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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Saville Theatre, 135 - 149 Shaftesbury Avenue, Holborn, London

Later - ABC 1 and 2 / Cannon / MGM / Odeon Covent Garden

Redevelopment Plans for the former Saville Theatre in 2017 / 2018

The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in March 2018, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.

Above - The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in March 2018, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.

A programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931 and ran for 239 performances.See this Theatre on Google StreetviewThe Saville Theatre was constructed by Gee, Walker and Slater of 32, James's Street, London, to the designs of the architects T. P. Bennett & Son of 41, Bedford Row, London, who were also responsible for the whole colour scheme, lighting, and furnishings of the Theatre, and worked in consultation with Bertie Crewe.

Right - A programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931 and ran for 239 performances.

The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in April 2014, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.The Theatre opened on the 8th of October 1931 with a production of 'For The Love of Mike' which was a play with music by H. F. Maltby, adapted by Clifford Grey. The cast included Arthur Riscoe, Viola Tree, Bobby Howes, Olga Lindo, and Alfred Drayton.

Left - The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in April 2014, formerly the Saville Theatre.

The Theatre was built on three levels, Stalls, Dress Circle, and Upper Circle, with two boxes and had a seating capacity on opening of 1,229, including 642 in the stalls, 261 in the Dress Circle, 319 in the upper circle, and 8 in the boxes.

The Saville Theatre during the run of the George Gershwin Musical 'Lady Be Good' in 1968, with Lionel Blair and Joe Baker - Courtesy Piers Caunter.However, with standing room included the total capacity could be increased to 1,526. The Stage was 31' 6" Wide by 30' 6" Deep.

Right - The Saville Theatre during the run of the George Gershwin Musical 'Lady Be Good' in 1968, with Lionel Blair and Joe Baker - Courtesy Piers Caunter.

The front of the Theatre was imposing and had a sculptured frieze by Gilbert Bayes running along it for nearly 40 meters, representing 'Drama Through The Ages.' This is still to be seen on the building today and according to the Theatres Trust was described in 1998 as 'perhaps the most significant sculpture of the 1930s on a prominent building.' The Frieze was created in the artist's studio and then taken to the Theatre in sections for fitting to the Theatre's facade. One section of the Frieze was displayed in Burlington House as an exhibit for the Royal Academy in April 1931, before being fitted to the Theatre.

The Saville Theatre under construction in May 1931 - From The Sphere, May 9th 1931.

Above - The Saville Theatre under construction in May 1931 - From The Sphere, May 9th 1931.

The Stage Newspaper reported on the soon to be opened Saville Theatre in their 10th of September 1931 edition saying:- 'Although the first theatre to be built by the architects, Messrs, T. P. Bennett and Son, London's latest theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue is full of original points, striking from the outside and the last word in comfort within. In erecting it the architects have refrained from following any recognised style and also avoided the eccentricity that is apparently a feature of modern theatre building or reconstruction. The exterior approaches severity.

A section of Gilbert Bayes' Frieze on the facade of the Saville Theatre - From The Sphere, May 9th 1931.

Above - A section of Gilbert Bayes' Frieze on the facade of the Saville Theatre - From The Sphere, May 9th 1931.

A Report on the 'Two Ton Window Frame' of the Saville Theatre - From The Derby Telegraph of January 23rd 1931.The red brick walls are relieved by a fine bas relief that runs around the frontage. This beautifully executed and unusual piece of sculpture, the work of Mr. Gilbert Bayes, shows entertainment in procession from the earliest days (see image above). The section devoted to Harlequinade is remarkable in that the artist has chosen to introduce a clown of the circus ring, one-piece baggy suited and conical hatted, instead of the traditional losenged, visored, tighted lover of the Ballet-skirted Columbine who dances with him on the white stone.

Above the metal and glass portico, and somewhat dwarfing it, is a huge arched window that goes to the roof (see press article shown left). At the summit of the walls are interlaced medallions in white.

Left - A Report on the 'Two Ton Window Frame' of the Saville Theatre - From The Derby Telegraph of January 23rd 1931.

