Madeleine moment

Theatre, Stanford Hall, Nottinghamshire

Theatre, Stanford Hall, Nottinghamshire

My Isle of Man host-with-the-most John has provided further details of the Wurlitzer organ at Stanford Hall, Nottinghamshire, which, as I mentioned in the previous blog, was bought second-hand from the Madeleine Theatre in Paris in 1937 for Sir Julien Cahn’s private theatre attached to his house.

The organ came, not from the Madeleine Theatre (1924), which still exists in the Rue de Surene [], but from another Madeleine Theatre, which is now an opticians, designed entirely as a cinema by Marcel Oudin in 1918, at 14 Boulevard de la Madeleine .  The Wurlitzer – one of only two French Wurlitzers – was installed by the then owners, Loew Inc, in 1926.  According to Ken Roe’s contribution to the cinema subsequently became the Gaumont Madeleine and showed films until at least the mid-1970s.

The website indicates this Wurlitzer was repossessed at some point after installation.  This modest instrument was an ideal purchase for Sir Julien’s 352-seat theatre – “une salle élégante“, as the French account has it.

The knobs and bells and whistles of the Wurlitzer have a more elegant tone when described in French:  les clochettes de traîneau [sleigh bells], les sabots de cheval [horses’ hooves], les vagues [waves], les oiseaux [birdsong], la corne d’auto [car hooter], le gong d’incendie [fire-alarm], le sifflet de bateau à vapeur [steamboat whistle], la sirène [siren], le tam-tam [gong], et la sonnerie de porte [doorbell].

Among his many talents, John is a church organist and confessed, many years ago, to an ambition to play a Wurlitzer like the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.  My influence in Blackpool runs nowhere near that far, but I managed to give him the opportunity to play the Stanford Hall Wurlitzer.

Sometime in the late 1980s I ran a WEA day-visit to country houses in south Nottinghamshire, and smuggled John into the orchestra pit of the Stanford Hall Theatre – then part of the Co-operative College – with an arrangement that when at the end of my tour I brought the group into the back of the auditorium and said, “And this is the private theatre…” John would press the lift-button on the console and rise from the pit playing ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’.

Which would have worked perfectly if John had realised how far up the lift goes, or I’d been aware that he suffers from vertigo.  It’s quite difficult to keep a grip when you’re playing with both hands and both feet.  I suppose buttock-clenching is the only resort and I’ve never liked to ask.

Certainly John’s performance had a certain bravura quality, and we’ve both dined out on the story ever since.


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