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27. The Saint Joseph the Worker parish in Coventry, by Terence Richards - Part 2
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29. 1930s Austin's Monthly Magazine articles, by John Bailey Shelton MBE
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A short history of Coventry's Theatres and Cinemas, by Bill Birch

Written in 1985 by our Dad, and word processed in loving memory of our dear Dad, William (Bill) Birch (1911-1990) who lived in Coventry for most of his life and who, like me loved the city. Submitted by his youngest daughter, Wendy Lloyd (nee Birch), in 2021.

Coventry Hippodrome, Hales Street

Second Hippodrome, c1910
The second Hippodrome, c1910.

The first hippodrome was opened on the Pool Meadow (now the bus station). It was a circular, corrugated iron building. Variety turns, circus acts and about 1905 short films were included in the programme. It was closed in 1906.

The second hippodrome was built opposite the Pool Meadow and next to the Swanswell gate. (Now part of Lady Herbert's garden.) It opened on Monday December 31st 1906 and continued until 1937, with many stars appearing, including Charlie Chaplin, George Robey and many good revues and musical shows. The last show was a variety show with Tommy Handley at the top of the bill in his famous sketch "The Disorderly Room". It closed on Saturday 31st October, 1937.

Third Hippodrome, 1938
The third Hippodrome, 1938.

The third building, the New Hippodrome, had been built next door and opened on Monday November 1st 1937. The first show in the New Hippodrome was also a variety, top of the bill being Harry Roy and his Band.

Several years ago (1955) the name was changed to the Coventry Theatre, and finally to the Apollo Theatre in 1979. Sadly the theatre is due to close at the end of May 1985.


The theatre did indeed eventually close, hanging on until its final show on the 6th June 1985. Anyone interested in viewing an archive of the shows performed there might like to see this list.



The Opera House, Hales Street

Opera House 1938
The Opera House in 1938.

Opened in 1889 the Opera House's first production was A Midsummer Night's Dream. It continued to provide entertainment of every kind plus, variety, opera, musical shows and even a circus. It closed in 1928 with a play called Creme. It was then rebuilt and modernised. It then reopened with a musical show called Hit the Deck and again many marvellous shows were produced.

In 1931 the theatre changed to repertory with the formation of the Coventry Repertory Company. It continued with many later 'stars' making their debut with the company until it was bombed in 1940. After repairs it was reopened as a cinema until 1961 when it was demolished.

Empire Theatre, Hertford Street

Empire Theatre 1908
The Empire Theatre, 1908.

Opened in 1906, the first production was a comedy - 'Catch of the Season', with a star of the period Zena Dare. During the years many great artistes appeared at the theatre including Clara Butt, Pavlova, George Robey and Phyllis Neilson Terry. In the 1920s the theatre went more for films with only occasional plays, probably owing to the difficulty of access for props and settings.

One afternoon during the 1930s a telephonist in the exchange which was then on the top floor of the GPO building, opposite the theatre, saw smoke coming from the roof of the theatre and raised the alarm. Fortunately there were only a few people in the theatre at that time and they went outside very quickly. The Fire Services were on the spot within a few minutes but even so the building was gutted.

A new Empire was built which was very nice and very up to date only to be bombed in the war. The Empire theatre was once again repaired and reopened until it was finally demolished during the redevelopment of Hertford street when the present building was erected and renamed ABC 123.

The Belgrade Theatre, Corporation Street

Belgrade Theatre 1958
The newly built Belgrade Theatre, 1958.

Opened March 1958 by HRH (Marina) Duchess of Kent.

A very grand building seating 911, every seat having full view of the stage. It has many fine plays and musical shows. One interesting item is the wood used in the construction which was a gift from the people of Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The Theatre Royal, Smithford Street (1818-1889)

Theatre Vaults 1939

There was a Theatre Royal for a number of years producing plays by officers of the militia from the nearby barracks, as well as others. The theatre closed in 1889 when the owner William Bennett moved to the Opera House.


On the right is a 1939 photograph of part of the Theatre Vaults public house, which served as the entrance to the Theatre Royal at the rear. (More information about this place can be found on the Coventry's Pub History website.)



Cinemas

The first films to be shown in 1901 in Coventry were shown in the Corn Exchange which later became the Empire theatre.

The first purpose-built cinema was the Star cinema in Hertford street.

Films were also shown at the Opera House, Hales Street after being bombed during the war.

The Coventry Theatre also had films, usually during the summer in the 1970s.

The Rex cinema was the last cinema to be built in Coventry in 1937. It was also the first cinema to be bombed in the city in 1940.

At the time of writing this article, 1985, there are only three cinemas left in Coventry: ABC, Odeon and Theatre One.


Below is an alphabetical list of Coventry's many cinemas:


 
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