Popular Deco Theatre in Northampton marks 80th birthday

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Eighty years ago today, the theatre that we now know as The Deco Theatre opened its doors to the public.

The Savoy officially opened on May 2, 1936 to great fanfare with the auditorium packed with local dignatories.

Among those special guests was Sir Mervyn Manningham Buller, the Northampton MP, who performed the opening ceremony, before the start of the entertainment, which consisted of ‘Broadway Melody of 1936’, starring Jack Benny, Robert Taylor, Eleanor Powell and Una Markel, followed by ‘Ice Floes’ in Technicolor, and a Newsreel.

The interlude between each presentation featured the Compton organ, which ‘rose from the pit’, and ‘surrounded by an ever changing array of coloured lights was the organist, Wilfred Southwell’ – a well-known musician who performed at ABC owned venues all over the country. He stayed at The Savoy for two weeks.

The grand opening received huge coverage in the Chronicle & Echo, hailing the new venue as ‘the last word in comfort, splendour and modern equipment’.

“The colour scheme is a delight. Walls are artictically painted in patterns in which green shades are harmoniously blended with tinges of pink. The concealed lighting system throughout the cinema is a marvel,” the Chron correspondent wrote.

“Another remarkable feature of the Savoy is its air conditioning plant. Within a few minutes, millions of cubic feet of air can be passed through the theatre at any desired temperature.

“On hot summer nights, the air in the Sovoy can be kept delightfully cool. On bitter winter nights the cinema will be cosy and snug. The seats are all that could be desired, with comfortably sprung upholstery, with air cushion arm seats,” the Chron added.

“Every expert attention has been given to secure everyone an uninterrupted view of the screen, whilst excellent acoustics, coupled with the latest wide-range sound equipment and projection ensures perfection in the picture and sound reproduction,” the report concluded.

Facts about The Deco Theatre

* Designed by William Riddell Glenn (1884-1950)

* The Savoy was owned by The ABC Group – Glenn was the company’s in house architect.

* It was built in 9 months, over the winter of 1935/36

* The construction company that built The Savoy was A.R. Glen and Sons, based in Chaucer Street, Kingsley Park, Northampton – no relation to the designer! Using local firms was a big boost to the local economy at a time of high unemployment.

* It featured – and still does – an Art Deco auditorium. Art Deco was a style of design that was popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

* Opened doors for the first time on May 2nd, 1936, as The Savoy. The official opening ceremony was led by Northampton MP Sir Mervyn Manningham-Buller.

* The first manager of The Savoy was T.B. Purdie, who came to Northampton from Ipswich, where he had held the same position at the town’s Hippodrome cinema.

* The first film shown at The Savoy was Broadway Melody, starring Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor, with three daily performances: at 2.30pm, 5.30pm and 8.30pm.

* On opening, The Savoy was hailed as “Northampton’s Only Super Cinema!”

* There was seating capacity for 1,954 people – 1,258 in the stalls, and 696 in the circle. It now seats up to 900 people.

* If you had a car, there was a car park next to The Savoy for 750 cars.

* A feature of The Savoy was its in-house Compton organ, which entertained audiences during the interludes.

* The first organist was Wilfred Southworth, who remained for two weeks, with Gordon Spicer taking over the duties until the following year. Joseph Flitcroft was the organist from 1937 to 1938, Raymond Charles from 1938 to 1941, Verden Waugh 1941 to 1945, with Harold Nash the venue’s last resident organist, from 1945 to 1956.

* The day The Deco opened for the first time, on May 2, 1936, was the day Englebert Humpadink was born!

* In 1961 The Savoy was renamed The ABC, as part of corporate re-branding.

* In 1974 it was converted to a three screen cinema complex, and became Cannon Cinema in the 1980s.

* The building closed in 1995, when it struggled to compete with the modern multiscreen complexes.

* ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Terminal Velocity’ and ‘Just Cause’ were the three films being shown at Cannon Cinema when it closed in 1995.

* After a period of neglect, the building was bought by the Jesus Army Charitable Trust in 2000, and re-opened as The Deco in October 2004.

* Stage Right began running The Deco as a fully functional local theatre in 2009, and its first production was ‘Peter Pan’, a Panto, starring Louisa Lytton, from Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing.