Monday, 1 August 2011

The Scala Theatre, Birkenhead

"Where shall we go? The Hippodrome or the Argyle? ..... I've heard there's a good show on at the Scala -" Ultramarine

I have already posted about this line in Malc's Ultramarine under the title The Smells of Birkenhead and Liverpool. I now realise that I incorrectly stated the theatre Lowry was referring to was the cinema in Lime Street Liverpool. However, I now believe that he was referring to the former Scala Theatre in Birkenhead since the other 2 theatres he mentions are both in Birkenhead. What caused me to change my mind was finding a 1927 programme for the Scala in Birkenhead. The scene in Ultramarine is probably based on Lowry's youthful excursions to Birkenhead theatres with Tess Evans.

The Scala Theatre was originally called the Theatre Royal opening at 51/53 Argyle Street, Birkenhead on 31st October 1864. The theatre was altered after a fire in 1892, extensively modernised in 1905 and introduced cinema into the programmes in 1910.

Under pressure from cinema, the Theatre Royal closed in January 1921. The new proprietors Sol and Alfred Levy spent a fortune in converting the theatre to a modern picture house. James S. Bramwell was in charge of the reconstruction, Arnold Auerbach, a Liverpool artist, provided the designs and J.A. Milestone was in charge of building work.

The cinema had a well-proportioned hall, on the right hand side of which was the main stairway to the balcony and café. On the newel post (or central pillar) was an ornamental ruby red brazier balanced by two similar lights on opposite walls. Entrance to the stalls was via a screen of pillars and the main lounge hall. The latter was of a Neo Graeco influence and sported artistically-illuminated semi-archaic panels of black murals depicting Greek legends. Indeed the foyer had a temple-like atmosphere.

On passing into the auditorium the most noticeable feature was the proscenium. The projection equipment was somewhat a novel to the area with films being projected from behind the stage rather than from the front of the screen. This necessitated the screen being transparent to the film yet opaque in terms of the audience not being able to see either the projectionist or his equipment.

The brightly decorated stage set was set off by glowing blue background. The proscenium opening was flanked by two tall piers, colossal gilded masks and decorative, lacquered lanterns. Both the piers and the cross beam were adorned with painted figures. Ceiling lights compromised four sculptured figures standing on an illuminated sphere and holding lighted globes in their hands. Lighting was supplemented by jewel lamps of quaint design. The orchestra pit was deeply recessed below floor level.

At that time this was the only cinema in the town to have a café, which was a lofty room to the left of the main stairway. It was finished in crimson, black, gold and blue with large, red-framed wall decorations and richly coloured lights suspended from the ceiling. The décor f the ante-rooms and corridors was in harmony with that of the main building.
The Silver Screens of Wirral: A History of Cinemas in Birkenhead and Bebington by P.A. Carson & C.R. Garner

The cinema re-opened on 25th April 1921 as the Scala Picture House. The cinema had daily matinees at 3.00pm and continuous performances from 6.30 to 10.30pm. In 1927, the licensee and manager was Cyril Levy, circle cost 1 shilling and 6 pence, the stalls 1 shilling and the upper circle 5 pence. The Scala was the first cinema in Bikenhead to show “talkies” in August 1929. In February 1930 the Scala was taken over by Associated British Cinemas and soon after closed for redecoration. The Scala finally closed on 6th February 1937 and was demolished to be replaced with a new cinema called the Savoy.

One of the interesting things which struck me when I obtained a programme for the Scala, dated November 14th 1927, was the contents of the programme which was a mixture of live performance and movies. Here is a break down of the programme for that week in 1927 which may have been similar to what Malc and Tess may have seen:

Gaumont Graphic
The Gaumont Graphic was a silent newsreel which was issued from 25 October 1910 to 29 December 1932. In November 1929, Gaumont launched a new sound newsreel, the Gaumont Sound News, and for the next three years the Graphic functioned as its silent counterpart for smaller cinemas which did not possess sound. After the demise of the Gaumont Graphic, the Gaumont Sound News continued until the launch of the Gaumont British News in 1934.

The initial editorial arrangements of the Gaumont Graphic are unknown, but from 1913 it was edited by Alec Braid. In 1915 Braid was replaced by Alexander Victor, but by the following year Victor had himself been replaced by Louis Behr, who remained in editorial control of the Gaumont Graphic and Gaumont Sound News until 1934.
British Universities Film & Video Council

You can find every surviving Gaumont Graphic clip by searching JISC MediaHub

Tony Hargreaves and Dorothy Dodd
Unfortunately, I cannot find anything on this act except what it says in the programme - in musical and character studies.

Talbot O'Farrell

I couldn't really find too much about Talbot O'Farrell even though he was very popular in the 20s and 30s and even made a film directed by Michael Powell called Born Lucky.


