The Camden Theatre, Camden High Street and Crowndale Road, Camden Town
Later - The Camden Hippodrome / The Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre / Nero's / The Music Machine / The Camden Palace / Koko Nightclub
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the former Camden Theatre, today known as Koko - Click to Interact
The building which is today known as the Live Music Venue 'Koko' in Camden Town was originally constructed as a Theatre called the Camden Theatre in 1900. The Theatre was built for the Manager E. G. Saunders who also ran the Coronet in Notting Hill at the time.
Right - A Programme for 'Zaza' at the newly opened Camden Theatre for March the 18th 1901 - See Cast details below.
The Camden Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre Architect W.G.R. Sprague, and was constructed by Walter Wallis at a cost of £50,000. Wallis also constructed the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, the Royal Duchess Theatre in Balham, and the Kennington Theatre, amongst others.
Above - A Programme for 'Zaza' at the newly opened Camden Theatre for March the 18th 1901
The Camden Theatre was Formally Opened by Ellen Terry on Friday the 21st of December 1900, she made a speech wishing the new venture well, and then this was followed by some orchestral pieces. The Theatre was officially opened to the public a few days later on Boxing Day, the 26th of December 1900.
Right - The Camden Theatre in 1901 - From 'London Theatres and Music Halls 1850-1950' by Diana Howard.
The Camden Theatre's auditorium was designed in the Louis Quinze style, and was built on three levels, stalls and two circles, decorated in cream and gold with ruby plush upholstery, and originally had a seating capacity of 2,434. The Theatre's Stage was 75' wide, 60' high and 40' deep.
Left - A programme for 'Babes in the Wood' at the Camden Theatre in 1905.
The ERA reported on the new Camden Theatre in their 22nd of December 1900 edition, along with the sketch shown above, saying:- 'The private view and formal opening of Mr E. G. Saunders' new theatre at Camden-town took place on Friday, when Miss Ellen Terry unveiled the commemoration tablet, which took the form of a raised stone, surmounted by a medallion of herself in the character of Portia (Shown Right).
Right - The Camden Theatre's Commemoration Tablet which is situated in the Theatre's Foyer even to this day - Courtesy Tim Hamper. The inscription reads:- 'Ellen Terry Dedicated this Theatre to the public on the 21st day of December 1900'.
Mr W. G. R. Sprague, the architect of the building, has had much experience in this branch of work, as numerous admirably designed theatres, both in London and the provinces, testify; and his reputation as a theatrical architect will be enhanced by the new and elegant temple of the drama at Camden-town. It is worthy of note that the Camden is the fifteenth theatre in London alone (including Wyndham's) that has been erected from the designs of Mr Sprague...
Above - The Foyer of the Camden Theatre, today known as 'Koko', showing the Ellen Terry Commemoration Tablet behind the Ticket Booth - Courtesy Tim Hamper.
...The style of architecture is the pure Italian Renaissance, and the building is of white stone. The site is quite an ideal one. The new theatre, which at once strikes the visitor as a lofty and commanding edifice, is situated exactly opposite the Cobden Statue, and it has a frontage of 72ft. to High-street, and 160ft. to Crowndale-road. From pavement to roof the height is 60ft., and above this is a handsome copper-covered dome, reaching to an additional altitude of 36ft. A brilliant flambeau on the top of this will make the building conspicuous by night for a considerable distance...
Above - The former Camden Theatre, today known as Koko - Courtesy Tim Hamper.
The frontage to High-street, and 52ft, of that to Crowndale-road, is stonework, the remainder being of red brick, with cement dressing. There is a handsome vestibule (36ft. long by 15ft. wide), and a flight of white marble steps leads to a spacious crush-room. This is decorated with marble fittings, and extends to a length of 45ft., with a width of 2Oft. Immediately above this are the saloon and bar, artistically decorated with silk panels and painted work. It is noteworthy that the corridors connecting the different parts of the house are especially wide and roomy, so that the theatre could be emptied in a few minutes should the necessity arise...
