YOU have to be old to remember the Hippodrome in Brighton when it was in its prime.

And it is now more than 50 years since the theatre in Middle Street was used for live entertainment,

From outside it is not distinguished, rather squat and almost ugly. But the interior is lavish, designed by the incomparable Frank Matcham.

Like many theatres the Hippodrome has had a chequered history. It started life as an ice skating rink but it was mainly used for variety.

Laurence Olivier made his stage debut there, falling flat on his face.

So many people mobbed The Beatles when they sang at the Hippodrome that they had to escape in a Post Office van purloined from the nearby depot.

Nearly every big name you could imagine appeared there ranging from Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin to the Rolling Stones.

But in the late 1960s it was turned into a bingo hall and it has now been empty for more than a decade.

I fancy that many Brightonians do not even know where it is, yet it could be transformed into a magnificent venue for the city.

Brighton used to have an impressive collection of theatres and large cinemas that could also be used for shows but slowly and painfully they have nearly all closed.

There were battles to save the Regent in Queen’s Road, the Essoldo in North Street, the Astoria in Gloucester Place and many more

But each time the campaign was lost and all that remain are the Hippodrome and the Theatre Royal.

There is a determined effort to save the Hippodrome which could fill a gaping hole in Brighton’s venues.

It has nowhere to stage the largest operas, ballets and musicals which need a big building and a fly tower.

The odds are against the Hippodrome surviving and that many people will see Frank Matcham’s florid but magnificent design again.

Occupying a large site in the heart of Brighton, it would make much more money for developers as flats, shops or a hotel.

Sundry developers have looked at the site but none has so far produced a scheme that would completely satisfy the campaigners.

But now the city council has given new hope to them by adding a vital clause to its conservation plan for central Brighton.

It will insist that any future development must not prejudice future plans to save and restore the building.

Whether this clause will have much effect remains to be seen. But at least it is a sign that the local authority cares about the Hippodrome.

I have only one reservation about the Hippodrome’s revival. It could take trade away from the Theatre Royal just a few streets away in New Road.

Campaigners say that the Hippodrome would not affect the Royal because it would cater for a different market.

The Royal is much too small to stage major shows properly.

But I am not so sure and wonder if the two venues would at times be competing with each other.

The Royal used to be one of the finest provincial theatres in Britain and was among the few that was not grant aided.

Many of the biggest stars in showbusiness appeared there and it generally put on plays before they reached the West End in London.

There are fewer stars on stage than there were.

Going there last week to see Trial by Laughter on a chilly evening, I found the heating was not working and hot water was in limited supply.

The audience was pitifully small for a play which has had a lot of publicity.

I think the Theatre Royal is one of Brighton’s biggest assets and that everything possible should be done to keep it going as a live venue including applying for grant aid if necessary.

If it came to a fight between the Royal and the Hippodrome for survival, I’d back the Royal every time as it is still a going concern.

But the Royal is owned by one of the biggest theatre conglomerates in Britain and ought to be OK.

Supporters of Save Our Hippodrome and Brighton Hippodrome CIC are doing their best to ensure that this lovely old venue can be revived.

Their battle is particularly important this time for if the Hippodrome is demolished, there will be no other building in Brighton capable of staging the largest shows.

The post war history of Brighton’s threatened theatres is depressing. There has not been one victory for campaigns to save them.

But the council’s extra protection is a small but encouraging sign and there is just a chance that this hidden treasure could be rescued.