Savoy Theatre

By Norman Jacobs

 Click on any image to enlarge

The Savoy Theatre


Baz Cut Barber Shop now stands on a site in Rosemary Road that was formerly one of Clacton’s leading entertainment centres, playing host to two theatres, two cinemas, a bingo hall and a number of night clubs. 

It all began in 1892, when a vacant plot of land was chosen on the corner of Rosemary Road and High Street to build Clacton’s first town hall, which was also to include not just the offices of the new authority but also a bank, some shops and a theatre.

This new theatre, named the Operetta House, was opened on 4 June 1894 with a performance by (then) very well-known actor, John Lawrence Toole and his theatrical company. 

The Operetta House put on a varied programme of shows, not just operetta but also included ballet, straight plays, musical comedies and variety shows. 

Around the turn of the century, the Operetta House began showing the new-fangled moving pictures as a turn on their variety shows, but gradually, during the early part of the 20th century, the showing of films took up a larger and larger part of the variety bills. 

In 1909, the theatre closed down to enable it to be revamped into a full time cinema, opening in 1911 as the Operetta House Cinema under Fredericks’ Electric Theatres Ltd., Clacton’s first full-time cinema. 

In 1924, it was taken over by Eldorado Cinemas Ltd and later by 20th Century Cinema when it was renamed the Tivoli Cinema and continued presenting full cinema programmes until the outbreak of War in 1939, at which time it closed down.

On 8 May 1941, the building was bombed in a raid on the town centre. Fortunately, the Tivoli Cinema survived, but was very badly damaged and remained closed for the rest of the War and for a number of years afterwards.

It finally re-opened on 4 June 1951, having been rebuilt and converted back into a theatre, renamed the Savoy, in time for that year’s Summer Variety Season. Unlike most other Summer Seasons of the time which ran with the same cast throughout the season, the Savoy opted for a change of programme each week, so that shows ran from Monday to Saturday, two houses each night, with a new show the following week. 

For the second week the stars were Anne Zeigler and Webster Booth. Also  included on the bill was a young unknown double act at the bottom of the bill called Morecambe and Wise. I wonder if they ever made the big time? 

The theatre closed at the end of the season, re-opening in June 1952. 

At the end of the 1952 season, the Savoy remained open throughout the winter as a repertory theatre with a weekly series of plays produced and directed by Arthur Lane and John Pennington. 

This mixture of Variety and Rep continued until the end of the 1954 Summer Season, at which time the Savoy was bought by Paul Raymond, a producer already well-known for his touring vaudeville show called Vaudeville Express, featuring topless dancers.                                                                                                                                      

In 1955, Raymond brought his new show, Fabulous Montmartre, to Clacton. Many in the town were scandalised. So, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that the show was the first in Clacton to feature nudes, it was not a great success and had to be taken off mid-season.

In place of the nudes, Raymond brought in 40 year old Musical Marie, billed as the “Non-Stop Pianist”. Starting at 10:00 a.m. on 22 August, she began her attempt to break what she claimed was the world record for playing the piano continuously, which was 132 hours, set by a West German pianist earlier that year. She kept herself going with a daily allocation of a gallon of tea and 100 cigarettes, interspersed with boiled eggs, fruit juice and glasses of brandy. 


Musical Marie finished her marathon at 11:00 p.m. on 27 August, 133 hours after she had begun and the audience broke into a chorus of Rule Britannia. 


However, a reporter from the East Essex Gazette rather spoilt the whole occasion when he discovered that her world record claim was invalid as she herself had already played for 134 hours in Limerick in 1953!


At the end of 1955, Paul Raymond sold the theatre to a new company called Savoy Theatre (Clacton) Ltd. and, in 1956, the Summer Variety Season resumed.


Over the next few years, until the early 1960s, this remained the format with some of the very top names of show business starring, including Roy Castle, Dick Emery, Jimmy Young, Peter Brough & Archie Andrews, Billy Cotton, Alma Cogan, Dickie Valentine, Arthur Askey, Lonnie Donegan, Vic Oliver and the Cheeky Chappie himself, Max Miller.


1963 saw a complete change of direction for the Savoy as the Summer Variety Season came to an end with the Theatre being taken over by actor and producer, Derek Pollitt, who produced a full season of the musical, Salad Days. At the time, this four month season was said to be the longest run Salad Days had enjoyed since its initial London West End run.


Variety returned in 1964 with a show called Holiday Showtime in a short five week season starring Donald Peers, but it was already becoming evident that Clacton’s days as a leading seaside resort that could sustain six theatres was coming to an end and audience numbers fell dramatically. The season finished with a small postscript as for the week commencing 31 August a show starring a young singer called Gerry Dorsey was staged. 


But that was it. The theatre went the way of many others of the period and became a bingo hall run by Coronet Bingo and later a night club, under various names – The Zone, Zone 2, Rumours, Vice Versa and, finally, The Savoy. Following the closure of the Savoy Night Club, the venue was sold off for commercial and residential development.


And so, one of Clacton’s prime entertainment venues is now no longer an entertainment centre. Different people will have different memories of it depending on their age, whether as a cinema, a theatre, a bingo hall or a night club.


Sadly now all gone but, as the saying goes, not forgotten.

CHANGE OF VENUE.      The Clacton & District Local History Society was formed in 1985 to research, record and promote the history of Clacton & District. We now meet on the last Thursday of each month, 7:30 at Pier Avenue Baptist Church, Clacton with a guest speaker. Membership is £12.50 per year. This gives free entry to all meetings. Non-members are welcome to meetings for £2.00.  We also have an excellent museum on the second floor of Clacton Library in Station Road, open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Saturday...well worth a visit.