New Victoria Wurlitzer Masthead
Organ History Researched & Compiled by Colin Sutton

Copyright © 1980/2004, Colin Sutton.

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The New Victoria's famous theatre organ was the Wurlitzer Style 220 having three manuals (keyboards), ten ranks of pipes and many special effects typical of cinemas organs of that era. The console was positioned centre-stage in the huge orchestra pit and could rise majestically to just below stage level on an electric lift for solo presentation (though it was usually only taken to a height just above the front balustrade of the orchestra pit) after which the featured organist would give a farewell wave to the applauding audience as he descended gracefully back into the orchestra pit and the spotlight dimmed.


The Installation
An unusual feature of the New Victoria Wurlitzer organ installation was that its organ chambers housing the pipes, percussion and effects were housed in four rooms positioned in the theatre roof accessed by a twisting iron staircase above the proscenium arch. The two central rooms formed the pipe chambers with Main Chamber to the left and Solo Chamber to the right as viewed from the auditorium. The outer rooms at each end were used for the relay room and blower room respectively. The shutters opened towards the stage and the sound so produced was directed via a curved tone duct 40 feet wide at the chambers and downwards under the chambers finally emerging at 66 feet wide at the mouth and emitting through decorative grills above the giant proscenium opening.

The result of this was that the best sounds were to be heard in the circle and balcony and the worst listening position was the front stalls. Because of this the organist struggled with a significant time lag as the reflected sound reached him reflected from the back of the theatre and at a reduced power level. The problem was overcome by amplifying the sound from the organ chambers and reproducing via the cinema speakers behind the screen so providing a more powerful and immediate sound.


Organ Specification

Wurlitzer Style 220SP with circular console.
Only 7 of this particular model were built.
(Based on the earlier Style H3M)
3-Manuals, 10 Ranks, 6 Percussion and 15 Traps.
Opus No 2116.
Wiring Schedule WS No 1066.
Shipping Date 20th June 1930.
Opening Performance 22nd September 1930.

Organ Specification

Note that the Krumet (from Wurlitzer UK stock) and English Horn (more of a trumpet and rather an 'alien' sound in the ensemble was made locally by Rodgers of Bramley) were added during an overhaul in 1946 and they replace the original Kinura and Vox Humana to give extra extra power to the volume which had previously been thought light for an auditorium of this size. Amplification was essential for audience participation sing-a-long. Experts in theatre organ installations were of the opinion that this Wurlitzer installation "was of excellent tone and particularly appealing when quality rather than quantity is the prime consideration".


Flood Damage in Cinema
On the morning of Friday 20th September 1946 following a heavy storm the Bradford Beck, which runs under the Thornton Road area, burst and overflowed flooding a very large part of the city centre causing much damage. The New Victoria did not escape and the water entered the front stalls area which was below street level. Miraculously someone had the presence of mind to come down to the cinema and raise the Wurlitzer out of the pit to its full lift thus saving it from any serious damage though stalls seating and carpets were ruined.

For the record, the Ritz cinema in Broadway also suffered on the same morning with flooding to its entire stalls area and destroying beyond repair the Compton organ console which could not be raised in time. Thereafter the New Victoria/Gaumont remained the only city-centre cinema to have a working theatre pipe organ.


Resident Organists
At its opening the first organist was Leslie James (star of the PCT circuit - Provincial Cinematograph Theatres) followed by a succession of residencies and visiting celebrity guest organists. On such resident organist back in the 1930's was Kenneth Bygott who hit the headlines when a banner went up outside the New Victoria cinema proclaiming "Come and see Kenneth Bygott and his Mighty Organ" - the people flocked in but the management quickly removed the banner having realised it could be interpreted in a rather different way. Other organists included Ronald Greenwood, Frederick Roe and Clarence Barber.

Norman Briggs

Another familiar name was that of Norman Briggs whose residency lasted ten years from 1939 to 1949. Norman Briggs LRAM started as an orchestral pianist in various local silent cinemas. At the age of 18 (in 1927) he was pianist and assistant organist at St George's Hall. In 1934 he became organist and stage pianist with Sydney Phasey and His Orchestra at the New Victoria and in 1939 he became the resident organist giving many broadcasts on the Wurlitzer and others on the BBC theatre organ. The BBC, incidentally, had permanent cabling installed in the New Victoria in anticipation of the many broadcasts to be made from there. Briggs became a household name during the war. He also held the post of City of Bradford Organist and played the Holt Concert Organ at the nearby St George's Hall and occasionally the 3-manual Compton organ in the Ritz cinema in Broadway. Charles Randolph followed at the New Victoria as house organist.

During 1949 there were many 'guest weeks' with organists such as . . .
G.T Pattman, Frederick Bayco (previously resident at London's Dominion Theatre in the 1930's), Bobby Pagan, Felton Rapley, Ena Baga and Stanley Bishop.

In 1946 Arnold Loxam was appointed deputy organist playing every Sunday and deputised for Norman Briggs until 1948. From December 1948 Arnold also played full weeks or odd days as well as Sundays until 1962 and was famous for his bouncey style.

The prospect of a regular house organist at the (now) Gaumont was looking a bit bleak in the mid 1960's when along came two young organists who each found fame on this Wurlitzer. One was David Hamilton who played at weekends and made an LP record of the sounds of this fine instrument. Another local young organist, David Lowe, quickly made a name for himself on this organ with his regular solo spots. The natural sound of the Bradford Wurlitzer without amplification was a delight to the ears with the giant dome adding to the richness of the sound.

From around 1962 onwards David Hamilton played as required. From May 1965 to October 1967 David Lowe played every Sunday plus full weeks and special evenings as required. David also played for the Saturday morning childrens shows when these were transferred from the original Odeon in Manchester Road.

David Hamilton               David Lowe

Geoff Stephenson, who also played at the Odeon in Rotherham, and Frank Steele deputised for David Lowe during this period as required. From November 1967 to the closure in 1968, David Hamilton and Geoff Stephenson played as required. The last resident organist to play the Wurlitzer was Geoff Stephenson and he also made the last ever broadcast of the organ by the BBC on Thursday 2nd May, 1968.

Arnold Loxam, now a sprightly octogenarian and made an honorary Doctor of Music by Bradford University, along with David Lowe are both still (in 2004) very active on the organ concert circuit and each have made several cassettes and CDs on other organs and their notable performances both in the UK and abroad can be heard regularly on BBC radio.


Organ Concerts
In addition to organ interludes in film programmes, the New Victoria/Gaumont Wurlitzer was featured in many organ concert performances with celebrity guest organists, for example . . .

Sunday 18th December 1938 at 7.45pm.
Reginald Dixon of BBC and Tower Blackpool fame
Donald Murgatroyd - BBC Tenor
Douglas Bentley - BBC Cellist
in a popular programme.
Tickets 1/-, 1/3 and 2/- including tax.
Proceeds for Bradford Cinderella Club.

The organ was always an important feature of the annual Cinderella Club children's concert at Christmas.


Recording Sessions
Apart from the BBC, other independent tape recording sessions have been set up in the Gaumont over the years. I held two such sessions to capture the stereo sound of this fine instrument.

The first session on the morning of Friday 5th August 1966 in the empty cinema and with David Lowe, the then house organist who also had a residency playing a 2-manual Hammond C3 at the Silver Blades Ice Rink in nearby LIttle Horton Lane. At the Ice Rink David played strict tempo music for the ice dancing and this was to be the theme for the Wurlitzer recording. It was believed to be the first time that a stereo recording of a Wurlitzer pipe organ being played in strict tempo and with the acoustic ambience of the huge empty Gaumont auditorium. The result was a rich lush sound and the nearest Bradford ice dancers would ever get to the live Wurlitzer sounds enjoyed by American skaters where pipe organs were installed in some ice stadiums.

The second recording session at the request of the late David Hamilton took place during the night of Sunday 19th May 1968 after the evening film performance had finished. This session was an attempt to capture in stereo the fine quality of sound probably for the last time as the Gaumont was to close six months later for twinning conversion. Hamilton had previously been a house organist at the Gaumont whilst he (like David Lowe) was a resident organist at the Ice Rink. For the recording David Hamilton's repertoire was chosen to demonstrate the wide potential of this installation.

For both recording sessions, the open reel tape recorder(s) and mixer were set up in the rear stalls. A pair of uni-directional microphones were positioned in the front circle and focused onto the left and right chambers above the proscenium. For the David Hamilton recording a third microphone mounted in a parabolic reflector was placed in the front of the balcony and focused on the right hand solo chamber and its output mixed in with the stereo pair in order to add clarity to the higher frequencies which might otherwise have been muffled by the auditorium acoustics. The result was considered successful and the time/phase differences of the sounds so recorded took on a new dimension when re-played through quadraphonic surround sound equipment of that era. A/B monitoring was via headphones and all tape editing done afterwards. Ventilation fans and anything else that might interfere were temporarily switched off. Now over 35 years on the tapes still sound quite stunning and a wonderful 'record' of the Wurlitzer.


Closure and Removal of Organ
With the closure of the Gaumont in 1968 prior to the twinning conversion of the building, the organ was carefully removed and bought by the North Eastern Theatre Organ Association (NETOA) who duly installed in 1972 in the new Concert Hall of West Cornforth Working Men's Club in County Durham. This location was deemed not too successful and the organ endured another change of home in 1986 when it was installed in the New Victoria Centre, a converted chapel in Howden-le-Wear also in Co. Durham where it is still being played. The Centre being named after the original home of the Wurlitzer in Bradford.


Reference Sources and Acknowledgements
(late) David Hamilton (Gaumont house organist)
David Lowe (Gaumont house organist)
Frank Hare (Theatre Organ Club)
North Eastern Theatre Organ Association
Acacia Audio Visual (sound recording)
Various Internet archives.

Copyright ©2004, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


Go to Cinema Organ Society Gaumont Wurlitzer Concerts, or
Return to Part 1 - New Victoria/Gaumont Era 1930 to 1968 History, or
Go to Part 2 - The Odeon 123 Era 1969 to 2000 History, or
Return to Bradford Cinemas History Index Page.

Web Page design by Colin Sutton ©2004.