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The Palace Theatre, Oxford Street, Manchester

Formerly - The Manchester Palace of Varieties

Manchester Index

The Palace Theatre, Oxford Street, Manchester - From an early Postcard.

Above - The Palace Theatre, Oxford Street, Manchester - From an early Postcard.


The auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Manchester in 1978 - Photo Courtesy Ted Bottle.The Palace Theatre was built as the Manchester Palace of Varieties and designed by Alfred Darbyshire & F B Smith, opening in 1891.

The Theatre was redecorated and altered in 1896 by the renowned Theatre architect Frank Matcham.

Programme for the Palace Theatre, Manchester - Courtesy Peter Charlton.In 1913 the auditorium was reconstructed by Bertie Crewe and in 1953 the Theatre was altered and the exterior was refaced.

Right - The auditorium of the Palace Theatre, Manchester in 1978 - Photo Courtesy Ted Bottle.

In 1979 the Theatre was threatened with closure, along with the Opera House but the Theatre was instead chosen as Manchester's touring house of the future and extensively refurbished. Raymond Slater bought the Theatre from Moss Empires, and formed the Manchester Palace Theatre Trust who also bought some land and office buildings to the rear of the Theatre which enabled them to enlarge the stage by some twenty feet.

Left - Programme for the Palace Theatre, Manchester - Courtesy Peter Charlton.

The Fly tower was raised by 12 feet at the same time, and the orchestra pit was enlarged so that it can now accommodate 110 musicians. The dressing rooms were also enlarged and modernised at the same time and the first computerised box office system in Europe was installed in the Theatre. The refurbishment work was carried out by Smith & Way.

The auditorium is built on three levels, Stalls, and two Balconys with a capacity of 2000, and the Theatre is Grade II listed.

The Palace Theatre is currently run by the Ambassador Theatre Group and you may like to visit their own Website for the Theatre here.



From Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties


Donald Auty

This is a magnificent 2000 seater theatre again a Matcham house. When it opened in the early years of the twentieth century there was a problem getting a liquor licence for the bars for a number of years and it was a dry variety theatre. This affected the business quite a bit until a licence was eventually obtained.

The Palace Theatre, Manchester - From a period Postcard.

Above - The Palace Theatre, Manchester - From a period Postcard.

The Coventry HippodromeIt was independently owned until Moss Empires took it over in the early fifties although they had booked it for many years. It was the second important theatre after the London Palladium and in addition to variety bills and musicals it staged spectacular Spring and Autumn revues presented by Sam Newsome who owned the Coventry Hippodrome (Shown Right) and was also a director of Moss Empires. I had the privilege of managing a number of these.

It was the only theatre on the circuit that had a stage director Bert Traylor who came down from the Edinburgh Empire after it closed and a stage manager Geoff Milne. The electrician in the early sixties was Gill Binks who only died a short time ago. He operated one of the first strand consul switch boards to be manufactured and it was situated on a perch above the prompt corner. It was well past its prime in the early sixties and spare parts were difficult to obtain. Gill used to make it work when it was playing up by giving it hefty kicks.

Tim Tillson was transferred from Nottingham when Moss took over as manager. The years at Manchester mellowed him and he became quite pleasant before he retired.

The Palace Theatre, Manchester - From a postcardBert Trayler the stage director and myself did not have the happiest of relationships with the equine species at this theatre. Any Cinderella pantomime that I was connected with at this theatre had ponies in it that crapped all over this stage, more than any other in the country.

Left - The Palace Theatre, Manchester - From a postcard

I went in with a tour of Chu Chin Chow in 1958 and decided that a donkey on stage would give extra panache to the market scene. Teddy Tingling who was on the stage staff also provided ponies for the Tom Arnold pantomimes so I hired a donkey from him for the week. There used to be double doors on the side of the stage where the dressing rooms now are that led into a passage. Teddy brought the Donkey down to the theatre on the Monday night and we put a ramp by the double doors to bring him down on stage. He got half way down splayed his feet and refused to move, he-hawing at the top of his voice. One of the quiet musical numbers from the show was being performed at the time. It is needless to say that I was not at the top of the popularity league with the cast that night.

Programme for 'Autumn Crocus' at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.In one of the Spring Shows starring Beryl Read and Jimmy Edwards they both did a sketch that featured Tunis the horse. Tunis used to get sexually excited when he was standing next to Beryl and showed it. Whilst Wally his trainer and myself bellowed put it away Tunis from the wings. Beryl would then come off stage at the end of the sketch and say to me I am not going on again if that f****** horse does that . The horse sketch was in the early second half of the show and Curries Waltzing Water Fountains closed the first half of the show. These were struck during the interval and Tunis was brought in on the opposite side of the stage through the double doors and led over to the other side of the of the stage to the prompt corner whilst this was happening. I kept a box of lump sugar for him in the prompt corner. One night he decided he could not wait for his sugar and galloped across the stage to me, sending stage hands scenery and water pipes flying. We had to lengthen the interval by ten minutes in order to mop up the ensuing flood. I was again not top of the popularity stakes.

Right - Programme for 'Autumn Crocus' at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.

There were a number of musical directors at the Palace during the fifties who presided over an excellent 16-piece orchestra. One of them had a peculiar time beat with his baton and we used to say he looked as though he was knitting fog. If an act came along with difficult music he would always retire to his sick bed with what we all called diplomatic influenza.

The Palace is one of the most successful theatres in the country and now owned by Clear Channel Television. It went through a period in the seventies when it looked as though it was going to go but it survived. Long may it do so.

Text written for this site by Donald Auty.

Also by Donald Auty on this site:
A Stage Struck Man - A profile of Donald Auty.
Those Variety days
Pantomime in the 1940s 1950s
Pantomime economics of 50 years ago
Summer at the Winter Gardens and Pavilion Bournemouth 1961- 67
Working Newcastle's Palace Theatre in the 1950s
Bridlington Summer 1963
Twighlight of the Touring Review
Blackpool Wonderful Blackpool
Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties