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The Hippodrome Theatre, Corner of Station Road and Birchett Road, Aldershot

Aldershot Theatres Index

The Aldershot Hippodrome showing Twice Nightly Billboards - Courtesy Peter Charlton

Above - The Aldershot Hippodrome showing Twice Nightly Billboards - Courtesy Peter Charlton

The Aldershot Hippodrome Theatre's Auditorium in 1913, taken shortly after the Theatre opened - Courtesy Alan Chudley.The Aldershot Hippodrome was situated on the corner of Station Road and Birchett Road and opened on the 3rd of February 1913 with a twice nightly variety show.

The Theatre was built for Clarence Sounes and designed by the well known Theatre Architect, Bertie Crewe.

Right - The Aldershot Hippodrome Theatre's Auditorium in 1913, taken shortly after the Theatre opened - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

The Theatre ran as a Twice Nightly variety house for its entire life but also staged Pantomimes, Circus, Plays and musical comedy.

The Theatre was closed and refurbished in 1953 and then ran under a selection of different managers for less than a decade before it was finally closed and demolished in 1961.

"Reds, Blues, and Full up Finish" by Alan Chudley

An early photograph of the Aldershot Hippodrome from A Programme for 'Babes in the Woods' at the Theatre in 1940 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - An early photograph of the Aldershot Hippodrome from A Programme for 'Babes in the Woods' at the Theatre in 1940 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Poster for 'Let's Go!' A Musical Revue at the Aldershot Hippodrome in November 1923 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.In my boyhood there were no public theatres in Guildford where I lived, the nearest was at Aldershot 10 miles away. There were two theatres there, the Theatre Royal and the Hippodrome.

The Hippodrome stood on the corner of Station Road and Birchett Road about 500 yards from the Theatre Royal; this was built for Clarence Sounes by Bertie Crewe, who had opened the Hippodromes sister theatre, The Empire Kingston Upon Thames in October 1910.

The Hippodrome opened with twice nightly variety on 3rd February 1913, the bill was: John Warren, Chas Karnac & Co, The Four Debutants, Sisters Jerome, Tom Westwall, J.H Wakefield, Duncan & Godfrey, Chas Kitts and Rhoda Windrum. Shows were 6.30 & 8.50. Prices were: Boxes 15/- and 10/- extra seats 2/6, Stalls 1/6, 1/9 booked and early doors. Circle 1/-_early doors and booked 1/3, Pit 6d early doors or booked 9d, Gallery 4d early doors and booked 6d.

Right - A Poster for 'Let's Go!' A Musical Revue at the Aldershot Hippodrome in November 1923 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

The gallery at this time was benched, but when Kingshot Theatres took over the management in 1930, the Gallery was seated and the total seating capacity was reduced to around 1,000. Between Clarence Soune's management and that of Kingshott Theatres the Hippodrome was managed by Jack Gladwin of the Theatre Royal Norwich.

Always a twice-nightly house, the Hippodrome also staged Pantomime, Circus, Plays and musical comedy. This was until June 1953 when Kingshot Theatres closed the Hippodrome. Partly refurbished, it reopened fitfully until about 1960, under several other short-lived managers. The last show was a Repertory production of "Dry Rot." The Hippodrome was demolished in 1961. The local Council was asked for a grant to keep the Theatre open, which they refused. A decade later the same council opened their own Princes Hall, proudly proclaiming that Theatre had returned to Aldershot. The Princes hall albeit very professionally operated is a poor substitute for the Hippodrome which was the best Theatre in a twenty mile radius.

An early postcard depicting the Aldershot Hippodrome

Above - An early postcard depicting the Aldershot Hippodrome

Variety Programme for the Aldershot Hippodrome in 1948 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.The Hippodrome was a good Theatre like the Theatre Royal on a tight site there was Stalls, Pit, Dress Circle, Gallery and a tier of two boxes on each side, with excellent sight lines from all parts except the upper boxes. There were bars on all levels, but in my time the Gallery Bar was disused. The Proscenium opening was 24 feet wide and 30 feet high the stage was 22 feet deep the Grid was 50 feet high with 35 hemp lines and three winches for the lighting battens. There were 8 Dressing rooms, which were a lot better, like most theatres of the Hippodromes ilk. The lighting, in my time, and reinstalled in 1938, were 4 colour footlights, 3 four colour battens, and 4 wing dips. Connected to these were, one of each on both sides, 1 Strand Patten 49 Floodlight and 1 Strand Patten 43 spotlight. There were 3 carbon arc spotlights (Strand patt 42) on the front of the Gallery. The electrical intake was 212 volts DC. The switchboard was a Strand 18 way bracket handle board in 4 colour banks. The footlights and Battens were coloured Red, Blue and two circuits of open white, In variety lighting was very simple, the choices being, A Red Stage, A Blue Stage, The Colours, (that is Red and Blue) or full up finish, in other words the lot.

Right - A Variety Programme for the Aldershot Hippodrome in 1948 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Now for my own experiences with the Hippodrome to where I was taken for the first time to see a variety show just before the war, I was taken again the follow Christmas to see Babes in The Woods. During the war, with my Father earning good money as an engineer, we were taken to West End Theatres. I next went to the Hippodrome for the 1943 - 1944 Christmas pantomime and as I was then 13, I was allowed to go alone. This was the start of almost weekly visits to the Hippodrome and not being content with seeing the shows, when ever possible I would go over to Aldershot on Monday Mornings to see the shows arrive at the two Theatres. Thus I got to know the backstage staff and would often earn a few shillings taking the artistes personal baggage to their digs. After a while I was offered a showman's job looking after the lights on the prompt side of the stage, for a wage of 16/- a week, When I left school I was taken on as assistant Electrician at a salary of £2 a week, later increased to £2.4 shillings a week, there were extra perks, such as extra payment for matinees at Christmas time, the occasional Sunday Concert and private afternoon let, and gratuities from the touring companies and artistes.

The permanent backstage staff was Harry Carter the Stage Manager, replaced by Frank Lloyd on Harry's death in 1946. Freddy Brown the electrician who had been there since the Hippodrome opened, and the fourth member Jack Sole's, nicknamed;"Rough" because of his liking for Rough Beer, he was Harry Carter's Brother in law and the Theatre's Poo-bar. He acted as Dayman, Fireman, Stage door keeper, Boiler stoker, bill poster and when the occasion demanded, the Hippodromes chucker out, for this task he was well equipped as he was a large built man and very fit. I have been eyewitness to Jack collecting a drunken sabultan from the stalls bar, throwing him over his shoulder and dumping him in a taxi outside the stage door. Jack had an eye towards tips and could judge to a nicety what everyone entering the theatre was good for, to those who gave generously, all the blessings of heaven were called forth, to those who gave little he could be very surely.

The auditorium of the Aldershot Hippodrome from a programme for the Theatre in May 1945 - Kindly donated by Pam Prior.The part time stage crew were four stagehands each at £1 a week. Three Fly men again at £1 a week, an electrician looking after the lights in each wing, 16/-_ a week and three lime boys, the head lime was paid £1 a week his subordinates 16/- a week. At this time I was offered £2 six shilling and eight pence a week to act as showman lime boy at the Brighton Hippodrome. The stage Manager said that he would not tour under £8 a week, so it is doubtful if he and the Electrician earnt more then a fiver a week, Jack soles like the real Poo Bar possibly received more than one salary.

Left - The auditorium of the Aldershot Hippodrome from a programme for the Theatre in May 1945 - Kindly donated by Pam Prior.

Working backstage at the Hippodrome was fun, the week started at nine on a Monday morning when the company arrived. Touring shows traveled by rail in those days and were just road hauled from the Station to the Theatre. Generally if the company brought enough tickets at a theatrical reduced rate, an end loading railway wagon known as a Monster would be provided free of charge save for a small fee to have the wagon shunted into the siding at the station.

The fit up would taken around 4 hours and as it was the custom for the traveling stage manager to stand the back stage staff a pint, it was a crime to allow the fit up to carry on until the pubs where Closed.

A programme for the Aldershot Hippodrome Theatre in May 1945 - Kindly donated by Pam Prior.At the Hippodrome we had another part timer to work in the fly's on a Monday Morning, he was Bunny a bus driver who was able to swap his early shifts for a late one; he was paid 10/- for his pains. If there was a straight Variety show the acts would arrive under their own steam, and there was a mark in the centre of the footlights, to the OP of this the acts placed their bands parts as they arrived. The Band calls for our eight-piece Orchestra under Rex Gordon would rehearse the acts in the order that there, Dots, charts and parts were laid down.

Right - A programme for the Aldershot Hippodrome Theatre in May 1945 - Kindly donated by Pam Prior.

Other then the Band Call there would be no rehearsals other then for Pantomimes. The plots would be written on the backs of box office cards of the most prestigious date that the show had played. The part time stage staff was very professional and I never knew a mistake to be made. Talking of Orchestras, The Theatre Royal when playing Variety had a five piece orchestra directed from the piano, it had a lady Drummer, a novelty in those days, their overture was; "Sailor who are you dreaming of tonight" which seemed odd for the home of the British Army.

