The Grand Theatre


The Grand Theatre, Llandudno was designed by G.A.Humphreys, architect and agent to Mostyn Estates, together with Edwardian master theatre designer Edwin O. Sachs, restorer of The Royal Opera House and world famous for his stages. He cleverly engineered the stage here to have an adjustable rake or slope. He was very concerned with the risk of fire which had destroyed many theatres so in his design of the Grand, areas such as the balconies and exit stairs were constructed of concrete, while the stage could be cut off by a fire curtain.

The Grand Theatre was opened on Bank Holiday, August 5th 1901, seating 1,100 in three tiers. Described as ‘the latest and most modern Temple of Thespis’ it had a shaky start as it was built on what was then a muddy track, out in the green fields between the town and Craig-y-Don and it was six long years before the road, now known as the Mostyn Broadway, was built. It has been described as a ‘West End Theatre in Miniature’. In fact an architectural/historical survey of every surviving pre-1914 theatre in Britain rated the importance of the Grand alongside London’s top West End playhouses, awarding it a maximum three star rating. Despite years of neglect, the main fabric of the theatre remains intact and the under-stage equipment is a particularly rare survival.

Matching the well-established Llandudno musical tradition, the Grand recruited a good full-time orchestra. It stayed open all year with a mixture of repertory and light variety. George Formby performed here in 1925, and a season of grand opera was staged in 1926.

Its greatest days were during World War 2 when the BBC took it over for their evacuated Variety Department. A series of regular radio comedy shows. Happidrome and Tommy Handley’s famous ITMA were tremendously popular with the radio audiences. Great morale boosters on the Home Front, they were announced as ‘coming to you from somewhere in Britain’.

The BBC Theatre Organ was bombed in 1940, so its place was taken by Reginald Foort’s own touring organ which was evacuated from London to the Grand early in 1941. It was played hour after hour during the early part of the war, to fill up airtime during a period of depleted resources. It was and is the largest portable pipe organ in the world weighing in at 28 tons. It was transported in a fleet of pantechnicons with an army of engineers to install it. Reginald Foort and Sandy McPherson were the most frequent performers on it. Later it was moved to the County Theatre, Bangor and after the war was sold to Radio Nederland. After many years at Hilversum it found its way via several owners to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, California, where it is still a popular attraction and can still be seen and heard on YouTube.

In 1951 the Welsh National Opera gave their first North Wales Season as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. But first they had to clear out the manure, straw and smell of the previous performers: the Circus Rosaire! Rep became the mainstay along with performances of local amateur groups.

Probably the most successful year ever for the owner of the Grand, John Creese-Parsons, was 1959. The pop pianist Russ Conway played a season there. He had been booked when he was still a largely unknown performer, but his arrival happily coincided with the release of his chart topping record ‘Side Saddle’. The show was a nightly sell out with vast crowds of his fans queuing round the block.

After that there were a number of years of rep, followed by local entertainer Alex Munro’s Old Tyme Musical Summer Shows.

Closed by order of the Local Authority in 1980 it was reopened as the Broadway Boulevard Nightclub in 1987. Fortunately the building is listed as grade two stars, so the conversion into a nightclub was sympathetic, with the original features boxed in and hidden behind false ceilings and facades.

Now the nightclub has closed and the building is up for sale at £750,000 as a nightclub. If a buyer comes along then it will no doubt continue its use for clubbers as before. However, I believe the time is ripe for the Grand to be converted back into use as a live theatre, but to make it really viable, also as a cinema. I think that the Lottery would fund the conversion, but the cost of buying it is a problem because the asking price is very unrealistic due to structural problems which we saw when we held the open day there. It is at the moment, just a case of wait and see.

John Lawson-Reay. Conservation Officer.



 

 

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