The original structure known as the Empire opened on the 4th July 1895 and offered a mixture of dancing and variety. It claimed that 6000 people could watch or to take part in the entertainment at any one time. It was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by Manchester architect John Dent Harker, who also designed the Victoria (South) Pier Pavilion in Blackpool.
In 1897 the Empire changed ownership after going bankrupt and even housed the local Synagogue underneath for a while, then concentrated on variety, recruiting talent from London. At the time it was the only music hall in Blackpool. Three years later in 1900 the Empire changed its name to the Hippodrome and was converted to a circus. In 1910 a ‘raked’ floor, a slope between the stage and seating area, was added giving the audience a clearer view of the larger scenes.
The Empire Theatre
1897 advert for the Empire Theatre
Acts for the season included Kellino troupe of acrobats, Zertho and his performing dogs, Sandow the monarch of muscle, Colibris troupe of midgets, plus many more attractions !
The old Hippodrome was sold in 1910 to cinema interests and breifly became the King’s Cinema and variety theatre, seating 2500 and subsequently became one of Blackpool’s leading theatres. Nineteen years later in April 1929, the Hippodrome and Princess were acquired by Associated British Cinema (ABC). Under the ABC management, the Hippodrome introduced talking pictures to Blackpool.
Advertisement for the Hippodrome Cinema – 1926
The entrance and front view as seen in 1936
Blackpool’s first talkie film, “The Jazz Singer”, was shown at the Hippodrome in April 1929 after ABC (Associated British Cinemas) had taken over the theatre, which kept the name Hippodrome until 1963.
The final Summer Season at the Hippodrome was in 1961, starring David Whitfield in Rose Marie, with the final show on the 9th September. A few films were shown after this date, up until the 28th October, with the last films being, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” along with the “B” film “The Third Alibi”.
The information board outside stated that, “This theatre closes to the public after the evening performance tonight for major alterations and renovations.” The Hippodrome closed on 28th October 1961.
Thus there was no Summer Season show for 1962, and during 1962-63 the building was remodelled and the New ABC was built at a cost of £ 347,000. It claimed to be the most luxurious theatre in Europe. Much of the old theatre was demolished, except the outer walls, and the new ABC Theatre was rebuilt within the shell of the old.
Demolition in progress during early 1962, probably April time.
Huge parts of the original ornate theatre facade were removed, lost forever, and front walls raised and squared off to create a more modern 1960′s look. The large arched roof was removed and replaced with a low pitched roof.
The new ABC Theatre was opened by the Mayor on the 31st of May 1963 with the summer season stage show “Holiday Carnival” starring Cliff Richard and The Shadows. They arrived in the “Santa Fe Train” tram, which thus became the last tram to pass through the town centre. The Beatles then played five Sunday concerts at the ABC in the first season, followed by two at the Queen’s Theatre.
It was used for stage shows during the summer months, with films and concerts during the winter seasons. It was permanently wired up for TV transmissions and during the 1960′s ABC Weekend Television transmitted their Blackpool Night Out shows from there. Mike and Bernie Winters, Cilla Black, Ray Alan, Lionel Blair and Bob Sharples were filmed there in 1965 for ITV. During the out-of-season months, the theatre showed selected pre-release films.
“Blackpool Night Out” – 1965
A show from the ABC Theatre
An excellent show filmed at the ABC which included The Beatles Live on “Blackpool Night Out” 1965.
In 1965 the first performance of the Beatles song “Yesterday” at the ABC.
The Summer Season shows starred the likes of Frank Ifield, Morecambe & Wise, Cilla Black, Tommy Steele and Englebert Humperdink.
Holiday Startime – Summer Season show 1967
Frank Ifield, Jimmy Tarbuck, Audrey Jeans, Tanya and The Barron Knights
The final summer season show was in 1980 starring John Inman in ‘Fancy Free’.
It was one of the few theatres in Britain to have a permanent revolving stage and the last live show took place in December 1980.
The ABC was closed for conversion into a triple screen cinema in January 1981, completely ruining a fine modern theatre. The ABC Cinema opened on Thursday 30th April 1981, the first three films being, Private Benjamin (1), Ordinary People (2), and The Long Good Friday (3). The capacities were 728, 323 and 220.
No more stage shows were possible after the tripling, although the old revolving stage and safety curtain remained unused behind the conversion and was used for storage.
Renamed the Cannon in 1986, then MGM from May 1993, the final closure as a cinema came on the 14th July 2000, when it closed so they could start to turn it in to the Syndicate Superclub. The last films to be screened in the previous week, 7th – 13th July, were Chicken Run, Gladiator and Mission Impossible 2.
After two years closure, it reopened as the Syndicate Night Club in December 2002, which closed 10th August 2011. The building came up for auction in 2012, with no interested buyer. The building is threatened with demolition by the Council who want to turn the site into a car park, a great deal of local opposition to the plans has been started. There is an article about the proposed use of the site in the Blackpool Gazette here.
Some interesting articles from the Gazette about the Empire/Empire/ABC building
21/11/2012 Owners seek to sell The Syndicate
28/12/2012 ‘A sad demise but right thing to do’
05/01/2013 ‘We’re looking at all options’
09/01/2013 Heritage leaders snub ABC campaign
16/01/2013 ‘Halt plans to bulldoze club’
15/03/2013 Syndicate is in council hands
19/03/2013 Posing behind the ABC in 1968
21/03/2013 The life of the Empire
12/04/2013 The theatre that shouted “showbiz”
18/04/2013 Jumbo stars but NO Jimi made ABC bill!
26/04/2013 Honky tonk of a Hippodrome party
The Beatles – July 7th 1963
Sunday 18th September 1966
The Sandie Shaw Show – Miki & Griff, Johnny Hawkins Band, Cloda Rogers, The Montanas
Blackpool ABC – 1967
The Tom Jones Show with the Ted Heath Orchestra, Jerry Stevens and Peter Maxwell
Sunday 27th August 1967
Engelbert Humperdinck, The Searchers, Jimmy Marshall, The Chantelles, The Corsairs and Jimmy Marshall
Sunday 7th July 1968
Frankie Vaughan, The Dallas Boys, The Stereos, Luan Peter
Sunday 14th July 1968
The Shadows, Peter Maxwell, Barry Lee Show, Chas McDevitt, Billy Raymond, The Marigolds
Sunday 21st July 1968
Frankie Vaughan, The Dallas Boys, The Four O’Briens, Johnny Pace, Linda Clark