Console Closeup

The Mighty Wurlitzer, originally designed for a Chicago millionaire's residence, was installed in the Regal Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames for its opening on 15th February, 1932. The theatre could seat 2,445 people and it was fitted with a large stage and dressing rooms, a cafe and a dance floor. Although regarded by many as an ugly building in red brick, one local newspaper said about the interior, "Pale green shades on the walls give a delightful fresh effect and dull gold and lacquered silver tones have also been employed in conjunction with black. Tableaux curtains in soft blended shades of gold and jade green velours in the side splay curtains and borders with silver grey screen curtains........". The organ had twelve ranks of pipes, cathedral chimes and a grand piano played from the keys and as well as its use during film performances was broadcast extensively, recorded and used in lavish stage shows including the famous Radio Rodeo. This was renowned for the appearance of the stars of the day and organists such as Sidney Torch, Phil Park, Harold Ramsey and Robinson Cleaver.

Union cinemas who owned the Regal went into financial difficulties in 1938 and Associated British Cinemas (ABC) took over. The organ continued to play a major part in the entertainment, particularly in war time except for a brief spell in 1940 when the cinema was damaged during an air raid. In 1946 the Oboe Horn was replaced with a Clarinet but this was subsequently replaced by a Krumet in 1955. Joseph Seal was appointed Musical Director of ABC in 1951 and, as resident organist, made many broadcasts and recordings from the cinema. He also recorded interval and end-of-programme medleys for other cinemas in the circuit which did not have organs or organists at that time.

The Regal Cinema
Exterior of the Regal, Kingston in 1966.
Harold Ramsay plays
Harold Ramsay at the Console c.1937.

Removal, and Rebuilding in the Musical Museum, Brentford
The organ was removed from the cinema in October 1972 and taken to the Musical Museum in Brentford, just a few miles away. The pipes are housed in chambers built of Weyroc with the sound being projected through the swell shutters and up over the top of the chambers. This is similar to the arrangement in the cinema where the sound came down chutes over the procenium arch and out into the auditorium. The illuminated surround, with most of its glass broken, was discovered in a storeroom at the cinema during the dismantling process and was restored at Brentford as was the console. The original grand piano was removed from the organ several years previously but the museum managed to acquire the Steinway Grand from the Ritz, Nottingham and this was restored and connected to the organ. If an organist is not available, the organ can still be played by a Wurlitzer Automatic Reproducing Roll Player which has music rolls of many American theatre organists including the great Jesse Crawford. Stop changes and swell effects as well as the notes are controlled from the music rolls which have 105 perforations across their width.

Joseph Seal 1
Joseph Seal at the console c.1951
Joseph Seal 2
Joseph Seal plays at the Musical Museum.

It was fitting that the first concert in the new location should be given by Joseph Seal who was so popular at the cinema. Before his death he made more recordings which showed he had not lost his touch and that the Wurlitzer was excellently restored and well suited to the acoustics of the museum, which is in fact an old church with a reverberation time comparable to that in the cinema. Since that first concert it has been played by all of the leading British theatre organists and many American ones and has given me many hours of pleasure, both in playing and listening.

Illuminated Console
Illuminated console and jelly mould surround
Music Roll Player
Who needs an organist? The mechanical music roll player
Organ pipes
Examples of metal and wood pipes
View in pipe chamber
One of the crowded pipe chambers

Thanks to Michael Ryder and the staff of the Musical Museum, Brentford for all their help and patience over the years and acknowledgement is made to the booklets, "The Regal Wurlitzer Cinema Organ" and "The Regal, Kingston-upon-Thames".

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Pictures 1998 Chas Girdwood and Musical Museum. Page design and text 1999 Chas Girdwood.