ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub. Photos from 2013

ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub

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.

East Topping Street car park, site of the former Syndicate/ABC
East Topping Street car park, site of the former Syndicate/ABC

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?

The Empire Theatre, original building later to become the ABC Theatre then Syndicate nightclub
The Empire Theatre, original building later to become the ABC Theatre then Syndicate nightclub

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.

Hippodrome Theatre

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.

ABC Theatre

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.

Revolving Stage

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

TV shows

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.

ABC Theatre Tickets, from 1977
ABC Theatre Tickets from our own Visit Fylde Coast archive, we think from 1977

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.”

Dusty Springfield at the ABC Theatre, from Carol Sutcliffe
Dusty Springfield at the ABC Theatre, from Carol Sutcliffe

ABC Cinema

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.

The Syndicate

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.

Syndicate Nightclub, Church Street, Blackpool. Photos from 2013
Syndicate Nightclub, Church Street, Blackpool. Photos from 2013
Syndicate Nightclub, Church Street, Blackpool. Photos from 2013 by Live Blackpool
Syndicate Nightclub on Church Street, Church Street, Blackpool. Photos from 2013 by Live Blackpool
Looking along Church Street before the Syndicate was demolished

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.

Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson

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.

Empire Theatre Blackpool, photo from Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub, March 2015. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub, March 2015. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub, and Church Street, March 2015. Photo: Juliette Gregson
Demolition of the Syndicate Nightclub, and Church Street, March 2015. Photo: Juliette Gregson

The land is now being used as a car park, prior to any plans for its re-development.

East Topping Street Car Park
East Topping Street Car Park

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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14 thoughts on “ABC Theatre/Syndicate Nightclub”

  1. Wonderful article like stepping back in time. To my childhood (over 50 years ago) my whole family would go on our holidays to Blackpool every year and the first thing my dad would do when we arrived on the Saturday would be to go to every theatre to book the tickets for the “shows” ABC, Winter gardens, Grand Theatre, Pier shows ! *Fantastic times* I think over the years I have seen all the great stars of yesteryear and they certainly don’t make them like that anymore! Thanks for the memories 💖

  2. Chris Littlewood

    I chased autographs but post the sixties glory days ! so my autograph book has Lovelace Watkins, Mike Yarwood, Peter Noone, Ray Allan (and Lord Charles) and Basil flipping Brush .

  3. Philipmillinger

    Fascinating facts on the abc theatre.
    The electric fly tower machinery is now installed in the gaiety theatre , Douglas,iom.
    So at least part of th abc is still in use but elsewhere.
    Regards.
    Philipmillinger

  4. Performed at the ABC in 1964. Fame:) Well it was a charity thing I was in the Hawes Side Primary school choir singing Christmas Carols. There was some other chap called Cliff Richard on the bill as well, although I was mostly interested in the fact that the whole of the Blackpool Football team were sat in the front row. It was probably our singing that made them lose 4-1 to Sheffield Wednesday the next Saturday

  5. My Dad used to own the Piccolo Bar cafe next door to the ABC from 1960 until 69. We used to get all of the stars popping in for a coffee, burger or one of his Pizza pies that he was renowned for.
    Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele and a few others over the years had to make an escape through the kitchen and out into the car park behind to get back to the stage door entrance, when they were spotted having a ‘frothy coffee’ (cappuccino as it was known back then) as the word got round and the female fans surrounded the cafe entrance. I loved the old ABC and as a child we used to get free tours behind the scenes by one of the lighting guys called Leo. I recall my sister and myself feeding Taniya the Elephant that performed there. The night the Beatles played I remember not being able to sleep due to the noise from the girls screaming.

  6. great article well researched and some great memories there as well ,described as though yesterday,
    which brings me nicely to my point , ..if this was the first time the song yesterday was heard by the world , wow..it should have been given a listed status under most culturally important places to the UK,
    as for the song being written in Blackpool the night before , i very much doubt that ,as there is another story of how Paul mcartney struggled to come up with title “yesterday ” and heard the song in a dream while living with jane ashers (his then girlfriend) family in london in 1964.

  7. I was house Manager there in the late sixties to early seventies in it hay day along with Engelbert , Cilla, Roy Castle, Tommy Steele, Jimmy Tarbuck, Gene Pitney, Tom Jones, to name just a few of the great performers who appeared in its lifetime. I had a great time working there and was sad when saw the pictures of the demolition Blackpool lost ABC The First Name In Entertainment.

    1. I bet you were one of my Dad’s regulars at the Piccolo Bar cafe next door. Or his competitor down the road The Gingham Kitchen who served rum flavoured coke which made them very popular.

    2. That sounds like my era! And I have had the good fortune in my lifetime to be able to see all those stars. Just imagine the price of the tickets for a family of six to see ‘legends’ like Sir Tom, Cilla, Sir Cliff and Tommy Steele etc these days at a concert? I particularly remember one year my dad booking tickets for us all to see to see Cilla at the ABC and we were all so disappointed and very sad for her when she had to cancel and pull out of the summer show when she so very sadly lost her unborn baby girl 😢 …..
      Also Remember seeing others there too who my Dad loved to see and listen to, Vince Hill, Val Doonican, Mike & Bernie Winters……Happy memories!

  8. Yes I was there when the Beatles performed in 1963 ,I nipped round to the stage door at half time, and four of us were let in and got their autographs !
    It was a amaising experience the audience were excited from the start ,as the acts performed the noise got louder The compare then gave up and shouted “its the Beatles “ the girl in front of us fainted, and was carried away ,she never got to see them Shame ,the atmosphere was tremendous ,but all u could hear was the bass as the screaming was so loud ! Jelly babies littered the stage as the audience had found out Ringo liked them
    A experience I will never forget ,and I look at the programme and autographs daily !
    Framed pride of place in my bedroom !

  9. Very good article. It had a lot more history there than I realized. As a 7 year old, I went with my elder sister to see the Beatles at the ABC. I do remember that we could not hear them play, because of all the girls screaming, and I was far too young to understand why. I am though still a Beatles fan. I saw many great shows and films at the ABC. I always remember seeing Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which has become 1 of my favourite films. In more recent times, our daughter used to have some great nights there, when it was the Syndicate. It is so sad to see it as just a car park now, maybe it will become something something good again 1 day.

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