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Theatres in Peterborough

Introduction - Hippodrome Theatre / Palladium / Palace - Embassy Theatre - ABC - Broadway Theatre

 

The majority of the Programmes, Pictures, and press material on this page form part of the archive of Judy Stubley who before she was married, was Judy Bancroft, the youngest child of Jack Bancroft who had the Embassy Theatre built, and managed it for many years until he retired to the Isle of Man and sold the Embassy to ABC. Judy has very kindly copied much of this family archive material and sent it along to be included in this website.

The Hippodrome Theatre, Peterborough

Later - The Palladium / Palace / Embassy / ABC

The site of the Peterborough Hippodrome Theatre in 2009 - Courtesy Tony Dent.

Above - The site of the Peterborough Hippodrome Theatre in 2009, part of the later Embassy Theatre is visible to the left of the image - Courtesy Tony Dent

Changing Peterborough - NO. 7 BROADWAY
Northants. Evening Telegraph. Wed., July 27, 1955

The Hippodrome, Peterborough - 1919For the latest pairing of pictures, old and new, to illustrate the changing face of Peterborough, we chose as the subject a part of Broadway only a few yards from our own Newspaper Offices.

From way back In our photographic files we took a picture of a building which played an eminent role in the city's entertainment history.

When the photograph (right) was taken, about 1919, the buildIng was the Hippodrome, built in 1907, as the city's second theatre. Later it became, successively, the Palladium and the Palace, before in 1936 it was demolished to make way for the massive, modern Embassy.

Our up-to-date picture (below) shows the Embassy and the equally modern structure of Reed's Garage which also occupies part of the same site. The two buildings, brought into use in 1937, have done more than anything else to alter the appearance of Broadway.

Older residents retain happy memories of the entertainment they enjoyed under the corrugated iron roof of the old Hippodrome.

 

The EmbassyTheatre, Peterborough Within a year of its opening, it was in the ownership of the famous Fred Karno. (Some People recall that on the nigtht he took over a heavy hailstorm caused such a noise on the roof that the Performance had to be stopped).

Some of the most famous of the old music hall troupers and theatrical stars graced the boards of the old Hippodrome, among them Charles Chaplin and Marie Lloyd.

The site of the Peterborough Kinema in 2009 - Courtesy Tony DentWhen the Bancroft family took it over In the early twenties, they renamed it the Palace and competed with the Broadway Kinema, (Site shown Right) across the street by giving Patrons a full film programme, two variety acts, a house orchestra and locally produced newsreels. In 1929 the Palace showed a one reel "talkie" film - the first in Peterborough.

Right - The site of the Peterborough Kinema in 2009 - Courtesy Tony Dent.

Above Text from the Northants. Evening Telegraph. Wed., July 27, 1955 - Courtesy Judy Stubley.

Sadly on the 25th of January 2009 a major fire broke out in the Theatre and it has been closed ever since.

For information on the Broadway Theatre click here.

 

The Embassy Theatre

Formerly - The Hippodrome / Palladium / Palace - Later - ABC

The Opening performance Souvenir Programme, November 1st 1937

INTRODUCTION

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

The Embassy Theatre Opening performance Souvenir ProgrammeIt is exactly twelve years since I came to Peterborough to manage the Palace Cinema and during that time I have tried to please you as patrons and to make your leisure hours as pleasant as possible.

During these twelve years I have gained much valuable experience from your constructive criticisms. These criticisms, which are so valuable to progress, together with the sincere encouragement from so many of you who are now my friends have helped to bring to life what was once but a dream but is now a fact - THE EMBASSY THEATRE, Peterborough.

I am proud indeed to welcome you here to-night to see opened the doors of a Theatre which I feel to be worthy of you all, and of Peterborough,

I shall endeavour with your help to offer you only the highest standard of entertainment that the Theatre can produce.

My company offer you the best possible luxury and comfort in this their new Theatre and the way is now open for you in entertainment on a scale never before attempted in Peterborough.

We do however need your co-operation and if you on your part continue to give us the wonderful support with which you have favoured us in the past, the Embassy Theatre will become the centre of Theatrical Entertainment for the whole of the Eastern Counties and a valuable asset to the City.

Always at your service, JACK S. BANCROFT.

 

The Embassy Theatre in 2009, now a branch of Edwards, and also housing branches of O'Neils, Flairs & the Reflex night club - Courtesy Tony Dent.

Above - The Embassy Theatre in 2009, now a branch of Edwards, and also housing branches of O'Neils, Flairs & the Reflex night club - Courtesy Tony Dent.

 

THE STRUCTURE.

Embassy Theatre flyer - Courtesy Judy Stubley.The erect ion of the Embassy on a site belonging to the Corporation and situated in the centre of the town, has given Peterborough and the Eastern Counties a Theatre ranking in design and construction with any in the country.

Simplicity and dignity were the guiding principles of the Architect, Mr. David E. Nye, of London, in designing the elevations which were carefully discussed with the local planning authorities from whom much help was experienced.

In order to harmonise with its environs the Theatre has been built of local Fletton Bricks of which nearly one million have been used. Stone has been used by the Architect to emphasise the main lines of the plan.

In order to plan the greatest number of seats and at the same time make provision for the most modern of stages, it was found necessary to site the stage and dressing rooms with its Fly Galleries at the circular end of the site, and, instead of attempting to disguise the usually ugly scenery fly's loft, the Architect has boldly incorporated this into his design of the elevations.

Right - Embassy Theatre flyer - Courtesy Judy Stubley.

The main entrance with its three tiered canopy advertising the programmes, is opposite the public Library and opens into a spacious vestibule paved in multicolour marble and containing the various box offices and cloaks counter. To avoid draught and give a sense of warmth when entering the Theatre concealed heating panels have been incorporated in the marble floor.

The wide main staircase leading from the vestibule to the large balcony foyer, which is furnished so that Patrons can wait and meet their friends. Opening off the Balcony Foyer is a spacious Cafe, Public Telephone and the administrative offices.

 

Laurel and Hardy arriving at Peterborough North Station before performing at the Embassy Theatre - Press Cutting from the Evening Telegraph, 1952.Three large lounge bars have been provided for patrons, in the stalls, in the Balcony, and in the rear circle. Special attention has been paid to the sight lines that a clear and uninterrupted view may be obtained from every seat without eye strain from all parts of the auditorium.

The decorations have been designed especially to give a sense of comfort and restfulness; they are gay and yet restrained, and together with the brilliant though soft lighting create an atmosphere of pleasureable anticipation.

Trunking concealed behind the ceilings and in the walls delivers washed air raised to the correct temperature through decorative grilles to every part of the building. Over one million cubic feet of washed and warmed air is pumped into and extracted from the Theatre every hour. The most up-to-date automatically. fired boilers situated in the basement provide heat to huge copper boosters which warm the air after it has been washed and filtered in the plenurn chamber situated on the mezzanine floor. Electric motors totalling. nearly fifty horse power provide the necessary motive power to the intake and extract fans.

All the materials used in tile erection of the Theatre are fire resisting and are of concrete, brick and steel, and the planning and distribution of the exits to the various parts ensure that the Theatre can be emptied in under 2 minutes. In addition the latest form of fire fighting equipment has been installed and approved by the Home Office, the County Council and the City Council.

 

Left - Laurel and Hardy arriving at Peterborough North Station before performing at the Embassy Theatre - Press Cutting from the Evening Telegraph, 1952.

 

THE STAGE AS IT WAS AND AS IT IS.

By J. HIGSON.

A photograph taken on a Works Outing for the staff of the scenery firm 'Loveday & Higson.' Jack Higson is centre with the beard and Ted Loveday is to his left. - Courtesy Ted Loveday, Managing Director of Brunskill & Loveday LTD, the son of Ted Loveday in the picture.The technical side of theatrical production presents so many features of interest it is difficult to convey in a brief space any idea of its complex nature. After nearly fifty years of direct contact with it, it presents almost as many problems as it did on my first introduction. Its nature has changed considerably during that period and many methods employed in 1887 are now obsolete.

Right - A photograph taken on a Works Outing for the staff of the scenery firm 'Loveday & Higson.' Jack Higson is centre with the beard and Ted Loveday is to his left. - Courtesy Ted Loveday, Managing Director of Brunskill & Loveday LTD, the son of Ted Loveday in the picture.

Scenery no longer disappears through the stage but is hoisted above and settings which were heavy and cumbersome to handle in those days are now dealt with by rolling and revolving stages. Still I regret the passing of the old system which I regard as being of greater interest to the stage mechanic, scenic changes which were achieved by sheer mechanical ingenuity are now dealt with in bulk by mechanical means, really mass production methods applied to the theatre.Still, much time, labour and expense is saved in this way and in this age of speed the theatre does not lag behind.

Imagination which is the life blood of the theatre is not confined to the author or the producer of the play, it must be possessed by everyone operating behind the curtain from the principal artiste downwards.

It is this quality which attracts and holds those possessed of it to the theatre and without which few, if any, survive their introduction.

PERSONALITIES THAT HAVE ASSISTED IN THE BUILDING
OF THE EMBASSY.

Right - The Duchess of Glocester sees 'Carousel' at the Embassy Theatre Peterborough - Date unknown.J. Higson, Esq., popularly known as "Jack" Higson, has been responsible for the design of the stage and its attendent equipment.

He started his career at the age of 11 years as a callboy and eventually toured the country as stage carpenter with drama and pantomime He was for three years master carpenter at the Princess's Theatre, Glasgow where 32 Pantomimes were produced in 32 consecutive years. Then followed two years at the London Coliseum which at that time was producing spectacular variety and then for 12 years at the London Hippodrome. Mr. Higson was responsible for taking the Hippodrome revue to the Follies Bergere, Paris. From the London Hippodrome, Mr. Higson went to the Prince of Wales Theatre for four years and then joined C. B. Cochran's organisation and took up a resident job. Since then, Mr. Higson. has been the technical consultant to Mr. C. B. Cochran for all his stage productions and was responsible for taking "THIS YEAR OF GRACE" with Noel Coward. "BITTERSWEET" with Evelyn Laye and "WAKEUP AND DREAM" with Jack Buchanan and Jessie Mathews to New York.

Jack Higson is at present resident at the Haymarket Theatre where the stage mechanism is so perfect and the traditional atmosphere of the best days of the theatre is so carefully preserved.

Altogether this represents to date, 48 years of invariably valuable theatre experience.

Right - The Duchess of Glocester sees 'Carousel' at the Embassy Theatre Peterborough - Date unknown.

(Jack Higson was also a partner in the scenery firm 'Loveday & Higson which went on to be amalgamated with the scenery firm of John Brunskill LTD., to form the company 'Brunskill & Loveday LTD on the 26th of July 1939. By this time Jack Higson had passed away. This information is courtesy Ted Loveday, Managing Director of Brunskill & Loveday LTD in 2008.)

 

SAFETY FIRST
By JOHN W. SCOTNEY, Chief Officer of Peterborough Fire Brigade.

It has been my privilege to watch the progress of the now magnificent "EMBASSY" Theatre, and although there are many interesting things, I have been particularly interested in the Fire Appliances which have been installed. Great praise is due to those responsible for their forethought because they have left nothing undone for the perfect safetyof their patrons. The whole of the building has been fitted up by a well-known firm "The Pyrene Co. Ltd." of Brentford. Everyway Hose Reels with their plated fittings have been installed on the Stage and in the Pit and "Circle," and there are innumerable Soda Acid Extinguishers, Foam, Sand and water buckets and Asbestos Blankets fitted in recesses, which are lit by Electricity. Dividing the Stage from the Auditorium is an electrically controlled Steel Fire Curtain lined with Asbestos. This curtain has cost some £400. The machines in the Projector Room are of the very latest pattern, and in case of fire can be isolated instantly by Steel Shutters. Over the Stage is a fusable link, which will melt at 150 degrees, and in case of a serious fire the hinged lantern roof will collapse outwards, thus, forming the Stage into a vast chimney, after the safety curtain has been lowered.

No London Theatre has more wonderful equipment, and with the help of a highly trained staff, and the many ways of egress, patrons can sit in perfect comfort and safety.

Citizens have every right to he proud of its NEW EMBASSY THEATRE.

J. W. SCOTNEY, Chief Officer City Fire Brigade.

AN APPRECIATION.

Press cutting circa 1986 about a 1933 film made by Jack Bancroft capturing the busy life and atmosphere of Peterborough, which was found in a bar storeroom nearly fifty years later when the Embassy Theatre had become the ABC Theatre and was about to be converted to a CinemaWe, the Directors of Peterborough Amusements Ltd, extend our grateful thanks to,
Mr, David E. Nye, F.I.A.A. the Architect.
Messrs. The Demolition & Construction Co. L.t.d, the Builders.
Mr. Harmes the General Foreman.
and all the other subcontractors who have worked so splendidly in the creation of this Theatre.

Our grateful thanks are also extended to the Officials and Members of the City Council who have been so courteous and helpful during the course of the work, and to the many friends and patrons who have shewn such wonderful interest in this venture.

R. BANCROFT.
H. BANCROFT.
JACK BANCROFT.

Right - Press cutting circa 1986 about a 1933 film made by Jack Bancroft capturing the busy life and atmosphere of Peterborough, which was found in a bar storeroom nearly fifty years later when the Embassy Theatre had become the ABC Theatre and was about to be converted to a Cinema. See below for details of the ABC Theatre.

 

Resident Manager.

PRESS PUBLICITY OF H. C- TATTON HALL

Variety Programme for the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough for the week of December 15th 1947. Mr. Bancroft has chosen H. C. Tatten Hall as Manager for his new Theatre. Tatten Hall has had a varied and wide experience of the theatre in all its phases.

He commenced his career in dentistry with his father who had a large dental practice in London and passed his examinations with the idea of becoming a dentist also, but thinking he could draw audiences better than teeth he gave it up and fell in the theatrical profession, for he had been in close association with the stage from his infancy.

His grandfather, Alfred Concannen was responsible for the upbringing of that famous actress Jenny Lee, whose name will always be associated with the part of "Poor Joe" in Charles Dicken's "Bleak House." His grandfather was also a great artist, and made a speciality of illustrating the front pages of music scores. He created the drawings of Champagne Charlie, and if any of you possess copies of George Leybourn's songs you will probably find on them the name of Alfred Conconen as the designer of the cover.

Left - Variety Programme for the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough for the week of December 15th 1947.

Champagne Charlie was as familiar in his day as Charlie Chaplin was later. Even now you will find in old tobacconists shops little brass figures of him used as cigar lighters, and these small figures were originally made by Mr. Concanen.

Tatten Hall has played many parts in his career, amongst them being principal comedian with Maisie Gay in "The Soldier Boy," the very successful eccentric comedy part in Miss Phyllis Neilson-Terry's play "The Wheel," also the character comedy with lvor 'Novello in "Old Heidelburg" at the Garrick Theatre, London.

He played once, a "lover" in a play, much to his own disgust and the manager's, as he made a comedy part of it.

He then went to Africa with his own company, and since then has been on the managerial side of the theatrical business. Amongst the many Companies he has managed have been Miss Gertie Gitana's Revues "Nelly Dean" and "Dear Louise," many of Archie Pitt's Shows including "The Show's the Thing" and "Mr. Tower of London." He has also been the personal touring manager for Miss Gracie Fields for a very long time.

He tells us that he now hopes to settle down and be happy in Peterborough and have a well earned rest. As we have a faint idea of managerial duties, this appeals to us that he must have been a comedian once upon a time.

Variety Programme for the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough for the week of December 15th 1947.

Variety Programme for the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough for the week of December 15th 1947.

Above - Variety Programme for the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough for the week of December 15th 1947.

 

Musical Director.

The Management have been fortunate in securing the services of Mr. Arthur Cowen as Director of Music. He is a native of Glasgow and began his career at the Grand Theatre at an early age. From there he organised the Royalty Orchestra, and with this performed for the Ramsgate Corporation.. He then went to Penge Empire as Director of Music where he remained for ten years. During this period, he also had his Royalty Orchestra playing during Summer seasons for the Aberysthwyth Corporation, Grand Pier, Weston-Super-Mare and Bridlington Spa and owing to the the enormous success of this Orchestra, he was engaged for subsequent seasons at these resorts.

In 1925, he went to America as Musical Director and General Manager for the Russian Ballet. At the termination of the Ballet season, he was appointed Stage Presentation Conductor at the Colony Theatre, Broadway, New York and the Momart Theatre, Brooklyn. Subsequently he toured the States for the Paramount Company in the same capacity and some of the cities in which he appeared were Chicago, Detroit, Newhaven-Conn, Buffalo, San Antonia-Texas, Atlantic City-Georgia. These band presentations numbering from 65 to 100 performers.

On returning to this country, from America, he was engaged by Mr. George Black for the Palladium, Southport and from there went to the Playhouse Edinburgh. For the last four and half years, he has been Director of Music at the Empire and Theatre Royal, Nottingham. In Peterborough, Mr. Cowen intends to make a feature of Orchestral Interludes, a class of music for which he believes there to be a big public.

'Memories of a Musical Director' From the Evening Telegraph February 11th 1976 on Framk Lee

Above - 'Memories of a Musical Director' From the Evening Telegraph February 11th 1976 on Framk Lee

A Short History of the Drama in the City of Peterborough.
By W. T. MELLOWS, LL.B.

The opening of the Embassy Theatre on November lst, 1937 begins a new and important chapter in the history of dramatic art in the City of Peterborough.

Looking backwards to the year 1405, when the town was a small urban community outside the walls of the Benedictine Monastery of Burgh, and Prince John, afterwards the famous Duke of Bedford, well-known to modern playgoers as a character in Bernard Shaw's Joan of Ark, was paying a royal visit to the Abbot, we read of minstrels engaged by the Abbot to entertain his distinguished guests on the principal feast days.

Given to a certain citherist of Sir Peter de Broghton. 20d: to a citherist of Lord de Roos. 3s, 4d: to two of the prine's minstrels, 3s. 4d: to the players in the Abbot's hall at Christmas 3s. 4d: to a citherist 11s: to the King's Minstrels at the Abbot's country house at Eyebury 6s. 8d: to the Countess of Kent's minstrells, 3s. 4d: and to the minstrells at St. Peter's tide 5s.

Mystery plays were performed in Peterborough during the fifteenth century by the brethren of the religious gilds in the parish church, We do not know much of the nature of these performances. The churchwardens accounts record in 1467 the receipt of 4.s. 6.,d "for latyng of the players' garmense, 10d. in 1469 from Croyland Abbey for the hyre of iii garmentes," in 1471 "for the hyre of iii garmentes, of John Glaseer of Staunford ; 2s. for the hyre of certain garmentes of Syr John Pyriche bek." In 1472, "1d. was paid for the garments clensying and kepyng and hengyng up," and in 1479 20d. to the players "that playd in the Chyrch at Crystemesse."

John Fletcher, the dramatist, collaborator with Francis Beaumont (1584 - 1616), was the son of the dean of Peterborough, who was present at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. It is said that he took Old Scarlet, the famous Peterborough gravedigger to the Mermaid Tavern in London, and introduced him to Shakespere and Ben Johnson, and that from Scarlet our greatest dramatist drew the character of the gravedigger in Hamlet.

Letter from a local resident about the Embassy Theatre and its history - Local Paper - Date Unknown.

Above - Letter from a local resident about the Embassy Theatre and its history - Local Paper - Date Unknown.

After the erection of a Moot Hall in which meetings of the townsmen were held for purposes of local government, the great chamber in this building was sometimes let to strolling players and exhibitors of puppet shows. In 1620 the Town bailiffs received 3s. 4d. of players "for breaking downe ye stayres of ye towne hall," from which it might be surmised that a concourse of playgoers, whose
weight was too much for the rackety staircase, was responsible for the damage done. In 1628 the Town bailiffs received 12d. "of Mr. Joanes the player for showings of his puppits, and for shewing tricks in our common hall."

Theatrical performances received a serious check during the rule of the Puritans. On February 11th, 1648, an Ordnance was passed for the utter suppression and abolishing of all stage plays. The players were declared to be punishable as rogues. The Justices of the Peace were ordered to apprehend them, and openly and publicly whip them in the market place, and then commit them to the common gaol. Stage galleries, seats and boxes were to be pulled down and demolished, the money gathered of persons coining to see stage plays was to be forfeited, and paid to the Churchwardens for the relief of the poor, and spectators of stage plays were to be fined 5s. for every offence.

The restoration of Charles II however, gave to the theatre a new lease of life. Musical entertainments were much patronised, especially by the member of the Peterborough Gentlemens' Society, one of whom was the Honourable Edward Wortley, M.P. for the City, the husband of the celebrated letter writer Lady Mary Montague.

At the close of the century, a small syndicate of local clergy and other gentlemen, built a theatre on the western portion of the original church-yard of S. John the Baptist fronting the Butcher's Row, on which the Corn Exchange now stands. In 1811 these playhouse proprietors of Peterborough were the Reverend Henry Freeman of Alwalton, the Reverend Robert Roberts of Stoke Doyle, Lord Fitzwilliam and Messrs. William Squire and Wright Thomas Squire, the merchant bankers and founder of Squires, Bank, Peterborough.

The auditorium of the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough, also showing the Theatre's "Casino" Console, E/F type Organ by J. R. Lafleur & Son. Ltd - From a Hammond 'La Fleur' organs brochure - Courtesy Gordon Crook.

Above - The auditorium of the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough, also showing the Theatre's "Casino" Console, E/F type Organ by J. R. Lafleur & Son. Ltd - From a Hammond 'La Fleur' organs brochure - Courtesy Gordon Crook.

The original lessees appear to have been Samuel Le Compte and his wife.

This was before the open commons on the eastern side of the city had been enclosed, and there existed on the North side of the river a fine stretch of turf, on which the Race Meetings were held. It was customary for the Playhouse prorietors to take advantage of the presence in the City of a number of distinguished patrons of the turf by arranging for their entertainment special benefit performances in the evenings during a Peterborough Race Week.

There are preserved in the Peterborough Museum a series of play bills giving particulars of the plays performed with the names of the casts.

These record, for example that on July 12th, 1796, The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley, Sheridan, written twenty years earlier, was produced with Mrs. Tom Robertson in the part of Lady Teazle. This was followed by a farce written by Mrs. Robertson in which her husband took the chief part. "George Barnwell" was produced on June 14th, 1796, with Mrs. Robertson as Lucy. On
July 8th, by desire of the Earl Fitzwilliam the Company gave Arthur Murphy's Comedy "All in the wrong," with - Mr. Robertson as Sir John Restless and Mrs. Robertson as Belinda. This was followed by a pantomime entitled Harlequin's Choice or the judgment of Paris. On July 13th, 1796, by the desire of the Peterborough troop of Yeoman Cavalry the play was "The School for Wives" followed by a farce entitled "The Shouting Publican.''

The Peterborough representative of the Robertson family, of whom Tom Robertson, the author of "Caste" and "Our boys" and Dame Madge Kendall the best remembered George Fowler Robertson, brother of Tom Robertson, the latter a leader of a company of actors in Lincoln, who had been refused a licence in Boston. G. F. Robertson was a printer and book seller whose business premises on the Market Place were successively occupied by Mr. J. Clarke and Mr. George C. Caster.

Tom Robertson with his strolling players often occupied the Peterborough Theatre for a portion of the year. He was the direct ancestor of Dame Madge Kendall, who once visited the Peterborough Museum to examine her family play-bills.

On August 5th, 1814, we read in Deakard's News, Addison's tragedy of Cato was got up at the Theatre. The pleasure of the evening's amusement was heightened by a young gentleman of this city taking the part of Juba.

After the playhouse in Cowgate was demolished to make room for the Corn Exchange, the "Theatre Royal" was established in the Park Road Skating Rink. This building was taken over by Alderman William D. Nichols, a well-known Mayor of Peterborough, who was responsible to a considerable extent for the development of the Park and the estates of the Peterborough Land Company.

Nichols appointed as manager John' Green, who was afterwards the Corporation rate collector.

The Theatre Royal was purchased from Alderman Nichols by W. H. Vernon, leading man to the famous actress Genevieve Ward.

W. H. Vernon was succeeded by Alfred Darvel Vernon as Manager. This Theatre now named the Empire, belongs to Mr. Campbell.

There was not many years ago a temporary building of wood and canvas known as Payne's and Douglas's Theatre which was erected in the Fair Meadow. A bill of performances at this Theatre is preserved in the Museum.

Another Peterborough Theatre, soon to be demolished, built on a site immediately to the south of the Embassy was the old Hippodrome, afterwards named the Palace, in which Fred Karno's Humming Birds performed, a member of the company being Charles Chaplin.

We pass by the various Cinema theatres which have been built in the City although these may give pleasure to many, what playgoers of discernment would prefer a mechanical entertainment to the living drama or opera.

And now comes The Embassy, acknowledged to he the finest new theatre in the East Midland counties.

If the festivals of Stratford and Malvern can attract playgoers from all parts of the country surely the new Peterborough Theatre will draw crowds from the city and all the surrounding towns and villages.

This ambitious enterprise is one of the forerunners of a greater and more important Peterborough. It deserves the support of all. We wish it every possible success.

W.T.M.

Text and images from the Embassy Theatre opening performance Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Judy Stubley

 

The ABC Theatre, Peterborough - A Brochure from 1975

Formerly - The Embassy Theatre

With details of almost everyone who appeared at the Theatre from 1937 to 1954

The ABC Theatre: the ABC Cinema: the Embassy Cinema: the ABC Embassy: call it what you will, I am sure to the public of Peterborough it will always be fondly remembered as the Embassy Theatre. Opened in 1937, the building remains one of the finest theatres in the country, and one of the largest.

Built by Jack Bancroft as a dual-purpose building, it remained in its theatrical capacity for 18 years, until the general depressing 'theatre slump' of the middle 50's. The Embassy then operated as a Cinemascope Theatre and continued as such for several years under Jack Bancroft's management until he retired, and the theatre was acquired by ABC. Throughout all its years as a cinema, the theatre side of the building was not altogether forgotten as we shall discover later in this article.

Jack Bancroft died towards the end of 1974, and this article is dedicated to the memory of the man who gave Peterborough the opportunity to see the hundreds of stars who have passed through the stage door of this magnificent theatre.

As long as audiences continue to support live theatre here, it will always stand as a monument to 'Jack'.

I wonder how many of today's audiences can recall the wealth of show-biz talent that has appeared at the theatre? Certainly the younger element today may well be unbelieving. I have recently had the pleasure of browsing through the Embassy Theatre programmes from its opening in 1937, and a great feeling of nostalgia arose, when one remembers seeing those great stars- in Peterborough!

I am indebted to Frank Lee, who you will remember as resident musical director of the theatre for many years, for the loan of these programmes, to enable me to recount here some of the highlights of the Embassy's stage history, including famous names, West End shows, etc., that have "played Peterborough".

1937 The magnificent new theatre opens with the comic musical history "1066-and all that". The very first Pantomime, presented by Caspar Middleton and D. Rewse-White, was "Dick Whittington" and starred Peggy Ford-Carrington and George Jackley.


1938 Plays: "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse" (with Godfrey Tearle), "The Lost Chord- (with John Stuart and John Harvey), and "Poison Pen" (with Margaret Yarde and Leshe Dwyer). Musicals: "Venus In Silk" (with Leo Franklyn), "Please Teacher "Kiss Me Sergeant", "Crazy Days", "Hide & Seek", "Belle of New York", "Going Greek" and "Rainbow Inn" presented by Westwood Works. Among a galaxy of stars were: Max Miller, Flotsam & Jetsam, Roy Fox & His Band, Elsie & Doris Waters, Bob & Alf Pearson, Donald Peers, Hyida Baker, Tessie O'Shea, Norman Evans, Marie Burke, Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon, Hetty Kind, Sid Field, George Robey and Hughie Green. There were 3 Broadcast weeks from the Theatre during the year.

1939 Plays: A Rep. season, including "No Exit", "The Ringer "White Cargo", "Love From a Stranger". A prior to West End production of "Giving The Bride Away" starring Naunton Wayne & Basil Radford, and "My Wife's Family", Musicals included "Me And My Girl", "Traffic Jam", "Wild Violets" (Peterborough Operatic) and "Jill Darling" (Westwood). There were many revues starring Sid Field, Charlie Parsons, Dave Morris-and Big Bill Campbell's "Way Out West!" The theatre also staged Boxing Tournaments and housed a Circus. It had a 9 week resident Summer Show, and among well known names throughout the year were Renee Houston, Stanley Holloway, Vera Lynn. Reginald Foort, Mantovani, Henry Hall and Charlie Kunz.

1940 Plays: "Second Helping" with Ivor Novello, Isabel Jeans, Peter Graves and Olive Gilbert, "Robert's Wife" with Fay Compton and Owen Nares, "The Corn Is Green" with Phyllis Neilson-Terry, "Room For Two", "For The Love Of Mike" and a visit from "Peter Pan". Many Wartime Revues appeared, such as "Band Wagon" with Richard Murdoch, Max Wall and Bruce Trent. Two English equivalents of the "Folies Bergere" also played dates in the City, alongside musicals such as "The Chocolate Soldier "Lilac Time" and "No, No, Nanette". Many artists re-visited the theatre, but 1940 also brought Tommy Handley, Jack Train, Tommy Trinder, Derek Roy, Carroll Levis, Jack Payne & Orchestra. The Great Levante and "Jungle Express"- another Circus Cavalcade. A Table-Tennis Tournament was also staged during the year.

1941 Plays: "The Light Of Heart" with Emlyn Williams, Angela Baddeley and Gladys Henson, Ralph Lynn in two plays "Nap Hand" and `Rookery Nook", "On Approval" with Diana Churchill, Cathleen Nesbitt, Barry K. Barnes and Roland Culver, "Women Aren't Angels" starring Robertson Hare and Alfred Drayton, Mary Clare in "Ladies In Retirement", Tom Walls in "Canaries Sometimes Sing-, "Once A Crook" with Gordon Harker and Jack Watling, Marie Tempest and A. E. Matthews in "The First Mrs. Fraser, Musicals included "Under Your Hat-, "Mr. Cinders", and Richard Tauber in "TheLand Of Smiles." More Wartime Revues came, including Ted Ray in "Black Velvet Big Bill Campbell's "Rocky Mountain Rhythm", Jack Warner with -Garrison Theatre" and "The Hulbert Foilies" with Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge and Claude Hulbert. Many well-known stars were re-booked, but new visitors included Sandy Powell, Joe Loss, Maurice Winnick. Monte Rey. "Old Mother Riley" Billy Cotton, Evelyn Laye, Ethel Revnell & Gracie West, Will Fyffe and "Hutch". There was also a visit from the Anglo-Polish Ballet.

1942 Variety and Revues held the stage with visits, among others, from Bryan Michie. Jack Warner and Morecambe & Wise in "Time To Smile", Beryl Reid in "Best Foot Forward", Noele (Crossroads) Gordon in a new edition of "Black Velvet", and Wee Georgie Wood, Rawicz & Landauer. Monsewer Eddie Gray, Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders, to name but a few. Musicals included "The Desert Song", "Lady Be Good", "Mercenary Mary" with seasons from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Co., Sadler's Wells Opera, and the Royal Carl Rosa Opera Co. The Anglo Russian Circus and Sir Robert Fossett's Circus also played the theatre, alongside Owen Nares, Mary Merrall and Raymond Huntley in "Rebecca", Tom Walls and Betty Marsden in "Why Not, Tonight?" George Gee in "Just Married", and Diana Churchill in "Stranger's Road".

1943 With the war predominant, the theatre re-booked many artists and shows seen over the last years, but still managed to include visits from Italia Conti and Peter Bayliss in "Where The Rainbow Ends", "Rose Marie", "The Gestapo", "Lady Behave", "Chu Chin Chow", "Maidof the Mountains" and "Twenty To One". Among the stars were Frank Randle, Harry Mooney, Adelaide Hall. Ronald Frankau, Lyle's Cavalcade of Mystery- and a five week resident Summer Show. There was also a visit from the Russian Opera & Ballet in a comic opera "Sorotchintsi Fair."

1944 And so the stars of the day still re-visited one of their favourite theatres, including Troise & His Mandoliers, Beryl Reid, Alfredo's Russian Gypsy Orchestra, along with new visitors- Issy Bonn, Arthur Worsley, Ronnie Ronalde, Sandy Lane, Betty Driver, Syd Seymour and his Mad Hatters, Nat Jackley, Jack Haig, Hal Monty and Nellie Wallace. Revues included "Hi" with Cyril Fletcher, Betty Astell, Avril Angers and Billy Tasker, and "Can I Do You Now, Sir" with stars from Radio's "ITMA". A six week Summer Show, the Royal Brittanic Circus, the musicals "Floradora" "A Country Girl" and "The Student Prince", complete the score together with such plays as "The Watch On The Rhine", "The Greeks Had A Word For It", "No Orchids For Miss Blandish", "Arsenic and Old Lace", "Flare Path", "Claudia", "Pink String & Sealing Wax", "Gather No Moss", and Jean Forbes-Robertson and D. A. Clarke-Smith in "Violent Friendship".