Above - The Foyer of the Camden Theatre, today known as 'Koko' - Courtesy Tim Hamper.
...Very charming and attractive in appearance is the interior, with its scheme of cream and gold colouring and ruby plush upholstering. The whole of the decorations are in the Louis Quinze style. An excellent view of the stage can be obtained from all parts of the house, which is on the two-tier cantilever principle, dress-circle and balcony being on the first tier, and amphitheatre and gallery on the second. The pit is both large and comfortable, as befits an up-to-date playhouse. The gallery will he found very attractive, as, instead of the usual bare boards, padded seats are provided. There are fifteen rows of seats in the gallery, six in the dress-circle, and seven in the balcony. Altogether the new theatre will accommodate some 3,000 people. A special feature has been made of the smoking lounge on the circle level.
Right - A flyer for 'What the Butler Saw' with Lionel Rignold and Ada Blanche at the Camden Theatre in the early 1900s - Courtesy Roland Nedd.
From the pit level to the sunburner in the centre of the roof the height is 48ft. The ceiling round this sunburner is beautifully painted with allegorical figures representing the Hours. All the decorations and upholstery have been supplied by Messrs Waring, of Oxford-street.
The stage extends to a depth of 40ft. and is 75ft. in width. The proscenium opening is 35ft. by 28ft., whilst from floor to grid is 55ft.. It is thus capable of taking any production, however large, and every modern stage appliance has been supplied. The dressing-room accommodation is excellent. Each apartment is fitted with every convenience, and is well ventilated and lighted. The lighting arrangements throughout the building are admirable, both gas and electric light being supplied. The drop-scene, from the skillful brush of Mr Arthur J. Black, represents a classical subject, entitled "A Tribute to the Dramatic Muse." The builder is Mr Walter Wallis, who also erected the Coronet, Notting-hill, the Kennington, the Royal Duchess, Balham, and other theatres.'
'At the formal opening on Friday there was a very large attendance of theatrical and other people interested in the new venture; and Miss Ellen Terry met with a most cordial reception when the drop-scene was raised, revealing the famous actress in the centre of the stage, surrounded by a numerous company of ladies and gentlemen.
Left - A postcard showing the Camden Theatre during the run of 'Our Flat'.
MR E. G. SAUNDERS, the managing director, then came forward, and said it gave him great pleasure to introduce to them Miss Ellen Terry, who had most nobly, and at the greatest possible inconvenience to herself, travelled from Brighton to give the new theatre what was known as a "send-off." He cordially welcomed Miss Terry in the name of all present. They were much obliged to her, not only for her presence, but for her kind wishes and gracious promise to come there and play at a future date. He hoped that for long she would continue to bestow upon them her gracious patronage. The theatre had been erected from the designs of that eminent architect, Mr Sprague, who had been most successful in designing theatres both in London and the country. He (Mr Saunders) believed it would he generally admitted that the Camden was one of the finest theatres in the whole of the United Kingdom. As they could see, it was of great capacity, and built on the most modern lines. In the vestibule would be seen a medallion of Miss Terry though it could not be expected to do complete justice to her expressive features.
Miss ELLEN TERRY, who was received with loud applause, said: Ladies and gentlemen. Here is a chance for me to express in general terms every opinion I have; but don't be alarmed, for as time waits for no man or woman either and as my train is ordered for 1:50 o'clock to take me back to my work at Brighton, I have not time to generalise, and will only say a few words to as it were introduce to you this beautiful theatre, which Mr Sprague, the architect, has built for my friend Mr Saunders for the mutual benefit of himself and the public.
Right - A Poster for the Camden Hippodrome for November 30th 1908 - Courtesy Sue Blagburn and her late father Alfred Wingrove of Merton Park.
