Today, the site of the ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub is a car park. East Topping Street car park to be precise. But the building had a fascinating past before its demolition in 2015!
It’s now earmarked for redevelopment, as Blackpool Town Centre undergoes a transformation. The old ABC site is part of the site of the phase 3 plans for the redevelopment of Talbot Gateway. It’s all explained in this video –
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In the past it had been a music hall, a circus, theatre, cinema and nightclub. The Beatles had also famously played there in their early days. On 1 August 1965, Paul McCartney played “Yesterday” solo.
Have a look into the history of this plot, and wonder what might have happened there in years gone by, next time you pass.
History of the ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub
This piece first published on 4.3.13
In 2013, discussion was raging over what was to become of the Syndicate Nightclub in Blackpool.
Local man Steve Foster delved into the past of the building, presenting this view from the people who were campaigning to save the building. Here’s the past and future according to Steve:
Empire Theatre and Opera House
In 1894 Blackpool was booming with visitors. A new theatre was planned at a cost of £30,000 – a lot of money back then. John Dent Harker of Manchester designed it as a large Ballroom and Music hall. When complete it opened on 4th July 1895 as The Empire Theatre and Opera House.
Many thanks to our Visit Fylde Coast team member Juliette Gregson for sharing this photo. She thinks it was the original building. Can anyone confirm that?
A special theatre
Unlike other theatres in Blackpool, the Empire had a very small stage that separated itself safely from the auditorium by a special fire-proof curtain made from asbestos. The auditorium had a flat floor with a gallery around three sides, beautifully decorated in the old Italian Renaissance style. Very special provision was made for the artists comfort. New dressing-rooms, fitted with hot & cold water, and heated by electricity! There was also electric lighting throughout the Theatre. Most of its entertainers came up from London making it the only music hall in Blackpool.
The company’s original intention was to provide dancing and variety shows for holiday makers each summer. But the magistrates refusal to grant them a licence for singing and dancing caused the directors of the theatre to change their plans. Due to poor profits The Empire’s financial problems caused it to later close down.
In 1900 The Empire Theatre was to become The Hippodrome Theatre. In it was a circus, and The Louis Tussaud Waxwork Exhibition in the basement. Blackpool has had its fair share of circuses.
As well as the Tower which began in 1894 and the Hippodrome in 1900, there was also a circus on the site of the Grand Theatre. Thomas Sergenson ran The Grand for several years. After meeting the Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham, he decided to demolish the circus and with the help of his friend Frank Matcham they built the Grand Theatre. It was presented as the “prettiest theatre in all the land” and it still is in our opinion.
However, back at the Hippodrome Theatre, it was still struggling in 1910. So the circus arena was removed, the floor raked and converted back into a theatre. It could now seat 2,500 people, staging a Variety season in the summer months.
Taken over by ABC
The Hippodrome theatre was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in April 1929.
ABC increased the seating capacity to 2,820. Along with films, they still showed live performance on the stage, including The Crazy Gang and George Formby. Theatre goers could see silent films and the latest news reels from abroad.
Did you know? This is where the first talking pictures were shown in Blackpool? With a film starring Al Johnson called “The Singing Fool”.
The outbreak of World War Two put a stop to plans to rebuild The Hippodrome Theatre in 1939. The theatre carried on as it was through the War, helping to keep morale going. Shows such as “Coconut Grove” in 1949 starring Julie Andrews & Jimmy Jewel. And “Latin Quarter” starring Max Bygrave and Hylda Baker in 1953.
But eventually, in 1960, the Hippodrome Theatre had to close. Except for the outer walls, much of the old theatre was demolished before being almost completely rebuilt. C. J. Foster was responsible for the new look, he was the chief architect for the ABC at the time.
On 31st May 1963 The ABC Theatre opened, with the Summer Season Stage Show “Holiday Carnival” starring Cliff Richard and The Shadows.
These were the golden years of the ABC, with seating for 1,934 in the stalls and the circle. A very modern theatre, it had gold seats and tabs (stage curtains). Stage shows were performed during the summer months, with films and concerts showing during the winter season.
It even had its own permanent revolving stage. Prior to it’s demolition it was still one of the few remaining theatres in Britain to have a revolving stage.
Peter Holden emailed Live Blackpool to add “I took a group of budding DJs to the Syndicate and we were told by our guide that the revolving dance floor was made from the original stage. So everyone stood in a spot that Paul or John etc (the Beatles) had once stood in. Possibly.”
He said “I wonder what happened to it.” So do we. Do you know whether it was scrapped or sold on? Please get in touch about that particular piece of the jigsaw. Just email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
The theatre was also wired up for TV transmissions. During the 1960’s ABC Weekend Television transmitted their “Blackpool Night Out” show from the ABC, hosted by Mike & Bernie Winters.
The ABC attracted other popular summer season shows. Stars like Morecambe & Wise, Tommy Cooper and Cilla Black appeared there. Plus Tommy Steele, Jimmy Hendrix, Englebert Humperdink. Then there was “Holiday Startime” with Frank Ifield and Jimmy Tarbuck, with guest stars like The Barron Knights.
But the ABC Television studio in Blackpool didn’t just do big Summer Shows. They also did the “Bruce Forsyth Show” a comedy sketch show with co-star Harry Secombe. “ABC Armchair Theatre” was a thriller, and “Haunted” a suspense.
Famous Faces in Blackpool
Cliff Richard played at the ABC, apparently on his 21st birthday.
Even the Beatles played a concert at the ABC Theatre in 1963. It’s also rumoured that Beatles history was made here, at the Theatre. Paul McCartney had written new song here in Blackpool, called “Yesterday”. Allegedly he sang it for the first time on the ABC stage.
(Steve said) “I don’t know if it was ever true or not, it’s up to you if you wish to believe it. It’s a nice thought anyway. It’s also said that Elvis Presley played at the ABC Theatre, but I’ve yet to find any proof that it’s true.”
54 years later, almost to the day in July 2021, Carole Sutcliffe got in touch with another anecdote. Carol says “I was just browsing and came across this article re the ABC Blackpool. In the 1960s we saw Dusty Springfield there a number of times in different concerts. I thought you may be interested in this pic I took of her, round the back of the ABC Theatre on July 16th 1967.”
Eventually, in 1981 the ABC Theatre finally closed its doors for good as a Theatre. It then became a three screen Cinema. The soul of the theatre was hidden behind the screen, never to be seen again, bringing to an end its former theatre life.
The stage, orchestra pit, the 1963 proscenium, safety curtain, front stalls, and dressing-rooms were all left intact behind the screen of number 2 & 3 cinemas. There they were left, slowly dying, along with the heart of the building. Never to see performers once again upon her stage in front of an audience, filling the theatre’s lungs with laughter and applause.
Cannon, MGM… and back to ABC
In 1986 the Cinema changed its name to The Cannon. Then another name change followed in 1993 to The MGM. But in December 1998 it was re-named The ABC – and then closed again.
Four years later, two local business partners decided to convert the building into a nightclub. Having spent £4 million on the transformation, they called it “The Syndicate” and opened in December 2002.
However, it wasn’t to last. In 2005 it lost its late night drinks licence, an important thing to have if you’re a nightclub, and had to close down for the month of October as a result.
In May 2006 it was eventually sold on to a company called Nexum Leisure. It reopened in June 2007 as a Polish Club, but it too closed on the 10th August 2011 and never opened again.
The end of the road
The Empire Theatre, ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub had gone through many names with many faces. But it always had one heart and that was the heart of a theatre of entertainment and wonder for all the family.
In December 2012, word was that it was threatened with demolition. That sparked a campaign to save it from flattening.
However, it wasn’t to be. The majority of the features with any architectural significance had been removed over the years. The ones left behind had been neglected beyond the point at which they could be saved.
Demolition of the ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub
It was demolished in 2015. Many thanks again to Visit Fylde Coast contributor Juliette Gregson for these photos of the demolition.
See the window arches, exposed on the above photo when the cladding was removed. See how they clearly correspond to the windows on the original building below.
The land is now being used as a car park, prior to any plans for its re-development.
Got anything to add?
Have you got any photos of the ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub going back over the years? Please send them to us. As always, we will fully credit them to you/the source.
Just email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
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