The house has a seating capacity of from 1,400 to 1,500 on a stalls level and two tiers. The seats are comfortably upholstered and commodious, every row and its gangways being provided with small electric lights showing distinctly the distinguishing letter. There are no pillars; and, the house narrowing fanways towards the orchestra pit and the proscenium, the audience has a completely uninterrupted view of the stage.

A Topolski Sketch showing a Full House at the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.The roof, which has the effect of being beautifully fluted, slopes towards the stage and is in gently graduated shades of grey and fawn, relieved here and there by touches of deep blue. The walls of the auditorium carry out the same scheme and colouring.

Right - A Topolski Sketch showing a Full House at the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.

There are two boxes, the Royal box being provided with private retiring room and a separate entrance from the street. The general decorative effect is here relieved by rich hangings, curtains on entrance and exit doors being in a note of vivid rich green, a colour that also stands out dominantly from the greys and fawns of the thick pile carpet that covers every passage way and landing in the front of the house. Doors are constructed of heavy richly polished mahogany and other valuable woods, with silver handles.

A Topolski Sketch showing the bar at the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.The managerial offices are cut off by a private door. Retiring rooms are commodious and handsomely appointed, and the housekeeper's sanctum with its own private offices and rows of lockers, denotes thought for the comfort of employees. The bars on each tier level are well furnished, and a novel feature is found in the big saloon that occupies the entire space under the front of the house. This is the first time this arrangement has been made in a theatre.

Left - A Topolski Sketch showing the bar at the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.

The foyer, with three exits to the street, is large enough to prevent any crushing, and although rather low-roofed is as handsomely decorated as any other part of the house, and is illuminated by concealed lighting. This lighting system goes through the auditorium, but open lights on passageways and landings clearly indicate the direction of the part of the building patrons may be looking for. Heating has been carefully attended to, and the engineer can raise or lower the temperature at will according to climatic requirements. The heating is central. The orchestra pit is large, but no attempt has been made to provide for the stunts that are becoming increasingly common. It is intended that the first-class full orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Joseph Tunbridge, who is responsible for some of the music in the opening play, shall provide melody and not mechanical acrobatics. Acoustic properties are exceptionally good.

A Topolski Sketch showing standing room the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.The plain proscenium, with its rich curtains, has a clear opening of thirty-two feet. The stage has a depth of forty. The grid is exceptionally high, but scenery will be worked from the stage on the counterweight system. Twenty-two dressing-rooms are all provided with hot and cold water.

Right - A Topolski Sketch showing standing room the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.

There is an exceptionally large chorus and practice room apart from the actual dressing-rooms. These, like the front of the house, have central heating. All the seats in the house are bookable in advance, those in the upper circle, however, being only available on the actual day of performance. Following the present custom, the Saville is fully equipped for kinematographic performances.

A Topolski Sketch showing a box at the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.The general manager is Mr. Alfred Turner, and the box office is in the hands of Mr. Frank Sleap. Both these gentlemen were long associated with the Winter Garden Theatre, and both have unusually long and sound West End experience. The stage manager is Mr. John Wigley.

Left - A Topolski Sketch showing a box at the Saville Theatre - From an article in The Sketch, May 8th 1940.

The house will open on October 8 with "For the Love of Mike," a "play with tunes," by H. F. Maltby and Clifford Grey, with music by Jack Waller and J. A. Tunbridge, and lyrics by Clifford Grey and Sonny Miller. The cast will include Messrs. Bobbie Howes, Alfred Drayton, Arthur Riscoe, Syti Walker, Michael Cole, Wylie Watson; Misses Viola Tree and Olga Lindo. Prior to the London premiere there will be a run of three weeks in the provinces.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage, September 10th 1931.

The Saville Theatre shortly before it opened - From The Stage, September 10th 1931.

Above - The Saville Theatre shortly before it opened - From The Stage, September 10th 1931.

A scene from the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre - From The Sketch, October 21st 1931.On the day of the Saville Theatre's opening with a production of 'For the Love of Mike' - a scene from which is shown right - the Stage Newspaper printed a short review of the building, in their October 8th 1931 Edition, saying:- 'The stalls bar and saloon lounge adjoining, will please the public, special care has been exercised in their equipment and decoration.