Then came the evening show, The rest of the week we came in mornings from 9 until 1 for maintenance, which was a very cushy time. Sometimes there would be the odd piece of scenery to be made for the touring show, extra money for that. The snag was at that time; the sale of softwood was strictly controlled, each person was allowed to buy a pounds worth of timber each month and had to sign a register to the effect that you had not brought softwood anywhere else that month, so if you needed say £8 worth of softwood, you would push the handcart to the timber yard with several chorus girls, each legally entitled to purchase pounds worth of softwood.

Treasury was at noon on Saturday in the Mangers office at the back of the Dress circle, each would be called in as befitted his or her rank, you were paid your full salary in cash and handed back to the manager your National Insurance contribution, no one seemed ever to bother with the tax man. The Saturday night get out was paid for by the traveling company usually 10/- per man, and the same number of men as was present on Monday Morning fit-ups, this meant that the part timers had to take it in turns to do the get out. There was also 10/- paid to the guy who helped the touring stage manager at the station, this was the Prerogative of Jack Soles.

rogramme for 'Babes in the Woods' at the Aldershot Hippodrome in 1940 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.Another perk of my own was;" Going On" Sometimes in small parts for which it was not worth while touring someone for, I used to act as a stooge planted in the auditorium for specialist acts, I acted as such for the Magician; "Murray," when he asked for Volunteers from the audience I came upon stage wearing a prop coat loaded with a String of sausages, a pair of Ladies knickers, a bottle of scotch (actually cold tea), and a live Rabbit.

Left - A Programme for 'Babes in the Woods' at the Aldershot Hippodrome in 1940 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

As a volunteer I have stood at a target and had knives thrown at me, I have been whizzed around the stage with a roller skating act. I have gone on as Old father Times in the finale of the revue; "It's all Blarney" and I went on for Harry Tate Junior; Harry Tate senior had died in 1940 and Ronnie, his son, always part of his act, took over his father's act with Al Fuller as his side kick. The sketch was set against a woodland backcloth at half stage, Enter Harry pushing a motor Bike with a large helicopter type propeller attached, this was Harry's bike and he was going around the world on it, but the bike had broken down, enter Al Fuller claiming to be a mechanic set about repairing the said bike, when the bike was on the stage all in pieces, Enter me, AL Fuller said, "Here comes the keeper I must go", ringing a hand bell I yelled out; "In You go, in you go" Harry says to Al Fuller; " I say old boy, you are not up the sausage are you", I push Al off OP and turn to Harry; "You too"' "I say old boy, I am not up the pole, this is my bike, I am going around the world on that" ; "Yes, that's what they all say, in you go" I push Harry off OP, tabs and play out music. All of these were good for an extra quid at the end of the week.

A poster for 'How Saucy!' at the Aldershot Hippodrome in August 1955 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.The staple diet of the Number One variety theatres were the touring revues, The Hippodrome always claimed to present revues to which a child could take its parents, however, with the end of Variety at the Theatre Royal Nude revues started to creep in. It has been said that Nude shows killed Variety, This was not so, if anything it prolonged the variety theatres life by a few years because the patrons of Nude shows would always buy the dearer Stalls seats. We had on some week straight Variety bills; Murray was always popular as was the Carroll Levis Discoveries. Band shows that took up the entire second half were also popular, there was Sid Seymour and his mad haters, Doctor Crock and his crackpots, Macari and his Dutch Serenaders, Joe Loss and his Orchestra, Primo Scala and his musicians and Gloria Gaye and her all girls orchestra.

Right - A poster for 'How Saucy!' at the Aldershot Hippodrome in August 1955 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.

The Hippodrome had its characters like Able, one of the stagehands; we had an act; Gingalee, a very clever magician who never spoke a word on stage and appeared in Chinese costume and very heavy Chinese makeup. He was a careful man; some would say a mean man, not renowned for giving generous tips at the end of the week he did not smoke off stage but as part of his act smoked a clay pipe, he did not buy tobacco for this but used discarded dog ends, seeing this Able doctored a large dog end with flash power and left it where Gingalee was bound to see it; he was onto it like a bird; half way through his act there was an almighty flash, the pipe spilt in two down the seam of the pipe and Cingalee finished his act with tobacco clinging to his make up. These were very happy days for me, which came to an abrupt end when on October 8th 1948 and I was called to National Service, my world changed, gone was the world of Reds, Blues full up finish and greasepaint and I had to join the real world.

The above text was kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.

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