That this theatre will prove a benefit to the public is certain from our experience of Mr Saunders's work elsewhere. You have all heard of the Coronet Theatre, so pretty and so bright (as a coronet should be), and so successful. You know what a high standard Mr Saunders has aimed at there, and what good things he has done. For instance, it was entirely owing to his energy and insight that the great success of the Paris Exhibition, Madame Sada Yacco and her Japanese comrades, were seen here first, and that is by no means the only case where the Coronet manager has done pioneer work, aided by his right-hand handy man, Mr Richard Mansell. If there is anything good floating about in the theatrical world, I am sure that it will now settle on Camden-town, as it has been in the habit of doing on Notting-hill. Mr Saunders can also count on the benefit to himself. The public here ought to be very keen playgoers. Their fathers and grandfathers certainly were in the time of Phelps and the Old Sadler's Wells Theatre. Camden-town has been the scene of many fine representations of Shakespeare in the old days. Charles Dickens lived here in your midst; in his early, splendid, struggling days he lived within a stone's throw of this very spot in Bayham-street. He loved the theatre, and was a great playgoer, and it is an interesting reflection to think of the vast change that has occurred since his days in the history of the playhouse, and how it is possible that such a palatial theatre could be erected in what was, in the early forties, a very obscure London suburb. This theatre Mr Saunders offers the public, which they will be attracted by on sight, and they will go on coming when they find out the kind of programme that he is putting before them in the new century. I am sure you will all join with me in wishing the Camden Theatre good luck. The Americans have a saying that "the lucky cat watches," and in Mr Saunders you will have a cat if I may be allowed the expression who will always be alert in the interests of the playgoers of the Camden Theatre. Much of the responsibility, however, must rest with the public. If they want good plays in the coming century they will get good plays the public must choose. If they choose the best, I am very sure that they will get the best in this theatre.
A vote of thanks to Miss Terry for opening the new theatre was carried with acclamation, and the popular actress, who was the recipient of a lovely bouquet, subsequently unveiled the medallion of herself in the entrance hall. Miss Terry quitted the building amid renewed cheers. The proceedings were enlivened by a selection of music played by the orchestra of the theatre.'
The Theatre began life as a playhouse but in 1909 it went over to variety and was renamed the Camden Hippodome. By 1911 the Theatre had begun showing films as part of its variety shows, and in 1913 it became a full time Cinema called the Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre, which was Operated by Biocolour Picture Theatres Ltd from 1928.
Gaumont took over in 1930 but it was closed in April 1940 and wouldn't reopen again until after the war had ended in 1945 when the BBC took over the building as a radio studio.
Right - The Camden Palace in 2004.
The BBC left in 1960 and the Theatre remained dark for a number of years and was the subject of demolition proposals.
However, this didn't happen luckily and in the 1970s it was converted into a nightclub called Nero's. Then in 1979 it was renamed The Music Machine and became a live music venue.
In 1981 the building was renamed The Camden Palace and functioned as a popular music venue and nightclub for many years, but it eventually became quite run down and in the end it lost its Licence and was closed down.
Left - The side elevation of the Camden Palace in 2004.
The Theatre then underwent major refurbishment work in 2004 which included the modernisation of the bars, and the painting of the auditorium in Admiral Red (see photos below). It was reopened as the Live Music Venue Koko in 2004.
Despite all the alterations over the years the Theatre's Auditorium, Stage and FOH areas still remain in pretty much their original form, apart for the reversable alterations made for its current use. This former Theatre would be capable of being returned to Theatrical use should the will be found. The Theatre today is a Grade II Listed Building.
Above - An Artist's Impression of the restored Camden Theatre projected to be started in 2017 - Courtesy Timothy Hamper
In November 2016 I was informed
that as of next year the Theatre is to undergo a full restoration, including
the replacement of the cupello on the Theatre's roof. The Hope and Anchor
at the back of the Theatre is projected to become a boutique hotel at
the same time, and will be a part of the whole complex, including a
restaurant on the roof. The plans are on public display, and with the
You may like to visit Koko's own website here.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Above - Photographs of the former Camden Theatre after its refurbishment and reopening as 'Koko' in 2004 - Courtesy Tim Hamper.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: