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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

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Theatres in Shepherd's Bush, London

The Shepherd's Bush Empire - The Pavilion Theatre / Gaumont Cinema / Odeon 1 - Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre / Essoldo / Odeon 2

The Shepherd's Bush Empire, Shepherd’s Bush Green, London

See Also - Neil Sean remembers the BBC TV Theatre, aka the Shepherd's Bush Empire

Photograph of the Shepherds Bush Empire in its heyday with Max Miller on the Bill. - Courtesy Peter Charlton

Above - A Photograph of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in its heyday with Max Miller on the Bill.

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An Advertisement for the opening of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1903 - From the Acton Gazette, 14th of August 1903.The Shepherd's Bush Empire was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham and built for Oswald Stoll, opening on Monday the 17th of August 1903 with a variety show including the Fred Karno Troupe with their 'Pantomimcal Extravaganza' 'The Dandy Thieves' (For family ties with Fred Karno see this page for Harry Robert Lloyd.)

Right - An Advertisement for the opening of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1903 - From the Acton Gazette, 14th of August 1903. The second part of this advertisement can be seen further down the page.

The ERA reported on the new Theatre two days before it opened in their 15th of August 1903 edition saying:- 'The Hackney and Shepherd's-bush Empires Company, whose fortunes are controlled by Mr Oswald Stoll, are to be congratulated on the magnificent hall their architect, Mr Frank Matcham, has designed for them at Shepherd's bush.

A Programme for a production of 'Shuffle Along' at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, in association with the London Coliseum, on Monday June the 25th 1923.The exterior is designed in Old English style, and is faced with glazed and red bricks, rough-cut cement, and terra cotta, the effect of the warm colours against the green trees and foliage surrounding the site, with shepherd's-bush-green in front, being really charming.

Left - A Programme for a production of 'Shuffle Along' at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, in association with the London Coliseum, on Monday June the 25th 1923. See cast details below.

The circular tower at one corner, rising to a height of 90ft, with its curved castellated treatment, octagon turret, and copper roof, forms a striking feature. On the top of the building is a life-size figure surrounded by a circular sign (having a rotary movement) filled with illuminated letters.

Over the highly polished entry doors is a glass and iron verandah, with a handsome iron open-work grill containing the word "Empire." At the corner a flat roof forms a shelter for the patrons of the pit, and at the side of the building a long glass and iron verandah shields those waiting to enter the gallery and upper circle...

Details of a programme for 'Shuffle Along' at the Shepherds Bush Empire, in association with the London Coliseum, on Monday June the 25th 1923.

Above - Details of a programme for a production of 'Shuffle Along' at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, in association with the London Coliseum, on Monday June the 25th 1923.

...The building is practically isolated, The front facade is set back from the pavement, giving ample room for the public to gather without interference with the general traffic. A new road has been formed, named Rockwood-place, at the side leading from Shepherd's-bush-green to Pennard-road, and on the opposite side a private road is also formed nearly the whole depth of the building. The rear of the theatre opens on to its own private yard...

Frank Matcham's new Empire Varieties, Shepherd's Bush - From the ERA, 15th of August 1903.

Above - Frank Matcham's new Empire Varieties, Shepherd's Bush - From the ERA, 15th of August 1903.

The auditorium of the Shepherd's Bush Empire from a 1923 programme. ...The building has been admirably arranged on the two-shows-a-night system, the audience entering on one side and leaving the opposite side, which is free for exits, thus no confusion or congestion can possibly arise, wide thoroughfares giving every facility for dispersing a large number of people rapidly.

Right - The auditorium of the Shepherd's Bush Empire from a 1923 programme.

The principle entrance is through a handsome vestibule, the floor of which is covered with vitreous mosaic; the walls are lined with polished teak (and contain settees of the same material), and over this is a deep plasterfriese broken up by coves and coffered arches, the ceiling being a continuation of same divided by bold ribs and panelled. From this vestibule through arch openings is the white Siellian marble staircase which divides right and left, one side forming an exit from the grand circle and the other leading through an octagonal crush-room beautifully decorated into the promenade at the rear of the grand circle seats.

Stage Right Shell Plasterwork still in existance at the Shepherd's Bush Empire today - Courtesy Roger Fox.This circle contains eight rows of comfortable tip-up seats, with a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage. At the rear of this circle is the Cinematograph room, not a temporary structure, but designed as part of the building. At the sides of this circle are six private boxes, which are in addition to the two private boxes at the sides of the stage.

Left - Stage Right Shell Plasterwork still in existance at the Shepherd's Bush Empire today - Courtesy Roger Fox.

A Programme for a Variety show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for May the 30th 1949. From the rear of this circle, by wide passages and staircases, and also by a separate entrance from the front, the orchestra stalls are approached, containing thirteen rows of embossed velvet tip-up seats. The pit is a large one, and contains eleven rows of velvet upholstered seats. The gallery is approached from Rockwood place by a wide fireproof staircase, and is most comfortably seated, and every seat has a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage.

Right and Below left - A Programme for a Variety show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for May the 30th 1949.

A Programme for a Variety show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for May the 30th 1949. The walls are lined with glazed bricks, the ceiling is lofty and tastefully decorated, and in the centre is a large glass and iron roof, with ventilating panels introduced. The upper circle is over the dress-circle and in front of the gallery, the latter being raised sufficiently to form a fine corridor at the back of the upper circle seats, giving access to the gangways through two handsome pediment openings. At the sides are fine raised promenades with ornamental railings dividing same from the seats. The gallery does not, as usual, return up to the sides of the boxes, and thus an opportunity is given for fine architectural treatment in the way of panelled walls and coved ceilings with coffered arches containing ornamental glass panels, which are illuminated by electric light.

Mr Matcham has availed himself of the opportunity of obtaining artistic effects here, which are certainly very novel and beautiful. Owing to the Isolated position of the site exceptional exits from all parts are obtained, and these are of good width, and the exit doors to same are fitted with Briggs's automatic alarm bolts.

Precaution against fire is taken, each floor being provided with hydrants fully equipped. Retiring rooms, fitted with every convenience, are provided - in fact, the safety and comfort of the audience have been considered In every way...

The auditorium of the Shepherds Bush Empire in 1999 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The auditorium of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1999 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

A Programme for a Variety show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for November the 24th 1952. ...The decorations are in French Renaissance from the architect's designs, the painted decoration being artistically executed by Messrs De Jong, and with the figure paintings in the ceiling and over the proscenium, the result is very rich and effective. The auditorium is upholstered in plush and satin, the colours of the stage curtains, tableaux, and box draperies, together with the seating, being in an shade of green, whilst the floor coverings are a rich terra-cotta.

Right and Below Left - A Programme for a Variety show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for November the 24th 1952.

A Programme for a Variety show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for November the 24th 1952. The stage is a large one, being 65ft. wide and 35ft. deep and 50ft. high to the grid, the proscenium border is alabaster and the opening fitted with a fireproof curtain. The large block of dressing-rooms are at the side, and separated from the stage. These are carpeted and fitted with dressing tables and lavatories, and provided with every other convenience and comfort. The whole building, both auditorium, stage, and dressing-rooms, is heated with hot-water pipes and radiators and the electric light is introduced in all parts of the house. The building is to be opened to the public on Monday.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 15th of August 1903.

The Shepherds Bush Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Positive Design Works.

Above - The Shepherd's Bush Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Positive Design Works.

An Advertisement for the opening of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1903 - From the Acton Gazette, 14th of August 1903.The Shepherd's Bush Empire had opened on the 17th of August 1903 with a variety show including the Fred Karno Troupe. With a capacity of 2,332, the Theatre continued as a Music Hall and Variety house for the next 50 years, but in 1953 it was bought by the BBC and converted to a TV Studio/Theatre.

Right - An Advertisement for the opening of the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1903 - From the Acton Gazette, 14th of August 1903. The first part of this Advertisementcan be seen top of page.

The late TV designer Richard Greenough detailed some of the work involved in turning the Shepherd's Bush Empire into a Television studio in a document about his work kindly sent to me recently by Roger Fox who had been gifted the document by Greenough himself.

In the document Greenough says:- 'In late 1953, the BBC took the Shepherd's Bush Empire, designed by Frank Matcham, and opened in 1903, to be used as a television studio, known as the Television Theatre.

The first show I can find to be transmitted from there was Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris on the 14th November 1953. At that time, only the stage was used, which had a rake with a run-out for the camera over the stalls.

The proscenium is 30 feet wide with a fairly deep stage. The dress circle and upper circle (?) were used for the audience.

The stage was about six feet below street level which meant that all the scenery had to be dropped down from the dock doors.

The first series of six Morecambe and Wise shows, called "Running Wild", started on the 21st April 1954. I designed the fourth on the 2nd June. They were not the success they were to become later on.

Early in 1955, in the Television Theatre, I designed a Bob Hope Show. As it was for transmission only in America, it was shot on film cameras.

Filming of the Bob Hope Show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1955 - Courtesy Richard Greenough and Roger Fox.

Above - Filming of the Bob Hope Show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1955 - Courtesy Richard Greenough and Roger Fox.

Note the television technique of using three cameras on Bob, also the two men holding a large 'Idiot Board' on which the script was written and from which he read. His technique was so good that the viewer at home did not realise he was doing this. Part of the reason for this was that the scriptwriters were re-writing up to the time of recording, so Bob would not have time to learn it. Frequently, instead of one board in the middle, there would be two sets placed each side. It was directed by Bill Ward.

In 1956, when Bill and I had moved to the Commercial company, ATV, we there made the next Bob Hope Show. Sadly, in November 1952, Peter Bax, Head of Design, died. He was replaced in 1953 by Richard Levin who had worked with Hugh Casson designing the 1951 Festival of Britain. I resigned from the BBC on the 31st May 1955 to go to Commercial Television, ATV, as Head of Design. Michael Yates left to go to Associated Rediffusion (AR) and Timothy O'Brian to ABC, both as Head of Design. During the seven years that I was with the BBC, I designed, or was responsible for, over five hundred productions. They were all transmitted live, as were the shows I later did for ATV.'

The above text in quotes (edited) is from a document written by Richard Greenough on his work as a television designer in the 1950s and 60s kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by Roger Fox.

A Google StreetView image showing the three Theatres built side by side on Shepherd's Bush Green, the Shepherd's Bush Empire, Pykes Cinematograph Theatre and the Pavilion - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView image showing the three Theatres built side by side on Shepherd's Bush Green, the Shepherd's Bush Empire, Pykes Cinematograph Theatre and the Pavilion - Click to Interact.

An original postcard showing the Shepherds Bush Empire in its early years.The BBC used the Shepherd's Bush Empire as one of their Television Theatres from 1953 until 1991 and altered it several times during this period, not least when they created an extension to the side of the building for production and sound galleries in 1968. Many of the BBC's most loved shows were broadcast from the Theatre over the years and much more information for this period for the Theatre can be found on the 'Incomplete history of London's television studios' here. And Neil Sean's article on the BBC TV Theatre at the Shepherd's Bush Empire can be seen here.

After the BBC left in 1991 the Theatre remained empty for a while until in 1995 when it was converted, with some architectural restoration, into a music Venue, and this continues to this day.

Right - The Shepherd's Bush Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Positive Design Works.

Over the course of its more than one hundred years in existence, since the Theatre first opened on the 17th of August 1903 to the present day, the external facade of the Shepherd's Bush Empire has changed very little, as can be seen in the two images shown here. There has however been a small extension built above the centre block and the entrance canopy has been modernised for the Theatre's use as a concert venue.

The Shepherds Bush Empire in 2006 - Courtesy Positive Design Works.On December the 4th 2015 the Theatre was closed suddenly just before the band 'The Courteeners' were about to appear on stage. The sudden closure was due to a routine inspection which had identified that part of the roof needed immediate attention.

Left - An original postcard showing the Shepherd's Bush Empire in its early years.

The Theatre remained closed for the next six months whilst structural work was undertaken. At the same time a number of improvements were carried out at the Theatre including stripping and re-staining the stalls floor, deep cleaning the auditorium, repainting the bars, improving the toilets, rejuvenating the ventilation, and altering and improving the sound system. The Grade II Listed Theatre reopened in July 2016.

You may like to visit the Shepherd's Bush Empire's own website here.

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

The Pavilion Theatre, 58 Shepherd's Bush Green, London

Later - The Gaumont Cinema / Odeon 1 Cinema

The Shepherd's Bush Pavilion in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The Shepherd's Bush Pavilion in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

The side elevation of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion in 2012, also showing the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre next door - Courtesy Charles S. P. JenkinsThe Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, which was situated just down the road from the Empire, was designed by the well known architect Frank T. Verity and built for Israel Davis as a Cinema with stage facilities.

The Theatre opened on the 16th of August 1923 with a showing of the film 'Within the Law' and a live Ballet production on the Theatre's stage with Anton Dolin and Company.

Right - The side elevation of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion in 2012, also showing the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre next door - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins.

An advertisement for Compton Theatre Organs as installed at the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion - From the Bioscope, 18th of November 1931.The Theatre had a large auditorium, designed in the Italian Renaissance style, and capable of seating well over 2,000 people in its two levels, stalls and one balcony, and was equipped with a stage 70 foot wide by 20 foot deep.

