Monday, 16 June 2014

Blackpool's Syndicate aka ABC Theatre

On Satuday as I was walking through Blackpool with camera at the ready I stopped to take a photo of the old Syndicate night club building.

I always think of it as the ABC Theatre, but it started life as the Empire Theatre and Opera House in July 1895. The opening performance included turns by Miss Maggie Duggan, who was a male impersonator and also Mr Quinton Gibson, who impersonated females. If they had only got together they could have saved a lot of bother...

Plagued by financial problems the Empire closed in 1900 to be turned into the Hippodrome and opened as a circus, but ten years later was refurbished inside with a raked floor which allowed use as both a cinema and variety theatre. Associated British Cinemas (ABC) took over the building in 1929 but a planned rebuild was interrupted by the Second World War and it was 1963 before the theatre was rebuilt and opened in grand style with a lavish Summer Season show called Holiday Carnival and starring Cliff Richard and the Shadows, who released an extended play album (EP) also named Holiday Carnival.

The stage had a revolving section built into it. Some of the greatest names from the 1960s and 70s played there, including The Beatles, Morecambe and Wise and many more. ABC used it to stage the televised Blackpool Night Out shows during the 1960s.

Then in 1981 the cinema became a triple screen cinema and that was the end of the live shows, though the stage, orchestra pit and dressing rooms still existed at this point. The name changed again to Cannon (1986) and MGM (1993) but at the end of 1998 the cinema closed for good. Four long years later it reopened as the Syndicate nightclub after a massive refurbishment that saw all of the theatre interior and workings removed. It closed in 2007, reopened and stuttered along for special events and a spell as a Polish night club.

The council have plans for a car park for a few years before it turns into something else. One idea has been for a high quality hotel to try to woo conference trade back to the Winter Gardens. We shall see.

At the moment, the Syndicate cladding is coming off and some of the old decorative brickwork from pre-1963 days is being uncovered. There was a lot of feeling in the town that the building should not be lost, but conversion to almost anything else would have been prohibitively expensive. The days of variety shows that I remember with such affection are sadly all but gone. Britain's Got Morons (sorry - "Talent", though that is patently untrue...) is about the last bastion of variety these days.

Very, very, sad.

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