Right - A scene from the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre - From The Sketch, October 21st 1931.

The bar, which has mural paintings by Mr A. R. Thompson, is 18 ft by 54 ft in front of the counters, while the lounge, which is also decorated by the same artist, is 42 ft by 40 ft. There is a sort of shopping arcade in and about the lounge, as in the up-to-date hotels, and it is quite big enough for tea dances or concerts. So comfortable, indeed, are the lounge and the bar at the Saville, that it is to be feared that something more than a warning bell will be necessary to clear them.' - The Stage, 8th of October 1931.

The Foyer of the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931.

Above - The Foyer of the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931.

The Stalls Bar in the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931.

Above - The Stalls Bar in the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931.

A Seating Plan for the Saville Theatre from the pre-computerised days of manual ticketing - Courtesy Martin Clark and Doreen Gould.

Above - A Seating Plan for the Saville Theatre from the pre-computerised days of manual ticketing - Courtesy Martin Clark and Doreen Gould.

The Saloon at the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931.

Above - The Saloon at the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931. When the Theatre opened Tea was served in the Salon of the Saville at each matinee.

Another view of the Saloon at the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931.

Above - Another view of the Saloon at the Saville Theatre on its opening in 1931 - From a programme for the opening production of 'For the Love of Mike' at the Saville Theatre in October 1931. When the Theatre opened Tea was served in the Salon of the Saville at each matinee.

Three Wall Paintings by A. R. Thompson situated in the Bar and Saloon of the Saville Theatre for its opening in 1931 - The Sketch, October 14th 1931.

Above - Three Wall Paintings by A. R. Thompson situated in the Bar and Saloon of the Saville Theatre for its opening in 1931 - The Sketch, October 14th 1931.

A programme for the second production at the Saville Theatre in June 1932, 'Tell Her the Truth.' The opening play at the Saville Theatre on the 8th of October 1931 was 'For the Love of Mike' which ran for 239 performances, and this was then followed by a production of 'Tell Her the Truth' which was, like the first production at the Saville, a play with tunes, this time by R. P. Weston and Bert Lee, adapted from Frederick Isham's 'Nothing But the Truth.' 'Tell Her the Truth' opened in June 1932 and ran for 234 performances.

Right - A programme for the second production at the Saville Theatre in June 1932, 'Tell Her the Truth.' The cast for this production included many from the first production at the Saville including Bobby Howes, Alfred Drayton, Henrietta Watson, and Peter Haddon.

The Theatre was damaged in the Blitz of 1941 during the run of 'Up and Doing' but was soon restored and operating again, and the production reopened afterward to achieve the overall run of 603 performances.The Saville Theatre was damaged in the Blitz of 1941 during the run of 'Up and Doing' which had opened at the Theatre in 1940 (Programme shown left). However, the Theatre was soon repaired, restored, and operating again with the same production of 'Up and Doing' which reopened the Theatre and continued its success, achieving an overall run of some 603 performances.

Left - A Programme for 'Up and Doing' at the Saville Theatre in 1941, the same production of 'Up and Doing' reopened the Theatre after it was repaired and restored, to achieve an overall run of some 603 performances.

A Programme for Ivor Novello's 'Gay's the Word' at the Saville Theatre in February 1951 - Courtesy Michael Jaffe.A Programme for Ivor Novello's 'Gay's the Word' at the Saville Theatre in February 1951 - Courtesy Michael Jaffé.Bernard Delfont took over the Saville Theatre in 1946, putting on 'Here Comes the Boys' in April that year, which starred Jack Hulbert and Bobby Howes, this was reasonably successful, but after this the Theatre had less success for several years until Delfont put on Ivor Novello's 'Gay's the Word' in February 1951 starring Cicely Courtneidge (Programme shown right). This was a big hit and ran for nearly two years.

Right - A Programme for Ivor Novello's 'Gay's the Word' at the Saville Theatre in February 1951 - Courtesy Michael Jaffé.

In 1955 the interior of the Theatre was completely redecorated to the designs of Laurence Irving, and at the same time John Collins created a new mural for the Stalls Bar.

A Tea Set used at the Saville Theatre in its early years - Photograph kindly sent in by Kim Melhuish.

Above - A Tea Set used at the Saville Theatre in its early years - Photograph kindly sent in by Kim Melhuish. When the Theatre opened Tea was served in the Salon of the Saville at each matinee.

The Dancing Years Flyer The Dancing Years Programme Cover Marcel Marceau Flyer Marcel Marceau Programme Cover

Lady Be Good Programme Pickwick Programme A Midsummer Night's Dream Flyer A Midsummer Night's Dream Programme

 

Above - Programmes and Flyers for some productions at the Saville Theatre - Courtesy Martin Clark.

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Above - A Selection of Saville Theatre Programme Covers, some from the Arthur Lloyd Archive, and others Courtesy Martin Clark. Swipe Left or Right, or Click the Arrows and Thumbnails, to see the next programme.

The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in April 2014, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.

Above - The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in April 2014, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.

Programme for 'Over She Goes' with Stanley Lupino which opened at the Saville Theatre in 1936 and ran for 248 performances.The Saville Theatre was quite a successful Theatre during its short life and it's surprising that more wasn't done to stop its eventual demise.

Right - A Programme for 'Over She Goes' with Stanley Lupino which opened at the Saville Theatre in 1936 and ran for 248 performances.

Programme for 'Here Come The Boys' in 1946 when Bernard Delfont had taken over the management of the Saville Theatre.In its later years the Saville was often used as a concert venue when in the 1960s Brian Epstein took over the Theatre and it played host to the likes of The Bee Gees, The Who, Jimmi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Fats Domino, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Chuck Berry, Elton John, and the Beatles, whose 'Hello Goodbye' promo, which is now available on the Beatles Anthology, was filmed at the Saville Theatre on Friday the 10th of November 1967, see video here.

Left - A Programme for 'Here Come The Boys' in 1946 when Bernard Delfont had taken over the management of the Saville Theatre.

A Flyer for Cameron Mackintosh's 'Anything Goes' at the Saville Theatre in 1969 - Courtesy Martin Clark.In 1969 a new Producer, Cameron Mackintosh, in association with David Dein and Guilford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, put on what was to become one of the last productions at the Saville Theatre in its final year of being a live Theatre. The show was a revival of 'Anything Goes' (See Flyer Right and Full Programme Below). However, the production, which starred Marian Montgomery, James Kenney, Michael Segal, Michael Malnick, Linda Gray, Stanley Beard, Valerie Verdon, Janet Mahoney, Bernard Sharpe, Peter Honri, Michael Rowlatt, John Stoddart, David Wheldon Williams, and Malcom Clare, was to be a bit of a disaster for Cameron Mackintosh's first foray into producing as the show closed after only two weeks.

Right - A Flyer for Cameron Mackintosh's 'Anything Goes' at the Saville Theatre in 1969 - Courtesy Martin Clark.

However, as history has proven, Sir Cameron Mackintosh would go onto become one of the world's greatest producers, putting on a string of incredibly successful productions over the ensuing years, and becoming not just a Producer but a Theatre Owner too, and a remarkably caring guardian of the West End Theatres he owns, lavishing vast sums of money and care on restoring and renovating them for future generations. It's a shame he didn't own the Saville Theatre back then as it may not have been subjected to the fate it would soon succumb to.

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Above - A Programme for Cameron Mackintosh's 'Anything Goes' at the Saville Theatre in 1969 - Courtesy Martin Clark. Swipe Left or Right, or Click the Arrows and Thumbnails, to see the whole programme.

The last Play to be performed at the Saville Theatre was 'Enemy' by Robert Maugham. The three hander cast included Dennis Waterman, Tony Selby and Neil Stacy, and the play was directed by Ronald Eyre. The Play, which opened in December 1969, only had a short run as the Theatre had been bought by EMI who planned to convert the Theatre into a twin screen Cinema. You can see the full Programme and Flyer for the final production of 'Enemy' at the Saville Theatre in 1969 below.

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Above - A Programme and Flyer for 'Enemy', the last production at the Saville Theatre before being converted into a Cinema in 1970 - Courtesy Martin Clark. Swipe Left or Right, or Click the Arrows and Thumbnails, to see the whole programme.

