closed.
The safety curtain has to be lowered by law and then raised in the sight of the audience. This usually happens during the interval. One night the orchestra pit was up at its highest level with the band playing the second half opening music. When it was the cue to raise the safety curtain it would not budge, it was as though riveted to the stage. The band busked away for 15 minutes and the comic went out into the audience to keep things going but the safety curtain would not move until John Laurie, the brilliant Scottish resident stage manager, came up with idea of raising the safety curtain by using the orchestra pit lift as a counterweight, and it worked, up came the safety curtain and down went the orchestra to the lowest depths of the pit and the show went on." What will happen if there is a fire?" someone asked John. He answered" You will see the quickest appearance of a band with their false teeth on the floor that has ever happened in ********** theatre history."
The valve operated lighting board could be a problem at times. If a valve blew you could not do a black out until someone dashed under the stage to the valve room and replaced the blown valve. Alec the chief electrician became very proficient at the hundred yard sprint.
George and Alfred Black took over from Harold Fielding as producers of the summer shows in 1964. These brothers were wonderful people and steeped in every aspect of variety. Their father George Black senior had been been managing director of the London Palladium and Moss Empires and had made them the premier theatres in the world. They were affectionately known to all as 'the boys' because of their late father, though both were well over fifty by this time.
The shows had to be top on all through the run I have even known them replace an entire set of costumes during the last week of the season if they had started to look less than fresh and new. They were the best producers I ever worked with. And were not in the least snobbish, you were treated as part of the family as long as you knew your job. One morning we were doing a dress technical rehearsal and I was, in addition to working the prompt corner, changing the gelatine colour filters on the stage lamps because we were short of staff and this meant I was rushing around the stage and the boys were sat in the stalls bursting themselves with laughter and shouting out go on Don we've just put £20 on you to win. This went on for about half an hour until Alf walked up the stage run out steps and said O.K. Don you work one side of the stage I will work the other. You would not find a producer who would or could do that now days.
We did concerts every Sunday with a different bill to that of weekdays with top stars such as Yana Russ Conway Jessie Mathews and Frankie Vaughan. These were lit and presented as top class variety bills even though we only had a three hour band call in the afternoon to do it.
This was the time that the rock and roll groups were on the scene and just starting to come into the Theatres. We had one such group booked in one Sunday who shall be nameless and Alf happened to pop in for a drink just before the first half started and this group had not shown up yet. I had one of the weekday acts standing by to deputise just in case. Alf was in a relaxed and happy mood so I did not want to spoil it for him by telling him of my problems.. He put down his glass in the bar and said "Well Don I suppose I had better say hullo to this bloody group we have to be quite frank I've never heard of them." "Oh," I said, "I think they are out eating somewhere". He seemed to be quite relieved not have to meet them and ordered another pint. Eventually I told him what had happened and the arrangements that I had made, "Be a better bloody show," he said.
During the first house Interval he and I were standing by the stage door having a cigarette when this clapped out old transit van pulled up and a head peered out of the window and said "ere mate is this the Pavilion?" I said yes it was, "Thank god for that" was the reply, "we've been looking for a ******** ballroom." It was the group. Alf looked at me through glazed eyes and quickly retreated to the circle bar. The group were loud and the girls in the audience all screamed and rushed down to the orchestra pit rail and I went up to the back of the circle to cut the sound volume by half. Alf was standing at the back of the circle leaning over the back rail. He put his arm round me and said, "Bye Bye Don see you the last night of the season." And he stuck to his word which was a great pity.
Also by Donald Auty on this site:
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: