golden age of theatre and cinema in Chiswick
The Empire `died with dignity' on 20 June 1959 when a lame-jacketed Liberace played to a full house
When Oswald Stoll first proposed building a music hall in Chiswick in 1910, the idea was vehemently opposed by the local populace who claimed it would lower the tone and `drive away the better class inhabitants'. Stoll persevered, the opposition was overcome and the Chiswick Empire opened at 414 Chiswick High Road on 2 September 1912.
was designed by Frank Matcham, who also designed the London Palladium,
and could seat nearly 2,000 people. The decor was mainly electric blue
and terracotta and it had a sliding roof. This proved a mixed blessing
since it was rarely opened, and when it was, a cloud of dust descended
on the audience! Less than a year after its completion, the Empire suffered
a dreadful fire which destroyed the stage and damaged the auditorium.
It re-opened three months later, the decor now pale cream and old gold
with bottle green upholstery.
In early 1959 the building was sold and plans approved for an office block. The news that the theatre was to close came as a complete bombshell to the 30-strong staff, since the theatre had been playing to capacity audiences. The Empire `died with dignity' on 20 June 1959 when a lame-jacketed Liberace played to a full house. `A night of sadness at the Empire' was the headline in the Brentford and Chiswick Times the following week. The theatre was demolished a month later and the office block known as Empire House erected on the site.
The Q Theatre (the name is a pun on Kew) stood opposite Kew Bridge Station on the site of what is now the block of flats called Rivers House. The theatre was converted from the Prince's Hall, which at various times had been a swimming pool, roller-skating rink and finally a film studio. The Q theatre was opened in 1924 by Jack and Beatrice de Leon. She was an aspiring actress who settled instead for a career in theatrical management; he a solicitor who became a talented playwright and director.
Due to the
de Leons' astute management, the Q became one of the most important of
London's small theatres (it could seat 490 peple), staging many plays
that went on to become West End hits. The first works of aspiring playwrights
such as Terence Rattigan and William Douglas Home were performed at the
Q, and such luminaries as Vivien Leigh, Dirk Bogarde, Joan Collins, Anthony
Quayle and Margaret Lockwood trod the boards here first. In the 1950s
the Q Theatre fell on hard times: television was coming in, Jack de Leon
died and the theatre needed major repairs. It closed in 1956.
Cinema was opened in 1911 on the corner of Duke Road and Chiswick High
Road. Various proprietors came and went – mainly into liquidation, which
caused the cinema to close periodically. In 1927 its name was changed
to The Coliseum and in 1929 it was converted for sound, but closed in
1932. It re-opened the same year specialising in newsreels when it was
known as the Tatler but its licence was finally revoked in 1933.
Gillian Clegg is the author of Chiswick Past and Brentford Past and is the editor of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal
Article originally published in Westside Magazine - republished with kind permission
December 27, 2003