Although by the time this photograph was taken in the late 1980s the theatre had been converted to a bingo hall, the attractiveness of the 'Art Deco' design was still plainly evident - in fact it looks here as good as it ever had done in its glory days as the "Showplace of the Midlands".
Opening on Monday 1st November 1937 as the New Hippodrome, with a week-long show featuring Harry Roy and his Band, the place was subsequently renamed Coventry Theatre on the 14th March 1955, as the Rogers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific began a two-week stint following its run at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The reason for the change in name was an effort by Mr. S. H. Newsome to distinguish it from the many other "Hippodromes" around the country.
In September 1979 the theatre was saved from closure by Apollo Leisure (UK) Limited, who spent £50,000 sprucing the old place up ready for the Duchess of Kent to attend a charity show on the 16th October. Two years earlier Lord Delfont and the E.M.I. Corporation had been on the verge of turning the theatre into a bingo hall, but had backed down in the face of much protest. The theatre had survived for now.... but for less than six more years. Despite the change of ownership, however, the theatre did not take on the name The Apollo Theatre, Coventry until April 1981, and because of production delays the new illuminated sign was not installed until July 1981.
The decline in attendance had been noticed for some time, though, and the downturn was reported by local newspapers in 1976. It was not, however, a Coventry phenomenon, but a national trend, with traditional variety shows and popular plays dropping out of fashion. It also coincided with the building of the N.E.C. just up the A45, which opened in February of that year. Popular bands who could command an audience there of 15,000 in one sitting would have had to perform to over seven full houses at Coventry Theatre for the same pay-out, so it was no surprise that most would choose not to play here. The theatre struggled on for just a few more years, though, with Barbara Dixon taking the final curtain (ironically to an almost full house) on Thursday 6th June 1985.
Since the turn of the new millennium, the appropriately named place that has replaced the theatre has changed forever the whole look of this end of Hales Street. A quick click on the picture above will reveal the post-2002 scene.
Despite the obvious lament over the removal of a well loved Coventry landmark, hopefully Coventry's Transport Museum, which now largely covers the site, will not be given the blame for its demise. The museum is something that we in Coventry can still be extremely proud of, and it contains the largest collection of British road transport anywhere in the world, including two of the fastest cars on earth - ever! (Thrust 2 and Thrust SSC.) Also, a pleasantly surprising addition to the museum is the "Blitz Experience", where you can imagine yourself back in the Second World War. For those interested in the event that sowed the seed of an idea to create our Transport Museum, you might wish to read this article by Paul Maddocks.
Coincidentally, on a car theme, the other thing that strikes me on looking at the 80s photo, is that virtually all the cars are Fords! Back to the theatre, though; anyone interested in viewing an archive of the shows performed there might like to see this list. Also of interest might be A short history of Coventry's Theatres and Cinemas, by Bill Birch.
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