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The Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst Street, Birmingham

Formerly - The Tower of Varieties Circus / Tivoli Theatre of Varieties / Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties

Birmingham Index

 A Google Streetview image of the Birmingham Hippodrome - Click to Interact

Above - A Google Streetview image of the Birmingham Hippodrome - Click to Interact

A programme for the Birmingham Hippodrome for the week of November 24, 1930, Courtesy Phil Posner.The Hippodrome Theatre in Hurst Street, Birmingham that is in operation today opened its doors to the public way back in 1925 and has had many alterations and enhancements over the ensuing years. The 1,800 seat Theatre is currently home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet but it also hosts many major touring productions throughout the year. There is more on the current building below but first some more history on the buildings previously occupying the site.

Right - A programme for the Birmingham Hippodrome for the week of November 24, 1930, Courtesy Phil Posner.

Although the present Theatre opened in 1925 it's history goes back further than this as the site it stands on was originally home to a Circus venue called the Tower of Varieties and Circus which opened on Monday the 9th of October 1899. The Tower of Varieties was erected by H. and J. Draysey to the designs of the architect F. W. Lloyd from New Street, Birmingham. The main entrance for this building was on Hurst Street although the bulk of the building was situated behind the City Assembly Rooms in Inge Street and reached by a 114 foot long corridor from the Hurst Street Entrance. The auditorium could accommodate 3,000 people and was decorated in Pompeiian Red with a ceiling of green and terra-cotta, the Circus Ring itself could be flooded for water spectacles much like the Tower Circus at Blackpool which had first opened in 1894.

The Tower of Varieties and Circus opened on Monday the 9th of October 1899 with a Circus show including the Leglere Troupe of acrobats; The Escaladors, who were ladder balancers; Atlas and Vulcana, athletes; Chiyokichi, perpendicular rope walker; Cliffe Berzac, with his boxing pony; and Celesi, a wire performer. The Ring Master was D. R. Roberts, and the orchestra was under the direction of E. Davis. Also on the Bill were comics The Brothers Noel, a clown called Little Valdo, and The Three Martinettis, the Mayos, Edgar and Eugene, and others.

The Tower of Varieties and Circus was not to last long however, as it was reconstructed the following year, in 1900, and converted into a proscenium arched Theatre called the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties, which opened on the 20th of August 1900.

The Tivoli Theatre of Varieties and City Assembly Halls, Birmingham, later the Birmingham Hippodrome - From an early 1900s Postcard.

Above - The Tivoli Theatre of Varieties and City Assembly Halls, Birmingham, later the Birmingham Hippodrome - From an early 1900s Postcard.

The Auditorium and Stage of the Tivoli Theatre, Birmingham / Later the Hippodrome - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.The ERA printed a report on this new Tivoli Theatre in their 18th of August 1900 edition saying: - 'The conversion of the Tower Circus, Hurst-street, Birmingham, into the New Tivoli Theatre of Varieties has been actively employing a large number of work-men for some time past, the interior of the building having been practically gutted, and this week the finishing touches are being put to the work.

Right - The Auditorium and Stage of the Tivoli Theatre, Birmingham / Later the Hippodrome - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon. W C Fields performed here on March 23rd 1901.

There were originally three tiers of seats rising above the ground floor, but one of these has been removed entirely. The auditorium now consists of dress-circle and lounge, fitted with 600 tip-up seats, upholstered in crimson plush; the ground floor containing 40 tip-up seats in the stalls, and at the back of these seating for about 800 people in the pit - these also upholstered in crimson plush. Indeed this material enters very largely into the general scheme of decoration. Then there is a gallery which will seat 800 people, the seating accommodation of the house thus being brought up to the total of 2,600. Beyond this there are five private boxes on each side of the proscenium. The plastique mouldings are heavily enriched with old gold, and the whole appearance of the theatre is exceedingly handsome and in most excellent taste.

The Auditorium from the Stage of the Tivoli Theatre, Birmingham / Later the Hippodrome - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.The stage opening is 38ft. wide, and the stage itself is 36ft. deep, with dressing-rooms on the stage level. The proscenium tableau curtains are of crimson and gold, very rich and ornamental. The entrances and exits are wide and numerous. The fact that the theatre is a corner building, having a frontage into two streets, offers every facility for the solution of the problem of how to deal satisfactorily with two audiences at the same time, one departing and the other waiting to be let in.

Left - The Auditorium from the Stage of the Tivoli Theatre, Birmingham / Later the Hippodrome - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

The theatre is to be run on the lines of two performances each evening, one at seven and one at nine o'clock, but the arrangements of the exits and entrances are such as to avoid any confusion. There will be an orchestra of twenty instrumentalists, and a host of well-known and approved variety talent has been enlisted by the management. The proprietors are the Tivoli Company, Limited, of which Mr T. Barrasford (who is also connected with the Tivoli Theatre, Leeds; the Alhambra Theatre, Hull; and the Palace Theatre, Jarrow) is managing-director, and the manager is Mr Frank Weston. The theatre will open on Monday.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 18th August 1900.

The Tivoli Theatre of Varieties opened on the 20th of August 1900 and would later be renamed the Birmingham Hippodrome, however the Theatre would be completely reconstructed in 1925 (see below).