There were also 4 dressing room for its artistes and the Theatre was equipped with a Compton 4Manual/17Rank Theatre Organ.

Left - An advertisement for Compton Theatre Organs as installed at the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion - From the Bioscope, 18th of November 1931.

The imposing brick frontage of the Pavilion won an R.I.B.A. London Street Architecture Award for 'Best London Facade' when the Theatre opened in 1923.

J. A. Mollison, the airman, welcomed at the Pavilion, Shepherd's Bush - From The Bioscope Cinema Magazine of 1931.

Above - J. A. Mollison, the airman, was welcomed at the Pavilion, Shepherd's Bush, by the Mayor of Hammersmith, when he made an announcement from the stage concerning Capt. Barnard's Air Circus held at Heston Park. Left to right : F. J. Avis, D. Eskell, the Mayor, Mollison, J. Reid (General Manager of the Pavilion), and F. Cooper. The arrangements were made by Messrs. Cooper and Avis, now exploitation manager and publicity manager respectively in Division 2 of the Gaumont Circuit organisation - From The Bioscope Cinema Magazine of 1931.

The Foyer of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion - From The Bioscope, 29th April 1931.

Above - The Foyer of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion - From The Bioscope, 29th April 1931.

The main entrance of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. JenkinsIn July 1944 the Pavilion was seriously damaged by a flying bomb and the Theatre had to close, not reopening again for another decade. The restoration of the Theatre was eventually carried out by Samuel Beverley, who was Verity's former business partner, and included restoration of the exterior of the building and a complete rebuilding of the interior in a more modern style with a lower seating capacity. The Theatre reopened as the Gaumont Cinema on the 25th of July 1955.

Left - The main entrance of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins.

The Theatre was again reconstructed in 1969 when Odeon, who had taken over the building in 1962, closed the building and carried out extensive reconstruction of the interior. This included extending the balcony forward to the proscenium so creating an 815 seat cinema upstairs, and converting the former stalls area into a Top Rank Bingo Club. The foyers were also altered at this time and an escalator was installed so that patrons could easily reach the cinema level. The Cinema was renamed on its opening, on the 7th of March 1970, as Odeon 1, and the former Pyke's Cinema, next door, was rebadged Odeon 2.

The Cinema was closed altogether in October 1981 and then the building was just used for Bingo downstairs until that too closed in 2001. Plans to restore the building later that year, and reopen the cinema, unfortunately never happened and the 2008 plans to convert it into an hotel also fell through. The cinema was however converted into a concert and events venue which remained until 2011 when plans were finally approved to convert the building into an hotel.

Demolition of the interior began in April 2012, the facade is to be retained.

Much of this information on the Pavilion Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website. Photographs were kindly sent in by Charles S. P. Jenkins.

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

Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre, 57A Shepherd's Bush Green, London

Later - New Palladium Cinema / The Essoldo Cinema / Classic / Odeon 2 / Walkabout

The former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre on Shepherd's Bush Green in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre on Shepherd's Bush Green in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins - The former Pavilion Theatre can be seen to the right of this photograph.

Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre, was situated on Shepherd's Bush Green, sandwiched in-between the earlier Shepherd's Bush Empire and the later Pavilion Theatre. The Cinema opened on the 3rd of March 1910 with a seating capacity of 763 people, and was the 6th Cinema in the Pyke Cinema Circuit to be built, altogether there would be 16 Cinemas in the chain by 1911.

The side elevation of the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The side elevation of the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

The side elevation of the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The side elevation of the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

The side elevation of the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The side elevation of the former Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre in 2012 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

The Cinema was reconstructed in 1923 by the architect John Stanley Beard and reopened in November that year as the New Palladium Cinema, however the 'New' was dropped from the name in 1946. In 1955 the Cinema was renamed Essoldo.

In 1968 the Cinema was closed and modernised but a fire in the building just before it was to reopen delayed that a little, when it did reopen it had a lower seating capacity than its original, of 500 people.

In March 1970 the Cinema was rebadged Odeon 2 when the former Pavilion Theatre, next door, had a cinema constructed in its former balcony area and named Odeon 1.

The Cinema closed in October 1981 and remained derelict until it was finally converted into a public house for the Australian Walkabout Chain, which it remains to this day. As can be seen from the photographs above most of the original signage for the Theatre remains on the side elevation of the building today and reads: 'Cinematograph Theatre, Continuous Performances, Seats 1/-6d & 3d'.

Much of this information on the Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website. Photographs were kindly sent in by Charles S. P. Jenkins.

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

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