1945 The Royal Carl Rosa Opera Co. presented a season including "Madam Butterfly", "Rigoletto", "Barber of Seville", "Il Trovatore" and "La Travialla". "Lilac Time" returned, joined by "A Southern Maid" on the musical comedy field. The first "Soldiers In Skirts" appeared, and "Happidrome" with Mr. Lovejoy, Enoch & Ramsbottom. An eight week Summer Show was complemented from visits by Max & Harry Nesbitt, Susette Tari, Alec Plean, Jimmy Clitheroe, Turner Layton, Jerry Jerome, Donald Peers, Albert Burdon, Nat Mills & Bobbie, Peter Cavanagh, Reg Dixon, Daveen, Henry Hall, Renee Houston, Primo Scaia's Accordion Band and "Jane" of the Daily Mirror Cartoon. Plays included "Ten Little Niggers", * "Junior Miss", "Arsenic & Old Lace", "Under The Gooseberry Bush" (with Waiter Fitzgerald) and "Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?"

1946 Variety brought appearances from Carroll Levis, Bernard Spear, Eric Winstone, Cavan O'Connor, George Formby, Charles Shadwell, Naughton & Gold (Crazy Gang), Nan Kenway & Douglas Young, plus many more artists who made return visits. Dickie Henderson Jnr., Freddie Frinton, Richard Murdoch, Sam Costa, Ivy Benson's Girls Band, Billy Reid & Dorothy Squires all appeared in Revues, along with Pop, White & Stagger and Norman Wooland in "Navy Mixture". "Happidrome" returned, and an 8 week Summer Season was again a feature of the year. Musicals included "The Vagabond King" from our own Operatic Society, "Floradora", and two visits in the same year from "The Quaker Girl". Plays presented were "Quiet Weekend", "The Years Between-
and Sybil Thorndike and Celia Johnson in "Call Home The Heart".

1947 A spectacular year for the Embassy, with a wealth of talent released from the 'Forces', plus many established favourites re-appearing. The line up includes Max Bygraves, Frankie Howerd, Donald Peers, Nosmo King, Johnny Lockwood, Norman Wisdom, Michael Miles in "Radio Forfeits", Dante-the Great Magician, Jimmy Wheeler, The Amazing Fogel- Mind Reader, Michael Bentine, Jack Train, Vic Oliver, Morton Fraser's Harmonica Gang and film star Jackie Coogan. There was an Irish/Anglo Song & Dance Show, "Mrs. Muffigan's Party" with Jimmy O'Dea and Ted Ray, "Spotlight On Sally` by permission of the News Of The World and the 'New' Happidrome, among other revues. The Summer Show played only two weeks, and musical plays presented were "Katinka" by Peterborough Operatic. 'We And My Girl" "Desert Song" and a spectacular stage version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", a living replica to Walt Disney's cartoon masterpiece. The Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet played a season, and straight plays included "Grand National Night", "Just William", "Worm's Eye View" and "Charley's Aunt".

1948 Plays included Diana King in "No Room At The Inn", "Life With Father "The Happiest Days Of Your Life", and "The Barretts Of Wimpole Street". Musicals: Peterborough Operatic in "The Three Musketeers", Leo Franklyn in "A Waltz Dream" and return visits from "Snow White" and "Me And My Girl". Don Ross' Royal Imperial Circus, Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, The Metropolitan Ballet- The Revues "Ignorance Is Bliss", Ralph Reader's "Gang Show" all joined forces to make another success packed year with variety bills including Peter Sellars, Ethel Manners, Kay (On The Keys) Cavendish, Terry Hall, Albert Modley, Allan Jones, Bill Kerr and
Harry Secombe.

1949 The management continued its successful policy of rebooking artists and popular shows that had appeared in previous years, and combined them with artists and shows of the calibre of Dr. Crock & His Crackpots, Arthur Askey, G. H. Elliott, Winifred Atwell, The Five Smith Brothers, Josef Locke, Albert & Les Ward, Dick Emery, Max Bygraves, "Opportunity Knocks" with Hughie Green. "Hold Your Breath" an extravaganza complete with glass swimming pool, two Ice Shows, and a Circus to make another memorable year. By way of contrast, Donald Wolfit presented a season of Shakespeare including "King Leer", "Julius Caesar", "Macbeth", "Twelfth Night" and "Merchant Of Venice". Other plays new to the city were "Young Wives'Tale" with Naunton Wayne, Joan Greenwood and Derek Farr, Terence de Marney in "The Man In Grey" and Ernest Clark in "Edward, My Son".

1950 This was another star-studded year with visits from Julie Andrews, Ted & Barbara Andrews, Western Brothers, Morecambe & Wise, Norman Vaughan, Jack Warner, Bernard Miles, Macari & His Dutch Serenaders, and Webster Booth & Anne Zeigler, to name but a few. The Circus made its annual visit, as did Sadlers Well's Ballet. Musical Tours included "Waltz Time", Barry Sinclair in "Careless Rapture" (complete with volcano erupting), "Glamorous Night", "White Horse Inn" (for two weeks on a gigantic revolving stage), "Student Prince" and "Wild Violets" with Stella Moray, Jerry Verno and Ian Carmichael. Straight plays were Jessie Mathews in "Castle In The Air", Donald Wolfit in "Treasure Island" and later another Shakespeare Season, "The Heiress", Brian Rix and Co. in "Reluctant Heroes", "The Hasty Heart", "A Lady Mislaid" with Avice Landowne, Eveiyn Laye and Frank Lawton in "September Tide" and "Larger Than Life" with Jessie Royce Landis, Pete Murray and Arthur Lowe in the cast.

