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The Odeon, Bondgate, Darlington,was going to become a drop wall triple cinema – IE the original circle looking onto the original proscenium as screen 1 and two mini cinemas in the underhang of the circle (IE in the rear stalls).
A problem arose whereby there would be insufficient clearance (owing to the positioning of the main supporting girder)for the projection from port to screen in the two ‘minis’. The conversion was therefore cancelled.
The ABC(Regal)Northgate had been conspicuous by its absence from a list of proposed conversions of ABC Theatres published in 1976 from which one could deduce that the writing was on the wall for that venue. However, as soon as it became known about the problem with the Odeon (Majestic), the ABC was not only added to that list but was rushed ahead in the queue and was converted in very much the same manner which had been intended for the Odeon (Majestic).
So, had the best laid plans of mice and men gone ahead the Odeon (Majestic) would have seen the ABC off instead of vice versa and, I dare say, would eventually have been further sub divided like most surviving Odeons.
Anyway, it seems very likely that the Vue Complex is finally going to go ahead in Darlington and that surely will spell the end for the Regal/ABC/Cannon/ABC/Odeon, Northgate.
Union Cinemas, who briefly operated the Majestic prior to its purchase by Oscar Deutsch, were taken over by Odeon’s rival company, ABC. Union had plans to open a brand new Ritz Cinema in Darlington but this failed to materialise. A possible reason for this could have been that ABC (who already had the Regal Northgate) were able to cancel the project upon their acquisition of Union. Had it come to fruition and had, in turn, the Majestic been a Union Cinemas outlet upon takeover by ABC then that company would have had the three largest and most modern cinemas in Darlington and it is therefore debatable as to which of those three would have been retained.
The Wallaw, whilst briefly operated by Classic Cinemas, never was renamed ‘Classic’ – see my comment after the Essoldo Blyth article.
The ‘Wallaw’ Cinema was never renamed ‘Classic’ as when, in 1955, the original owner/operator, Walter Lawson, sold the building to ABC, he had a clause inserted in the sale contract stating that the name ‘Wallaw’ was to be retained. ABC did have their triangular Company Logo on the front of house to indicate clearly that whilst the cinema’s name was ‘Wallaw’ it was indeed part of the Associated British Cinemas Circuit.
When ABC leased the building to Arnold Scheckman in 1970 the same conditions applied and when, in turn, he leased it to Classic Cinemas early in 1972 (together with the Apollo Newcastle and the Princes North Shields)they continued to operate it as the ‘Wallaw’. This, by the way, was a few months before the takeover of the Essoldo circuit by Classic Cinemas.
So, ironically, for a brief period in the early 1970’s Classic had two large cinemas in Blyth – but neither were ever to be given the Company Name.
The sad looking Front Of House of the boarded up Kings taken soon after closure.
The Essoldo had a female Chief projectionist who appears in this clip from 1966
I have only just stumbled upon your response; in the past ‘Cinema Treasures’,via the linked e-mail address, would advise me of a reply to a comment only for it to be merely an additional observation added by someone. Ironically,in this instance,they did not bother………..
Anyway, I did indeed manage the ABC Westgate Road, having transferred to Newcastle upon Tyne (initially at the Haymarket Theatre)from the ABC Chester which I managed subsequent to ABC’s disposal of South Shields. I did for a brief period look after the two large Newcastle venues simultaneously.
I would not enjoy working in film exhibition these days as I detest the multiplex format. They may be comfortable and have good sound with digital stereo but are otherwise soulless. In relation to the sound I perhaps should substitute ‘loud’ for ‘good’ and utilise the expression ‘over the top’ to describe the digital stereo. The loudness is often necessary to compensate for bad audience behaviour in the unattended auditoria whilst the digital stereo is perpetual and unrelenting.
I recall with affection the 70mm venues which ABC had in most major cities. 6 track magnetic stereo was used in these situations. The concave screens would vary between 50' and 90' in width whilst the principle of ‘less is more’ was the order of the day in the case of the stereophonic sound. By that I mean that the stereo effect would only be used in scenes where it would best enhance the image on the screen; it was indeed spectacular used in this way.
A handful of wonderful venues exist today (mainly independents) whereby the atmospheric ambiance of the old time cinemas is combined with modern seating, configuration and amenities. The Plaza Stockport, Rex Berkhamstead and the Odeon Leicester Square (probably the last Odeon theatre to use house and screen tabs in addition to retaining its Compton Organ) would perhaps best exemplify the types of theatres to which I refer.
It closed a month after the sly and underhand takeover by that Cannon shower of the ABC Circuit – thereby sparing the ABC York the indignity of having the tatty Cannon signage attached to the building as well as the horrid day titles on the screen and the nasty artwork in the press…….
The Plaza was all on one level although there was a rear section with a steeper rake – but certainly not stepped. It was still open well after February 1974 and whilst I am not 100% certain about when closure finally came, I believe that it was in 1976 or 1977.
The small cinema auditorium with 120 seats opened in
1984 and it was the'baby' of my dear deceased friend,
Brett Childes, who, prior to his long spell at
Sunderland Empire,had been the last manager of the
huge Odeon (ex Blacks' Regal), Sunderland.
The small cinema occupied an area which had formerly
served as rehearsal rooms. I donated a category board
from the Haymarket Theatre, Newcastle among other
materials, to help him to keep opening costs down as
he had to fight a lot of internal opposition to this
cinema ever seeing the light of day.
Anyway, it did pay its way (as did the main Empire
auditorium between live shows) prior to a young
upstart from The Sands Centre, Carlisle taking over
as Chief Executive in 1997. This character took an
immediate dislike to films playing a part in the
Empire’s remit and closed the Empire Studio (the name
of the small cinema) and sold the screen and
projection equipment in the main theatre.
A brilliant move that turned out to be as very soon
after this executive decision was taken the ABC closed
permanently and the Empire would have had the pick of
the major releases for some time to come given that
the multiplex (aka the Empire – bet that causes some
confusion with older people taking their grandchildren
to ‘the pictures’)did not materialise for a number of
The name ‘Cannon’ looked and sounded repugnant and I remember the sinking feeling I experienced when I heard that they had taken us over via ‘the back door’…..
I was manager of ABC Newcastle at the time and we were the last cinema in the country to have the name changed as there was a problem with access from the busy main road.
During the period leading up to this I heard that they were about to go bust and I thought that we may not, after all, have to suffer the indignity of being known as the ‘Cannon’…..sadly, they got through their latest financial catastrophe and we did have to have their nasty cheap signage attached to the building.
What a bunch of unprofessional ‘cheap jacks’ they were!
Re Cinema Treasures' policy of listing cinemas by their final names, it is unfortunate for those which bowed out with that horrible name and the derision and contempt it aroused in ABC Managers and the industry in general………..
The Empire,Sunderland has never been known as the Civic Theatre. It is true that Sunderland Corporation rescued the theatre but the name ‘Empire'was retained.
In Darlington, the ‘Hippodrome’ was taken over by the Town Council and the ‘Town fathers’ , in their ultimate wisdom, had it renamed ‘Civic Theatre’.
I once asked them why they would not reinstate the theatre’s original name as in my – and other people’s – opinion the name ‘Civic’ conjured up an image of a concrete 1960’s edifice rather than the atmospheric Edwardian theatre which it is. Their response was that ‘Hippodrome’ is a ludicrous sounding name – although this view is obviously not held in the major cities of Birmingham and Bristol….
I am sorry to labour the issue of Darlington but I am guessing that the writer has been thinking of that location re theatre renaming…..
Peter Lish (as opposed to Peter MacRae) died a few years ago – just in case there is any confusion. I trust that Peter MacRae is still alive and well.
Peter Lish left the ABC South Shields in July 1980 and I (who had followed him into ABC Sunderland as A/M) took over as Acting Manager, subsequently Manager until I handed over the theatre to Peter MacRae, CEO of Brent Walkers Cinema Division, in May 1981. I knew Peter MacRae from his ABC days when he was Manager at ABC Bradford and it was quite a pleasant hand over.
I remember there was a rather surly Internal Auditor who had managed the old Grimsby Odeon, a venue which Brent Walker very quickly disposed of. I suspect that his dour demeanour may have been exacerbated by Peter MacRae’s statement to his District Engineer, a pleasant, avuncular chap whose name I do not recall,viz:
“I told you that you would find this as an ABC Theatre to be in better condition than the Rank places we took over!”
I felt like saying that they must have been in one hell of a state because very little money had been spent on the ABC South Shields for years – see my article about the Savoy (ABC) re the reasons for this.
Peter did indeed die at an early age a few years ago and I am now the only remaining member of the team at the Haymarket Newcastle where I first met him in the early 1970’s………..
The Essoldo was a 7 day cinema operation until its closure (together with the Essoldos in Shildon and Crook) in 1969. It reopened after a couple of months or so, having been refurbished for the purpose of Bingo.
The Arcadia Cinema closed early in 1963 and became the ‘Arcadia Bingo’. In the 1980’s it was acquired by The Noble Organisation who split the building into a smaller Bingo Hall and an amusement arcade. The impressive main entrance was abandoned and relocated to the side of the building.
It briefly sported the name ‘Essoldo Bingo’(Nobles had taken them over and used the name at certain venues. This must have confused the natives as the original Essoldo was just a few yards away………
I attended a few reunions in Bournemouth which were arranged by my friend and former colleague, Richard Roper.
Many people present were, as you aptly put it, Real ABC, although a number were there purely on the basis of having worked for the Company that simply bore the relaunched name.
Bob Parsons had moved to pastures new by the time I had anything to do with the North West but I knew Gordon Chadwick and Brian Wrathall very well at the A B C ( Gordon’s wife, Joan Chadwick was Bar Manager and had managed a number of A B C theatres including the Empire Stockton and Regal Bridlington) as well as Chuck Walker at the Princess.
Gordon Chadwick had managed the ABC Globe Stockton which was another important and large ABC live venue and, I am pleased to say, is currently undergoing restoration.
I see your point also; I did, however, say that the auditorium of the A B C bore no resemblance to that of the Hippodrome whilst I am aware that much of the shell of the original building was retained.
I am also ex A B C and managed the ABC’s South Shields, Chester, Newcastle upon Tyne (Haymarket and Westgate Road) and Darlington. The latter, like Blackpool, was a partial rebuild (of C J Phipps' Theatre Royal) and much of the old superstructure remained.
Please caption the photo ‘HIPPODROME BLACKPOOL’.
The 1963 A B C auditorium bore no resemblance to this at all. It would be even better if someone with extensive knowledge of the Hippodrome were to compose a separate article about the place and the photo were to be used in conjunction with same.
Firstly, I understand that the final name of a venue is the one used on this site.
M G M was the penultimate name as A B C was reintroduced latterly. It therefore closed with the name by which it was known in its glory days, namely the A B C, which was an extensive rebuild of the old Hippodrome, the auditorium of which is shown at the top of this page.
I never was in the Hippodrome but it would appear, by the photo, that when in use as a cinema, the screen was forward of the theatrical proscenium which is heavily masked by drapery. It seems that screen tabs were not used – unless, that is, they were either out of action or away being cleaned when this photo was taken.
Amazingly, whilst many photos of the Front Of House of the A B C Blackpool exist, few of the very impressive auditorium do; at least they are never made available if there are any. The only one I have seen is within the In House journal for the staff of Associated British Cinemas, A B C News, viz May 1963, when extensive coverage was given to the opening of ‘Europe’s Most Luxurious Theatre’ – as it was billed at that time.
During the lengthy period of the Hippodrome’s reconstruction, hoardings on Church Street advertised that the new theatre would present Number One Stage Shows, TV Shows,Pre- Release film runs and Cinerama presentations. Whilst the latter failed to materialise, the venue did indeed present the very best in Stage, TV and film entertainment until its conversion to a triple screen venue in 1981.
Many A B C Cinemas were converted using the ‘drop wall’ principle – IE the Circle and Front Stalls would be used for the main auditorium whilst 2 ‘minis’ would be constructed within the under hang (Rear Stalls).
As the 2 ‘minis’ at Blackpool did not utilise the Front Stalls, this method of conversion could have been adopted here but,sadly, this was not the case and the famous stage (with revolve) together with the sixty feet wide proscenium, fly tower, Front Stalls and dressing rooms were all sealed off.
The conversion, however, was still carried out in a manner whereby the alterations were reversible and the stage could once again be brought back into use should the fortunes of live shows ever improve (as I think can safely be said applies today). Unfortunately, the people who bought the A B C from ODEON for conversion to ‘The Syndicate’ Nightclub ripped out the entire interior of the building – and, in the process, any realistic hope of the building ever being restored to its former glory. This is very sad, I know, but I am afraid that the hue and cry now being made about the proposed demolition of the building should have taken place before the Night Club owners did their handy work.
Recently, BBC 2 transmitted a one hour documentary about the hey day of Blackpool’s Entertainment Industry, and, I am pleased to say, this included many clips of shows at the A B C Theatre :–
The third segment commences with the opening of the A B C Theatre in 1963.
Tony Hancock took over from Mike and Bernie Winters as compere of the weekly tv variety show at the ABC Theatre, but he was on the wane by this time and did not fare very well – Bruce Forsyth took over from him for a few shows.
I actually think this clip is very funny…………………….
Here is the link to The Beatles live at the ABC Theatre (as it was then) in 1963:–
……..and here is a clip of the British premiÃ¨re of ‘Hell is a City’ at the ABC Apollo (as it still was) in 1960:–
The circle seated 648, not 468.
The Wurlitzer was still in situ when my predecessor, Richard Roper was A/M there.
My former Manager, John McIntosh was A/M there in the early 1960’s when it was still a major live venue; his Manager, George Skelton (whom I followed as Manager at 3 theatres, namely ABC Chester, Haymarket Newcastle and ABC Darlington) transferred to the ABC Globe, Stockton on Tees, an even more important live venue.