Titles read: "Pathetone now has pleasure in presenting - The famous Variety, Screen & Radio Star Talbot O'FARRELL." London (probably Pathe Studio). Various shots of Talbot O'Farrell standing beside a piano in traditional 'Irishman' costume of a light-coloured top hat, dark double-breasted suit, light trousers and spats. He does a bit of patter about the silly titles of songs being sung nowadays. He then sings an Irish song called 'Little Green Heaven' (about Ireland, naturally). We see superimposed shots of the Irish countryside and the pretty colleen who is waiting for Talbot. British Pathe

Here is Talbot singing All that I want is in Ireland:


Full titles read: "And now 'Pathetone' introduces another celebrated Artist on the screen - Talbot O'Farrell - the famous Variety Star." London, probably Pathe Studio. M/S of a man in tails sitting at a grand piano and playing. Variety star Talbot O'Farrell enters, looking very smart in a top hat and suit. He does a bit of patter and then sings an Irish comedy song, 'Casey's Charabanc', a jaunty song about various characters and events on a charabanc trip. At the end of the song he starts clapping, to encourage the cinema audience! He says he is going to sing a different kind of Irish song, one that he sang for Their Majesties the King and Queen at the Command Performance, called 'Come Back To Ireland And Me'. Talbot sings the sentimental song - an Irish Mother's lament.
British Pathe

(1926) American
B&W : Seven reels / 2104 metres
Directed by Charles Brabin

Cast: Doris Kenyon [Judy Winslow], Warner Baxter [Ted Carroll], May Allison [Belle], Philo McCullough [Jim Winslow], Charles Murray [Black], Maude Turner Gordon [Mrs. Winslow], John Kolb [Watson], Cyril Ring [Helwig], Nancy Kelly [Jimsy], Betty Byrne

Distributed by First National Pictures, Incorporated. / Supervising producer Earl Hudson. Scenario by Sada Cowan, from a play by Myron C. Fagan. / Released 26 July 1926. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. / The film was released in Austria in 1927, and in Germany in 1928.


Survival Status: (unknown)

Mismates was based on the Myron C. Fagan stage play of the same name. Doris Kenyon (above) plays a pretty young woman of modest means who doesn't know what she's in for when she marries wealthy Philo McCullough. The groom's over-protective mother not only refuses to recognize the marriage, but she also denies Kenyon access to the family home -- for five long years! McCullough's snooty relatives try to rid themselves of Kenyon by framing the girl for a crime she didn't commit. But our heroine escapes from jail to get the last laugh on her despicable in-laws. Halfway through the film, director Charles J. Brabin tries and fails to emulate Cecil B. DeMille with an extravagant society party, which makes about as much sense as the rest of picture. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

I was interested to discover that the film's director was born in Liverpool:

Charles J. Brabin (April 17, 1882 in Liverpool, England - November 3, 1957 in Santa Monica, California) was an American film director and screenwriter. He was active during the silent era, then pursued a short-lived career in talkies.

Born in Liverpool, England, he was educated at St. Francis Xavier College. Brabin sailed to New York in the early 1900s and, while holding down odd jobs there, he tried his hand as a stage actor. He joined the Edison Company around 1908, first acting then writing then directing. His last film was A Wicked Woman for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1934.

Brabin wed silent-film "vamp" star Theda Bara (seen below) in 1921, remaining married to her until her death from abdominal cancer in April 1955 and becoming one of the rare long-lasting Hollywood marriages.

Full filmography of Charles Brabin

I was fascinated while researching this post to discover a Liverpool born artist new to me - Arnold Auerbach 1898-1978:

This self-portrait was drawn on Auerbach's return to London from the continent at the age of twenty-four. It bears the impress of the late quattrocento, recalling portraits by Piero della Francesca and Giovanni Bellini. As a sort of 'coming of age' portrait 'it is a summation of his student days; an avowal of his powers as a draughtsman and an anticipation of the art world opening before him.' (Elizabeth Harvey-Lee, Arnold Auerbach, 1998).

Auerbach was born in Liverpool to second-generation immigrants, his grandfather having come from Poland. In his Sculpture: a Brief History, one of a number of books on the subject, Auerbach wrote that drawing was the link, the common factor, between painting and sculpture. Having studied previously at the Liverpool School of Art, been invalided out of the army in 1918 two years after being drafted at the age of eighteen, he exhibited in 1919 at the Maddox Street Gallery and in 1921 at the Walker Art Gallery.

Through the 1920s Auerbach worked as an architectural sculptor on the interiors of art-deco buildings, including for the palace of the Nawab of Rampur in India. In the later 1920s and early 1930s his style changed from reflecting an awareness of ancient Egyptian stance, simplification and monumentality of form to experimentation with the broken forms, angularity and semi-abstract patterning of cubism. He later worked at the Beckenham Art School, the Regent Street Polytechnic and the Chelsea School of Art variously teaching architecture, sculpture, still life and portrait painting. Ill-health forced him to give up sculpture in the 1950s, by which time he had returned to naturalism.

You can view some examples of his work at the site.

No comments:

Post a Comment