The Present Birmingham Hippodrome

The Auditorium of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The Auditorium of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

A programme from the Birmingham Hippodrome for the week of November 24, 1930, compliments of Phil PosnerA programme from the Birmingham Hippodrome for the week of November 24, 1930, compliments of Phil PosnerThe old Tivoli Theatre of Varieties and Hippodrome was completely reconstructed in 1925 on much more modern lines, seating some 2,000 people on two levels.

Right - A programme from the Birmingham Hippodrome for the week of November 24, 1930, compliments of Phil Posner, whose father, known as Mickey Lewis, appeared twice on the bill as part of the flash tapdance act, Lewis, Winthrop and White who were touring England from America on the Keith-Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Also appearing that week were famed British comic Wee Georgie Wood, and Gene Sheldon, who decades later appeared on the Disney television show, "Zorro", and of course the great Max Miller.

The new Theatre has had many alterations and enhancements over the years. In 1963 the Theatre's Foyer and main Facade were refurbished and the building's original Moorish Tower, which can be seen below, was demolished. And in 1990 the building was extended when a new building next door to the Theatre was constructed to house the Headquarters and Studios for the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

In 2000 the Theatre was refurbished throughout, including backstage, and a 200 seat Studio Theatre was built at the corner of the building.

The Auditorium and Stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

The Auditorium and Stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted BottleThe Birmingham Hippodrome is currently the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet but is also host to many major touring productions throughout the year.

Right - The Auditorium and Stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

In August 2012 the Theatre's stage was replaced as part of a £1.1 million refurbishment of the Theatre which had to be completed in just a month for the reopening of the Theatre on the 26th of September.

The Auditorium ceiling of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted BottleYou may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.

Left - The Auditorium ceiling of the Birmingham Hippodrome in 1992 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

There is more information on the Birmingham Hippodrome from 'Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties' by Donald Auty below.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.

The Birmingham Hippodrome

From Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties by Donald Auty

The Birmingham Hippodrome - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949

Above - The Birmingham Hippodrome - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949

A variety programme called 'Peek - A - Boo' at the Birmingham Hippodrome in April 1952 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.This was their (Moss Empires) premier midlands date even in the times when they had a number of other theatres in the area. It is big, 2000 seats on two levels, but in the fifties the stage was only thirty feet deep so sometimes it was a tight squeeze with a big show. The entrance went underneath a ballroom and there was a tower over the top of the building. The stage door was on the opposite side of the theatre to what it is now.

Bertie Adams was the manager one of the real old school. He had been manager at the Alhambra in Leicester Square before moving to the Holborn Empire where he was for many years. He came to Birmingham after Holborn was bombed. He would sit in the stalls wearing a carnation during the Monday morning band calls and all the acts would have to come down into the stalls to shake his hand and say good morning.

Right - A variety programme called 'Peek - A - Boo' at the Birmingham Hippodrome in April 1952 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.

A variety programme called 'Peek - A - Boo' at the Birmingham Hippodrome in April 1952 with Morecambe & Wise and Michael Bentine on the bill amongst others - Courtesy Maurice Poole.Whiskey was hard to come by during the war and Bertie used to sit in his office at the theatre until the wee small hours of the morning consuming his black market ration. When he wanted to go to the toilet he used to go to the ladies as the theatre was empty and it was nearer to his office than the gents. Around one o'clock one morning he went into the ladies opened a cubicle door and to his astonishment found an elderly lady in there dead with her knickers around her ankles.

A Variety Poster for the Birmingham Hippodrome - Courtesy David Hampton. He panicked and he had also had a few so he went back to his office and phoned Charlie Henry, Moss Empires head of production who lived in Brighton, and told him what he had found. Charlie said what do you expect me to do, come to Birmingham and pull up her knickers?

Left - A variety programme called 'Peek - A - Boo' at the Birmingham Hippodrome in April 1952 with Morecambe & Wise and Michael Bentine on the bill amongst others - Courtesy Maurice Poole.

When Bertie retired he was succeeded by Wilf May and Barry Hopson was the assistant. After the corporation took over Moss retained the booking for a time and Barry became theatre manager. One morning he was having a tussle over the phone with Ron Swift of Moss Empires head office over a contract. He said to Barry you are an impossible bugger, Barry replied you should know you taught me.

Right - A Variety Poster for the Birmingham Hippodrome - Courtesy David Hampton. The Poster forms part of a display at The Rock Entertainment Emporium in Abbotsbury Road Weymouth.

A variety programme called 'Peek - A - Boo' at the Birmingham Hippodrome in April 1952 with Morecambe & Wise and Michael Bentine on the bill amongst others - Courtesy Maurice Poole.Ernie Clapham the stage manager was a fitness freak and muscle builder he converted part of the under stage area into a makeshift gym where he would pump iron all afternoon when the theatre was locked up and no one was around. During the summer he used to walk around the theatre wearing a singlet. He looked like an advert for the old Health and Efficiency magazine. Not many acts argued with Ernie when he pulled them up for running over their time.

Left - A variety programme called 'Peek - A - Boo' at the Birmingham Hippodrome in April 1952 with Morecambe & Wise and Michael Bentine on the bill amongst others - Courtesy Maurice Poole.

The 14-piece orchestra was under the direction of Arthur Roberts who had immaculate grey hair and was a most charming man.

The theatre, now owned by a trust, is one of the most up to date and successful theatres in the country having had millions of pounds spent on improvements to it including one of the deepest stages in the United Kingdom.

Text from Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties, kindly written for this site by Donald Auty

The Birmingham Hippodrome is currently the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet but is also host to many major touring productions throughout the year. You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.