Then and Now: Empress Theatre, Brighton Terrace
Photographic comparisons of old and modern views of Lambeth
(Updated, October 2009)
Opened on Boxing Day, 1898, this impressive theatre/music hall stood on the corner of Brighton Terrace and Bernay's Grove, offering popular Variety shows (and pantomimes at Christmas).
A sizeable venue, the Empress Theatre offered seating capacity of 1,260 with a stage width of 60' and a depth of 40'.
In 1909 Bioscope described the Empress as 'one of the finest of London's suburban music halls'.
Over the years, the building would be variously described as the Empress Theatre, Empress Theatre of Varieties, Empress Music Hall and Granada Cinema.
(pic: Brixton Society)
The theatre was given a funky Art Deco facelift in 1931, and it remained a major fixture on the variety circuit in the 50s and 60s, attracting stars like Tony Hancock, Joe Brown, Max Miller, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Bruce Forsyth (and even hosted a US vs UK wrestling bout!)
As the popularity of variety faded, the Empress became a Granada Cinema around 1957, a bingo hall in the 70s, before ending up as a furniture storage depot (briefly squatted in the early 1990s).
This view shows the theatre being converted into a Bingo Hall, sometime between 1966-70.
(pic: Brixton Society)
Nearly a hundred years on and not a trace of the theatre remains.
Several alternative uses were proposed for the site, but the theatre was demolished in 1992 and replaced by an 'affordable housing' development.
The loss of this fine building has now left Brixton without a theatre. A real tragedy.
1957 Scenes from the opening of the Granada Theatre, 1957.
Available to view on Brixton Buzz, the clip shows crowds outside Granada for the reopening.
The Mayor and Mayoress of Lambeth are the invited guests along with Forest Tucker and (apparently) 'TV Personality' Sabrina.
Sabrina is later seen on the impressively draped Granada stage with three Chelsea pensioners, Forest Tucker and the manager.
It seems such a shame that Brixton has lost such a fine theatre.
Archive 1939 scene showing a bustling Friday night crowd outside the Empress.
Headlining the bill is is the 'Coloured Comedy Kings,' SCOTT &WHALEY, an American duo featuring a 'blacked up' Harry Clifford Scott and Eddie Peter Whaley who was known as 'the first negro on BBC.'
Also on the bill was Dick Henderson (1891-1958), a "rotund bowler-hatted English comedian and character actor", born in Hull, East Yorkshire. His was the father of comedian Dickie Henderson (1922-1985).
We tracked down an interview where Sharon Osbourne reminisces about her Brixton childhood:
"In the fifties and early sixties, Brixton, south of the Thames, was where all the vaudeville artists lived, comedians, singers, ventriloquists, acrobats. Entertainers. Pre-TV, vaudeville was the only entertainment there was for ordinary people, and with the Brixton Empress and the Camberwell Palace being less than a mile away, Brixton was the hub"
» Empress Theatre posters, memories
» Cameras record the glitter and glamour as the New Granada Cinema opens in Brixton,1957
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