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.
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.
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
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.
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.