Remembering the most important unused theatre in the UK
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Christine Russell writes:
I first visited the Hippodrome in the 1940s and saw many great acts there, including Brighton's own Max Miller in the 50s and The Beatles in 1963. The old music halls are virtually all gone now and it would be criminal if this conversion were to happen.
My mother introduced me to this theatre when I was eight years old in 1940. I saw so many stars like Arthur Askey, Old Mother Riley, Two Ton Tessie O'Shea, The Western Brothers, Hutch, Suzette Tarry, Max Miller (now here's a funny thing), Wilson, Kepple and Betty and so many more. Please don't let the Hippodrome die.
I saw Roy Orbison here in 1964. The back up bands were not too bad either: The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers.
We saw the Beatles in 1963. It was the year I met my husband. It was an amazing concert with many great stars: Roy Obison, Gerry & The Pacemakers, to name but a few.
My father and his two brothers worked at the Hippodrome back in the early 40s. My father's duties as a 14-year-old was to take the tickets from the paying customers and show them to their seats. I also saw Cliff Richard and the Beatles in the 60s.
My granddad spent his working years there.
I remember seeing a ballet here with my mum and the Beatles played here in the 60s!
I come from Brighton. This wonderful theatre has great memories for all of us. Mine is that I first saw Dusty Springfield here in concert. Wow!!
My grandfather used to be the chief lighting and electrical manager. I grew up listening to his stories of life in the Hippodrome and all the stars that played there, from Laurel and Hardy to the Beatles and a thousand more. Shame to gut it to say the least. Great shame.
Shirley Jaffe writes:
I was probably the youngest Witch in panto that year. As my third job since leaving Central in the summer, I was thrilled to be working with well-known variety comedians and musical theatre singers, rehearsing in London, and as a 'straight' actress, playing in a musical production. I auditioned on Drury Lane stage for the part. And I LOVED the Brighton Hippodrome. A warm and friendly traditional theatre, a bit of a gallant old lady even then. The seats were a bit ancient and I had a rash appeared during rehearsals, which the theatre doctor laughed at and said, 'You've been sitting in the stalls'—it was flea bites! Would you believe I directed a panto down in Dorset about thirty years ago and went to one of the cast's house for a meal between shows—and her husband was that very doctor!
In 1954 the Dame was Eddie Childs, the King was Harry Mooney, the left over half of a comedy double act. Poor man: Prince Littler's, the producers, replaced him after Christmas as he had trouble with the lines and made the dialogue slow. Joy Beattie was a wonderful long-legged and gallant Prince Charming, and she and the young comedian, Peter Dulay (left), regaled me with stories about other shows, other pantos, which became riper as the weeks went by.
I loved being booed and hissed as the Witch, my verbal front-cloth battles with the Fairy, but I changed religiously each show for the finale, from my old rags, dark cloak, long putty nose and green ugly face to golden clothes and a ballet Witch glamour makeup, so the children could go home reassured the wicked old Somnia was not really to be frightened of. I think there might have also been a bit of vanity in this, not wanting the audience to be aware of the fact that I was just nineteen. It was a very happy and friendly cast, the leading girls kind to me in my first panto, Peter Dulay became a good friend and he and I were in the panto together again the following years in Leicester and Cardiff. (If you are Saga readers, there was an article about the Cardiff show on the January back page.)
The Terry Juveniles and the Tiller Girls (right) were also in the show, and they were nearer my age and advised me about the local stage door johnnies and who not to go out with. (I went against their advice once, and they were right!) But those were more innocent days altogether, so no harm done. And I always felt quite safe going home to my digs in Waterloo Street, walking along the front, stopping at the milk bar for a Horlicks, and loving the lights on the sea at night.
But it was that lovely broad stage, doing the 'Walk Down' towards the sweep of the balconies, and the enthusiastic kids and their families all booing and hissing their heads off, to the tune of The Dambusters that I remember most. When I moved here seventeen years ago, I was so disappointed to find 'my' lovely Hippodrome had become a bingo hall. But at least it was used and the stage, the stalls, the fly tower and everything that made it a 'No. One' Theatre was in tact. PLEASE don't let them destroy this. And please, if any of you came to that show as a child, or even better, were in it, do get in touch. I was SHIRLEY JACOBS then, I'm now SHIRLEY JAFFE—still acting (see The House Project and Music and Poetry from World War One in the Fringe in May). The only chorus name I recall was Michelle Moreau, a very pretty girl whose sister was a French film star [Jeanne Moreau]. I have long lost my programme from the show. I'd so love to have a reunion.
And even if you are a latecomer to the delights of Brighton, help us save our lovely Brighton Hippodrome.
—Shirley Jaffe, Hove
Sue Holland writes
My very first visit to the Hippodrome, and in fact to any theatre, was as a three year old. My parents took me to see Billy Cotton's Band Show, thinking that if I decided to start talking I wouldn't be heard!
Following on from that I went to see various ballets there but the one I remember most vividly was Spartacus.
I also used to go to the pantomimes every December, being born on the 19th, and remember very well being chosen as the little girl to have Cinderella's slipper and for my reward I received a Sooty glove puppet, which alas I gave away to The Children's Hospital.
Unfortunately my husband, who is from Shropshire, has never had the pleasure of seeing the interior of the building, and I would dearly love for it to re-open.
[Billy Cotton's band appeared a couple of times a year at the Hippodrome during the Second World War.]
Christine C writes (via 38 Degrees)
Georgie Phillips writes
Sad to note the passing of Dora Bryan. Apart from extensive film and television work, Dora was also a star of variety theatre. She was one of the last to top the bill at the Hippodrome in its theatre days, with her show Here's Dora, which ran for a season from 3 August 1964.
She made several films set in Brighton including the delightful Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), Mad About Men and The Young Lovers (both 1954), Mirrormask (2005) and perhaps her best locally-filmed part, starring opposite Brian Rix in The Night We Got the Bird (1961).
We sent our condolences to her family and her many friends in the acting profession and in Brighton and Hove.
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