The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in April 2014, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.

Above - The Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue, in April 2014, formerly the Saville Theatre - Photo M. L.

Programme for Three's A Family' at the Saville Theatre.The conversion of the Saville Theatre into a Twin Screen Cinema was carried out by William Ryder and Associates, and the new Cinemas, ABC1 and ABC2, which could seat 616 and 581 respectively, opened on the 22nd of December 1970.

Right - A Programme for Three's A Family' at the Saville Theatre.

Programme for 'An Evening With Maurice Chevalier' which was on at the Saville Theatre for a limited season in 1962.The conversion meant that the stage was converted too, for offices, and nowadays internally the original architecture and decoration are nowhere to be seen.

Left - A Programme for 'An Evening With Maurice Chevalier' which was on at the Saville Theatre for a limited season in 1962.

The new Cinemas however, were not that successful and when the building was taken over in 2001 by Odeon, along with ABC, the Company, the Theatre was renovated and split again, this time into four screens, and reopened as the Odeon Covent Garden, despite the fact that it's not really in Covent Garden at all.

You may like to visit the Odeon, Covent Garden's own website here.

A Wide Angle Lense shot of the Rear Elevation of the former Saville Theatre in March 2018 - Photo M.L.

Above - A Wide Angle Lense shot of the Rear Elevation of the former Saville Theatre in March 2018 - Photo M.L. The tall and narrow former Scenery Entrance can be seen at centre of the side elevation of the building. The former dressing room windows, and the former Stage Door, and Upper Circle and Stalls Exits can be seen on the rear elevation.

The Rear Elevation of the former Saville Theatre in March 2018 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Rear Elevation of the former Saville Theatre in March 2018 - Photo M.L.

The Side Elevation of the former Saville Theatre in March 2018 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Side Elevation of the former Saville Theatre in March 2018 - Photo M.L.

Redevelopment Plans for the former Saville Theatre in 2017/18

The original auditorium and stage of the Saville Theatre when it first opened in 1931.In December 2017 a consultation on plans to redevelop the former Saville Theatre into an Hotel and small Cinema complex was held at the Thai Square Restaurant in Covent Garden, opposite the former Theatre, by Haim Danous, founder of the Thai Square Restaurant Group, and owner of the Theatre today. Danous's latest plans for the building, which have been scaled back several times over the preceding months, are to convert the Theatre by adding a two storey roof extension with a roof top bar and roof plant above the existing parapet of the building, to create a 94 room Hotel with ancillary restaurant, bar and spa, and to provide four small Cinema Screens in a new basement level seating 96, 82, 47, and 47 respectively.

Right - The original auditorium and stage of the Saville Theatre when it first opened in 1931.

If this pre-application gets to the actual planning application stage then a number of bodies who work to preserve such Grade II Listed Buildings, especially former Theatre buildings, will have much to think about I'm sure. Personally I would much rather see the building returned to its former use as a West End Theatre as, although internally it has been altered beyond recognition, with the will and finance it could be restored to Theatrical use again as the building has not lost any of its dimensions or footprint and the stage house and original auditorium could still be rebuilt and reinstated. The change of use to an Hotel would put the final nail in the coffin for any future theatrical use for the building, and the proposed very small basement cinemas would likely be unsuccessful and soon converted to other uses for the Hotel.

T. P. Bennett & Son, architects, and Bertie Crewe, consulting architect, 1930s stalls level plan for the Saville Theatre.

Above - T. P. Bennett & Son, architects, and Bertie Crewe, consulting architect, 1930s stalls level plan for the Saville Theatre.

A 1930's Street Level Plan for the former Saville Theatre.

Above - A 1930 Street Level Plan for the former Saville Theatre.

It's worth noting that Haim Danous's first plans for the building in May 2017 included a 9 storey roof extension with a 128 room Hotel and provision for a flexible theatre space. Although the theatre space is to be applauded the 9 storey roof extension would have completely destroyed the look of the former Theatre.

The Theatres Trust response to this proposal can be read here.

The building is currently in use as an Odeon Cinema complex, you may like to visit the Odeon, Covent Garden's own website here.

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