Copy of the 50th Anniversary Souvenir Brochure - Click to see entire programme - Courtesy Judy Stubley.1951 Another stupendous year with bill-toppers such as Lee Lawrence, Arthur English, Reg Varney, Benny Hill, Gladys Morgan, Vera Lynn, Freddie Sales, Ray Alien, Radio Revellers, Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Ronald Chesney, Peter Brough with Archie Andrews, Harry Secombe, and Charlie Chester. Musicals included "Bless The Bride", "The Girl Friend" and "Bob's Your Uncle". The National Light Opera Company presented "Merrie England", "The Lilac Domino" and "Chu Chin Chow" and there were visits from Cart Rosa Opera, and the Spanish Ballet of Teresa & Luisillo. Robert Bros. presented their Festival Circus, "Cinderelia on Ice", "Charley's Aunt" and "Queen Elizabeth Slept Here" completed another year.

1952 A highlight of the year- "Laurel & Hardy" for two weeks in Peterborough followed by return visits of many famous names and shows, including Kalanag- the Great Magician. The National Light Opera Co. returned with "Waltzes From Vienna" and "The Lisbon Story", and other musicals included "Goodnight Vienna", "BlueFor A Boy" and Olive Gilbert in "King's Rhapsody". International Ballet, "Folies Bergere Revue", "Dick Whittington On ice" were other highlights, as were visits from Margaret Rutherford in "Miss Hargreaves", Dennis Price in "Husbands Don't Count" and two Agatha Christie thrillers "Peril At End House" and "The Hollow".

Left - Copy of the 50th Anniversary Souvenir Brochure - Click to see entire programme - Courtesy Judy Stubley.

1953 Bonar Colleano, The Kordites, Eddie Calvert, Ray Alien, Leslie Randell, Dick Emery, Evelyn Laye topped variety bills. Many revues came and went- the Circus, the Ballet, the Opera (with John Heddle Nash and Kenneth McKellar), "The Sleeping Beauty On Ice", "Teresa & Luisilia", and several plays: "The Blue Lamp" (forerunner of Dixon of Dock Green), "The Four Winds", Robert Beatty in "Love From A Stranger". Jack Hulbert in "Housemaster", "The Archers", Dulcie Gray in "The Distant Hill", Jimmy Hanley in "The Dominant Sex", Derrick de Marney in "Meet Mr. Callaghan" and Derek Bond in "The Two Mrs. Carrolls"

1954 . . . a sad year'. Audiences dwindled and the changeover came. Following a West End tour of the naval play "Seagulls over Sorrento", the Embassy closed for a short time, to re-open as a Cinemascope Theatre with full stereophonic sound ... the first film being "The Flight of the White Heron". Since that time, the theatre has been used for many stage shows, including variety bills starring Tommy Steele; the Batchelors; the late Alma Cogan; Don Arrol and Michael Holliday; Emile Ford; the Dallas Boys, and many others. The fast straight play presented was "Doctor in the House", which starred the entire "Emergency Ward 10" cast. The D'Oyly Carte Opera; the Ballet Rambert; and the London Festival Ballet also paid visits. In more recent years, pop-star concerts have been presented in profusion, and until recently there was always an annual pantomime. The annual productions of Peterborough Operatic Society and Westwood Works Musical Society have continued to be staged here, and have recently been joined by the Boy Scouts' Gang Show.

Stars of top calibre such as Morecambe and Wise; Ken Dodd; Cliff Richard; Slim Whitman; Charlie Williams; Engelbert Humperdinck; Clodagh Rogers and Victor Borge (returning to this theatre at his own request), have all played here during recent seasons. Visits have also been made by "The Comedians" in their London Palladium show; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; The Royal Ballet and the Welsh National Opera (for two weeks).

And what of the future? That of course depends largely on us- the general public. If we support the shows presented to us, then we shall be able to preserve this great theatre-the largest for many miles radius. Norwich in the East; Birmingham in the West; Nottingham to the North, and London are the nearest cities with theatres of comparable size.

If we don't support ... then ... ? ... 2 or even 3, into 1, unfortunately will go. I hope you have enjoyed this brief nostalgic trip 'down memory lane', and hope that you will continue to support this theatre, to ensure its future in its present form. It would be a great pity for Peterborough to lose yet another theatre- one which has stood the test of time after the old Theatre Royal and Empire closed its doors. Watch out for all theatre advertising, under the name of the ABC EMBASSY.

KEITH A. SHORT

Text and images from 'The ABC Theatre, Peterborough' - A Brochure from 1975 - Courtesy Judy Stubley.

 

Above - Cutting from the Peterborough Standard - Friday August 29th 1980 on the proposed splitting of the ABC Theatre into a three auditoria cinema by EMI. - Courtesy Judy Stubley.

 

The Programmes, Pictures, and press material on this page, except the 1947 Embassy Theatre Variety Programme and 2009 photographs, form part of the archive of Judy Stubley who before she was married, was Judy Bancroft, the youngest child of Jack Bancroft who had the Embassy Theatre built, and managed it for many years until he retired to the Isle of Man and sold the Embassy to ABC. Judy has very kindly copied much of this family archive material and sent it along to be included in this website.

The Embassy Theatre, Peterborough was built by David Evelyn Nye in 1937 and was his only Theatre despite being a noted Cinema builder of the period. The auditorium was in the Art Deco style and was composed of Stalls and one Circle which projected close to the stage giving very good sight lines.

In 1984 the The building was converted to a triple cinema but closed shortly afterwards in 1989.

The Theatre was converted to a public house in 1996.

Click here for information on the Broadway Theatre, Peterborough

 

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