Home of the stars

Home of the stars

Home of the stars

First published in Past Present The Argus: Photograph of the Author by

Some of the biggest names in show- business appeared at the Hippodrome in Middle Street, Brighton. They included the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Laurence Olivier, Gracie Fields, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Sammy Davis Jr and the home-grown comedian, Max Miller.

Opened in 1887 as the Brighton Ice Rink, it was enlarged by the theatre designer Frank Matcham and reopened as a circus in 1901. The following year it became a variety theatre.

It was big enough to hold 3,000 people and one performance attracted 4,500, according to Rob Tulley in a piece about the Hippodrome included in a new book.

But after the Second World War, its appeal declined and it closed in 1965. Between 1967 and 2007, it was used for bingo and since then has stood empty.

At least it is still there, which is more than can be said for most theatres in Brighton, including those on the two piers.

Another famous theatre was the Grand at the top of North Road. Built in 1891, it also had a spell as a circus before turning to variety.

Then known as the Eden, it survived a serious fire in 1896 to become a popular venue, rivalling the Theatre Royal in New Road.

The Grand had some of its best days after the First World War when run by the impresario Andrew Melville who also appeared in many productions.

After a period as a cinema, it went back to live entertainment in 1941. Famous performers there included Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Arthur English, Max Wall, Norman Wisdom, Frankie Vaughan and the ubiquitous Max Miller.

It closed in 1955 to become a furniture warehouse and was destroyed by a second fire in 1965.

The Alhambra in King’s Road opened in 1888 and the narrow frontage opened up into a large auditorium capable of seating 2,000 people.

Exotically decorated, it soon became a favourite variety theatre and was also used to show some of the earliest films. It was later remodelled by Frank Matcham who made it even more lavish.

Renamed the Palladium in 1937, it staggered on until 1956. The Brighton Centre now occupies its site.

Actor and singer Jack Buchanan opened the Imperial Theatre, North Street, in 1940. He starred in the opening show, Top Hat And Tails.

The foundation stones were laid by comedy film stars Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls.

Built as a variety theatre, it soon became a cinema although it continued to be used as well for occasional live performances by stars such as Arthur Askey.

It was a handsome building in art deco style, able to seat 1,875 people and boasting its own restaurant.

The Imperial was renamed the Essoldo cinema in 1950 and was converted into a bingo hall in the 1960s. There was a campaign to save it after closure but it was demolished in 1999, to be replaced by a block of shops.

Close to the Theatre Royal stood the Oxford Music Hall, destroyed by fire in 1867 four years after opening. It was rebuilt and eventually became the Dolphin Theatre.

Music hall stars such as Marie Lloyd and Little Tich appeared there and it also put on stage shows before becoming a cinema and finally closing in 1962. Offices now occupy the site.

* Much more theatrical history is is to be found in Backstage Brighton (QueenSpark Books, £11.99).

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