Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Argyle Theatre, Birkenhead

The Argyle Theatre was opened in December 1868 in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, initially as the Argyle Music Hall.

The theatre had seating for about 800, with pillars in the auditorium and long, narrow galleries running down either side. Its name was changed in 1876 to the Prince Of Wales Theatre and for several years plays were performed, before the name "Argyle" was eventually restored.

The owner and manager between 1888 and 1934 was Dennis J. Clarke, a local councillor, shrewd businessman and entrepreneur, with a keen eye for talent. He was both popular and well respected and was responsible for helping launch numerous showbusiness careers. Established artistes such as W.C. Fields, Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd performed during the early years of the theatre's life. Stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Bud Flanagan & Chesney Allen, Harry Lauder, Stan Laurel, George Formby (Senior) and Eric Morecambe & Ernie Wise performed at the Argyle Theatre at the beginning of their careers. The comedian, actor and ukelele player George Formby (Junior) made one of his earliest performances at the Argyle Theatre in 1921. In this instance, he was not a success and was booed off stage.

In addition to the wealth of talent performing at the Argyle in person, it had other claims to fame. Clarke stated in 1896 that his theatre's vitagraph display was the first such display of moving pictures in England, outside of London. The Argyle also had the distinction of being the first theatre to host radio broadcasts. On 21 September 1940, the theatre received a direct hit during the Blitz of World War II and never re-opened. However, the shell of the building remained in situ until 1973, when finally it was demolished.

A large, decorative stone sign that was once attached to the Argyle Theatre's exterior was removed to the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead for preservation, prior to demolition. The inscription on the sign read: "Argyle Theatre Of Varieties. Two Performances Nightly". A department store car park now occupies the site. Read more on Wikpedia

Lowry refers to the theatre in his first novel Ultramarine; "His whole being was drowning in memories, the smells of Birkenhead and of Liverpool were again heavily about him, there was a coarse glitter in the cinema fronts, children stared at him strangely from the porches of public-houses. Janet would be waiting for him a the Crosville bus stop, with her red mackintosh and her umbrella, while silver straws of rain gently pattered on the green roof..."Where shall we go? The Hippodrome or the Argyle? ..... I've heard there's a good show on at the Scala - (Pg. 27)

Lowry also mentions the theatre in 'Enter One In Sumptuous Armour': "While the Argyle announced Harry Champion, Brown's Bioscope. It was melancholy to be bidding adieu to these familiar placards which were like friends." (Psalms Pg. 233).

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